A Review of Daniel Crocker’s Shit House Rat

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A Review of Daniel Crocker’s Shit House Rat

By Stephen Furlong

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In a blurb for Daniel Crocker’s Everyday People and Other Poems (Green Bean Press, 1998), A.D. Winans writes “Daniel Crocker is one of a lively band of modern poets who write…from the heartland of the people, and I stress HEART, because Crocker’s poetry comes from deep inside him.” Daniel Crocker is a poet who lays it on the line, the poetic line, to provide his readers with impassioned honesty and the rawness of an exposed nerve. In Shit House Rat (Spartan Press, 2017), Crocker explores belonging, popular culture references, and sexuality.

In one of the first poems of the book, “Growing Up”, Crocker investigates youth and belonging. Channeling the 1990 documentary Silence=Death written and produced by Rosa von Praunheim, the speaker of the poem writes: “I saw Silence/equal death/and stayed silent/anyway.” The documentary focuses on the AIDS epidemic and includes appearances by Allen Ginsberg and David Wojanarowicz. This poem hints at a recurring theme in Crocker’s book which is, to borrow from Patricia Hampl: carry[ing] our wounds forward with us. Crocker’s poetry carries wounds forward in order to bring light to them and his poetry is remarkably admirable given today’s tumultuous climate of trying to hide, even deny, one’s misdeeds of the past. Crocker doesn’t hold back and doesn’t hide making his poetry powerful, even with its vulnerability.  Returning back to “Growing Up”, the popular culture references continue with the early 1980s Midwestern-driven sitcom “The Day After” and late 1970s “Roots”. The poem, itself, is honing in on these popular culture phenomena in an attempt to understand the Reagan administration and growing up during that timeframe.

In addition to these popular culture references, Crocker’s poems channel snuffleupagas, Wolverine, Reed Richards and writers who have influenced him throughout the years like Adrienne Rich and Lord Byron. In the last portion of the book, Crocker writes the poem “I Wish” for his wife, and longs to be Whitmanesque. The poem is gentle, heartfelt, and sincere which reveals growth and maturity throughout the course of the book. Throughout the course of the poet’s life. These references are entrances into Crocker’s livelihood, they are sometimes dark corners of the brain, but channeling back to A.D. Winans—they reveal Crocker’s heart. That makes all the difference in this collection.

There’s a devastating piece in this collection titled “Brutal,” which reminds me of Bruce Weigl’s “The Impossible”—a poem which talks about physical, namely sexual, abuse. The last line has stayed with me ever since I first read the poem: “Say it clearly and you make it beautiful, no matter what.”  Of trauma, Weigl says in an interview “to understand that this (trauma) was not something that I was going to get over, but instead something that I needed to find a way to live with.”

In writing “Brutal” Crocker tries to live with this memory instead of trying to get over it because, frankly, overcoming abuse is just not done, or for certain, easily done. Crocker’s speaker in this poem is young and, under peer pressure, has what is called a gay night. The individuals of the poem, Crocker and cousin Terry, reveal themselves and fall prey to an older cousin named Larry. Crocker confesses around halfway through:

…if I ever have the guts to write about it, it’s going to be brutal. It’s going to be honest and detailed. The details, however, are like an impressionist painting. Parts of it, like the monster, are painfully vivid. Larry’s white, white teeth. His beautiful body. The rest is images, textures, feelings. Feelings of guilt and desire are all mixed up in one.

The form of this piece, set in prose, reveals the blurring of everything coming together, of the pieces of this pain being fused with feelings of guilt and desire. Crocker has written extensively about his bisexuality and alludes to it in this piece as well, which makes the piece even more dizzying, even more crushing when this memory sticks out in his history. The poem later reveals Larry, the perpetrator, has died in a motorcycle accident, a fact which used to bring Crocker happiness; “I’m not sure I am anymore,” he then confesses immediately afterward. This poem reflects the confusion and anger abuse leaves in its wake. It also discusses the wretchedness it can have years after as both Crocker and Terry, both drunk mind you, discuss it. And the pain comes back. The frankness of this poem’s language haunts me because the poem doesn’t try to hide in veiled language or metaphor; it just speaks to the horrors of abuse and it does it directly and does not hold back.

To me, the success of Daniel Crocker’s poetry is exactly that: He does it directly and does not hold back. It’s admirable, it’s damn hard work, but it’s healing. Daniel Crocker’s poetry and writing helps my writing because of their frankness and honesty. Those qualities push me to do the same; they push me to be honest and detailed. I am convinced Crocker can’t write any other way. And I don’t think he would choose that.

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About the Author: Stephen Furlong is a recent graduate of Southeast Missouri State University located on the Mississippi. His poems, reviews, and interviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Yes Poetry, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and Pine Hills Review, among others. He also had a poem in A Shadow Map: An Anthology by Survivors of Sexual Assault published by Civil Coping Mechanisms and edited by Joanna C. Valente.

