A Rebuttal to Nina Power’s Infuriating Review of Preliminary Materials For a Theory of the Young-Girl

by Seth Oelbaum

I intended to spend today (29 Dec. 2012) staring out the window and starting a list of all the reasons why kitties were superior in every single way to humans. However, my plan was pummeled to pieces when, through Facebook, I came into contact with Nina Power’s review of Tiqqun’s (trans. Ariana Reines) Preliminary Materials For a Theory of the Young-Girl. I am a boy. I like monster trucks and Arthur Rimbaud. But, even though I’m not a young girl, I still contain an awful amount of admiration for how Tiqqun (a French collective of theorists and artists) depicts the young girl, and I did not appreciate Nina Power’s patronizing, neo-liberal evaluation of it.

So, now, I am impelled to illuminate the wrongness of her ways.

 

Near the end of her review Power asks, “What, ultimately, would it mean to let the Young-Girl speak for herself and not through the categories imposed upon her by a culture that heralds her as the metaphysical apex of civilization while simultaneously denigrating her, or even the categories that Tiqqun mobilize to take her apart in a subtly different way?”

Nina, I don’t think there is a sole self. Democracy (and the grown ups who perpetuate it) have told me otherwise. They say that I am an autonomous, independent being. I have my own  views, and I should be grateful for the right to voice my opinions because in other countries (like the ones where a large amount of the citizens sport turbans and burkhas) people aren’t as fortunate. But I don’t believe such stuff. There are no independent individuals. That’s bull crap.

Jasbir K. Puar, the contemporary queer theorist, is the antithesis of bull crap. In her book,Terrorist Assemblages, Puar argues that corporeal creatures (or, as Barack Hussein Obama calls them, “folks”) aren’t the self-determining denizens that democracy makes them out to be but a combination of  natural and artificial materials. Assemblages are evinced in the suicide-bomber where the bomb skin fuses with the human skin to produce a “body weapon.” The  boundary between the human skin and the bomb skin is extinguished. When the bomb explodes the body explodes as well. The two are interlocked. For Puar, an assemblage is an

inability to clear delineate a temporal, spatial, energetic, or molecular distinction between a discrete biological body and technology; the entities, particles, and elements come together, flow, break a part, interface, skim off each other, are never stable, but are defined through their continual interface, not as objects meetings but as multiplicities emerging from interactions.

The cacophony of biological and artificial materials that composes the terrorist’s identity is also applicable to identities that aren’t trying to blow up the most marvelous place in the world (a city that allowed Edie to be so glamorous), like young girls (like Edie). Girl are “powerfully drawn” to “popular culture” writes Caitlin Flanagan’s in her condescending but nonetheless amusing Girl Land. They find it “mesmerizing and enticing” — they are “immersed” in it.  The young girl is a collection of telly shows, movies, internet sites, lip gloss, dresses, mini skirts, tights, stockings, leg warmers, sighs, tears, tantrums, boyfriends, ex-boyfriends, girlfriends, ex-girlfriends, cellies, sunnies, and, best of all, bows. “The Young-Girl lives at home amongst commodities, which are her sisters” writes Tiqqun. The  young girl is a mobile movie. She’s endowed with a wardrobe, props, and tons of drama. I only want to exist in Poor Little Rich Girl (or Ciao! Manhattan orBeauty #2) too. But I still want to be a boy…

I don’t castigate Power’s criticism of the ambiguous way in which Tiqqun employ gender. Tiqqun say that any one can be a young girl, “and yet,” counters Power, “the book is preciously not called Theory of the Wizened-Pope.” I think it’s crucial to interpret the young girl as a young girl (like Edie Sedgwick not Edward Norton) since the young girl, as Flanagan points out, is at the apex of consumer culture. But I don’t see why Power bemoans the position that the young girl occupies. Just as assemblages in terrorist cells are evaluated based on their ability to blow up America/America-esque places, consumers in consumer cultures are based on their ability to consume. Practically everyone is a consumer! The fatty faggot Frank Bruni would have an utterly different identity without the New York Times, the food that he previously critiqued, his memoir . Also, Paul Ryan (I don’t care what anyone else says — he’s a handsome fellow) wouldn’t be Paul Ryan without football, his hunting weapons, the airplane that flies him from Wisconsin to Washington.  In 2012, where America is to earth what Nazi Germany was, for a short period, to continental Europe, all subjects derive their identity from what they consume. Young girls are the most powerful because they consume the most.

Power wants a young girl who doesn’t speak through “the categories imposed upon her by culture.” But without these categories the young girl wouldn’t be able to speak — no one would. Interpellation (hi Louis Althusser!) is only possible when there is shared discourse. If you alter the culture, then you alter the interpellation, and the young girl ceases to be a young girl. This, though, is what Power advocates. She wants the young girl to “destroy the system.” She wants change. But change is a part of the system. The leader of the system — that community organizer with the birth certificate issues — talks about change quite a bit. Protesting and demonstrating (whether it be against Obamacare, against abortion, against DOMA, against [insert your cause here]) reinforces the system. Meanwhile, according to Tiqqun, the young girl is condemning “all physical violence directed against her aspiration of society’s total pacification. She and the dominant power are obsessed with security.”  The young girl’s alliance with consumer culture and abhorrence for those who insist that she tame her consumerism is why she’s so powerful. America is not a democracy: it’s a totalitarian state run by endless amounts of products. The young girl’s infatuation with commodities puts her on the side of the tyrants. Power says the young girl is denigrated. But she isn’t. The young girl is a cute, sassy, stylish collage that helps the tyrants run the world.

