Book Review – ‘Give the Bard a Tetanus Shot’ by V.C. McCabe

I received a complimentary copy from the author.

V.C. McCabe’s poetry collection Give the Bard a Tetanus Shot is a portrait of modern Appalachian life. It blends the joys of rural living with its traumas; isolation, environmental damage, drug abuse, and poverty. The very first image in the book sets the tone perfectly:

A small, solitary carousel horse stands

impaled on a rusty pole

tangled in barbed wire and tall grass

Here is a place where pain and joy are not easily separated.

McCabe looks back to sweeter times, with rich images and superb language: 

…our quixotic clan meanders

barefoot along the sandy creek-

bed, skipped stones rippling

reflections of our fresh faces 

smiling in summer sunlight…

It is easy to imagine this place as a rural idyll, even though there are dark undercurrents. The innocence of childhood is held in contrast when reflected on with the knowledge and experience of adulthood; McCabe harks back to gentle moments with a richer understanding and appreciation for yesterday’s struggles. There is a fierce love for Appalachia, but it is tempered with a sense of frustration at the impact of pressures such as the opiod crisis and the damage causes by environmental catastrophes. She captures the devastation caused by extreme weather events, spurred by climate change, and the ongoing struggle of a people trapped in a cycle of disadvantage. McCabe does not soften the picture:

He, the Hunter, mounts his trophy to the wall,

his steel trap fists locked around her helpless wrists. 

Caught, she, his captive prey, his trembling doe. 
The eyewitness, their hybrid fawn, rent asunder by 

their woodcut danse macabre

Change is relentless, and McCabe reflects on everything lost to her, and the necessity of letting go in order to find a sense of peace.

Give the Bard a Tetanus Shot is a pleasing blend of form, and McCabe deftly uses spacing to emphasise the juxtaposition of words and ideas, building layers of meaning and sharp directional pivots throughout her work. She drops a few final consonants in a nod to Appalachian speech, but the book is thick with beautiful words and images. McCabe’s use of metaphor and simile is crisp; drug addicts are zombies, traffic directors are highway prophets, and sorrow is a battlefield. She picks out the small details that bring the tragic to vivid, breathtaking life.

The book comes with a Spotify playlist and this enhances the reading experience; the haunting music adds to the sense of quiet pride and desperate connection captured in McCabe’s poems. The songs tell stories that align with the book, and the sensory integration of book and music is very pleasing. 

Give the Bard a Tetanus Shot is an exceptionally capable debut from an accomplished poet. Anyone who looks back at their past with a sense of longing and yearns for what was left behind, who looks around their community and wants something more for it, who has struggled in an endless loop of destruction and hope, will find beauty and solace in these pages.

Give the Bard a Tetanus Shot is available for pre-order through the publisher, Vegetarian Alcoholic Press, Indiebound or Amazon ahead of its release on September 24th, 2019. You can watch the trailer for the book here.

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