Scarecrone by Melissa Broder

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Do you remember the 2003 movie Holes? There are a lot of them in Melissa Broder’s new collection Scarecrone, whose title intimated maturity and fem power. But I don’t know if crones or crows would be scared by those advertising air dancers that wave business in off highways.

Working with Broder on Scarecrone was editor Adam Robinson at Publishing Genius Press who wrote to her, “I just read the first 10ish poems and skipped around some and in this book I’m finding a lot of cosmic / body unity or maybe frustration or disparity. It’s profane but it’s personal. And it’s gritty…” As the collection took shape, the editor suggested, “that the book needed ‘a few more unadulterated lovelies, things that flatter the reader and make them willing to get dark with you.’”

In Scarecone, “dark” is one of the recurring words along with “holes, crone, mouth” and “dust.” The poems are often as “inscrutable” as Robinson says in his laudatory Tumblr story. He adds that “the job for Melissa and I [sic] consisted primarily of going back and forth on whether to use the word ‘cock’ or ‘dick’…”

Scarecrone was published this February, 2014, to glowing reactions. From Blake Butler at Vice, blogged by Dennis Cooper, ”If you’ve ever read Melissa Broder, or if you follow her on Twitter, you know her spirit is entrenched somewhere halfway between the club and the void… Broder says shit like: ‘Nobody bleeds white like I bleed white / Into a ditch the shadow of my bloodbag is white / I want a darker aura, like I want to be gorgeous.’ There’s a weird brand of inner loathing mashed with inner haunting lurking here, but what I like best about Broder, oddly, is her morality.”

Jason Diamond at Flavorwire wrote:

Melissa Broder, whose latest collection of poems, Scarecrone…makes creative use of her Twitter account… Broder …uses Twitter…like a laboratory for future poems or poems in progress… Like many of us, Broder seems to tweet whatever pops into her head at that very second; unlike many of us, most of what she tweets is brilliant… It’s noticeable how much her third book… has gotten stronger on a line-by-line basis. Take the opening of “JUDGMENT” (22):

When the shaman comes to town I try to hump the shaman
I try to hump angels
I cannot uncouth [sic – should be “untouch”] sublime beings

Any one of those lines could be a Broder tweet, and any tweet could be part of a poem; that’s ultimately what makes this poet one of two people I consistently tell people they must follow on Twitter.”

My reading of Scarecrone coincided with a late July New York Times story about poets laureate in the USA. “Rob Casper, the head of the Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress, traces the broader laureate boom to the rise in the early 1990s of so-called activist national laureates like Joseph Brodsky, who sought to have poetry books placed in every hotel room in America, and Rita Dove, who brought Crow Indian schoolchildren, young poets from Washington and dozens of others to read their work at the Library of Congress…Some laureates still receive old-fashioned requests to compose verse for graduations, hospital openings and other public occasions.”

Melissa Broder is as yet unwreathed in laurels, but it’s tough to imagine her reading her poems at ribbon-cuttings. However, here she can be seen/heard in a dark room reading from Scarecrone. (18):

Please don’t call me out
I am getting worse
quiet fucks me good
but I can’t hear
I make fake people in my serrated brain
and eat them with my one free mouth
their bones are tar
to fill me with no needle
the Buddha shakes his head
I hand him my holes
he drapes them over his shoulders
sits on the sky 
the dust and sunlight 
the pine trees and the fucking moon
if he can be still then good 
if he can awaken then good
I am already growing more holes
and will not do the wait
in the temple of my jaw
I do not claim to be right
I am a lone wolf
I am a lonely wolf
I make people up
and I eat them

In that pre-publication dialogue with Adam Robinson at Publishing Genius Press, the poet said in Scarecrone that she would answer the question raised in her previous collection: “Like, if MEAT HEART ends asking ‘why can’t we make the whole story up?’…after I came up w [sic] the title SKY MALL, I thought of the title SCARECRONE. A lot of the work contends w the horror of aging in terms of sexuality, existential fear, the body, death, etc. SCARECRONE is like ‘here’s why.’” But true to Scarecrone‘s apt title, the idea of fakery echoes in the poems.

FROM A PLACE OF ___________?
I opened my eyes on day 0
and said to the universe SHAKE ME
and the universe complied
which felt too real
so I built another universe…(74)

broder2Also, contrast this poet’s obscenities with Whitman’s “I sing the body electric,” and Yeats’s “Once out of nature I shall never take/My bodily form from any natural thing,” with Broder’s “I will never return to this body/I wish I could love it more…” (“Advaita” -75) Scarecrone‘s blunt Sapphic/Dickinsonian lines and promise of neologism remain unfulfilled by the end of the collection, which concludes almost hopefully and without punctuation in “Forgotten Nothing” (83), again echoing, this time the lyric of “Amazing Grace,” “I say nobody knows the way besides the way/I say once was lost but now am lost…please make the waking gentle/for this woke child with shut eyes”

Sappho’s cry against age, “The night is now/half gone; youth/ goes; I am/ in bed alone” appears on the dedication first page of Scarecrone, followed by Broder’s introductory commentary “Dark Poem”, “Somebody is lying/about the moon disappearing./ I offered her a cherry cola/to help her vomit darker.” Sappho’s outrage reads real. Flailing air dancing scarecrows/crones are hollow.

In 2009, L.S. Bassen was the winner of the Atlantic Pacific Press Drama Prize. She has won a Mary Roberts Rinehart Fellowship, and over two decades has been published (poetry/fiction) in many lit magazines and zines. Recently moved from NYC to RI. She is a prizewinning, produced, and published playwright, and commissioned co-author of a WWII memoir by the Scottish bride of Baron Kawasaki. More from this author →