Leaving Proust

by Joe Winkler

Part 1

I recently finished Marcel Proust’s seven-volume novel In Search of Lost Time. As I read the last sentence, which appropriately ends with the word “Time,” (clever Proust, very clever) I felt a range of unexpected thoughts and emotions. I knew that I deserved the biggest cookie in the world. I also wanted a sign from the universe to acknowledge this labor of love, because I could be sure as shit that no one else in the world would really care about this personal accomplishment. I just wanted to brag and walk around the city, challenging people by saying, “Hey, I just finished the longest novel ever, what, do somethin!” though I realized that most people would laugh at my pretentiousness. So, instead, embracing the dorkiness of the endeavor, I write about my experience and will wait for the countless plaudits and emails to race my way. Here we go! (Disclaimer: If I sound a bit oh-look-at-me pretentious, please forgive me, I deserve something for this effort. LET ME HAVE THIS.)

Some context/backdrop: Proust and his posthumous publishers split up his over 3,000 page novel into seven volumes. That comes out to over 1 million words, and if you’ve ever tried to read any of his volumes, you know the most prohibitive parts are the never ending sentences and paragraphs. You need to forget about that frequent reinforcement you get in reading that comes from the end of a sentence, paragraph or chapter. This in no way exists in Proust, and you need to give up any expectation of those consistent reinforcements that allow us to finish long literature. This takes time to get over, and I don’t know anyone who can say that the beginning of Proust was smooth or easy sailing. It takes time to learn how to read the book, though Proust will teach you the best way to read his writing, which is very nice of him.

I read this novel over a period of five months, from June to October, but I must mention that I attempted to read the first volume, Swann’s Way, at least twice before to little success. The first two times I made this endeavor, I actually grew to hate Proust. In my arrogance I thought that if I could not even get through one page, then the problem must lie in the author, not in me, the great reader. I soon realized that, attempting to read Proust, even at the age of 21, and then 23, I was neither mentally nor intellectually prepared. It requires some real high level discipline, patience, and even more patience. (If Proust gave me anything, and I would contend that he gave me a lot, he at least gave me a widened attention span. Now, I’ve moved on to reading all of Tolstoy and I find his large books breezy compared to Proust.)

For the first four volumes, I read the new Penguin translations, most famously Lydia Davis’s translation of Swann’s Way Unfortunately, for whatever reason the last three volume’s of this translation effort only came out in Britain, and I did not feel like ordering them from England. Instead, I switched to the Modern Library translation. I didn’t notice any obvious differences in the translations, though a more perceptive reader might. The only difference between the versions arose in layout and aesthetics. The Penguin covers are gorgeous, and I love showcasing the first four in a set on my bookshelf. They just look great. However, the Modern Library’s layout, with less words on a page, made me feel considerably more accomplished. So choose your path if you choose to embark on this endeavor. I know this sounds petty, but when you find yourself in the world of Proust something as small as the beauty of the covers or the layout of page can matter immensely.

Before I try to describe some of my more serious thoughts and feelings about the book, let’s do some more direct and fun recap:

Best Title: In the Shadow of Young Girls in Bloom.

Best Line: “Must cancel plans, lies to follow.”

Best Book: Time Regained, Vol VII.

Favorite Character: Baron de Charlus.

Least Favorite Character Mlle. Verdurin

Least Favorite Book: The Fugitive.

Part 2

The experience of reading this book changed my conception of the novel. Proust cares little for the rules we learn in workshop. The book tells much more than it shows. Only  about 10% of the book contains actual dialogue and the line between essay, fiction, meditations, philosophy, criticism on literature and art, and memoir blurs as to explode any definition of a novel. In these extreme conclusions I feel heartened by the sentiments of past greats. So many modernist authors described their awe, love and importantly, fear of reading or rereading Proust. Virginia Woolf worried that his influence would overshadow her own writing and would not read Proust while she wrote (“My great adventure is really Proust.  Well — what remains to be written after that?”) Walter Benjamin expressed similar awe and concerns. I now understand this. Author after author worried that Proust all but made any further novelistic attempts obsolete.

I know of little precedence for this innovative book. Even if we can find precursors in terms of his style and content, you will find nobody in his realm of ambition. More importantly, I can think of few precedents in their ability to succeed, to thrive, to create perhaps the greatest novel ever. I say that knowing full well that other people say that all the time, and knowing that this is not my favorite novel. I can think of many novels that speak to me on a more personal level. As much as I grew to love and understand 19th and 20th century snobbery and the intricacies of aristocratic life, I could only love it from a distance. As hard as I tried, I could not overcome the apparently unbridgeable chasm between our worlds. Of course we still live in a world of snobbery, of class, of money, of jealousy and love, but Proust’s world so differs from my own as if to feel at times alien.  (Lionel Trilling, in his The Liberal Imagination, discusses these foundational differences). I accept that, but that creates a disconnect, and inability to fully connect unlike more contemporary novels like Infinite Jest or a myriad of other writers. Proust towers over everything now, but he does not obviate the need or urgency for the novel and writers, as other critics might have thought.

