Roberto Bolaño’s novel The Savage Detectives chronicled a literary movement named “the Visceral Realists.” Crow: from the Life and Songs of the Crow by Ted Hughes offers the reader a kind of visceral realism. The poetry cycle recounts the life and times of Crow, a folkloric character, comedian and trickster. The collection ranges across various types of poems: fairy tales, lullabies, legends, comedic shtick, and parody. Like the crows one sees everyday, Crow scrabbles in waste, carrion, and garbage. He is a scavenger, appropriating things, a collector of junk. The poem titles bear this out, “Oedipus Crow,” “Crow Tyrannosaurus,” and “Crow Tries the Media.”
Crow sleazes amidst a corrupted version of Biblical events from Adam and Eve to the Crucifixion; he struggles to exist against the merciless attacks of a Sadean Mother Goddess. As Camille Paglia wrote in Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, “Sade’s demonic mother nature is the bloodiest goddess since Asiatic Cybele. … She is Darwin’s nature, red in tooth and claw.” Hughes masterfully balances brutal violence with dark comedy. Crow is poetic anarchism, raw and unflinching. The literary equivalent of a sternum punch or the opening riffs of the Sex Pistols “Anarchy in the U.K.,” Crow acts like Johnny Rotten, attacking respectable idols and traditional institutions with an amorphous insatiable rage and glee. Harpo Marx as re-imagined by the Marquis de Sade.
In addition to the volcanic poetry within, the Faber edition includes seven poems not in the original 1970 edition. The front cover of this short book has a marvelous illustration by Leonard Baskin, Crow rampant, legs muscular trunks supporting an obscene mass with a beaked head peeking out.