A Bit of Rock Candy

Fans of the Scrapper Poet know that I love working-class literature (especially poetry!).  Unfortunately, I have noticed that I tend to read working-class literature placed in the Rust Belt of the United States.  This is not on purpose.  I do strive to find other writers — and I was pleased to find Jenifer Rae Vernon’s Rock Candy.

Published by West End Press, Rock Candy is a depiction of life in a small lumber town in rural Washington.  The poet chooses to tell her family stories in dialect, often with disturbing results where we find grandfathers who had to be knocked out by their wives because they “drank and turned mean” to an aunt who shoots her husband.

The middle part of this book is a written eulogy to the poet’s childhood friend, Chastity Bartram, who was murdered — she explains that little acknowledgement was given to her friend’s life or death: “BBC never heard of Nisqually River, or the towns that bloom beside it/People magazine had no comment, she was not rich/or educated and for this, the journals gave her living nothing/not even one small “1,” no letters for unlettered minds.”  Citing Chastity’s difficult life, Vernon ends the long eulogy by saying that this woman was important and addressing Chastity directly:  “Extraordinary sunflower kid string bean freckle-head/you had the gift of funniness/you made us laugh in chalk-dust boredom/you were a blast, my firecracker friend/busted flat life up like silver jacks/on night-sky playground tar/drag racer sparking stars/you were necessary.”

One could say that this book is a collection of stories and eulogies — and that is true.  My favorite poems in this book reflect the author’s childhood in this rough and ragged world, a place where children “picked tar off the road and chewed it like gum,”  where a young boy commits suicide before seventh grade, where a young girl sits in a field with a butcher knife and wonders about “how to muster courage to open forearms.”

Certainly, readers looking for more “traditional” poetry may be a bit disappointed with Rock Candy.  Vernon’s work reflects the gritty and harsh landscape of this world through stark images and actions — metaphors are often missing and sometimes the rhyme scheme is a bit confusing.  Still, I found this book an honest reflection of a working-class world that is often overlooked or dismissed in literature.

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