While I believe these small quibbles matter, they hardly can take away my unending awe, love, and respect for his accomplishment. It’s very hard to explain the level of excellency that he attains both on a sentence to sentence level, consistently throughout 3000+ pages, but also, and perhaps as impressive, how his vision coheres. He sets himself the goal of writing the book of life and succeeds. Nothing escapes his gaze, nothing escapes his pen. I cannot think of any other work of art, in any medium, that so captures the whole of life in as meaningful a way. More than other book I’ve read, you cannot separate the construction and creation of the book from the book itself. How Proust came to write this book matters, not only because he discusses that in the book itself. The novel is not only the story of his life, the story of French high culture, the story of sexuality in those times, but also the story of the creation of one of the best novels of all time. If this sounds meta, it is only in retelling. In the book itself it fits in seamlessly, and when, at the end, you arrive at the point in which the narrator finally decides to write his book, when  desire and reality finally converge, this moment hits you exactly like one of the narrator’s involuntary memories (the madeleine episode signifying the most famous, though not most important of these instances.) At this instance, at this transcendence of time lost, you as the reader want to go back to the beginning to start again, as you rethink, reimagine, regain everything that came before.

On all writerly levels he will make you feel the way I tend to feel with Nabokov, as if, relative to them, I can only write with fat, broken crayons on construction paper. But, I believe, that this pervasive anxiety of influence also speaks to the unique power of Proust to overtake my life and thought. Once you adapt yourself to his world, it can take on immediacy and urgency, and even overtake the immediacy and urgency of your own world. He creates a world so shimmering with beauty as to make our own world feel stale, tired, and hackneyed. This isn’t simply a matter of his writing prowess, but the imaginative immediacy encapsulates the purpose of his whole artistic vision.

As he epiphanized in the last volume, Time Regained, Proust comes to understand that true life and beauty lie in our minds and imagination. The line between imagination and reality signifies a false binary opposition belies the fact that these realms bleed into each other at every second. In a sense reality only exists in our imagination and our imagination only takes form through reality. The truest form of reality is not what we experience, but in our malleable reactions our experiences. We all sense this on some intuitive level. We know that the both the anticipation to an event, and our exaggeration of its immensity afterwards, carry greater weight than the event itself. Reality, or what we call reality, let us down time and time again, but no such limitations exist in our minds. We tend to think that we work to ground ourselves in reality, but Proust sees this as a sort of resignation to inevitable sadness. Stay in your imagination to experience true beauty. Art is the only true consolation of life. Art, literature becomes less about reflection, about insight, and more of a chance for the redemptive actualization of our most lofty imaginative impulses:

Indeed the whole art of living is to make use of the individuals through whom we suffer as a step enabling us to draw nearer to the divine form which they reflect and thus joyously to people our life with divinities.

His ability to make, sustain, and concretize this counterintuitive argument speaks to his singular genius.

That Proust spent the last years of his life in a cork-lined room finishing his book not only represented the exigencies of his sickness, but signified heaven on earth to Proust. As much as he loved society life, he came to realize he could unchain himself from the horrors of physicality, the evilness of time through his unfettered imagination. That he consistently engenders this feeling in his readers speaks to both his insight and the power of his ambition.

Perhaps his greatest success, his greatest accomplishment and gift to literature is his ability to sustain the consciousness of one individual, himself, throughout the whole of life through the consciousness of one singular human being.

Part 3

The categorization of a book as a masterpiece creates a protective armor that defends against criticisms and pushes away prospective readers. We do well to not only laud but to criticize classics for their felt flaws, for their abiding humanity. Proust provides the reader endless material for frustration. So much of the book entails conversations and obsession over petty facts of society life, over who snubbed whom at which party while wearing what dress, with those shoes? That Proust speaks so much about this, page after page, forces the reader to begin to question where the adoration ends and satire begins. ( Imagine reading 20 dense pages about the minutiae of etiquette at a boring Parisian society party, or spending 30 pages on the shoe fashion of the day. Not a delightful task.)

There is also on display an abiding snark and meanness. The narrator will not flinch at cutting a person down to their most pathetic core, flaying their defenses, revealing them and all of us as the bottom feeders we are. There is a bit of grim playfulness in the extent to which the narrator loves to wrest back power or to burst any sort of self delusion in his cast of characters. This begins to display a sort of the whine of the powerless who sees the rich, beautiful, and famous around themselves with no ability to fight back but with biting insights. In this vein, Proust never flinches at passing judgment, superficial judgment, on large swathes of humanity. I still don’t understand Proust’s awkward treatment of his own homosexuality, or his apparent prejudice against homosexuality, against women, and his own clear snobbishness. That he will endlessly categorize and provide insight into people entails part of his appeal, but the manner in which he does so often sounds arrogant. His style verges on the didactic, even pedantic. He will often write about human nature, without qualifications, as if passing down received truths for the whole of humanity from his divine perch. Despite the literary tradition for this style, Proust’s use of it strikes me as particularly pretentious and short sighted.

