Scared Violent Like Horses (John McCarthy)

I had to stop cold after the first line of John McCarthy’s collection, the Jake Adam York Prize Winner. It reads, “This is the year of this is never over.” Now I knew even as I paused that he wasn’t writing about now, but still, it’s a very accurate description of life under COVID-19. Taken together, the poems juxtapose sounds and silences and the conflicting pulls of past, present, and future to demonstrate that we do, indeed, live lives of quiet desperation. McCarthy writes about this “museum of ache,” quite acutely in poems like “A Brief History of Friends,” “On Fighting,” and “Love is Like A Horse Set on Fire from the Inside.”
These tensions are perhaps best represented by these lines from another favorite, “Noise Falling Backward” –
Silence is just noise falling backward

from the future, and I don’t know what to do with it.
I haven’t lived through it yet. It’s like wiping my eyes in the rain.

I can’t see clearly. I can’t get a grip on anything.


I wish the present could stay like this – in its place and hidden.

This is a poignant and powerful collection. This is a writer to watch.

Charles Ellenbogen is the author of the teaching memoir, THIS ISN’T THE MOVIES: 25 YEARS IN THE CLASSROOM, and teaches high school English in Cleveland, Ohio. He lives in Shaker Heights, Ohio with Kirsten, his wife, Zoe, their daughter, Ezra, their son, Lincoln, their dog, and Chocolate Scales, their snake.