Sunday, January 9, 2011

Review: Apocryphal Road Code by Jared Randall

The first thing you’ll note about Jared Randall’s debut poetry book, Apocryphal Road Code, is the striking cover design: a grey-toned mesmerizing close-up of a bearded man staring straight into your soul. The image is split vertically between the front and back covers, perhaps denoting the duality in Randall’s poems, which invoke both a personal and a historical perspective on the hobo’s wayfaring life. As he points out in “Thinking, road kids…,” we are all hobo’s on life’s highway, always a heartbeat from despair.

Starting with the 16 tenets of the Hobo Code (#1. Decide your own life, don’t let another person run or rule you.), Randall embarks on a journey told varyingly through his own eyes or those of a hardcore hobo. Along the way you’ll learn hobo terms like “snipe,” “hooty,” and “mongee,” aided by context as well as a selected glossary at the end of the book (which you’ll need at times, especially for “Monologue: Tourist Union #63”).

Randall’s poetic voice is lyrical and descriptive, as these lines from "Road Code" (the first of several poems by the same name which all play off the Hobo Code) display:
My fingers sew
                         the night to shreds,
poke pockets for holes,
handle rib cage creases
to prove
              I circulate.

In “Ulterior hobo…,” about picking up a “hitch-hiker on the road to Battle Creek,” Randall demonstrates his empathy for the hobo life and his command of their vernacular. You will find sensory-rich imagery like “an unlovely tool shed perfumed with dog piss” in Randall’s verse, this phrase from “Hobo Confessional,” one of my favorites. “Long Haul” presents an ode to lost friends accompanied by hobo symbols, the cryptic language bo’s use to communicate with each other in coal or chalk, thereby providing directions, information, or warnings.

Randall is a true “Hobo at Heart” (the title of one of a set of poems called “Hobo Circle,” written “for all junglers and yesterday’s preshuns, caught in a wire…”). He not only captures the actual landscape of the American hobo’s existence with economic elegance but also translates it into an “everyman’s” tale, showing how even our common experience keeping an old clunker on the road can symbolize the wayfarer’s frugal world (“Travelogue: Breakdown Commute in Reverse”).

“A Boy’s Journey Home” reminded me of Jack Kerouac’s colorful descriptions of life on the road, and if Randall never actually lived this particular tale, the reader is no wiser. Indeed, as I read I was hearing all the poems in Jack’s own lilting voice, perhaps a product of my own bias for the latter’s work, but more likely a result of the obvious connection between Randall’s subject matter and much of Kerouac’s epic work.

I wrote this review in the spirit of Hobo Code #15, but you’ll have to buy the book to figure out what I mean by that. I hope you will – you won’t be sorry. This is a masterful piece of work, and Jared Randall faces a bright future as a poet down the apocryphal road.

Apocryphal Road Code is available from Amazon here.

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