‘A Hard Head Makes for a Soft Ass’

strength like your

Strength Like Yours, by Maurice McFadden, $8.99 (Balboa Press)

Poetry isn’t the same as prose. It is a variant, a patois of prose and often works in ways that don’t translate exactly to prose. But poetry and prose share a language backbone of spelling and grammar that shouldn’t be ignored.

Maurice McFadden’s is a story of redemption and love, heartwarming in its own way and worth reading even though the minefields of copyediting fails. The title poem “Strength Like Yours” specifically refers to his mother’s strength, but it is clear the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree. Early days of drinking and immaturity have been replaced by love of family and religious devotion. McFadden looks at his life with clarity, as well as faith, hope and charity. The final poem, “A New Beginning,” ends the book with a bang.

At the same time, what ever happened to the idea of copy editing or even just proofreading poetry? Giving the poet the liberty to vary from conventional prose doesn’t mean you can’t copyedit him or her intelligently, without crimping poetic style. Strength Like Yours is riddled with dozens of errors that should easily have been caught by an editor, and they detract from what is a strong and poignant reflection on finding the right way in life.

There are errors, sometimes more than one, on just about every page of this book. Some are slight, but some are major, and all are annoying. “Ment” for meant. “Destine” for destined. “Reposed” for repossessed (that one at least is reminiscent of wordplay). Three of the titles of poems have them, and that’s really unforgivable. Why would you want to read a poem with the title “Before It’s To Late?” Or “Choice’s?” Or “Thought’s of You?”

McFadden’s poems are also just about completely unpunctuated. Again, poems can be more loosely punctuated than prose, but punctuation helps give the reader a useful frame of reference. However, I have to say I went from being annoyed at this to giving it a thumb’s up by the end of the book.

That’s because McFadden is quite artful at making his individual lines compelling and understanding. They don’t really need punctuation. And I give him major props for that. He also uses rhyming quite a lot, in ways I would ordinarily find jarring and cliched. But think about Strength Like Yours as a sustained series of hip hop poems (sans music) and that objection falls away.

Think of this book as a hip hop The Pilgrim’s Progress. And we do get eventually to poetry as a variant of prose. His mother’s saying “A hard head makes a soft ass” is a wonderful line. It’s poetry. 


Mark FogartyMark Fogarty’s poetry has been published in Hawaii ReviewViet Nam GenerationJournal of NJ PoetsExit 13UnroreanEclectic Literary ForumCokefishing in Alpha Beat SoupFootworkThe Brownstone Poets AnthologyThe TEA NewsletterGallery and The Rutherford Red Wheelbarrow. Mark, also a musician, is the author of three poetry collections from White Chickens Press, Myshkin’s Blues, Peninsula and Phantom Engineer.

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