The inverse of his frustration bordering on hatred for actual people is his lionization of beauty, of imagination. The downside of viewing art as the only true purpose and consolation to life is that a person begins to see all people as for aesthetic satisfaction. (At one point, the narrator laments WW1 solely because of the lack of beauty it provides to parisian culture. It’s utterly drab and boring for someone so obsessed with the pleasure of the beautiful.)

These frustrations and complaints, I believe, speak more to my personal predilections in novels. I tend to care more about ideas than about details. However, one of these frustrations blossomed into an opportunity to explore my own personal biases about life and living. Proust explains that “In reality every reader is, while he is reading, the reader of his own self. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument which he offers to the reader to enable him to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps never have perceived in himself.” While true, it is also true in negation, in what we find annoying and thereby exploring why we find this so annoying.

For me, I could not tolerate the narrator’s desire to give ceaseless time to air mundane grievances, reinforcing the general  tone of narcissistic self-importance in all the characters. I could not tolerate 600 dense and knotty pages of one person delving to the depths of their jealousy. Why obsess over these utterly petty and stupid parts of the human experience. I know that we tend to say that these parts of the human experience make the grist for our novels, but read over 600 pages, almost in a row, about jealousy for one person, and you will begin to feel a bit weary, tired, emptied out of your concern on this matter.

This all changed when I began to think of my own relationships. I realized that the discomfort stemmed from my inability or lack of a desire to accept, comfortably, the shittier parts of my self. But what Proust argues for, both in content and style, both explicitly and implicitly, both in showing and telling is the importance of accepting, confronting, and loving the overwhelming power of our own involuntary memory, memories that do not distinguish between the moral or immoral, but sad or happy and between lofty of petty. I came to love the 600 pages devoted to jealousy when I experienced something all too similar. I realized that my annoyance stemmed from a desire not to accept this basic human vulnerability, from an insecurity about this type of obsessive and irrational jealousy thriving in each of us. I found myself more aware of my stupid jealousy and insane and incommensurate feelings towards a women. When I realized how adeptly Proust captured the range of my feelings, I dropped my judgmentalness and laughed. I laughed at my pretenses, at all of our pretenses in thinking we somehow can transcend this human pettiness. I wanted to thank Proust for this gift because the laugh that he gave me, in that moment, the laughter at myself freed me from emotional pain.

Part 4

Elaine Scarry, in her book, On Beauty, explains that when we encounter beauty we not only want to take hold of it, to keep it, but we instinctively desire to respond in kind. In this manner, his work demands at least a book-length response, but as with most masterpieces, the work itself serves as its own best commentary. Instead, a book about Proust would read much more as a sort of diary, a journal for reflection that uses Proust as a guide, an inspiration, a prod, and a source of beauty to explore your own world, your own reclamation of time. I do know that in the afterglow of his novels I see, think, and feel differently. I feel more mature even if this does not translate into action, and I laugh much more at that which I used to take seriously and take seriously that what I used to belittle. If books can change us then I feel changed, as to how, that remain uncertain. Time will tell me, I trust.

I leave Proust feeling lifted and lost, tired but invigorated, proud of myself for a five month achievement but knowing I barely skimmed the surface of this brilliant, frustrating, intolerable, endearing and pretty much every dialectic description possible. People tend to ask me if I recommend the book, as if you could give an easy answer to that question. In a sense, I could. No, I do not recommend this book. The book requires patience and devotion which normal people with real jobs cannot afford in their day. For those who want to devote this time to Proust, I feel certain that you too will sense some of his wizardry, and if you do, then let me know because I would love to discuss the book with you, with anyone really.  I’ve gladly entered a small and dwindling world of people stupid enough to read this whole book and I don’t want to leave.

***

25 Points: Autoportrait

by Brooks Sterritt

Autoportrait
by Edouard Levé
Dalkey Archive Press, 2012
120 pages / $12.95 buy from Dalkey

1. I didn’t intend to write about this book until I finished it just now.

2. Today I read a speech given by Jeffrey Eugenides in which he quoted Christopher Hitchens recalling the advice of Nadine Gordimer, i.e. “A serious person should try to write posthumously.” I think Edouard Levé succeeded in writing posthumously before his death.

3. When I first read the line “I find tips humiliating for the giver and the receiver,” I initially understood “advice” rather than “gratuity.”

4. I read the musings on mortality and suicide in Autoportrait differently than the musings of characters written by other authors who later killed themselves. I’m not sure why.

5. I experienced disappointment (with myself?) whenever a line caused me to think of Twitter. (“I have thought simultaneously: ‘I really should learn the trombone’ and ‘there’s a dead ant.’”)

6. “I am writing this book on a computer, there will never be a manuscript.”

7. The thought “Oh, you too?” occurred to me around 30 times after reading different lines in the book. (“On a trip, I fold my dirty laundry so it will take up less space.” “I rest only against my will.” “At a public urinal the presence of a neighbor delays my micturition.” “I have a fantasy involving female art students.”)

8. In my opinion, the number of pairs of pants Levé owned seems excessive. (60!)

9. It would have taken me longer to pick up this book if it had been called Self-Portrait by Edward Lee. In some way I think this is similar to the author’s fondness for Levi’s 501 Jeans.

10. Probably more than 30 times I would read the first clause of a sentence and think “This is going to be good.” (“Here is how I tell the story of Jesus:…”)

11. Levé prefers Raymond Roussel, “who writes unrealistic things in everyday words,” to Joyce, “who writes about banal things in extraordinary language.”

