Scarecrow Pretends: Robert Okaji’s Metallurgy

By: Benjamin Schultz

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By the end of this article, I hope that you’ll decide to check out The Slag Review. Your incentives are as follows: The Slag Review’s staff of Slaggers consists primarily of a blacksmith and two UConn English alumni: Therese Masotta and Carleton Whaley. Both are connected to myself and this publication because they worked on the 2016 staff of the Long River Review. In addition, the title of their literary journal is a reference to the process of smelting ore, work so dangerous and medieval that this group is inherently cooler as a result.

It would have been fun to make this a “Where are they now?” expose. However, I’ve never met these great writers in person (and noticed one of them expressing a strong disinterest in people prying into his personal affairs in the LRR 2016 bios.) Therefore, I’ve decided to focus on one of The Slag Review’s published poets instead.

Robert Okaji, my poet of choice, wrote a piece in Slag titled “Scarecrow Pretends,” another example of a title that gets the cool ball rolling early on. First, let me explain a bit about Okaji through an example of his thinking about poetry. This is snipped from his personal blog:

“A poet considers the intersections of language and numbers, connections between disparate entities (…) all, of course, while contemplating good food and that most magnificent of elixirs, beer, which may have been the very foundation of civilization. Or not.”

In addition to his blog, Okaji has also authored the chapbook If Your Matter Could Reform and I have found his work in several other literary journals.

I think that I found Okaji’s poem so captivating because it is able to incorporate elements from the abstract to the concrete. As I am writing from the perspective of someone with a limited experience with poetry, I admired Okaji’s deft mixture of humor (such as his marveling at the absurdity of a scarecrow’s predicament as it is pecked and roosted by the very beast it is meant to deter) and serious thoughts about the personality of something that does not possess the ability to fulfill its purpose. What meaning does the simple scarecrow adopt if it is not scaring away crows?

(…) Does attracting more crows than I deter negate my existence?

And which am I? A river? A man? An effigy, one

perception, or another? I do not frighten, but welcome. Speak

louder, that we may ignore our insignificance, our true names.

The intersection that Okaji explores in this stanza between the name of an object and its intended purpose is poignant. Logic states that design and function are mutually exclusive. However, Okaji’s poem is a reminder that life is not always logical.

The reason this piece is an obvious choice for the “small, confused group of creators” at The Slag Review relates to their interest in metallurgy. Okaji’s magic elixir of words tells a story both within the self and outside of it, and it’s no surprise that the alchemists at Slag thought he was a good fit. Now that you’ve gotten a glimpse, go read the full poem – and journal – for yourself!

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