V.C. McCabe is a modern, necessary Appalachian voice in poetry. Not wanting flyover country to be forgotten, willing to show her zone of conflicted earth in all its guts and glory. In Give the Bard a Tetanus Shot, she displays Appalachia to be yet another home for complicated, maddening, beautiful humanity.
Playing on the rural trope of sacred land ownership, her first poem is titled “No Trespassing” as it describes the bleak scene of a rundown yard, clogged by detritus, McCabe’s eye lingering on a rusting carousel horse whose decay is palpable, a metaphor for the way the coasts view these rugged innards. Perhaps even for how they view themselves at times.
Soon after, in “Formative”, McCabe reminds us that “Haunting takes / so many forms.” This haunting whispers over the shoulder of each subsequent poem, creating an unsettling intimacy that not everything will be okay, identifying the limits of what humans can do to ourselves, our planet, before collapse sets in.
One of the starkest forms this haunting takes is in the environmental lean of multiple poems. The collection shines in poems like “Cover Us With Mountains”, written about a West Virginia Chemical Spill.
McCabe is equally at her best in elevating banal existence in Appalachia, like her transcendent lines in “Give the Bard a Break” that say “I love my mountains, / my people—their strength / and fierce endurance. / But I’m tired of bearing / witness to their sorrows / with the written word.” Then in “His Orchestra”, the opening lines remind us how no region is a monolith, reduction belied as she writes, “Cruelty is not the only sound / whose echo rises / from the canyon.”
“Lessons in Mining” is an anthem to the working class, to those would dare life and health, a class of workers McCabe compares to mothers, “trading hard labor in hazardous conditions, / doing whatever the world requires of them, / to keep their children warm and well fed.” Later, in a nod to the dissonance between perception and reality, she says, “Photos reveal reality as we choose to portray it.” To which it is impossible not to analyze who is doing the portrayal, who is being portrayed. To wonder at the veracity of the pictures I have of Appalachia. All of which makes it seem the more important to experience a poetry from a voice within Appalachia, one free of judgment, but one yet more driven to not avoid a realistic description, warts and all.
McCabe brings a welcome voice to rural, environmental poetry. Juxtaposing beauty with the slander humans sometimes visit against the land, McCabe is able to ultimately bring out the pathos and humanity of a land toward whom disrespect ought to lessen in light of poetic credence.
Give the Bard a Tetanus Shot is published by Vegetarian Alcoholic Press.