12. The sentence “I try to write prose that will be changed neither by translation nor by the passage of time,” follows one describing Levé’s experiences with the Friday the Thirteenth movies.

13. “I am tempted to make exhaustive lists, and stop myself in the middle.”

14. Several of the longer sentences in Autoportrait contain a complete narrative arc, usually ending in death.

15. “My memory is structured like a disco ball.”

16. “Everything I write is true, but so what?” I wonder if this is true, while also realizing it doesn’t matter.

17. This would be a good book to read in French (for practice, etc): it’s relatively short, the language is straightforward, and there are no stopping points.

18. I felt bad laughing at: “My brother thought his turtle had run away, it dried up under the radiator.”

19. Levé recasts the mundane as aesthetic experience: the street in a foreign country, the act of packing, sleep.

20. “I am not for or against painting, that would be like being for or against the brush.”

21. The author’s fear of clowns is well established, as are his flat feet.

22. “My ideas are more my style than my words are.”

23. Levé relates great misreadings, such as “In a Chinese pharmacy I thought I read on one of the bottles ‘octopus wigs.’” I initially read this as “octopus wings.”

24. The text of Autoportrait might lend itself to misreadings.

25. “I do not write in order to give pleasure to those who read me, but I would not be displeased if that is what they felt.”

“Gorgeous and Horrific Feelings”: A Review of Lasky’s Thunderbird

by Jessica Comola

Thunderbird
by Dorothea Lasky
Wave Books, October 2012
128 pages / $16  Buy from Wave Books or SPD

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dorothea Lasky’s third poetry collection, Thunderbird, begins with the lines “Baby of air / You rose into the mystical / Side of things”—which immediately prompted me to hum Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic.” It wasn’t a great start to reading this book, but what I realized was that it wasn’t the word “mystical” that brought a song to mind so much as it was the lyricism of Lasky’s writing. As I hummed on, I recognized that the language of “Baby of Air” works through patterns, creating emotion tenor through lines that build on each other. A few lines later, Lasky writes, “People cannot keep air in / I blow air in / I cannot keep it in.” These lines are not typical, flowing lyrics packed with sound play, but are instead a series of seemingly simple phrases that amass meaning through repetition. At times, Lasky’s lyricism even has a blues-like effect in lines like “O you are already there / O you are already there / My brother tells me, you are already there.” Even in this opening piece, poetic lyricism and song come together to form both voice and emotional resonance to carry the reader through the rest of the collection.

However, Lasky’s language does not end at simple repetition. Mixed with this lyric quality (and sometimes at odds with it) are straightforward statements that strike the reader through their baring of the intimate. At times, this approach takes on the negative association of confessionalism—the self-indulgent statement of personal emotion that shuts out the reader—however, at Lasky’s best she filters this private emotion through straightforward statement, creating for the reader a realistic portrayal of human (universal) feeling.

To explain—in poems like “The World Doesn’t Care,” Lasky uses an easy refrain, writing, “The world doesn’t care / But I care // The world doesn’t care / But I do.” The poem only relies on repetition; the language doesn’t build, it just echoes. I am not arguing that this technique leads to a “bad” poem, just one that doesn’t reach the intensity that some of Lasky’s other pieces achieve. Similarly, the opening to “Death and Sylvia Plath” states, “My student in the city college / Really likes the poems of Sylvia Plath / She is writing her research paper about / Lady Lazarus.” Lasky’s anecdotal tone here feels like an easy opening that I want to skip over in order to get to the crux of the poem. Once again, the issue lies in the fact that Lasky is only using one technique, here, simple, personal statement, instead of combining her techniques to create greater intensity.

So where does this “intensity” reside? I would argue that Lasky’s poems are strongest when they eschew plain repetition for complex, song-like lyricism and refuse personal (self-indulgent?) anecdote in favor of bold statement. Fortunately, poems that combine these techniques are what make up most of Thunderbird. “Misunderstood,” for example, gives us the complex lines:

But instead of working against the odd feeling
I have of being so separate from you
I will be calm now in knowing we will never conjoin
I will think instead that yoking is all there is left to do
I will think instead of clouds and mountains
And put them in poems, not dreams
……………………………………………
I will not think of love
Love is something that is too confusing

Here, Lasky gives us personal thought without indulging in interiority by exploring (not answering) universal questions, such as wondering what “love” is. Though the confessional mode of an “I” and a “you” exists here, Lasky opens the poem beyond a private sphere by giving the reader simple statements we can connect to like “Love is something that is too confusing.” Furthermore, she uses repetition to create intensity and complexity within these thought processes though phrases like “I will think instead of yoking…I will think instead of clouds.” By combining these techniques, Lasky constructs intricate poems that reflect the human mind with all of its ambiguities and conflicting emotions.

