Review: Scrofula by Matt Dennison

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Scrofula (cover)

by Matt Dennison

Pudding House, 2008
28 pages; 

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, " 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

- reddit, digg, facebook, stumbleupon, etc... please! ;)
posted by Jill Librarian

24 comments; 15 subscribers

Tuesday, March 24, 2009 / 09:18:18
You can win GUD's (signed) review copy of _Scrofula_! LEAVE A COMMENT IN THIS THREAD TELLING US WHAT DISEASE YOU WOULD WRITE AN ODE TO (no actual ode necessary; and no, Scrofula is not an ode). :)

The winner will be chosen at random. Contest open to U.S. and Canada only; entries must be posted by the end of April 8, 2009 (pacific time).

Tuesday, March 24, 2009 / 10:31:34
Tuesday, March 24, 2009 / 10:42:52
Sleep apnea!
Tuesday, March 24, 2009 / 12:06:07
Tuesday, March 24, 2009 / 12:28:52
mucha haberman disease for sure!!!!!
Wednesday, March 25, 2009 / 14:48:38
enuresis. not chronic enuresis, not nocturnal enuresis. just plain enuresis.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009 / 20:03:23
Retinitis Pigmentosa
Thursday, March 26, 2009 / 04:58:24
Thursday, March 26, 2009 / 06:56:01
It would be alcohol addiction.
Thursday, March 26, 2009 / 07:57:32
Let's go with bipolar disorder. (although I thought priapism was the funniest answer...)
Wednesday, April 1, 2009 / 07:48:55
Alzheimer's disease would be my first choice. Not only because it is a truly horrible way to go, but because there are moments to laugh at also(and thanks for that).
Wednesday, April 1, 2009 / 20:11:35
general dimensia.

It would allow for broader subject matter and moods. Sometimes could be contemplative, nostalgic, cheery. Sometimes dark and twisting.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009 / 23:16:07
Ode to hypothyroidism - bald spots and brittle nails
Sunday, April 5, 2009 / 18:06:33
Plica polonica (look it up).
Tuesday, April 7, 2009 / 14:51:38
Restless leg syndrome!
Wednesday, April 8, 2009 / 08:02:29
I would write an ode to Aids.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009 / 23:31:44
I would write an ode to Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Thursday, April 9, 2009 / 02:44:49
Monday, April 27, 2009 / 13:45:56
Progeria ftw--that's skankityspence. Thank you all for playing. :) Now I have to actually look up progeria...

ooh. Yeah, I think that would lend itself well, really. One in eight million...
Monday, April 27, 2009 / 15:21:56
:D Yay My first win!

Yeah, I remember seeing a special about the condition and it really stuck in my head. Chuck Palahniuk wrote a short story with the protagonist having it, too. It's always been an interesting thing to learn about.
Monday, April 27, 2009 / 15:55:36
It's about time, considering, huh? ;)
Monday, April 27, 2009 / 16:33:00
I thought Progeria was the name of a product designed to treat baldness...
Monday, April 27, 2009 / 16:43:44
It does have that sort of ring to it. But:…
Monday, April 27, 2009 / 19:39:25
Progeria's good. I liked the story Palahniuk wrote; I would consider it a must read.

Congrats skankityspence.

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