Majnun Ben-David

Phrases I Liked: John McCarthy

April is National Poetry Month in the US. April is also Sexually Transmitted Disease Awareness Month (seriously) and, in a few southern states, Confederate Loser History Month. There's a poem in that trio of honorees. Or a bad joke.

Personally, I'm sticking with April as Poetry Month. As such, I wanted to share some favorite lines from a newly published collection of poetry: "
Ghost County" by John McCarthy from the fine folks at Midwestern Gothic. McCarthy is the managing editor of Quiddity, the lit journal and radio program. "Ghost County" is, I believe, his first collection, but his poems have appeared in a number of journals (see list here). He also edited the anthology [Ex]tinguished & [Ex]tinct: An Anthology of Things that No Longer [Ex]ist from Twelve Winters Press (see disclaimer below).

I'm not well-versed in poetry. As
John Cheever said, "the disciplines [poetry and short stories] are as different as shooting a twelve-gauge shotgun and swimming." On the other hand, both of those activities are things I can easily picture Cheever doing, maybe even at the same time ("nothing like potting a few grouse from the pool on a hot summer day, really the best"). Anyway, point being, I'm making no claim that the phrases I'm sharing here are what actual poets or poetry aficionados would pick out from this collection. And I'm definitely doing violence to the ideas here by yanking the lines out of context. So if you like these bits at all, you should definitely check out the full "Ghost County" volume (just $5 for the digital version).

Without further ado, then, the lines I particularly liked in
"Ghost County" by John McCarthy

"Inside the curio cabinets,
tiny porcelain angels will shake."

"You will kiss my hand
on a sharp turn. I will
not tell you how close
I am to crashing. You

will write your name
in the condensation
like a neck tattoo I am
too afraid to get.

Nothing says forever
like covering ink up
with a Carhartt."

"Plant landmines in the garden bed."

"dish soap in cans, vegetables

in mismatched Tupperware; around here
expiration dates last longer."

Throbbing is a good word for adolescence."

"All the girls had libidinous calf muscles."

"You must eat white rice, white bread. Drink
white milk. Learn what it's like to digest the color of ghosts."

"If you're
over the age of ten
and digging a hole, it's best not to tell the truth."

"Remember when you said if
you could, you would extract
your soul, bait it with a hook,
cast it into graves, and raise
the dead?"

In terms of pieces, the 19 poems all entitled "Pickup Truck" form, to me, a wonderful unit. The least-lame way I can put their impact into words is to compare them to flashes of a strobe light, each one illuminating a different but related scene, until they all combine into a whole that exists with emotional clarity even though you're not sure where it came from, exactly.

I also liked the notes at the end, where a few (just a few) references are explained — no need for everything to be mysterious and obscure. Though I think note #3 needs some proofreading, at least in the Kindle version. More importantly, most of these poems are listed as being for specific people, which I think is cool.

So there you have it, the phrases I liked in
"Ghost County" by John McCarthy in celebration of the 20th annual National Poetry Month … what is the 20th anniversary in poetry anyway? haiku? or is haiku for the 10th anniversary? I know a cinquain is for the 5th, but I can never keep the rest straight.

Disclaimer: My piece of flash fiction, A County Without Weather, was selected by John McCarthy for inclusion in the [Ex]tinguished and [Ex]tinct anthology. As such, I am biased here, and we've corresponded a bit and exchanged a few messages on Twitter. But this post was entirely unprompted by John and if I hadn't honestly enjoyed his poetry, I wouldn't have written it. So to the degree that this is logrolling, it's like maybe a half-rotation, tops (typically all I can manage before falling off into the water anyway). As always, the links above don't earn me any money, nor do sales of any of the linked books. If I link something, it's because I think readers might find it of interest, not because I'm trying to make money.
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