One force driving this complexity is Lasky’s use of Sylvia Plath. Lines from Plath’s “juvenilia” (from her villanelle “Mad Girl’s Love Song”) open the book and provide a register for the rest ofThunderbird. The Plathian mode of Lasky’s collection transforms Lasky’s potentially contradictory statements into complex statements of multiple truths. In other words, Lasky’s Plathian “I” is working through, exploring, the human thought process, not trying to answer questions for the reader. By incorporating Plath into her collection, Lasky is creating (giving life to) poems that are “dead” and writing poems that “die” as soon as they are put on the page—a key concept behind Lasky’s collection. Her “I” is not dream-like but ghost-like in poems such as “I Want to be Dead” in which Lasky writes:

I am already dead
I want to be dead
I am already dead
I am already fucking words

If we, as readers, can interpret these statements through the lens of Plath, they take on an other-worldly, spiritual quality that opens Lasky’s language not only to this life but to questions of the afterlife. Her collection becomes then, not only a “mad girl’s love song” but an investigation of life, death, afterlife, love, meaning, language, etc.—all the major clichés? Well, yes and no. This is where I think Plath becomes so important: Lasky is not writing persona poems that revivify Plath, nor is she engaging in a conversation between the living and the dead. Instead, she is acting as one writer borrowing, distorting (decomposing and recomposing if you will) the language of another writer. This self-reflexive movement takes Lasky’s poems (and Plath’s too, perhaps) beyond confessionalism and into the realm of questioning language itself. Later in “I Want to be Dead,” Lasky writes:

I am already words
…………………….
Move me around
Tear up this paper
…………………….
I don’t careI am already dead 

Whatever form you make of me
I will always come back to this one

Here, Lasky obliterates the boundaries between the poet and poem, the poet and the speaking “I,” and the “I” and its own language in the poem. Lasky moves beyond personal, emotion-driven inquiries based in confessionalism and moves into questions of authenticity, voice, language, life, and death. She alludes to Plath in lines like the following from “Is It Murder”:

Writers make workshops
Artists make hell
To live in
I make hell to live in
I make hell
………………………
And when you peel my skin
Off me and
Take out my teeth
You will not see words

If these lines sound self-indulgent, overly dark or over-the-top, I would argue they are doing this purposefully. By evoking Plath, Lasky is able to question an entire history of the poetic “I,” the place (within the confessionalist mode) where the poet, and the poet’s projected self, come together. In this way, allusions to Plath do not merely add dimensionality to Lasky’s poems but serve to reflect this evaluation of “dead” language, “dead” speakers, even “dead” writers and readers.

At their strongest, Lasky’s poems refuse easy dualities like life/death, beauty/ugliness, good/evil, etc. and instead transfigure and transpose these concepts in a never-ending cycle throughoutThunderbird. When Lasky filters the emotion-based confessional mode through a balance of repetition and lyric, abstraction and statement, she achieves striking poems that refuse to give easy answers for the reader. In this way, Lasky’s collection gives confessionalism a contemporary voice, pushing it beyond a mere record of personal feeling and into a reflection of the complexities between the artist and the self, the product and the audience, even the probing of language itself as a vehicle for meaning. I’ll leave you with a beautifully difficult set of lines from Lasky’s “Death of the Polish Empire” that continually opens and closes the meaning of the poem itself:

The flowers are beautiful
Writing is death
The poem is dead
It was always dead
Respect poems
Respect this poem
It is dead
You are dead
And I am dead
And when we talk and kiss and eat
We do it on a dead timeline
Which is the history of the world

***

Jessica Comola currently lives in Oxford, MS where she is an MFA candidate at the University of Mississippi. Her poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Everyday Genius, Anti-, HTML Giant, The Journal, The Columbia Review, and The Tulane Review.

25 Points: Woes of the True Policeman

by E.A. Beeson

Woes of the True Policeman
by Roberto Bolaño
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012
256 pages / $25.00 buy from Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. I don’t want to believe this is a draft of works that were to come later.

2. And yet its opening section appears word-for-word in The Savage Detectives.

3. I’ve read over and over that Bolaño worked on this book from the 1980s up to his death in 2003. The endnote (which comes abruptly) suggests he was serious enough about it to have revised a couple of times by hand, on an electric typewriter, and on a computer. There were also two physical manuscript versions. Parts of all of these were pieced together to create this book. This corresponds with other accounts of trying to bring his posthumous work into order. I remember reading somewhere that he first wrote the name “Arcimboldi” in the late 1980s.

4. Reading that distressed me. All I could think about on the way to work later, looking at the sidewalk, was whether whoever wrote that had meant “Arcimboldi” or “Archimboldi.”

5. In 2666, we get the life story of Benno von Archimboldi, whom no one in the literary world has ever seen, and to the search for whom the entire first section is devoted. The Critics read his books constantly, sometimes over and over again as if they’re becoming ill or desperate, but with the exception of the book that makes Lotte Reiter realize that Archimboldi is her brother, we don’t get much of an idea of the novels’ content. He is a giant pacing around in the desert, upsetting animals and stones and cacti with his footfalls’ vibrations.

6. A whole section of Woes is devoted to the works and certain biographical details (friendships, hobbies, epistolary relationships, feuds) of J.M.G. Arcimboldi. One oblique reference to his disappearance is made in the book. But he is still overwhelmingly the man who’s not there.

