Review: Scrofula by Matt Dennison
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
by Matt Dennison
Pudding House, 2008
Scrofula, a collection of twenty poems by Matt Dennison, is strongest in the poems detailing ordinary life. These include the poems Scrofula, Found in My Garden After the Rain, Premise, and The Spider Weaves.
I admit it, the title sent me to the dictionary—knowing scrofula was some kind of illness—to find
"scrofu·la (skräf′yÉ™ lÉ™)—noun-tuberculosis of the lymphatic glands, esp. of the neck, characterized by the enlargement of the glands, suppuration, and scar formation."
This first poem, bearing the title also of the book, has strong, clear images that linger in the mind. As the young man and old man searched through the hill's "hundred summers' growth" for buried head stones, they "marched with pitchforks/ side by side, shoving their fingers into the ground, feeling for what had been slowly bowed/ and buried by the dull weight of time", and further in, "..how entire families would be/ laid out in descending scales of grief, all voices stopped within the same small/ circle of days and how one family, from suckling child to father, had been Taken By Scrofula/ in the winter of 1868, the dark/ earthy sound of which I tried again/ and again in the thick summer air" and going on, includes a quiet tribute to the old man—"tying the posts together in a complicated,/ old-fashioned way whose secret of doing/ I knew would vanish with the old man"—paying tribute to life and to death which calls us "in the ultimate foreign tongue."
In "Found In My Garden After the Rain" a simple find of flint in the garden calls up the beginnings of mankind , flint knapping, and spirals back to today. This poem has nice meter married to some excellent lines. In Premise, the child wants proof of God in his daily life, but the mundane proves too strong. The ending is matter-of-fact but very moving.
Salvation, one of the longer poems, a spirited rejection of traditional church services, is a joy to read. Also "Balboa Egret", with its lovely quatrain:
"Under the house in a low, minor key,
an old cat told a Chinese tale--eyes closed,
mouth near dirt, she droned on and on
to the delight of her young."
I recommend this small but sturdy compilation to all lovers of poetry.
See also our review of Matt Dennison's previous collection, Dog Medicine and the teaser for Matt Dennison's short story, "Flower as Big as the Sky" in GUD Issue 3
24 comments; 15 subscribers
Do you have a comment? Log in or Register; registration is quick, painless, free, and spam-free (unless you ask for it)