by R C Edrington
Release Day Review
Amazon Link (USA) (UK)
R C Edrington has contributed many poems, including some in this collection, to past issues of Polluto magazine that I have edited. So when he asked if I would like to review his new book, I was very intrigued. (Quick disclaimer: I had no involvement in the production and publication of Scarred Canvas, and certainly was not required to give a positive review.)
Scarred Canvas is a collection of R C Edrington’s “gritty, urban poems” (Amazon description). They deal mainly with drug addiction and all the horrors and pain this leads to, both for the addict and the people around them. We are shown heroin use, cravings, violence, despair, desperation for the next hit, scrounging money, relationships shattering, prostitutes, broken homes and empty hotel rooms, the dark side of Hollywood, and all the collateral damage of addiction. These poems don’t hold back; they’re real, dark and vivid, often brutal and unpleasant, and always honest.
The poems are told with a powerful voice, in first person from the view of the addict. This is a risky choice, as there is a danger that the poems could become one long drug-confused or drunken babble, losing perspective and meaning. The author never allows this. Both the tone and reading-order of the poems is chosen carefully, slipping down further into the misery and pain surrounding the narrator and then diving back up again for air, seeing glimmers of hope or re-connection with life, only to fall back into the cycle of addiction again. The poems most closely connected to drug use are perhaps a little too similar in places, but this does emphasise the feeling of inevitability and hopelessness of the poet’s situation at this point: another empty room, another empty syringe, another empty life. This means that the poems that deal with something slightly different really stand out, such as noticing the pain in a stranger’s eyes. This gives the impression of a person who has almost, but not entirely, lost connection with the world. These are beautiful moments that open up the obsessions (including a deep self-obsession) of the drug user to show other kinds of people and other lives, all united by pain and loneliness, and a deep sense of searching for something that they can’t quite find.
It soon becomes clear that this collection is about so much more than drug use. As much as it is about despair and pain, it’s also about love and the need to connect. The poet’s search for love seems constantly mixed up with sex and drugs, with imagery that compares drugs to sex and sex to drugs, and love to addiction and pain and need. There are relationships in which everyone is using everyone else, or everyone is pretending as fiercely as possible that they have found something meaningful, or in which one side can only take, or where it seems like everyone involved is really too much in love (and in hate) with the drugs to be able to feel anything else. The narrator blames those who leave him, but cannot connect with or commit to those who actually do feel something deeper. There is a desperate need to connect with others’ pain, as if misery doesn’t just desire company; it feeds on it. At the same time, it is those moments of connecting with strangers through their own heartache that offer the moments of greatest clarity and beauty in the collection.
The greatest strength of the collection is the poet’s wonderful use of imagery, comparisons and descriptions that reveal deeper layers and conjure pictures that will stay with you for a long time. My particular favourite poem was the one that gave the collection its title, Scarred Canvas, in which a brief glimpse of a stranger’s pain is so perfectly captured. There are little points of haunting beauty in every poem, no matter how grim the subject, that show that life can be cruel and spectacular at once. I don’t think the poems, grim and hard-hitting as they are, would have meant quite as much without these moments.
Gritty, brutal and honest poems from a skilled poet, with some wonderful imagery that will stay with you long afterwards. Scarred Canvas is a strong collection.
Thank you to the author for providing a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.