7. I’ve drawn out the same triangle over and over again: Benno von Archimboldi–J.M.G. Arcimboldi–J.M.G. Arcimboldi (Savage Detectives). Then I stare at it, scratch my chin or suck at coffee, and wonder: what does “J.M.G” stand for? why drop the “h” (or add the “h”?)? are the two Arcimboldis the same?–only The Endless Rose appears in both of their bibliographies–is this a play on the fact that Italian artist seems to have gone by Arcimboldo and Arcimboldi? and, for that matter, is there any real connection to the painter? the fragmented man? the man made of whatever can be gleaned from the world around him? Why are the Arcimboldis French, and Archimboldi is a Prussian who writes novels that are distinctly French, Polish, and American?

8. Then there’s Lalo Cura, to whom I had been imagining the title referred to since I first saw it. He has a “prefiguration” in a short story: the child of a porn actress who later sees his mother’s work and imagines himself in the womb, cocks pressed up against his sealed-shut eyes. He grew up in Los Empalados (The Impaled). Seems like his father might have been Lacroix from By Night in Chile. He isn’t a policeman. The other two Lalo Curas are.

9. But they’re not even both Lalo Cura; one is Pancho Monje. The Madness and the Monk. Both are the product of five generations of Maria Expósitos of Villaviciosa, who are raped and then give birth to another Maria Expósito, until a son, whose father “was the devil,” kills his sister’s rapist. Then the next Maria Expósito learns to read and write, and is seduced by two (or three) students out in the desert. They are French in this book. They might be Belano and Lima in 2666. Regardless; rape in Villaviciosa creates a continuum; murder writes history.

10. I was in the labyrinthine aisle of beverage refrigerators in Mardi Gras Zone late the other night. It was maybe two in the morning, I don’t remember; I was pretty fried from work. But I see a big dark bottle on a low shelf that says “Villaviciosa” on the label, and my heart slips out of gear. It’s some kind of apple cider. But it’s from Spain. There is no Villaviciosa in Sonora. There’s a fleck on the map called Villaviciosa in Chiapas, near the Guatemalan border. I learned from a website in Spanish that it has an altitude of 780 (meters? feet?) and 5 inhabitants. I don’t speak Spanish. But the meaning of “Villaviciosa” is pretty clear.

11. Bely: “In a pyramid there is something that exceeds all the notions of man; the pyramid is a delirium of geometry, that is, a delirium of geometry that cannot be measured by anything; the pyramid is a satellite of the planet, created by man; it is both yellow and dead, like the moon. The pyramid is a delirium that is measured by figures.”

12. Bolaño: “But now comes the part that will really surprise you. The stone bed where the victims were laid was transparent! It was a sacrificial stone chosen and polished in such a way that it was transparent. And the Aztecs inside the pyramid watched the sacrifice as if from within, because as you’ll have guessed, the light from above that illuminated the bowels of the pyramids came from an opening just beneath the sacrificial stone, so that at first the light was black or gray, a dim light in which only the inscrutable silhouettes of the Aztecs inside the pyramids could be seen, but then, as the blood of the new victim spread across the skylight of of transparent obsidian, the light turned red and black, a very bright red and a very bright black, and then not only were the silhouettes of the Aztecs visible but also their features, features transfigured by the red and black light, as if the light had the power to personalize each man or woman, and that is essentially all, but that can last a long time, that exists outside time, or in some other time, ruled by other laws. When the Aztecs came out of the pyramids, the sunlight didn’t hurt them.”

13. I was talking with one of my professors, a Faulkner specialist, during my last quarter in college. She had had me note any physical descriptions of Quentin in Absalom, Absalom! He’s thin, wan, and that’s about it, I remember saying. What I noticed was that he was alive when he should have been dead, following the chronology of The Sound and the Fury. She looked at me and said, plenty of people have noticed that, and then been foolish enough to say that Faulkner made a mistake.

14. Amalfitano’s latent homosexuality is too easy to equate with the scenes in 2666 when the voice of the spirit of his father starts talking to him. This one makes me laugh out loud, or at least snort, every time I read it. I think it’s the punctuation: “But the voice returned, and this time it asked him, begged him, not to be a queer. Queer? asked Amalfitano. Yes, queer, faggot, cocksucker, said the voice. Ho-mo-sex-u-al, said the voice. In the next breath it asked whether he happened to be one of those. One of what? asked Amalfitano, terrified. A ho-mo-sex-u-al, said the voice.”

15. The two are not the same Amalfitano. If anything ties them together it’s that they both translated a book called The Endless Rose and have a daughter named Rosa (who resemble each other to a greater degree, but still are not the same)The Amalfitano of 2666 has secrets too, no doubt, but of a far more abysmal nature. And also: I don’t recall getting a physical description of Amalfitano in 2666. In Woes he looks just vaguely like Christopher Walken, so everyone notes he looks like Christopher Walken. I like that.

16. On the subject of physical appearance, the cover of this book is awful. It’s like the cover of the American edition of The Savage Detectives mated with Everything is Illuminated. Or maybe all of Safran Foer’s books got together and had their way with it, like a horde of rejected manuscripts does to an unfinished novel in one of Arcimboldi’s novels. Additionally, this edition contains some pretty sloppy typographical boners.

