John McCarthy tries to paint the most honest portrait he can of the small corner of Illinois that he grew up in. The sea of grass, the pickup trucks everyone drove, the ever present, haunting religious iconography, the well of brutality that always lay below (and sometimes broke through) the surface. The small pain everyone kept in their stomachs and refused to let out. For all those who remember their small town and all things in it that made them leave.
Selected by Victoria Chang as winner of the Jake Adam York Prize, John McCarthy's Scared Violent Like Horses is a deeply personal examination of violent masculinity, driven by a yearning for more compassionate ways of being. McCarthy's flyover country is populated by a family strangled by silence: a father drunk and mute in the passenger seat, a mother sinking into bed like a dish at the bottom of a sink, and a boy whose friends play punch-for-punch for fun. He shows us a boy struggling to understand "how we deny each other, daily, so many chances to care" and how "we didn't know how to talk about loss, / so we made each other lose." Constant throughout is the brutality of the Midwestern landscape that, like the people who inhabit it, turns out to be beautiful in its vulnerability: sedgegrass littered with plastic bags floating like ghosts, dilapidated houses with abandoned Fisher Price toys in the yard, and silos of dirt and rust under a sky that struggles to remember the ground below. With arresting lyricism and humility, Scared Violent Like Horses attends to the insecurities that hide at the heart of what's been turned harsh, offering a smoldering but redemptive and tender view of the lost, looked over, and forgotten.
About the Author
John McCarthy is the author of one previous collection, Ghost Country, which was named a Best Poetry Book of 2016 by the Chicago Review of Books. McCarthy is the 2016 winner of The Pinch Literary Award in Poetry, and his work has appeared in Best New Poets 2015, Hayden's Ferry Review, Passages North, Sycamore Review, Zone 3, and in anthologies such as New Poetry from the Midwest 2017. He received an MFA in Creative Writing from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and serves as an editor of RHINO magazine and the Quiddity international literary journal and public radio program.