Victoria Book Prizes

“Maleea Acker (at left) joins four other writers shortlisted this year for the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize. Three writers are up for the City of Victoria Children’s Book Prize. Read more here.FULL STORY

 

 

Thrashing with life

Rodney De Croo has been compared to the late poet, Charles Bukowski.

September 06th, 2023

Rodney DeCroo, poet and playwright, is also a songwriter with eight albums to his credit.

From a coiled rattlesnake to dangerous father figures, Rodney DeCroo relives encounters with nightmarish creatures in his third poetry collection. But there’s tenderness too, says reviewer Heidi Greco.


Review by Heidi Greco

A gigantic fish, its mouth full of pointy teeth, leers out from the cover of Rodney DeCroo’s latest collection of poems, Fishing for Leviathan (Anvil $18). Looking at the image more closely, one discovers a tiny diver suspended by a rope that I can only hope is also a source of oxygen. The metaphor of the little dangling man in precarious straits is not at all unreasonable for the contents of the book.

In the poem that shares the book’s title, the narrator and his brothers manage to filch a bunch of fishing supplies at the hardware store before heading to the river where they toss their lines. When one of them pulls in a catfish, they marvel at its size and ugliness, comparing it to a “sea monster” something “like the Leviathan Pastor Bob preached about / last Sunday!” Yet despite their exaggerated descriptions and bravado, while the fish still struggles, the scene turns to one of tender caring:

Picking the catfish up, cradled
slick against my arms, I placed
it in the shallow water where, listing
on its side, we thought it dead;
until it wildly thrashed with life
as we yelled it back into the river.

And for me, it’s in lines such as these that DeCroo proves his mettle as a poet. Look closer for yourself: “cradled / slick against my arms”—an image clear as one from a film, slippery and wet. Or even stronger, the closing where the fish not only jerks its body, but “wildly thrashes” and not just as a struggle to escape, but that it does so “with life!” And then the perfection of that verb in the final line “as we yelled it back into the river” (where I inserted my own italics).

Charles Bukowski (1920 – 1994)

He’s been compared by some to the famed Charles Bukowski, though aside from some shared themes and scenes—primarily those related to working and drinking—I don’t see a lot of commonalities in the ways the poems work. While Bukowski tends to favour short, choppy lines, DeCroo’s lines wander, often leaving me in doubt as to how he determines where a line break should occur.

But then even as I am having this thought, he calls me out (or it feels that way) when he writes about a woman who:

…asks me questions about line breaks
using technical terms I don’t know.
When I reply I just do what feels right
she looks away as if I’d said something lewd,
clutches her wine glass to her chest,
joins a knot of guests discussing
found poetry as disruptive practice
undermining the fascist implications
of the lyric poem.

And yet, as if to balance an outsider’s critique, in another piece he asks:

Who
can you trust if you
can’t trust the voices
in your head or your own poem?

And voice, whether inside or outside his head, is an element that’s part of Rodney DeCroo’s identity. In many circles he’s better known as a musician, a calling with more opportunities for paying gigs than that of a poet. It’s worth making a stop at YouTube and calling up some of his performances. I find them an odd kind of combination of Dylan and maybe Tom Waits, while at the same time summoning the spirit of Leonard Cohen.

But back to the Bukowski comparison: there are similarities—most striking to me in the ways they both write about the ordinary aspects of life, especially its pains. Both men seem to have shared the credo espoused by the late Downtown Eastside Vancouver poet Bud Osborn, whose guiding principle was poetry as “fidelity to lived experience.” Such lived experience is, for most of us, not the same kind of experiences DeCroo has known.

One of the most unforgettable poems is about his father, a man he claims got a certain pleasure from hurting others:

…he was a dangerous man, an ex-marine
who said he enjoyed killing.
He called it going into winter—
a state of emotional detachment
where anything was possible;
where he said a man found himself.
That’s why he worked in bars.
There was always someone
willing to fight.

Sadly, that man isn’t the only one in his life who relied on violence to get his way. Another of his mother’s husbands “…beat her on weekends when he’d / get drunk watching war movies.” The action in the poem’s final line, occurring after a scene with a rifle, is sure to break your heart with the horror it conveys.

Yet not all the pains he remembers are inflicted by family. It’s the viewpoint of the helpless child that he creates—again with wonderful language—in a piece called Serpent and I:

In Beaufort, South Carolina
on the dirt road near the trailer
a rattlesnake unravelled
its long muscle, slid in dust
between my small, bare legs
and torn sneakers untouched
by the spade-shaped head
as urine ran down my thighs.

He isn’t bitten, and is rescued by his mother who wants him to rest, but he’s haunted by nightmare visions of the dry-skinned serpent, just the way I am sure to be haunted by many of the poems in this startling new book. 9781772142136

Heidi Greco not only reads poems but writes them. She currently has a manuscript making the rounds with publishers while she continues writing, albeit with fingers crossed.

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