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Two Prose Poems

Marlene Dietrich in Der Blaue Engel (1930)

Two Prose Poems

By Mike James

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Oh Daddy, Give Me A Quarter For The Time Machine

I want to go to Berlin! Back before reunifications or walled up divisions, back before that
screaming little man with his silly mustache.Yes, I want to go to the Weimar Republic
and catch, just one, cabaret. See Marlene sulk sexy onto the stage in black top hat, tux
(with white gloves, of course.) I want to see the scribblers making napkin notes for later.
Hello, Walter Benjamin with your weak tea and indigestion. Good evening to you, Mr.
Brecht, with your new girlfriend and old, out of tune guitar. Kurt Weill at the piano
smoking his black, extra-long filter. Some unknown Sally at a barstool listening to other
people’s dreams.

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Rebel, Rebel

for David Bowie

Once he took off his dress, he didn’t know what to wear. He tried walking around, naked
as sunlight. Despite summer days, that became quite drafty. And nothing held in place.
Appendages sagged, this way and that. So he put on a blue suit, same color blue Candy
Darling used for lipstick. The color looked more natural romantic on her. He wore the
suit to walk the dog, shop for scarves, take out the trash, order delivery cheese pizza.
Despite adjustments from a sensible tailor, the suit was never a perfect fit. In stilettos he
no longer liked the click heels made for his ears.

 

About the Author: Mike James is the author of eleven poetry collections. His most recent books include: Crows in the Jukebox (Bottom Dog), My Favorite Houseguest (FutureCycle), and Peddler’s Blues (Main Street Rag.) He has previously served as associate editor for both The Kentucky Review and Autumn House Press. After years spent in South Carolina, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Georgia, he now makes his home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with his large family and a large assortment of cats.

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Mental Health Portraits

Portrait of Stephy Langui By Rene Magritte (1961)

Mental Health Portraits

By Margaret Crocker

               

MENTAL HEALTH-PORTRAIT 1

Offices are silent
and locked at night.

And bland doors upon doors
and myself,
white and nervous against the glass
broken with chickenwire.

The pads of my shoes are quiet.
The elevator’s shaky hum is quiet.
The shadows of the dining hall are quiet and long.
The dust on the carcass of a water beetle,
the saw that does not move,
the razor behind the lock,
the fingers,
stained with marker,
the fingers clenched in state blankets.

The voices
are silent
while a reflection of me
smokes in the yard.

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MENTAL HEALTH-PORTRAIT 2

Cee Cee
smiling in the hall.
She rubs her forehead back and forth,
her fingers back and forth,
the air twisting
her knuckles back and forth,
flies rubbing.

Cee Cee
taking a shower.
Her tshirt is hung
empty on the door.

Cee Cee in line
waiting for that Red Cross tshirt,
a souvenir of another life
of outside
and pursuits she sleeps away here,
of a time she had something to give.

Cee Cee in line
with a Dixie cup of orange juice
and that crazy, crazy blood
pumping a hole through the universe,
her head
bumping softly at the wall
again
again
as she stares past the door.
A sticker, a lollipop and a smiley-face on the board,
this is what she has now.

Cee Cee
carrying a cheap comb in a paper bag.
Cee Cee watches the bored nurse
and today’s discussion
“To Cope or Not To Cope.”

That is the question.

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About the Author: Margaret Crocker is an artist, writer, wife, mother, daughter, sister and thief. She collects stray animals and has this weird fantasy of being on The Great British Baking Show, despite the fact she uses a bread machine. She knows little but proclaims much. There is much we don’t know about her.

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High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race — Robert Garrett

16403407_10103555321683718_111071533205757261_oA note from Series Editor Sarah Marcus-Donnelly: Born from a powerful in-class discussion that we had about gender, race, and the role of masculinity in rape culture, many of these poems are an analysis of gendered, racial personal experience and a study of our intersectionality. This poetry series was inspired by a HuffPost essay I wrote called, “Why I Teach Feminism at an Urban High School.” The poets featured here are all current students whose work I found to be brave and progressive. Please help me support their crucial and influential voices.

I chose this poem for its insistent rhyme that is both grounding and unsettling. The devastation is palpable, and the vision of a violence-free future is essential.


Shell

Life is an empty shell
because of a shell.
I wonder if you fly in the sky
or cry in hell?

I hope your killer rot in jail
in an uncomfortable cell.
As I sit back and reminisce
the memories bliss–

I remember the near miss that almost kissed
My skull instead
it leaked your lung
then the blood
ran down as your eyes hung.
Still, in that moment, it never seemed real.

Till I heard the sirens squill.
I still remember the feel I caught
the chills but didn’t cry, and I can’t
remember why, but I had this feeling
that day I should’ve died.

