Helen Losse, Review of M. Scott Douglass’ “Hard to Love”
by Helen Losse
Hard to Love
M. Scott Douglass
Main Street Rag Publishing Company
M. Scott Douglass’s Hard to Love starts off with a virtual bang, a wedding with the bride “seven month pregnant, belly as big as a beach ball.” Her mother “didn’t give a lick…as long as no bastard popped out” before the wedding. The daughter knew her baby’s father sold her father “stolen windows,” and living next door to her parents, looked at them for years. As the babies came, and her “embarrassment” faded, “soot-faced Ryans / wrestled on the lawn.” (“Windows,” pp. 3-4). Life—often less than lovely—creates people and situations that are “hard to love.” Or does it? How hard is it to love reality?
Set in the “fertile soil” of Pennsylvania, where Douglass grew up, and in North Carolina, where he lives as an adult, the early poems deal with “[the] rebellious seed [that] took root” in him and the “loneliness” that accompanied “personal upheaval.”
…I beat up every neighborhood kid my age
the summer before we left Monroeville…
said the boy with “way too much wiggle room.” (“The Summer of ’65,” pp. 9-11) A precursor to change, the turmoil is both internal and external.
Then there were the riots in Los Angeles
[that] burned into me
at nine years old, are with me still,
…convulsions of change, the fiery
residuals of starting over.”
(“The Summer of ’65,” p. 11)
The next year his family moved.
Douglass writes of moving on—of the change: it’s difficulty and it’s challenge, and yet, he “thank[s] the road, my muse” (p.93). Change sparks creativity in Douglass. Hard to Love deals with the reality of constant change. Filled with snippets of history and old television shows, characters and local events from his past, the poems in the book’s first two sections document Douglass’s struggle with the universal task of growing to adulthood.
For example, the classic joke about the “unpackaged prophylactic” becomes a lesson in solidarity with one’s peers.
They swore upon the fifty pound
unabridged Holy Bible…
that they were victims of this prank.
at any hint of doubt.
(“The Boys of Round Ball,” p. 19)
Douglass also writes of death and violence. “Even though my life’s not Hollywood, / it sure as hell isn’t dull,” he writes, after an encounter with a war-loving grandpa. (“Oklahoma Jack.” p. 26) And yet, watching a sunrise reminds him that each day is a “tease—like an endless / lap dance: so much promise / so much illusion.” Here the “gaudy” becomes almost tender before the letdown. (“Morning,” p. 29)
With wit and honesty, he exposes his reader to a kaleidoscope of input.
…J-Lo’s face is pasted
on every magazine cover…
when it’s her jiggly butt
that really piques our interest…
(“Daredevil Duck,” pp. 33-34)
…isn’t it good
to know your platinum passport.
is right there with you,…
you’ll never forget, especially
when the bill arrives each month
to tell you, you are priceless.
(“What’s In Your Wallet,” p. 39)
Seeing a billboard while travelling,
my mind cuts to commercial and I see
this squirrely guy with curly hair
in the middle seat of the rear bench
of a mid-sized Chevy truck…
[then on to] a Cialis commercial. You know
macho guys, trucks—
not hitting on all cylinders….
[Taking the joke further]
…Country Bob in the men’s room
…bursting from the john like Superman
from a phone booth, buck naked,
a beer bottle in one hand, his pride
in the other….
(“A view From the West Virginia Turnpike,” pp. 40-41)
Douglass keeps this barrage up—page after page.
A keen observer, a fine story teller, and the possessor of an rude and partisan wit, he can be crass and opinionated, but he never holds back. Douglass tells it like it is. The “hard to love.” can also be funny.
He sometimes pits ugliness against beauty. For example, in a poem about wiring Ann Coulter’s mouth shut, he compares right-wing politics to “a cavernous Rush Limbaugh yawn / or the bat caves of Austin emptying / at sunset, blackness / spill[ing] forth again.” He entitles the poem, “Silence Is Golden” (p. 42) Quite a contrast: gold versus black.
A Yankee poet, editor, and North Carolina book publisher, M. Scott Douglass has published more North Carolina poets on his Main Street Rag Publishing Company than any other publisher. He mingles and fits well in his new home state. In “Crawl Night,” “Eau De Adams,” and several other poems in book’s fourth section, he describes the women—the “chicks”—who visit local art galleries and other Charlotte locations, wearing “the grunge look / or the preppy neatness of business-class….” (“Crawl Night,” p. 58) Douglass has
been in the South so long
[he] sometimes forgets the nights
watch[ed] lake-effect snow drift….
[and] remember[s] those younger,
colder days, a tear frozen
at the corner of [his] eye….
(“Yankee Morning,” p.73)
The final section of Hard to Love includes Douglass’s friend “TK,” who appears in more than one poem, poems about road trips, and poems about cars and motorcycles. Douglass does love his motorcycle. Waiting at a traffic light on his Harley, he yearns to be anything other than “invisible.” And he is. A bit of a daredevil in a car as well as on a bike, he’s a daredevil with an eye for beauty. If life is about always moving on, Scott Douglass’s muse serves him well.
…Go so you don’t get left behind.
Go while there’s still a reason.
Go while you still can.
(“Mustang Days,” p. 87)
Hard to Love by M. Scott Douglass is a book of keenly observed, deeply-felt poems in which the poet guides the reader toward a love of that which is “hard to love.” The book deals with memory without getting stuck in the past. In it, memory is what makes us what we are, and travel is what puts us in a place to make those memories.