McHenry, Potscrubber Lullabies
pp, ISBN 10 1-904130-22-4, ISBN 13: 978-1-904130-22-2, £7.95 (paperback
Publication, June 22nd 2006
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note about Potscrubber Lullabies |
Lullabies aren't the kind that will put you to sleep. The poems in this first
collection dance, dart, and double-cross, and are deadly serious the whole time.
Preoccupied with impermanence and injustice, Eric McHenry wagers everything on
the redemptive power of music, irony, and love. His language can be extraordinarily
playful and self-aware the double-negative "affirms / itself in no
uncertain terms"; the census strains "the dead / from decade";
and a neighborhood blighted by Dutch Elm Disease learns that when "You take
the elms from Elmhurst, you get hurt". But the poems always remain rooted
in the sentence-rhythms of spoken English in plain speech and "the
plain fact of song".
A note on Eric McHenry
McHenry grew up in Topeka, Kansas and earned degrees from Beloit
College and Boston University. His first book of poems, Potscrubber
Lullabies (Waywiser, 2006), won the Kate Tufts Discovery
Award. His poems have appeared in the New Republic, Harvard
Review, Cincinnati Review, Common Knowledge,
Orion, the Guardian (U.K.), Poetry Daily
and Poetry Northwest, from whom he received the 2010
Theodore Roethke Prize. He is a contributing editor of Columbia
magazine and has written about poetry for the New York Times
Book Review, Parnassus: Poetry in Review, the San
Francisco Chronicle, the Boston Globe and Slate.
He lives in Topeka with his wife and two children and teaches
creative writing at Washburn University.
If you would like to hear Eric reading a poem from Potscrubber
Lullabies ("The Incumbent"), click on the link
below, which will take you to Slate magazine, where it
is featured as poem of the week [for the week commencing June
Praise for Potscrubber Lullabies
one of these poems is a little miracle of self-exactitude, rhyming and word play
and metrical joy; they're games the words in the poem play elatedly with each
other, and everybody wins. The poems are victories of observation and self-observation,
outsight and insight. I think there's genius in this writing." David
is a book that combines themes, places and music with wit and feeling, while letting
them be what they are. Full of people, landscape and language treated with subdued
newness. A great first book." Aaron Fogel
exuberant, acrobatic poems of Potscrubber Lullabies are full of music and
awareness of music. Along with their virtuosity, they have genuine feeling: generous
laughter; a sneaky dignity free of self-importance; curiosity about the world;
and an admirable sense of balance." Robert Pinsky
McHenry's Potscrubber Lullabies is a fabulous book, one of the best books
I've read in years. Witty, poignant, offbeat, elegiac and satirical (sometimes
all at once), with metrical subtlety and sly rhymes McHenry explores the idiom
of place and the place of idiom. He reveals how even the most personal and intimate
utterances lean 'hard with the weight of someone else's meaning.' This debut collection
marks the beginning of a new and significant voice in American poetry."
Lullabies is a funky, tough-minded, grown-up first book of poems, dangerously
deadpan and winsome, as alert to large social realities like Midwestern floods
and politics as to tiny motions of the soul. McHenry's wordplay, a marriage of
zany wit and truthfulness, never misses the beat or the point. Whether he is slinging
his troubleball as John the Revelator, or declaring ominously, 'When you say nothing
I know what you mean,' he has our number, and we have reason to be grateful."
of the Year Nominations
City Star, November 19th 2006
Lullabies] deftly balances the cerebral and the accessible."
of Potscrubber Lullabies
Virginia Quarterly Review, February 2007
Bierce drew national boundaries between humor and wit: 'Nearly all Americans are
humorous; if any are born witty, Heaven help them to emigrate.' British publisher
Waywiser Press accepts (for publication anyway) émigrés of the poor
climate in this country for wit-wrought metrical poetry and they have preserved
a rare specimen of American cleverness in selecting Potscrubber Lullabies
[This book] has many of the same elements as much
more blah collections strolled towns and graveyards, a kitchen window,
a compost pile and wheelbarrow, a family, the eponymous Potscrubber dishwasher
but these poems do what many don't: they are intent on and successful at
leaving these scenes more memorable for the careful linguistic inspection. Normally
suspicious when I hear the drumbeat of traditional forms, here I'm tempted to
salute. Don't let a few colorfully borrowed bars fool you: by the dawn's early
light, there's something very American up at Ft. McHenry." Kevin McFadden
read the whole of this review on-line, please click on this link: http://www.vqronline.org/blog/
poems ... range in content from familial issues to politics to pop culture to
self-reflection. The themes are often familiar or funny, but always emotionally
brightened by McHenry's aural strategies: word-play, rhyme, meter and repetition.
McHenry obviously delights in language ... but his delight brings with it a serious
outcome. Robert Frost claimed that poetry is 'play for mortal stakes.' Eric McHenry
plays well, and touchingly." Amy Schrader
... muses serenely and often on temporariness, the big unfairness;
left to natures whims, even grave sites and gravestones, the most permanent
memorial most of us can hope for, shift (I love this cemeterys / asymmetries,
although / it must be hell to mow). Engaging observations are lit by straight-faced
puns, off-rhymes, inventive metrics, and nonintuitive rhyme schemes, with their
often-delayed jabs of humor.
From Potscrubber Lullabies
Potscrubber completes a cycle
so vigorous the knives were rattling,
pauses, waking Evan Michael,
who finds all silences unsettling.
no resemblance. Its too early.
Everything is still so round.
weve occurred to him as surely
as silence has occurred to sound,
when hes finished sharpening
into himself, and when weve blurred,
were going to go on happening
in silence like hes never heard.
I wore him like a broken arm
all summer, slung
from my right
shoulder in a paisley hammock
so deep the sides closed over him.
I walked he swung, and slept,
lulled by the time his body kept
When I stopped I had to sing.
Plays to a Cow
A Swedish musician remembers a drive through farm country in
a car full of musicians, one of whom told Bird that cows love music. Bird asked
the driver to pull over ... Gary Giddins, Celebrating Bird: The Triumph
of Charlie Parker
Fifty years from now
a writer, writing about me
playing to this cow,
will call the cow he.
Theres her udder, plain
udder, and yet . . .
something about what people want
a cow, or an audience,
painters haze the foreground
and render something in the middle-distance
unnaturally sharp, to remind the idiot looker
that this is a painting, not
writer will probably do
something self-referential, too,
and will almost
certainly call the cow bewildered.
I strode out here expecting her to nod
in time or stand on two
hooves and applaud.
As though cows stand around waiting for something,
and not just anything, to come along.
Come on. What I do might confuse
you, but this cow was wildered when I got here.
this cow there is only the plain fact
fence, sharp fence, shit,
puddle, tuft of grass, golden horn
the hands of the brown man
who wasnt here this morning and is here now,
and notes, too
after so much noise,
the plain fact of song.
the bewildered one whos still in the car,
told me that cows
I choose to believe that. Thats what Im doing here.
She chews. Thats what shes doing here.