Time moved fast; it was your funeral now.
Tears dropped, hearts stopped
The room froze,
you could hear a penny drop
The preacher walked
to the stage, cleared his throat
and flipped the page.

Said a prayer to start
then read off your obituary–
your age,
the whole crowd sighed in dismay.

They said, “He was a good kid,”
“He had bright future,”
But all I thought about was the weapon
that took your life was a Ruger.

And as I sat I had a dream
like Martin Luther King Jr.
of a world filled with peace.
Man it was nice, you could walk down street
without looking twice.
You could walk at night
when the lights wasn’t bright
without hearing gunshots left and right.

Then reality set in, and I was back
in the war zone
where guns are easy to get in.
And at least once a day
somebody becomes “a dead man”.

A place where hope is destroyed
and the whole country wants to fit in.
With the depiction of weapons
that Hollywood is setting.

But they’re not showing the truth,
because the truth don’t sell.
We watch as it fails the youth
and floods the cells.

It’s time to break through the shell
of ignorance.
You can no longer
claim your innocence.

You just need to open your eyes;
they say it’s a beautiful world, but it’s a disguise.
Cause every other day, a child’s mother cries,
as their precious one floats to the sky.

At the hands of the “necessary evil,” the picture deceitful,
because if they get one, you get one, we all get one.

We need to change the soil
that is growing the seeds doing the bad deeds.
Like cutting the dead roots from sick trees.
Cause now we just watching the leaves
turn brown as the sun goes down
nobody looks around to notice that world
is a continuous run from danger.

The feeling when a stranger can rearrange
your life, wonder where we made a left
cause this world ain’t right.

IMG_1068

Robert Garrett is a high school senior who enjoys reading, social activism, and volunteering. He loves playing baseball and is a 4-year starting centerfielder. He is currently very busy applying to colleges.

 

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: #METOO POETRY




Editor’s Note: As the #metoo movement that originated ten years ago with Tarana Burke reached a critical mass this week, together we bore witness to innumerable traumas. Perhaps, like me, you felt far more than you were able to articulate. In times like these I turn to poetry to find the words there are no words for. To that end, today I turn to poetry of witness and testimony. To poems that are unafraid to call out sexual assault and its aftereffects. To poetry that says: me, too.


“Seized” by Rachel Heimowitz

“I Should Quit Teaching” by Lois Roma-Deeley

Rupi Kaur’s #metoo poem

“bone” by Yrsa Daley-Ward

Nayyirah Waheed

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Different From the Others: LGBT History Month and the Almost Century-Old Legacy of an Early Gay Rights Film

A still from Anders Als die Andern (1919)

Different From the Others:

LGBT History Month and the Almost Century-Old Legacy

of an Early Gay Rights Film

By Chase Dimock

 

October is LGBT History Month, and this year it is as important as ever to study our past. With all of our recently won civil rights and our dramatically increased visibility in society, the LGBT community sometimes assumes that the features of our culture and the values of our politics are recent inventions. Conversely, sometimes we make the opposite mistake and assume that LGBT people of the past (even before the terms gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender first came about) thought of themselves and the community exactly as we do today. These misconceptions are primarily due to the fact that American culture has closeted LGBT history for so long. We learned little to nothing about the history of the LGBT community in school and have thus been denied the benefit that comes with studying history or even being aware that we have a history. I remember, as a teenager, reading gay poet A E Housman in my English textbook, not knowing that his poems written about his male “friends” were actually addressed to the men he loved romantically. It was more important for those who created the curriculum and standards for our education to lead us into misunderstanding the material than to risk admitting to young people that men could love other men in the 19th century or today for that matter.

Having a history is an essential part of having a cultural identity. A history explains where we are in the present and allows us greater insight into the direction in which we are heading. It reminds us that ideas, values, and expressions do not materialize out of nothing; they are the product of the collective communal action of the people over time. This history is always evolving and our story is never finished being told because we are constantly discovering more about it. Finally, knowing our history cautions us against the uncritical belief in a progress narrative. It is easy to assume that we live in the most civilized and enlightened of times and that progress inevitably arcs toward justice. In reality, civil rights are often a cycle of advancement and blow back. Social action is usually greeted by an even greater and opposite repressive reaction. We cannot afford to presume that our current social standing is permanent or that it will naturally improve in the future.

This insight that studying LGBT History grants us is featured in the first film to seriously discuss LGBT identity, Anders Als die Andern(Different From the Others) made in Germany in 1919. Directed by Richard Oswald and co-written by and co-starring legendary sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, the silent film tells the story of a music teacher in love with an adult student. He falls victim to blackmail and in despair, he looks for answers. A quack offers a cure through hypnotherapy, but when that fails, he seeks out Dr. Hirschfeld’s advice. Hirschfeld assures him that his inclinations are normal and that it is not homosexuality that is shameful, but rather, it is our intolerant society that deserves scrutiny. I don’t want to go too far into the plot because I would rather you watch it for yourself. 

