Miscreants

, Author
James Hoch
MFA, 2000
W.W. Norton, 2012

Troubled young men and boys scarred by their gritty surroundings animate this careful sophomore effort from Hoch (A Parade of Hands), much of it focused on the city and the blue-collar suburbs of Philadelphia, where the poet grew up. The well-handled 22-part central poem, Bobby Almand, takes its name and subject from a gruesome murder case: the titular boy becomes both hoodlum and victim, a sacrificial representative for the tough teens who run through the rest of the book—Like wild dogs, we were raised/ in packs, by packs. A wry lyric opens Stoned, I go into a gas station; an ode about playground basketball evokes The air-guitar/ player, the air-baller, half-court rim-clanger... talking trash, snatching loose balls to eclipse or evade their grim, marginal lives. Hoch's weighty, short lines suggest Linda Gregerson's, but his moods (and occasionally his allusions) instead conjure American singer-songwriters—doomed and sensitive Elliott Smith, blue-collar laureate Bruce Springsteen, whose Jersey shore territory crops up here too. Neither Hoch's scenes nor his moods seem terribly original—and yet he makes them memorable even so: a...boyhood// shotgun cocked against your head. (Publisher's Weekly)