Book Reviews

Echoing the Strong Voice of Protest

Songs of A Dissident (Collection of Poems)
Poet: Scott Thomas Outlar
Publisher: Transcendent Zero Press
Publication Year: 2015. ISBN-10: 0692526463. ISBN-13: 978-0692526460

Songs of a Dissident is a wonderful olio of protest poems by Scott Thomas Outlar who, having survived 'the fire and the flood', has vented out his 'Shock and Awe', his anger and indignation at the cruel activities being carried out in the world. Happenings around him in his milieu seem to have far-reaching impact on him. His poems are born out of his sensibility, nurtured and matured, in the gloomy atmosphere of his time. A rebel poet, yet of compassion and universal outlook, Outlar out-shadows the grey thoughts of the nefarious people whose evil intentions always keep looming large over the process of maintaining the global peace and harmony. All the poems of this collection, woven well, deal with grave issues - Government corruption, the dealings of the Federal Reserve and international banking, having the will to overcome problems with strength of character and consciousness, sense of empowering the individuals. They present vignettes of human life passing through myriads of trajectories and penumbras of modern complex experiences, sweet and bitter, abrupt changes in and collapses of order, political and social, moral and cultural and personal disappointment of the poet and his agony.

Of all the major problems of the world, nuclear proliferation is a subject of concern. Nuclear weapons, if misused, might cause havoc to the world in general and humanity in particular. The poet is well aware of the devastating impact of nuclear technology. In the very first poem "Trump Hand", the poet arrests our attention to and makes us alert against the pernicious repercussion of wars, civil or nuclear, impending or imminent. The war in the name of expansion of power and strength leads us nowhere but to the grave. Saddened by such negative motive of war-monger countries, he makes us feel the deadening impact –

from all of the war
poisonous and poised to hiss
with a snake’s tongue
venom on the fang drips

He has depicted the heart-wrenching, eerie scene caused by the devastation of the war, in the following lines taken from the same poem-

A river of fire
in a ring around the city
...............many lives
from all of the lies
carelessly and callously
with spiteful intentions

Ecological concerns can be witnessed in his poetry. Wars have affected everything. Their bad effect is palpable in our life. Even nature is not spared. Let us see here-

The trumpet march to war is sounded
A prepackaged agenda in the form of a siren
lulling the ships off the sea
to bum-rush the desert shores
and strip the land of all its worth
while sucking at the tit of Mother Nature until she’s bone dry
Can you hear the silent cries
of a million slaughtered innocents?

The poet is a man of strong zeal and enthusiasm, imbued with sense of hope and optimism. He voices his angst and protests against the 'spiteful intentions' of the world mad with power and at the same time he wants those relegated to abyss to rise up again to their feet to cope with the perpetrative forces of the world. In spite of the mass destruction, loss of lives and properties, the victims must not lose their hope because

at the brink of a New Age
sipping freely from the full well
raining Love from the constellation
with a song from the spheres
about the cycles of time
The wheels, they spin
The gears, they turn
The dust drifts away
as the Phoenix flows out from the ash

His poetry bears out his revolutionary instinct. Socialistic and revolutionary urges, with satiric undertones mark most of his poems. He is disillusioned with the world, as he feels frustrated, cheated and betrayed in the lurid game of power politics. A note of bitterness and pessimism can be felt in the poem “Absolute Zero”-

I am a bled dry bone
whose marrow has been wasted
with no remorse
nor empathy
to spare for this skeleton world –
I write a eulogy
as a death wish
for all hope and salvation –

Political aggression in hand in glove with corporate sectors, social injustice, scientific and technological advancement are some of the remarkable happenings that have misbalanced the proper Order. Growing sense of capitalism has baffled and confused the people. Humanistic concern is on the wane, dignity of man is pushed to its nadir. However, the poet believes in revolutionary optimism. With his optimistic zeal, he wishes to bring about big transformation in his society. His poem “Sucked Dry” has his hope of survival in the tides of turbulent times-

The bloody valley of silicon wants its cut of lithium
Don’t pull the plug until they’re done
the War Machine is having fun
they pulled the wool over everyone
to fleece the herd on every front
and now we’re all victims to the violence of a New World Order
as our desperate heart diligently fights to keep the hope alive
day after day after day after day after…

