Hick Poetics - An Anthology of Contemporary Rural American Poetry. Shelly Taylor & Abraham Smith editors. Lost Roads Press. Jackson, Wyoming. 2015.
Shelly Taylor and Abraham Smith have amassed a small poetry army and they are on the attack.
Abraham Smith had this to say in his introduction to Hick Poetics:
" so come on here where the dogs are bored and the doors are unlocked & the flies growl unoriginal in their nascarlefthandturnings, loam under a nail, for you, dear reader: this lush hustle of the beyond as heard & slapped or gentled awake by 40 poets, without only tourist eyes, who have known, in their times, a back road, a lost road, by ear & by hand."
Today's book of poetry rarely takes on anthologies so why Hick Poetics? Jim Harrison.
If his name is on it - I'm in. Turns out Harrison is in some splendid company. There are forty of 'em and they seem determined to burn the house down. These poems might be of rural origin but you're going to recognize the song they are singing.
Let's start with this untitled atomicbombpoem by Tim Early:
A dog beneath and a dog above. The trailer single-wide or double,
underpinned or not, on its lot or part of a larger park, has lost its
formaldehyde smell or not, is level or not, has broken windows or not, is
landscaped with mulch and monkey grass and hibiscus or not, has septic tank
that ceases to function during heavy rain. A hound kicked to death or not,
that spent its life rolling over other hounds in the muck beneath the stoop,
that gnashed into the ribcage of a deer, that was crushed onto the asphalt
or not, a nimbus of fleas around its asshole. Pill bottles on the counter, "an
illiterate person has my pills," "get me my scripts," "get me my fucking nerve
pill," a preacher's crotch distended into the River Jordan, a coterie of Elvises
in various stages of decline, crush it up, honeysuckle, kudzu, dandelions, ivy
trellis, railroad trellis, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you. Sugar, sugar diabetes,
brown lung, loom-plucked scalp, missing fingers, SPAM, LITTLE DEBBIES,
nerve endings on fire, bad liver, glaucomyrrh, LOST TIME ACCIDENT,
GOODY POWDER, seven dust, asbestos in the brake pads, ROUND UP,
smelled like formaldehyde for a solid month, THEY THEY IS SOME DIRT
THAT IS PERMANENT!, he was an alcoholic and he married this woman he
met across the state line playing the poker machines and they moved in next
to her brother's liquor store and they kept him drunk all the time and he
died on the floor in own shit and piss and she got his pension and kept
on living in that house. Direckly, tireckly, notish, law they, lordy, I declare,
I'm fixin' to you fucks, bait, pison, deef, spicket, his'n, her'n, yourn, airish,
kindly, poorly, they said Mr. McGillicuddy lived in the chimney and he was
insane and had a long pecker and they did not say it was shaped like a scythe
but in my imagination it was shaped like a scythe and I saw him mowing the
field with his pecker and the other thing like I said was he was insane and
the older cousins would shove our heads up into the chimney so our heads
would just loom up into his insane darkness and he had long teeth and then I
figured it out he was metaphor for my Aunt Gypsy Rose Lee with the bullet
fragments in her skull and for my cousin who died in restraints at the mental
hospital in Morganton and for my grandmother's mania and for her. SATAN. "I
will beat your ass." "Gary got his ass beat," "that boy needs a fucking beating,"
"Eddie tried to kill that dude with a railroad spike he is a stupid bastard,"
Peppertown, Ragtown, Daryl was handsome and dated white girls they cut up
his face with a straight razor, thirty or forty cuts, each an inch or so long, they
sprayed David with bird shot just for fun, he killed his best friend for fucking
his wife invited him over to watch the race and met him with a shotgun at the
door when his friend turned away he shot him point-blank in the back, DALE
EARNHARDT HEALS THE SICK, you fucks, my brother lost fifty pounds after
Dale was killed at Daytona he was so depressed, JANE SMILEY WRITES of
THE SCOTCH-IRISH: "Mean as a snake and twice as quick...oh, excuse me. I
am losing my judicious tone...". Fuck you, Jane Smiley, Minstrel Corn
Pone. Minstrel Corn Pone. Whistle Pig, peaked, job it with a stick, job that
shit with a stick, catched that tree frog, I knowed to throw it back, Jesus face,
Sissy Holler, we is just folks and these is just some cultural interstices, "the
absence of teeth, and the compromised nature of the gums, give the tongue
freer range, and indeed, create an almost limitless field for linguistic play and
invention. Teeth have everything to do with the Lord and social Darwinism
and distract the poet from his orphic emptiness," gum it up in the Berkeley,
gum it up in the New Yorks City, POETRY! POETRY! POETRY! you subhuman
Yes, Tim Earley got our full and undivided attention post haste. Earley also made for a spectacular reading here in our offices this morning, Milo took him on and did him proud.
Hick Poetics is modern country with lots of Earl Scruggs/Johnny Cash/Patsy Cline tucked into the back pocket for leverage. Across the board the poets in this anthology had the hammer down. Some very calloused and hard working hands wrote these poems.
Desert Snow - Jim Harrison
I don't know what happens after death
but I'll have to chance it. I've been waking
at 5 a.m. and making a full study of darkness.
I was upset not hearing the predicted rain
that I very much need for my wildflowers.
At first light I see that it was the silent rain
of snow. I didn't hear this softest sigh
of windless snow softly falling
here on the Mexican border in the mountains,
snow in a white landscape of high desert.
The birds are confounded by this rare snow
so I go out with a spatula to clean the feeders,
turn on the radio not to the world's wretched news
but to the hot, primary colors of cantina music,
the warbles and shrieks of love, laughter, and bullets.
Jim Harrison never disappoints me. Today's book of poetry has been a big fan of Harrison since 1977 when I picked up a copy of his book Plain Song at Toronto's This Ain't The Rosedale Library Bookstore (a great and dearly missed treasure).
For a tough old coot Harrison can be down right tender.
Harrison is a known commodity, the really pleasant surprise with Hick Poetics was that the poetry didn't fall off after the big guns had their say. Quite the contrary, the poets that were new to me were all pitching big league heat. Taylor and Smith must have had a ball putting this project together and they've chosen wisely.
The Dead Girls Speak in Unison - Danielle Pafunda
I felt a funeral, we whisper.
A shiver as the procession
marches cross our graves.
Such grave robbers
we, taking the spunk
out of the cemetery
and the blush off the urn.
Taking heart, and boiling it clean
like a beet. Deepest pink.
Under our nails flesh,
and a rivulet
runs the elbow.
Everything tastes dirt
in the companionable ground
where we lie open-mouthed.
And dirt means nothing,
just like life
or air used to do.
When it wasn't something
you could get a speck of it
We sound almost chipper,
this flock of dun-colored birds.
Danielle Pafunda has a new chapbook from Birds of Lace Press called When You Left Me in the Rutted Terrain of Our Love at the Border, Which I Could Not Cross, Remaining a Citizen of This Corrupt Land. Today's book of poetry is a big fan of the long title and this one is aces.
Pafunda, Harrison and Tim Earley are all clearly from different poetry planets but all three fit quite nicely into the Hick Poetics quilt. And that is a good way to think of an anthology, as a quilt.
This one is rural, colourful and it will keep you warm.