Loads of Learned Lumber

Friday, October 14, 2016

Robert Fernandez, _Scarecrow_

ANOTHER GREAT BOOK from Fernandez. Not the fever-tunnel that Pink Reef was--still intense, though, but in a different way. Scarecrow lets you up for air once in a while, but threads of visionary obsession (colors, rhythms) still hold things closely together.

I want to be careful here, because I have noticed that poets under forty are not as keen about being compared to T. S. Eliot as they were back when I myself was under forty (over twenty years ago...let's leave it at that). As with, say, Stevens, these days Eliot's prestige is a little frayed around the edges--all that Anglican, Royalist, Classicist side of him, I imagine, not to mention the poisonous anti-Semitism.

But there is a visionary obsessive vein in Eliot, too. "What the Thunder Said," for instance, or some of the middle sections of Ash Wednesday, or the more hallucinatory passages in Four Quartets--"Garlic and sapphires in the mud / Clot the bedded axletree"--that vein.

The jacket flap copy notes, "Taking Dante and other catalogers of failure and ruin (Baudelaire, Trakl, Rimbaud) as its guiding lights, Scarecrow charts situations of extremity and madness." Dante filtered through the Symbolists--exactly. That's the Eliot I'm talking about, and that's the Eliot I love, and that's the Eliot who would make a useful Virgil as you negotiated the landscape of Scarecrow.

The title poem, which opens the volume, could almost  be a brilliant re-mix of "The Hollow Men": the scarecrow, the heat, the dust, the suggestion of a setting in the afterlife ("all detritus of coming near / the realm of the dead"), the abrupt fragment of Biblical language ("Pity / them Lord for they know not / what they do"), the shards of lyricism hinting at both ecstasy and terror:

          I drool
on locust bouquets and steps
of honey. Come 

Meet your master
in the dust; with his
one tooth, he drains
you dry.

If that gave you, as it did me, that weird little feeling at the top of the spine, you need to go find Scarecrow now and not wait until Garrison Keillor reads it on "Writer's Almanac," because...well, you know, because that is probably not going to happen.

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