The Many Hundreds of the Scent: Poems

Farrar. Oct. 2023. 96p. ISBN 9780374607197. $25. POETRY
Following closely on last year’s Cain Named the Animals, McCrae’s eighth collection evokes the feeling of a life recalled in a hypnagogic state, an amalgam of memory, realization, and hallucination in which the poem serves as an instrument for measuring the most fleeting perceptions, “thoughts decaying like sound in air.” McCrae employs a kind of rhetorical backtracking, a caesuraed means of repetition by which the trajectory of thought is both preserved and advanced. In “Race & Language” he writes, “What object could I, if I stood before/ Them, any ancestor, what object could/ I gesture to, to start to learn the language/ Wherever I had met them, if I stood// Before them,” conveying a halting, incremental sense of progress toward connecting with one’s origins. Embedded among surreal meditations (“Hex”) and retellings of The Iliad (“Helen”) are personal lyrics recalling the biracial poet’s abduction by his white grandparents (“How happy must you keep the/ Child you have kidnapped if you want/ Him to forget?”
VERDICT McCrae’s innovative stylistics and associative leaps take some getting used to, but his poetry echoes his hope that “what once seemed strange to you/ Becomes your heart.”
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