Kevin McFadden's HARDSCRABBLE

Last night I heard Kevin McFadden and Angie Hogan read at Cafe Muse. It had been far too long since I got to be in the audience for a poetry reading; a very weird side effect of giving them so often. Thanks to Kevin and Angie for coming up from Charlottesville and joining me and Cafe Muse host Hailey Leithauser for a drink afterwards.


I loved Angie's work, particularly "Apologia at Clinchfield Yards," which you can read here thanks to Poetry Daily (it first appeared in The Threepenny Review). The poem pulls no punches; the Clinchfield Railroad Yard near Erwin, Tennessee, was the actual hanging site of Mary the elephant. There's a photo you can find online, but I can't bear to post it here. "Apologia" now ranks alongside Dan Chiasson's "The Elephant" in my kingdom of favorite pachyderm poems. 


When Kevin McFadden's HARDSCRABBLE first came out I know I got a copy, but I lent it to a friend and never got it back. I was happy to reunite myself with a second copy last night. These complex, acrobatic, language-obsessed poems are not only smart but fun. As Hailey said in her introduction, Kevin is a "word-drunk," the best possible kind. Here is one of his anagrammatic poems from the book, which opens with a line from Langston Hughes and then plays with different incarnations of the text in provocative and meaningful ways:




MEDITATE FROM SEA TO SEA



Let America be America again.
Ice-age ambiance. Later a mira-
cle air: a meat mania, ice-barge,
ice-amble. A tie. Agrarian came
later, Inca came, a bare image I
bear. An Eric came, agile at aim
(let America be a maniac, I rage).
Italian came--macabre, I agree.
Came Iberia, came Angle, a rat I
Rate, a marine bilge. Came a CIA
angelic era, a tame iambic ear.
Bacteria came in a mire, algae
era. Militia came, began a race,
a crime, eager aim, Cain at Abel.
At Abe L. Imagine a ceramic era,
ceramic ear: I am it. A lab. A gene
I age. A meme trace. A bicranial
air age, a bicameral cinema, et
cetera, a manic beige malaria,
a carnage. American I let be. I am
a cameraman, I create a big lie
(let America be a camera I gain),
I am a cabaret emcee, a girl in a
Miami tribe, an eagle, a car, ace
Airman. Elegaic America, a bet:
let America be a magic arena I
anagram. I bet I care (came a lie,
a clear image), I bet America an
animal acreage, I bet America
beer I can amalgamate air, ice-
berg. An ale. Ace-at-ear, I mimic a
man (bare me) I glaciate Americana--
I’m a rain. Let America be a cage;
I remain a gate, a Mecca. I blare
Niagra, I accelerate, maim, be
a beam, I emanate a grail, Circe
mirage. America, a neat cable I
tie in. America, a gala embrace.
Let America be America: a gain.


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