His poetry is laced with bitter and severe criticism and irony. His comments are direct and explicit. He is very critical of communal strife among people in the name of caste, creed and community and bigotry as is happening around the globe. He makes scathing assault on the political system headed by “Fat Cat Politician / perched atop the congregation” and the money monger ‘Jackal’ of the corporate world, ‘snake oil salesmen’ with ‘Vials full of drugs’. In “Venom Laced Jackal Fangs”, he depicts a scaring picture of such people and their evil intentions-

Propaganda laced with venom
sent out from corporate jackals
Saliva drips from fangs
they can taste the next victim

The people have to realise their dignity, goodness and indestructibility of their inner strength. They have to muster courage and cope with the divisive forces. The lines grabbed from the poem “One Foot in front of the Other”, a very exhorting poem, are reflective of determination, resolution, faith in oneself, confidence, encouraging attitude they must adopt and exercise till the last drop of blood-

What you can do
is what you must do
and what you shall do
with this very day
and every day after
until the work is complete
and your soul can lay down to sleep.

In the poem “Feudal Futility”, he expresses his awe and sock at the people who take interest in the news about ‘Royal family / of this or that European country’, Kings and Queens/and Princes and Princesses/and Royal courts and henchmen / and mafia and control freaks / and psychopaths and elitists / and governments and bureaucrats / and law enforcers and pigs’ who have oppressed, suppressed and tortured the common people for axing their grinds. He expresses his surprise -

and yet, still,
the mass man, the common man,
the mean man, the nothing man,
clamors for a comeback
of their oppressor.

‘Sacrificial Lambs’ is another poem of growing resentment and protest. He compares the common people to ‘Lambs’, symbolic of innocence, mute, submissive, negligence etc to be sacrificed at the altar of royal interest and greed. They lay down their lives

for their King and Queen
and Bishop and Rook
and Knight

He is not glorifying their sacrifices. Rather in reaction and disgust, he is taking them to task. All the controlling forces from political social, religious to the authoritarian have been bitterly satirized and exposed to the world.

“Apocalyptic Eagle” is a symbolic and metaphorical poem which goes a long way in bringing home the point of view of the poet. The symbol of this imaginary creature stands for all the oppressing forces of the world. The picturesque imagery of the ‘Eagle in the sky’ appears tearing into ‘the fabric of creation’. He describes it

It has two wings that symbolize
the false paradigm
of a political structure
meant to pull the wool
over the eyes
of those who are already blind.

He further describes it as It is ‘kin to both the vultures/and the serpents’-

It has no compassion nor empathy
for its victims; in fact,
it rather enjoys drinking the blood
from the spilt vein of a martyr middle class.

In his poem “National Amnesia” , he has raised some national issues, including the ‘national anthem' , 'especially the brutal, nasty, hard-hitting, / hard-edged, gladiator style contests' with troops facing each other for war. His poetic self is very critical and disapproving of any sort of war in the name of nationalism. What he wants is the peace, prosperity of the country and that is possible only when the middle class of people prosper and do better in their life. He believes in total uplift of bourgeois section of society.

“Late Onset Puberty” has juxtaposition of his ideas well expressed with a wonderful distinction between two types of the people - oppressed and the oppressor, developed and the underdeveloped. Hitting hard at 'American pop culture', he is sad at heart that most of the people have become self-centric with vested interest. Lack of unity with collective responsibility and consciousness leaves major problems unresolved. There is no place for such individualistic attitude of the people in the penumbra of his poetic world. He very seriously explains-

The difference between
the winners and the losers
is that the winners
use adversity to become stronger
while the losers
cower at the altar of their oppressors.
The difference between
the evolved and the regressive
is that the evolved
use their power to scale the mountain
while the regressive
hang out at the base sucking thumbs.

Cultural and moral downfall of the Americans has also bothered the poet. To see this degeneration of the people, he unlocks his deepened sense of agonised feeling and desperation. In “Reboot in the Blood” he puts a question mark on America, calling it a country of dullards indulged in drinks. He validates the sole reason for the generational digression with sarcasm and bitter irony-

Maybe because
of all the barley beer
that expands the guts
and numbs the minds –
all the wheat parasites
that bring consciousness
crashing down
in a tired heap.

