Marshall Blood offers stark verse in Spring Cleaning, from Ugly Duckling Presse
by Marshall Blood
Ugly Duckling Presse
Marshall Blood’s debut chapbook, Spring Cleaning, uncovers and reveals humanity when humanity is hampered and broken by addiction, obsession, and mental illness. Written largely in Japanese forms, the bare concrete of the world is brought forward, the spiritual pain in relief to that tactile surface; urban, brittle at times, and hard on the bones and the heart.
Blood’s ethos throughout the collection is one of organization and clarity. The book begins with the eponymous poem “Spring Cleaning”:
Straightened the books
dreams pushed aside again
no-one to discipline me;
I discipline myself.
These lines frame both the poems’ emotional arcs, recovery, and serve as an ars poetica, for Blood shapes Spring Cleaning by at first offering free verse poems, grounding the reader in a backstory, so to speak, before blossoming into Japanese forms that carry the second half of the collection to its conclusion.
While the opening five poems provide the narrative hooks, one of suicidal ideation, schizophrenia. Spring Cleaning’s visual palette is one of emergency rooms, littered urban streets, coffee grounds, homelessness, and hand-rolled cigarettes, and then after “Neighborhood Cleanup” when Blood breaks into Japanese form, Spring Cleaning becomes a tended garden, one that enlarges the heart of the collection: self-discipline, recovery, love, human connection.
The sparseness of the language and the preciseness of the latter of Spring Cleaning cuts through what many would see as desolate, or desperate circumstances. The Japanese forms allow Blood’s motifs to echo or resonate from poem to poem so that there is a kind of chording effect, and the desperation becomes rekindled hope. Life keeps happening. Life goes on. Change happens, and often in the face of indifference.
One of the interesting aspects of Spring Cleaning is that Blood’s eye becomes a kind of all-seeing eye. He sees the newly ex-convict suffering, without medication and proper state support. He sees the struggling addict, the homeless trying to insulate themselves with paper and cardboard. The sparseness required by the forms helps achieve that scope because it often forces a declarative sentence and that matter of a fact rhythm, combined with the sharp eye, engenders Spring Cleaning’s empathy. Blood could as easily be speaking about his own experiences, or the experiences of friends, or both, in lines such as these from the latter half of the collection:
released from prison
to the pysch
for loose change
Blood’s Spring Cleaning offers a stark view, often wintry and distant, brittle and sharp, but one that seeks serenity; a peace that comes from self-discipline, measured living, one moment at a time.
Stephen Scott Whitaker (@SScottWhitaker) is a member of the National Book Critics Circle and the co-editor of The Broadkill Review. Whitaker is a teaching artist with the Virginia Commission for the Arts, an educator, and a grant writer. Whitaker’s poems have appeared in Fourteen Hills, The Shore, Crab Creek Review, & The Citron Review, and other journals. Mulch, a novel of weird fiction is forthcoming from Montag Press in 2021.