Blot Lit Reviews: The Chronicles of Scarbo by Jenene Ravesloot
The Chronicles of Scarbo, Jenene Ravesloot
First Flight Books, 2013
Reviewed by Kayla Greenwell
The Chronicles of Scarbo is the Inception of poetry collections. It’s a series of persona poems written about the character “Scarbo” who appeared in a 19th century French romantic poetry collection which then had a series of piano pieces written about it by a composer named Ravel at the turn of the 20th century, one piece of which was named after that character. Got it? Good.
Now, Scarbo is a piece of work. Scarbo is a devilish imp-like creature, much like the dark poem that established him and the complicated and devilish piano music that he inspired. Ravesloot pulls on these roots to create a contemporary noir-type character who enjoys his vices—drinks, late nights, sliders.
Chronicles is inherently musical—which makes since, given that its inspiration is a hauntingly complicated piano composition. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBgwk98ZPuI Ravesloot speckles in small references to music throughout the novel, like “Lush Life,” a jazzy piano number in “Me and Pretty Mary at the Bar.” These little details really help create a rhythm and feel to the work.
The juxtaposition of a classical character with the scandalous and sometimes crass representation in Ravesloot’s work makes for a highly entertaining read. She brings Scarbo into the 21st century, while still staying true to his devilish character, as we see in one of the poems written as Scarbo, “Catalogue #3” quoted here in its entirety”
Green ran, red lights, oil slick
Streets, sad songs on old lady
Lips, strung out nights, hangover
Days, day-old beer still on the
Left over chili, bag of sliders, my
Personal savior looking down,
Radiant Mary in blue and
Breaking glass, screams in the
Next apartment, me in a full-
Length mirror doing the cha-cha
Cha ‘round midnight.
While Ravesloot’s writing is strong and entertaining—I found the obscurity of the character off-putting. Initially I read this collection without doing research into Scarbo, using the information given in the preface to base my reading upon. However, I found that once I spent a while with my good old friend Google, I got much more out of the poems than before. This may alienate those without a Literature degree or a love for research.
Still, it is a wonderful and unique collection of persona poems about a silly character. In addition to the middle section of the work, which the poems are written from Scarbo’s perspective, we are also able to explore his world from the position of an intimate friend. These poems help round out the collection’s narrative universe, as we see in “Another Judgement Dream:”
Scarbo is sitting next to me. He’s reading Les Fleurs
du Mal while he sips a gin and tonic almost as big as
And here I am, minding my own business while the
Bartender wipes a table with a dirt rag, and I watch a
spider crawl across the floor. So far, so good…
These great narratives are often paired with black and white sketches related to the piece that comes after it. These images, the musical references, and the fact that “Scarbo,” comes from an earlier poetic work makes Chronicles feel like true intratextual media—it’s almost interactive. This is perhaps my favorite aspect of this collection.
Ravesloot’s work is a well-developed peek into the world of a forgotten and mysterious character of Gaspard de la Nuit. It’s a mix of dark imagery, humor, and ridiculousness that makes for a quick but intricate read.