SCARED VIOLENT LIKE HORSES BY JOHN MCCARTHY
Scared Violent Like Horses by John McCarthy, winner of the Jake Adam York Prize, is a gorgeous lyrical and focused meditation. It reexamines and confronts the past violence of home, specifically the North End of Springfield, Illinois. McCarthy asks us to look at a place’s “soft violence” that “renders and yields this truth—each place is different / in its silence [. . .] It dares you / to misunderstand its rhythm, its landlocked and landmarked song—” He pushes us to look steadfastly at violence as acts of both reclaiming and sensemaking. In “Callousing,” after the speaker is tracked down and beaten by the Johnson farm boys, he states, “Praise this—this memory I rise with all the days of my life. Praise / this—that which breaks only to harden.” In other poems, the speaker recalls his own inclusion in the everyday violence of youthful boredom, “Most of the time, on uneven ground, / we’d throw hooks and haymakers then backpedal scared.” Even here, McCarthy locates the silent truth, “I was never that skilled at slipping punches or finding angles / or pivoting out of the way. I just didn’t want to be alone.” Scared Violent Like Horses never slips a punch—instead it remembers the punches and locates the bruises until the speaker’s jaw is “a healed bone calm enough to speak of violence, to contain its taste.” His title poem reads, “We needed someone to force us / into confronting the uselessness of our violence,” and McCarthy does this, and more, he asks readers not only to confront the past’s violence, but, more importantly, he provides a model for healing and, if possible, praise for what has happened, for where we’re from, and for where we’ve ended up.
—Review by Jacob Lindberg