Political upsurge, social injustice, economic depression, unemployment, woes and suffering of the poor, their misery and wretchedness and other affairs and events find realistic portrayal in his poetry. In the poem “Feeding the Beast” he expresses his disappointment at countless problems his country is faced with. He speaks out openly-

Terrorism, torture, hackers, racism, war,
gossip, meaningless trivia, self-important
politicians yapping their gums, a broken
economy, unemployment, etc. –
and you know what?
I kind of like it.

He doesn't like torture, lies, back-stabbing, murder, rape, emotional hurt, cheat, deceit, unemployment, hacking and whacking, dirty politics , torture and gimmicks by CIA agents which have defamed his country. With his revolting attitude, he wants the people to

Disassemble all the machines and factories;
let it all collapse in a mushroom cloud.
No worries, it’ll all come back around
and build up again
in the next cycle.

He believes that when corruptions are galore, the country is no more. It has to collapse. Thinking of the myriads of problems he becomes prophetic. He remarks in his poem 'The Days Are Numbered'-

The Kingdom will collapse
when the winds of chaos blow
up from the sea
across the water with the tide
pulled in by the moon
as it does a Blood Dance in the sky
to rattle the bones
of the Beast
after its Empire has been cut off at the throat

In the poem 'The Good Old Golden Rule" he gets suggestive and protesting when he asks the people to

Remove the fangs,
suck out the venom,
shed the skin and
slay the snake
in order to demystify the dragon.

Because 'The system run by the sold out sycophants of Satan'. He is fed up with distrust, political opportunitism, sinister manoeuvre against the authority and domination. He comes up with an idea to put an end to this entire chaotic situation. He expresses that 'The simplest solution is to just pull the plug' on all chaos. He also suggests-

Love that which is Good with violent passion.
Hate that which is Evil with an equal fervor.
Carry both a sword and a rose.
A flower of peace for those who choose life.
A blade in the guts for the liars;
cast their bones in the fire.

“Money Trail” best sumps up the poet’s thoughts and idea. It has all the themes of his poetry put together in this very poem dealing with ‘fall collapse’, ‘controlled demolition’, ‘national security blackouts’, ‘whitewash investigations’, ‘Machiavellian tactics’, ‘Bush/Bin Laden connections’, ‘Halliburton’, ‘Black Water’, ‘Saudi influence’, ‘The Federal Reserve’.

Another beautiful poem is “It’s a Power Thing” which makes a comparison between two types of people out to control- money and mind- respectively. Here, the poet is successful in exposing the brain -washing game of the so-called authority

In the poem 'Decision Time' he motivates the people that time has come 'Big decisions must now be made'. He further encourages them

Welcome to the future.
Either open fire
or be prepared
to take a bullet.

The last poem of the anthology is 'Artificial Dye' in which the poet expresses his stand with explanation and clarification. Though he is a poet of protest and resentment, he doesn't lose his temper. Expecting a 'Revelation', 'Renaissance', 'Revolution' what he does is point to take note of-

I do not show anger.
I do not lose my cool.
I simply go inward
and calmly, quietly, and methodically
grind one tooth against another,
creating a sharp fang
that one day will bite
with a fury never before seen or heard;
and it will be glorious.

His reactive thoughts coalesces into positive vision of a 'New Age' where Atlantis will be reborn, all the chaos will be pushed at the alpha point, omega order will be restored and he and his people will have a country of their choice. With the hollowness of capitalistic, political and corporate order of the times exposed, he, now has a sanguine vision of a better nation grounded on social equability and equanimity.

In the final analysis of Scott Thomas Outlar’s poetry, it would be no exaggeration to pronounce that he is a rebel- humane-liberal-progressive poet. His poetry is vibrant with a sense of social consciousness. Humanistic concerns are quite palpable. His poetry is an expression of his intense dissatisfaction with the present day system of America and his strong protesting voice against it. It also bears the Marxist standpoint and leanings. His poetry is animated with social consciousness and imbued with political and corporate resentment. In his poetry he has represented the bourgeois section of the people. The language is very effective and simple. Imagery is evocative and stirring.”Songs of a Dissident” deserves wider range of readership the world over.

Happy reading!

(An abridged version of this review was published in Asian Signature, Third Volume,No 2, (August) 2016)


More by :  Bhaskaranand Jha Bhaskar

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