The Fractured World by Scott Owens (Main Street Rag, 2008, http://www.mainstreetrag.com/store/)
Review by Tim Peeler
The Fractured World by Scott Owens is a three section book of mostly narrative poems that address the issue of child abuse and its long term effects on the male psyche. Owens knows firsthand about this problem. I have heard him begin a reading several times by informing the audience that as children he and his brother suffered every possible form of abuse. Even without this knowledge, the reader will have no trouble determining the authenticity of the characters and their experiences.
As Carter Monroe has noted many times, with the advent of Internet communication, everybody and his brother has come out of the closet as a poet. As a result, unlike in the past, what passes for poetry, and who in the hell is to say what does, comes at us in waves. As a longtime reader of and participant in the American small press, I have developed a quick criteria for analyzing what washes up on the screen. For poetry to interest me, it must first show some sense of craft. Beyond that, it must do one of two things. The poetry must either make me feel something or aspire in an amusing sense to the sublime. In The Fractured World, Owens meets all these criteria. He is a careful writer whose highly accessible poetry rarely reads like broken up prose.
Poetry should disturb us; it should create an uneasy feeling in our stomachs. In “Fates Worse Than Death,” the first poem in section one, The Fractured World, Owens invites the reader to empathize not just with the abused, but also with the abuser. In their brokenness, how do either of them go on? Will they become the solitary characters that populate poems like “Sunday Afternoon, Atlanta Fulton County Stadium,” or will they emerge in high profile like the multiple-personality figure of Billy Milligan in the exceptionally well-conceived “Splinters”? Not all is somber in this section of the book, and taken out of context, one might read “Meetings in Poultry” as a corny attempt at humor. Even this poem, however, contains violent imagery, and the title, with poultry so closely resembling poetry, in some way implies that savagery often seen in the literary world.
The second section of The Fractured World is “Suite Norman,” an examination of brokenness in one cobbled together persona. Norman is the poet, his brother, his father, his stepfathers, and many of the males that populated his childhood. These poems are the core of the book, and there are so many fine ones. Here are a few snippets that will give the reader a sense of their power:
from: “Norman Everyday”
Norman alone in his car,
in front of his own house,
watching through a lit window…
racing the train to the crossing,
racing to the interstate,
racing anything that moves,
driving the tank dry,
pounding the dash,
smashing the mirror,
hurling rocks against the darkness,
screaming his own name.”
from: “Norman in the Window, His Eyes Like Shattered Glass”
The welt on her face is already taking
the shape of a hand in a window.
Norman is in he window. He can tell by the pain
in his hand that he is not dreaming.
Even through these broken panes
he can see the last look back.
Owens concludes the book with a section called “Smoke Dissolving in Wind” in which he establishes for his characters some sense of hope, even redemption. Poems like “On the Days I am not My Father” and “Love and the Daughter” relate to his own uneasy fatherhood. In “Obsession,” a poem that deals with friends who gleefully tempt death, he reveals a survivor’s philosophy:
…why not give it another try,
why not rise to another morning
fueled by certainties,
the still warm body,
the throat still clean,
the pulse still beating against you,
the shadows mushrooming behind you.
The finale of the book is a gem of a poem called “So Norman Died, Of Course.” It ends with this incredible metaphoric redemptive glimpse:
And his hand,
his hard right hand,
which never learned to hold
anything gently turned into
a leaf that held the wind,
rain, sunlight upon it,
then let everything go.
Causes Scott Owens Supports
Poetry Hickory Hickory Soup Kitchen Temple Beth Shalom Hickory Women's Resources Center