Praise for Lauren Scharhag's First Collection of Poems
Vegetable preparation has never been so blood thirsty.
Lauren Scharhag's 2013 publication, West Side Girl & Other Poems, is her first and only collection of poetry. Upon review, this exciting piece of work could perhaps be more aptly described as an assembly of mini-epics rather than a compilation of poems. Readers will find that each piece is a complete story, and that each of these stories is filled with its fair share of horrifically beautiful descriptions. The collection opens with a rather temperate piece, "Good Bread." This is a quiet yet confident little poem which pays homage to a lineage of women who "...looked at the moon and baked bread round."
The poem's successor, however, charges into this false sense of security Scharhag created and destroys absolutely everything in its path. "The Minotaur's Daughter" enters the scene with its eyes ablaze and nostrils flared. The verse storms the readers' senses with a bellowing rage.
"Split-toed creature of excess, /
his bulk scrubbed porcine pink /
smooth as a penis tip after /
his daily dip au jus. Hairy lord, /
trailing the stench of untold arenas and altars, /
lurid god of shambles and abattoirs, /
rabid disembowler. /
Fresh viscera gleaming /
between steel watchband links /
and beneath nails /
thick as horns."
The speaker truly is the Minotaur's daughter, trapped in a winding labyrinth of heritage and identity; the brave readers who continue on this literary journey will quickly come to realize that they are lost within its treacherous depths beside her. With every turn of phrase, Scharhag shaves her companions closer and closer to the bone. The skillful evisceration continues on in the piece entitled, "The Ages of Woman." The fourth passage of this particular poem immediately rejects the traditional, comforting tones and images associated with the word "mother" when it asks:
Is infanticide so unimaginable? /
People are less horrified /
at the feintings of Abraham. /
Clytemnestra, deliver us."
Even after these biting acknowledgments of the hypocrisy found in modern Western society, the poem is not willing to release its readers from its vice-like grip. The piece repeatedly plunges the readers into the ice cold waters of the responsibilities which are abundant in this grim reality in stanzas such as this:
"And now I am prepared to end /
all your possibilities, /
all possibility of us. /
See what I have saved you from?
You'd be amazed at how deep /
the protective instinct goes."
Scharhag's aptitude for plowing deep into her readers' emotions in her poetry quite stunning, especially since this is her first collection. Each poem in this intense body of verse is in possession of such scintillating lines. In "A Foodie Love Song," the preparation of vegetables for a meal is seen through a predator's eyes of bloodlust. The usually comforting kitchen is transformed into a den of carnage by Scharhag's deft hand.
"Vegetables make colorful carcasses, /
Heaped for gutting on the block, /
Innumerable stalks and hearts felled. /
stems droop with sorrow into the basin, /
run with water down metal sides: /
Midnight eggplant bares spongy innards, /
cabbages, olives, artichokes wait to be split and pitted, /
Except for the artichoke, which I will pillage outright /
just for its heart."
Readers will find themselves trembling, even wringing their hands for mercy, while reading this poem before realizing they are not the ones on the chopping block. Scharhag's ability to evoke violence is as startling as it is wonderful.
It could be said that Scharhag's poetic work would benefit from some tight editing, but her execution of language is never dull. Readers are quietly fished, lured by the worms of intriguing titles and delicious opening lines. Then they are hooked by the text. They are pulled along through such arduous poems as "The Magic Quarter," "Fragments" and "From the Guttiwuts." Long winded verse may send some readers running but Scharhag's poetry is as mesmerizing as a fly fisherman's sweeping line. The readers do not realize they've been submerged in verse until they surface from the pages, gasping for air.
Scharhag's background is in prose. Her titles The Ice Dragon and Under Julia were also both released in 2013 and she has quite a few other publications under her belt. The more weighty poems are testaments to her experience as a writer. West Side Girl is Lauren Scharhag's only book of poems as of yet, but lovers of new and exciting poetry will find themselves hoping that she will feel compelled to assemble another collection, one that is filled with equally visceral language that will continue to send chills down their spines. If readers are curious (as they should be) to learn more about this intriguing writer, they can follow her blog on Amazon.com or indulge in one of her works of prose such as The Winter Prince.