A Review of Daniel Crocker’s Shit House Rat
By Stephen Furlong
In a blurb for Daniel Crocker’s Everyday People and Other Poems (Green Bean Press, 1998), A.D. Winans writes “Daniel Crocker is one of a lively band of modern poets who write…from the heartland of the people, and I stress HEART, because Crocker’s poetry comes from deep inside him.” Daniel Crocker is a poet who lays it on the line, the poetic line, to provide his readers with impassioned honesty and the rawness of an exposed nerve. In Shit House Rat (Spartan Press, 2017), Crocker explores belonging, popular culture references, and sexuality.
In one of the first poems of the book, “Growing Up”, Crocker investigates youth and belonging. Channeling the 1990 documentary Silence=Death written and produced by Rosa von Praunheim, the speaker of the poem writes: “I saw Silence/equal death/and stayed silent/anyway.” The documentary focuses on the AIDS epidemic and includes appearances by Allen Ginsberg and David Wojanarowicz. This poem hints at a recurring theme in Crocker’s book which is, to borrow from Patricia Hampl: carry[ing] our wounds forward with us. Crocker’s poetry carries wounds forward in order to bring light to them and his poetry is remarkably admirable given today’s tumultuous climate of trying to hide, even deny, one’s misdeeds of the past. Crocker doesn’t hold back and doesn’t hide making his poetry powerful, even with its vulnerability. Returning back to “Growing Up”, the popular culture references continue with the early 1980s Midwestern-driven sitcom “The Day After” and late 1970s “Roots”. The poem, itself, is honing in on these popular culture phenomena in an attempt to understand the Reagan administration and growing up during that timeframe.
In addition to these popular culture references, Crocker’s poems channel snuffleupagas, Wolverine, Reed Richards and writers who have influenced him throughout the years like Adrienne Rich and Lord Byron. In the last portion of the book, Crocker writes the poem “I Wish” for his wife, and longs to be Whitmanesque. The poem is gentle, heartfelt, and sincere which reveals growth and maturity throughout the course of the book. Throughout the course of the poet’s life. These references are entrances into Crocker’s livelihood, they are sometimes dark corners of the brain, but channeling back to A.D. Winans—they reveal Crocker’s heart. That makes all the difference in this collection.
There’s a devastating piece in this collection titled “Brutal,” which reminds me of Bruce Weigl’s “The Impossible”—a poem which talks about physical, namely sexual, abuse. The last line has stayed with me ever since I first read the poem: “Say it clearly and you make it beautiful, no matter what.” Of trauma, Weigl says in an interview “to understand that this (trauma) was not something that I was going to get over, but instead something that I needed to find a way to live with.”
In writing “Brutal” Crocker tries to live with this memory instead of trying to get over it because, frankly, overcoming abuse is just not done, or for certain, easily done. Crocker’s speaker in this poem is young and, under peer pressure, has what is called a gay night. The individuals of the poem, Crocker and cousin Terry, reveal themselves and fall prey to an older cousin named Larry. Crocker confesses around halfway through:
…if I ever have the guts to write about it, it’s going to be brutal. It’s going to be honest and detailed. The details, however, are like an impressionist painting. Parts of it, like the monster, are painfully vivid. Larry’s white, white teeth. His beautiful body. The rest is images, textures, feelings. Feelings of guilt and desire are all mixed up in one.
The form of this piece, set in prose, reveals the blurring of everything coming together, of the pieces of this pain being fused with feelings of guilt and desire. Crocker has written extensively about his bisexuality and alludes to it in this piece as well, which makes the piece even more dizzying, even more crushing when this memory sticks out in his history. The poem later reveals Larry, the perpetrator, has died in a motorcycle accident, a fact which used to bring Crocker happiness; “I’m not sure I am anymore,” he then confesses immediately afterward. This poem reflects the confusion and anger abuse leaves in its wake. It also discusses the wretchedness it can have years after as both Crocker and Terry, both drunk mind you, discuss it. And the pain comes back. The frankness of this poem’s language haunts me because the poem doesn’t try to hide in veiled language or metaphor; it just speaks to the horrors of abuse and it does it directly and does not hold back.
To me, the success of Daniel Crocker’s poetry is exactly that: He does it directly and does not hold back. It’s admirable, it’s damn hard work, but it’s healing. Daniel Crocker’s poetry and writing helps my writing because of their frankness and honesty. Those qualities push me to do the same; they push me to be honest and detailed. I am convinced Crocker can’t write any other way. And I don’t think he would choose that.
About the Author: Stephen Furlong is a recent graduate of Southeast Missouri State University located on the Mississippi. His poems, reviews, and interviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Yes Poetry, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and Pine Hills Review, among others. He also had a poem in A Shadow Map: An Anthology by Survivors of Sexual Assault published by Civil Coping Mechanisms and edited by Joanna C. Valente.