After receiving a review copy of Publishing Genius’ “A Mountain of Toad Splendor” by Megan McShea I knew what to expect. No, I mean to say I had my expectations, my stereotypes. And as I began reading McShea’s poetry and prose book, I kept whispering to myself in my brain ‘this book will fit my stereotypes.’
Because let’s face it folks, you get a book with toad splendor in the title, all hell breaks loose. You get your whimsy, your far-fetched metaphor, your over imagined and imaged poetry.
But I didn’t. I first heard about this coming release from Adam Robinson on the Publishing Genius blog, where he ran a short blog entry with Megan discussing doubt, depression, meaning as a writer. She essays on about leaving a fellow poet’s funeral, going to a bookstore, picking up a copy of someone else’s book.It was a bilingual edition of Pablo Neruda’s Nobel acceptance speech called “Toward the Splendid City.”
So that’s where the toad splendor comes from. In fact, it’s this very post that made me so interested in this writer and her writing. She goes on to describe journey and meaning and words, she twists them into a title for a book, and now I have said book.
Megan has a concerting eye for language. After the table of contents and in the front of the book (this is important people, pay attention) she has a pair of quotes:
“What makes you think anyone will understand that?”
“I don’t worry about that.”
“You are playing high and mighty.”
“I am telling the truth. Man has been corrupted by his
symbols. Language has killed his animal.”
“And you are resurrecting it?”
“No. It has never had an opportunity to live.”
“What will you do about it?”
“I shall continue to ask How.”
“How to what?”
“To the strange, unborn thing which is in all men.”
—Kenneth Patchen, “The Journal of Albion Moonlight”
“Only one word needs to be discovered in order for a
whole language to change. Imperceptible births which
serve us as proof of existence, our liberations of energy,
our coming to the world, our duration more intensely
lived. And one would not write were it not for this birth
of words that gives again the hope of a true life.”
—Yves Bonnefoy, interview with Serge Gavronsky
in “Poems and Texts”
The first quote is the doubt for the journey McShea will take you on. The second is your boat, your walk, your vehicle for getting there. I found this second quote exceptionally powerful not only because of it’s innate truth, but because this is how Megan began to cut through my expectations, my stereotypes, like rings to a tree or walls…
The opening paragraph from this collection from the story The Brain Is A Pleasure Organ spells a lot of things, but namely the journey or path the author is coming from (or about to travel.) This is a lonely path, the path of the individual, and it’s after reading about seances, suitors and gray women in bathtubs, that I begin to see her world. There are haunts, but then there are the haunts that like some grandmother would say is where you used to play, is where day in and day out routine gave way to misery.
The Daily Audit is also a story, another in this collection where the auditor is not a CPA or accountant, but describes this purgatory or limbo as purgatory or limbo. A gray world, a gray girl.
Don’t get me wrong, there is also McShea’s unconventional adaptation of language.
While even philosophy books by Searle, Chomsky, others sit on my shelves show my own deepening lostness into how important or meaningful language and linguistics is, so too, does McShea’s first quote come into the room. Symbols and langauge killed man? So which is the tool? The man or the verb?
McShea finds no recluse in showing how words pervade our perception of a journey. Throughout her texts there are lines like:
More words, no god, no more.
A ventricle detonated without any visible cue from the audience.
Made without care, brought without concern, passed without notice.
Apparently my left arm rose between them and I was so embarrassed.
There’s a lost architectural term for that. My word.
“Change your rabbits!” came a shout from up the stairs, and then
again, descending closer, “change your rabbits immediately!” A
man in coveralls appeared with wide black eyes. “Oh, pardon
me,” he said when he saw us there. “You’re not the people I
thought you were.”
But it was too late, for mother and I had already changed our
Notice now how the journey becomes, how does a man or woman make language their own tool? To describe, to interpret, to take in. Even misunderstand. I noticed a lot of this play throughout the book with language that almost seemed like a constellation of connecting dots.
What also lingers throughout is a dampness. Like the Counting Crows song, “It’s Raining In Baltimore,” so too does it rain a lot in this book. A lot. But one of the last things I want to leave you with as interest for buying, downloading or generally getting to know this title, is in its notes. The author actually leaves endnotes for her stories and not the kind pointing to a prideful intellectual text like research notes, but like this:
In “The Appointment,” the dogs that turn into soldiers are from
a dream I actually had. In the dream, I died, shot by one of the
soldiers. My mother was also in the dream, as she is in the story,
but in the dream she was vacuuming.”
It’s things like this that bring the reader closer to the writer (and not farther) which is something I’ve always striven to do with the chapbooks I’ve released from here, from Burning River. While introduction essays are always optional for Burning River books, I’ve always felt it gives great length to the connection we all have as people. Forget stand alone literature, forget overly complicated footnotes. This person is alive and here and real. And so too is Megan McShea’s “A Mountain City of Toad Splendor.”