Because April is National Poetry Month, I decided to strike out into uncharted territory and review one of my favorite books, Crush.

Crush is a collection of poems by Richard Siken that won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award in 2004. The Yale Series is an awesome competition where new poets under forty can submit a manuscript to be judged. If you win, and agree to the publishing terms, they publish your poems.

Crush arrived on the scene to pretty rave reviews- the introduction by the judge who chose his manuscript is no exception. She, Louise Glück, starts off by saying, “This is a book about panic. The word is never mentioned.” I’ve not been able to find a better way to describe it. The world Siken creates within Crush is chaotic and cruel, with death tucked into every corner. At the same time, I’d say that it’s also about love- at the very least, it’s definitely about desire. I really can’t emphasize enough how much I love this book- I highly, highly recommend that everyone try it out.

Now, I’m going to be totally honest- I don’t really know anything about poetry. I haven’t taken any classes on it, as I mentioned on last Sunday’s podcast, and I don’t know how to analyze it. All I know is that there is something about his poems that I find really touching. They’re raw, undiluted; they’re what I imagine you’d find if you cracked his ribs open and peeled all the layers away to see what he had hidden beneath. Aside from the very visceral reaction that his themes evoke in me, the imagery he uses is also particularly compelling. Violence, guns, cars, motel rooms, the road, two boys, desire, death.

So, the way I first stumbled across Siken was actually Tumblr. I’m a pretty big fan of the show Supernatural, and while I’m not necessarily active in fandom, I do read a lot of fanfiction. This was even more true when I first started watching it around 2010/2011. I kept seeing these gorgeous graphics on my favorite blogs: typically images of Sam and Dean, sometimes with the Impala, with words over them. Sometimes, it was a simple phrase that told an entire story-

Sam and Dean; over them, a line from “Driving, Not Washing”

Other times, it was like a description of a scene or an episode, or a whole plot point-

Sam and Dean; over them, lines from “A Torn-Up Road”

So eventually I just Googled it, and that’s how my own personal love story with Crush began. (Or, if you prefer, my crush on Crush >:) ) I didn’t actually buy a copy until 2015, but I’m glad I did. I’ve read it cover to cover several times.

Crush and Supernatural mash-ups became so popular that fans started asking Siken if he wrote Crush about the show. He did not, of course, as the book was selected to be published in 2004 (re: Yale Series), and Supernatural first aired in late 2005. But that still hasn’t stopped fans from asking. He’s discussed this a little- a lot, actually- in interviews, but to summarize, he says “[…] I think Crush and Supernatural are products of a cultural moment, not products of each other.”

But it’s easy to see why fans often equate the show and the poems- the imagery in Supernatural is very similar to that in Crush. In You Are Jeff, it starts with two brothers, riding motorbikes down a road. Soon after, there is “God in his High Heaven,” and the Devil, who we’ll “pretend is played by two men” (one of whom has dark hair and green eyes, like Dean). Towards the end, it talks about the brothers again, fighting in the dirt on the side of the road. That’s a pretty common theme for Sam and Dean, especially in earlier and middle seasons. They spent a lot of their lives being trained by their father, a military man. In this case, that doesn’t lend itself to great communication. But they sure can kick the crap out of each other.

Then we have Driving, Not Washing. (There be mild spoilers ahead, proceed with caution)

It starts with bloodshed, always bloodshed, always the same
running from something larger than yourself story

Bloodshed is pretty self explanatory- Supernatural started as a sort of monster-of-the-week show, with each episode containing a new creature to hunt and kill. But over the course of the first couple of seasons, we see a bigger plot arc come into play. The demon who killed Sam and Dean’s mom has come back for Sam, and he has big plans for him. Which, obviously, neither Sam nor Dean want any part of.

They’re hurling their bodies down the freeway
to the smell of gasoline,

The most frequent setting in Supernatural is a car- a 1967 Chevy Impala given to Dean by their father. The Impala becomes like home to them, as they spend their lives traveling around America finding monsters to “gank.” Side note: when Oscar and I went to the Boston Comic-Con a couple years ago, we got Dusa a little Impala replica!

Henry’s driving,
and Theodore’s bleeding shotgun into the upholstery,
It’s a road movie,
a double-feature, two boys striking out across America […]

Wounds, often gory and brutal, are an occupational hazard of hunting monsters. Because of the brothers’ lack of funding (killing vampires doesn’t pay all that well, as it turns out!) and occasional notoriety, they often skip the hospital and do it themselves or for each other. And depending on how difficult a hunt is, it’s not uncommon for one of them to lie wounded in the passenger or back seat while the other takes them back to the motel.

and they’re trying to drive you into the ground, to see if anything
walks away.

In season 5, Dean says to Sam, “[…] it’s supposed to be you and me against the world, right?” Sam and Dean get a lot of crap for what they do- the FBI on their tail for mistaken murder charges, angels angry with them for screwing with a divine plan, the demon trying to turn Sam into some sort of demon general. It often seems like various characters are trying to do just that, drive them into the ground, break their bond (sometimes by killing one of them), just to see how they’ll handle it.

There’s also a piece a little earlier that I didn’t quote, which talks about angels. Angels become a huge part of the show, beginning in season three when Castiel becomes a recurring character. Some would even say a main character, but that’s a rant for another day.

Honestly, this barely scratches the surface. It gets even more interesting when you compare the poems with some of the common fic ships of the show- whether is Destiel (Dean and Castiel), Sabriel (Sam and Gabriel), or Wincest (Sam and Dean- which is surprisingly one of the most written about pairings, both on and The poems in Crush are inescapably about desire. Looking at the poems through the lens of a popular fandom pairing can make even more apparent why the book is so well-loved by fans of Supernatural, and why it’s so commonly used in fanart. All in all, I recommend both the book and the show, like, 10,000%.

Don’t even get me started on BBC’s Sherlock and Siken’s second book, War of the Foxes.

More Links

Another great interview with Siken; Siken’s Tumblr; website; and a Tumblr devoted to Siken/Supernatural graphics.