Poetry News

In the Theater of the Urban: Melissa Broder's Scarecrone

By Harriet Staff


Monica McClure reviews Melissa Broder's Scarecrone (Publishing Genius Press 2014) for Emily Books! McClure places herself, and her reading, in the determinate Los Angeles future: "Now I’ve read a book that doesn’t pretend—like LA perpetually does—that life is long, lustrous, and astral—from an author living in a city that’s pure pretend." More:

Until reading Scarecrone, I hadn’t thought to assign a consistency to a book. This collection of heart-fucking, hypnotic poems, however, goes down like a viscous elixir. Broder’s apothecarist methods of blending intimate revelations with creepy imagery create a sweet and metallic castor oil. If you’re morning sick and miserable (which I often am), you gulp it down obediently. That’s how I felt reading this book: like a village midwife was giving me some harsh, age-old medicine. Like Rosemary in Rosemary’s Baby, I developed strange hungers as I progressed. Raw meat, molasses, ink, styrofoam, cherry cola. Using metaphors of consumption to describe this book feels right, as Broder’s “I” is often eating and sucking and wanting to be stuffed—all while asking why a body—drippy, porous, and needy as it is—deserves consciousness or—dare I say—a spirit. Her existential questions are a lot like Albert Camus’. Their existentialism is cosmopolitan. Absurdity is best experienced in the theatre of the urban. While Camus cast his questions into an aesthetic void, Border’s is self-consciously agnostic.

In “Varieties of Religious Experience, she writes, “Even when I have / a man in my holes I / am leaking and begging for other.” Eleven lines down she writes:

God was showing me
the code through a prism. 
I fractured the glass
on purpose because
I did not want to know

In my movie screen mind, I superimposed these poems upon the image of a white horse rolling on her back and kicking her mighty legs in the air. Is it for pain or glee? This slow motion clip appears at the beginning of Andre Tarkovsky’s 1966 film, Andrei Rublev, after a Russian peasant has a similarly turbulent Icarus moment in a hot air balloon. Ecstasy forms an aura around suffering in these images, much like what happens in Broder’s poems. It’s not as simple as sexual surrender as a salve, though that idea is there as well. “Lay me up / so I may know my power- / lessness and therein find / my iron.” Over and over again radical submission to a powerful force like love, God, or sickness turns out to be a botched baptism. There’s no going back into the womb. No being born again. No such thing as consensual consciousness. However seduced by religious archetypes, beautiful flowers, and the everyday comforts of the first world, we are too immature to consummate our love for life.