On Scott Edward Anderson’s Fallow Field

Aldrich Press, 2013

Reviewed by Christopher Cadra


When I read the poems of Scott Edward Anderson’s Fallow Field, I envision a Romantic poet standing on the bridge between William Carlos Williams and Allen Ginsberg. If that sounds odd, let me explain. A Romantic influence reveals itself as the pulse of Anderson’s Fallow Field. But American poets, American poetry, from the Modern era up to the Beats, show up in lesser but sundry ways throughout the work. And not just American poets, as various quotes (from Pessoa, Coelho, and others) throughout the work show Anderson is not limited to the Romantics, American poets, either or both.

In fact, it’d be tough to offer a way in which he is limited. This is not to say he’s an omnipotent, superhuman poet, it’s simply to say he appears to be able to be influenced without anxiety, without being hampered down by his influencers as are so many. He is an unshackled poet, his own unique voice resonating throughout his work.

The book’s second poem, “Naming,” features some “Chuck, Chuck, Chuck[ing]” of great-tailed grackles, and some “Meg, Meg, Meg[ing]” of magpies. Anderson’s chirping birds reminded me of Coleridge (his “Tu—whit! Tu-Whoo!” from “Christabel”) and Eliot (his “Co co rico co co rico” from The Waste Land). But it wasn’t simply the onomatopoeia and bird sounds that reminded me of these poets. The reminder of Coleridge would make immediate sense to anyone who reads Anderson, at least in my opinion, due to what I read as Anderson’s clear affinity to the Romantics, especially Coleridge and Wordsworth.

The reminder of Eliot, on the otherhand, may at first seem odd or whimsical. But regarding Eliot, I’ve come to agree with Professor Bloom when he states, “Against his will, Eliot was a belated Romantic poet.” And whether the idea of Eliot as Romantic was latent in my mind or Bloom put the idea in there, Bloom’s words have regardless affected my view of Eliot, and I’ve since read him as Bloom imagines him. One must, however, differentiate between the against-his-will Romantic (Eliot) and what I read as the arms-wide-open Romantic of Fallow Field.

More than simply a Romantic, and certainly more than a simple Romantic, Anderson is a poet of his time and place, and this being the case, comparisons to Coleridge and Wordsworth, along with the Romantic Eliot, will not suffice. In fact, any one comparison to any one poet, or even a school of poetry, will not suffice. Even a vague mention of the Romantic era offers only hints at influence and perhaps literary forefathers.

I mentioned the Modern era and a poet from that era in the first paragraph. That is, William Carlos Williams. Of course, I also mentioned Eliot, whom some consider to be the most important Modern poet, unanimously considered to have written some of the most important poems of the era, but again, I mention Eliot here as a belated Romantic, and I mention the Modern era, here, as veering away from Eliot’s esotericism toward William’s approachability. Anderson’s poems don’t feature myriad languages and impossible allusions, like The Waste Land. For the most part, Anderson shares with Williams a colloquialism (for lack of a better term) that leads one to feel they’re having a conversation with the poet, or at least listening to the poet speak in a way that isn’t meant to be puzzling but understood and appreciated.

One of my favorite things about Anderson is he’s unquestionably erudite and packs an enormous vocabulary but never shoves it in your face. Perhaps a student of Hemingway’s “iceberg theory,” Anderson has enough confidence to know he doesn’t have to show off. He manages to write pretty without writing purple. Sometimes this will result in a big word being used, but it’s never arbitrary, and the “big word” only appears to be used when it’s the best word, not the least known, least used. When reading, I felt every word was chosen with deliberation, never caprice. And so, unlike when you come across five languages in one of Pound’s Cantos, you never feel as though you’re reading an encyclopedia, or an encyclopedic poem, and you feel always as though you’re reading, perhaps learning, about things you couldn’t find in an encyclopedia anyway.

William Carlos Williams wrote about Eliot and The Waste Land, saying, “I felt at once that The Waste Land had set me back twenty years and I’m sure it did. Critically, Eliot returned us to the classroom just at the moment when I felt we were on a point to escape to matters much closer to the essence of a new art form itself—rooted in the locality which should give it fruit.” And here is where the aforementioned bridge between Williams and Ginsberg comes into play. I mentioned it because, unlike Williams, Ginsberg, a student of Williams, was part of a school, the Beats, that didn’t seem to have all that much interest in heading back to the classroom.

I’ve read the Beats were out in search of Whitman’s America. But I think it’d be more accurate to say, the Beats, inspired by Whitman, were out in search of their own America. What one could say, I think justly, about Anderson is that he isn’t out in search of Wordsworth’s Romanticism. Rather, inspired by Wordsworth, he’s out in search of his own Romanticism. And in my opinion, he managed to find what he was looking for.

A Wordsworth quote before Fallow Field’s last poem (a terrific poem called, “The Postlude, or How I Became a Poet,” no less) solidifies Anderson’s Romantic allegiance, but by the time one comes around to the poem, the Wordsworth quote is all but expected. What was of most interest to me, as I was reading and rereading Fallow Field, is what helped foster Anderson’s work beyond the Romantics. Someone who mentions the Rumble in the Jungle in a line prior to a mention of Troy, who quotes George Jones, is not stuck in the Romantic era of Wordsworth, Coleridge, et al., no matter how much debt and influence is owed.

And I say that because Anderson is most certainly contemporary, and to be a real deal Romantic in contemporary times is not as easy as it was in Byron’s day. One figures if Lord Byron were around “To sit on rocks, to muse o’er flood and fell, / To slowly trace the forest’s shady scene…” and attempted that real, true solitude, he would at the very least, in the world of social media and Google Earth, be limited in his capacity to do so. Thus when I call Anderson a Romantic and more, it’s because he reads like a true Romantic, but one in touch with our current society.

It isn’t so difficult to harken back to Williams and Ginsberg, but I believe it’s incredibly difficult to harken back to the Romantics. The fact that Anderson pulls off such a feat without forcing it or seeming at all unnatural is a testament to his talent. And though “contemporary Romanticism” may sound odd, a “contemporary Romantic” is oddly palatable. Or at least it becomes so after reading Fallow Field.