Forty years ago when I was a sophomore in college I messed up. I failed a friend. While I was getting out of bed on dark Ohio mornings to head down to the chemistry lab, I let my roommate Mike sleep through all his classes. While I was wearing out a carrell in the libe, I left him in the frat house getting stoned again. When his assigned stack of Hermann Hesse lay untouched on the desk, I picked them up one by one and read them all without ever trying to engage him in discussion. And when his German Lit. prof called me in to ask, “What’s going on with Mike? Can’t you help?” my reply still humiliates me forty years later. “I am not my brother’s keeper.”
Mike flunked out and I’ve never heard from him since. What was wrong with me that I didn’t at least once try to kick his ass into gear? A twenty-year old’s lack of empathy? I’d define that kind of spiritual void not as lack of caring but as something far worse — lack of imagination. I couldn’t see myself in his place. If I was congenitally and utterly self-motivated and compulsive, why couldn’t anyone else who wanted to become just like me? And I confess to something even more base and perverse. Maybe I wanted him to fail. His failure affirmed my success. For one guy to win another has to lose; when one falls another rises. Damned selfish and mean-spirited, that. Anyone who’d known such about me would surely have found me pretty hard to love.
I’m sorry, Mike. I hope you got your act together and have found your heart’s desire. Sorry I didn’t give you a leg up when you needed it. I thought of you when I read Hard to Love by Scott Douglass.
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Characters like Mike and about a hundred other equally earthbound human creatures populate the poems of Scott’s new full-length collection. Gesticulating poets whose words are air. A guy with a big head. New mimes. Those Ryan boys. Some are hapless, some redeemed, and a few get skewered. (Caveat: you might not want to read this book if you’re a cryptofascist airhead zombie.) Yes, they’re hard to love, but here’s the secret Scott doesn’t want you to know: he pretty much loves them anyway.
Read every poem. You and I live in those lines. We can’t escape what they reveal within us: impatience, ignorance, jealousy, self-righteousness, all the follies we’ve got shuffled in our hearts like a deck of cards — what’ll be next? deal it! — every one of those things that have “caught me leaning too hard / into dangerous curves.” You’ve got me this time, Officer. I’ll pay the ticket.
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Bobby McMullen Died Last Night
Or the night before,
or last week,
or maybe it was years ago
when his wife left him
or his only son succumbed
A lifetime of reasons
to cuddle a bottle of Jim Beam.
We could forecast the workday
by the way he walked through the door:
quiet and sullen meant hungover,
hungover meant irritable, outright mean,
loud and talkative meant still drunk,
hangover to follow at eleven.
Even drunk he was a better
finisher than most, and after
some lunchtime refueling, he
was good for the rest of the day.
But it caught up with him.
First he totaled his car,
then the state revoked his license,
liver failing, emphysema and
tuberculosis choking him –
two years ago he retired.
Paper said the found him
face-down in his double-wide.
He’d been dead awhile.
But he went the way he wanted,
the way we always knew he would.
from Hard to Love by M. Scott Douglass
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M. Scott Douglass is the editor of the quarterly journal Main Street Rag and the notorious czar of Main Street Rag Publishing Company. Don’t get me started. Hard to Love was released during an ice storm on February 19, 2012.
Scott has done more to promote poetry at the grass roots, both in NC and around the US, than a dozen MFA programs. Stephen E. Smith calls him “a poet in the spirit of Charles Bukowski — but better, more controlled.” I consider it an honor and a privilege to have had him kick my ass. Told you not to get me started.
Sample other poetry my M. Scott Douglass:
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