One reason why this film is an important part of our cultural legacy is that it reminds us that many of the same basic issues we confront today were part of the same struggle 100 years ago. Grappling with a culturally enforced notion of “difference,” dealing with the disproportionate rate of depression and suicide among LGBT people, and finding access to queer friendly counsel and health care are still difficult parts of the coming out process. Yet, much has changed since Hirschfeld’s time. The idea of sexuality as distinct from gender identity was still evolving. Most psychologists still subscribed to the inversion model of the homosexual man as “a woman on the inside” and a homosexual woman as a “man on the inside.” Hirschfeld himself proposed the idea of the homosexual as a “third sex,” though he later revised that idea after further work with his associates. Continue reading

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: THE TREASURES THAT PREVAIL




From THE TREASURES THAT PREVAIL
By Jen Karetnick:


ADVISE AND CONSENT

It seems to fall to men to create
disasters and women to mop up after.

The first thing people have to forget

is their sense of the senatorial

desk, the deep leather armchair.

There’s always
somebody screaming

off stage or window-shopping for the ridiculous,
arm in arm. Sooner or later these moments come.

We have seen this happen and cannot refrain.



UNDER MANGO CAMOUFLAGE

They bloomed too soon, pistils coral,
hung green like left-behind seawater
well into the sodden fall, ripened
into a bilirubinous yellow.

Falling, they broke themselves
open into Cyrillic letters on the unearthed
limestone as if they were envelopes
stuffed too full of possibilities.

Now marked only with a flag of memory,
this is where we buried the bits
of flesh snipped as easily as a stem
from an eight-day-old son, disguising

the dreams that in the wrong hands
could have been so readily rewritten.



THE OPPOSITE OF MECCA

Oh, the darkness of it all—black cat, black dog,
black monkey on the black-eyed woman’s shoulder,

rocking on a boat dock over water so absent of light
even our dreams have lost their shadows. In this house

made of books and planks, under the art of thatch
and weave, we are birds nesting together who have closed

our throats to song. This is where, without definition, we pin
the horizon as the center on a map of our always new world.



Today’s poems are from The Treasures That Prevail (Whitepoint Press, 2016), copyright © 2016 by Jen Karetnick, and appear here today with permission from the poet.


The Treasures That Prevail is about climate change and its effects on Miami; the poems in this collection confront the ills of modern society in general, mourn both public and personal losses, and predict the difficulties of a post-modern life in a flooded, Atlantis-like lost city. The narrators are two unnamed women, married with a teenage daughter and a teenage son, who live in a part of Miami that will be underwater unless action is taken. The Treasures That Prevail is a parable about what could happen to any of our low-lying coastal cities if we don’t start to make changes now.

Jen Karetnick is the author of seven poetry collections, including American Sentencing (Winter Goose Publishing, May 2016)–which was a long-list finalist for the Julie Suk Award from Jacar Press–and The Treasures That Prevail (Whitepoint Press, September 2016). She received an MFA in poetry from University of California, Irvine and an MFA in fiction from University of Miami. Her poetry, prose, playwriting and interviews have appeared recently or are forthcoming in TheAtlantic.com, The Evansville Review, Foreword Reviews, Guernica, The McNeese Review, Negative Capability, One, Painted Bride Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, Spillway, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Waxwing and Verse Daily. She is co-director for the reading series, SWWIM (Supporting Women Writers in Miami). Jen works as the Creative Writing Director for Miami Arts Charter School and as a freelance writer, dining critic and cookbook author. She lives in Miami Shores on the remaining acre of a historic mango plantation with her husband, two teenagers, three dogs, three cats and fourteen mango trees.

Editor’s Note: How fearfully prescient this collection has proven to be as California is burning, as large swathes of the world are recovering from hurricanes and earthquakes, as Harvey Weinstein has been outed as a sexual predator, as man after man shows us what it really mean to be “senatorial” in his “deep leather armchair,” as the world is melting and our future threatens to emerge underwater.

With The Treasures That Prevail Jen Karetnick has penned a collection that is beautiful and terrifying, that is lyric and devastating, that rings of Cassandra in the ways its truths fall upon deaf, ignorant, or apathetic ears. The language within these pages is thick and malleable, painting with words a picture that you might cut back with a machete in a valiant effort to combat the vengeful wrath of a raped and battered Mother Earth. For even the best among us — in the age of capitalism and consumerism and selfish, self-destructive climate change — are but “birds nesting together who have closed // our throats to song.”

Want more from Jen Karetnick?
Buy The Treasures That Prevail from Amazon
Jen Karetnick’s Writing Portfolio
Buy American Sentencing from Amazon

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