17. “In addition, the careful reader will soon realize (though a second or third reading is often required) that this isn’t a collection of stories or of ninety-nine fragments connected solely by train travel: as if this were a mystery novel, we learn to recognize at least two travelers through the fragments of dialogue, two ambiguous characters who, despite changes of job, age, and sometimes even sex (but then the young woman who works as a secretary at a chocolate factory in the Jura is no such young woman), are the same person, and both are fleeing, or chasing each other, or one is chasing and the other is hiding. It’s also possible to piece together the clues to solve a crime, though the order in which the dialogues are presented tend to muddy the waters;…it’s possible to spin a comic tale…; a story of devotion…; the story of a trip–to Spain, the Maghreb?–that ends in the death of the traveler…; and the story of a house that burned down.”

18. For all his consideration of missing writers, a friend pointed out, isn’t it fitting that Bolaño died because he couldn’t find an organ donor? his missing visceral double?

19. But doubles are too common. Bolaño works in different denominations. Triplets, at least; cornerstones of pyramids buried in the sand.

20. There’s definitely some clunk in this book. Not The Third Reich kind of clunk, that of a young Bolaño still figuring out what he means to say. This is unfinished, that’s for certain. But it feels more like he’s writing his way around an idea, trying to ensnare it, than writing towards it.

21. That same professor said that no writer worth studying would drop names of writers or artists with whom he or she wasn’t quite familiar. Unless they were made-up.

22. I think only two or three bodies turn up in this book–nothing next to the 109 (that was my count when I read it last; I’ve seen other numbers) in “The Part About the Murders” in 2666. So many of those women are buried in shallow graves, or just thrown somewhere. A huge number of them have also been dressed after death–often in someone else’s clothes. But they’re always presented as objects meant to be found, not hidden.

23. A murdered body begs interpretation (Duchamp, Christ, et al.), inscribed and punctuated like a sheet in what seems to be an endless and self-begetting stack of manuscripts.

24. This is the body Bolaño apparently chose not to bury. Looking down into the cursory grave dug by his widow and editors, we the readers are the homicide detective he claimed he would have been, had he not been a writer.

25. “But the truly important story, the one that somehow encompasses and obliterates and supplants all the others, is the story of the chase. From the beginning, the reader is presented with a number of questions: is the pursuer motivated by love or hatred? is the pursuer motivated by love or fear? how much time elapses from the start of the chase until the present day? at the end of the book is the chase still on or has it imperceptibly ceased at some point between 1899 and 1957? is the pursuer a man and the pursued a woman, or is it the other way around? what is the story and what are its outgrowths, elaborations, offshoots?”

25 Points: Infinite Jest

by Joseph Young

Infinite Jest
by David Foster Wallace
Little, Brown, 1996
1104 pages / $17.99 buy from Powell’s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. David Foster Wallace was born in a small town in western Ohio, best known for its jar factory. This would figure in the book, Infinite Jest.

2. The first three pages of Infinite Jest are like a key to the novel. Without them you’ll probably be lost.

3. A palm tree is a recurring motif in the book, which seems to represent an opening and closing of the author’s heart.

4. DFW first wrote the manuscript to Infinite Jest when he was 22. He put it in a box that he carried from apartment to apartment as he studied at various schools or followed various women about the country.

5. By the third chapter, with the introduction of the character of the cabbie, you’ll probably feel confused and even ready to give up. Most people do right here.

6. Infinite Jest will seem like the driest book you’ve ever read. DFW needed to wring out the wet in literature.

7. A capable reader will read 22 pages at a time. Don’t worry if you aren’t capable. Most of us won’t be.

8. DFW refound the manuscript of Infinite Jest at age 33, when he was moving out of the house near Tulsa. He didn’t think much of it, apparently.

9. In a survey of college students, most readers found themselves skipping an average of 2 pages every 10.

10. At one point, the cabbie finds a note from his wife. This seems to represent a fracturing of the potency of language.

13. DFW lived in 7 cities, 2 towns, and a township in his brief life. This kind of movement is absent in Infinite Jest.

14. If you notice yourself feeling lost, reread the first three pages, especially the note on turmoil.

15. DFW wrote a very long treatise on suicide and its effects on his family.

16. At about page 222, you will notice a shift in tone towards the infinite.

17. The three stones seem to represent an overarching self-consciousness and a nervous disposition.

18. DFW read a passage from Infinite Jest at his brother’s funeral. Most of the family thought this was inappropriate even though the brother requested it.

21. If you’ve made it to page 389, statistically speaking, you will finish the book.

22. The palm trees lean in the Santa Ana winds. Those three pebbles are reconfigured.

23. This may be the best book you’ve ever read, just behind Moby Dick.

24. DFW thought that Infinite Jest was a failure, which, conversely, it largely was.

25. The last page of the book will be like a slowly turning knob. That’s the way DFW wanted it.

No Trade Secrets: Andrew Choate’s New Nonchalance

by Housten Donham

Stingray Clapping
by Andrew Choate
Insert Blanc Press, 2012
56 pages / $12 (Limited Editions $18 – $36)  Buy from Insert Blanc Press

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

necktie popcorn

Andrew Choate’s new book Stingray Clapping, in a small and beautiful volume from Insert Blanc Press, is full of enigmatic, minimal pieces like the above. “Necktie popcorn” is actually a pretty typical example of the stuff in this book: it’s sharp, fascinating, and oddly pleasurable. In a sense, many of these pieces stay true to the old (post)modernist ethos of foregrounding the words themselves; they often appear divorced of any real-world referential quality. Then again, envisioning actual necktie popcorn is also a weirdly enjoyable thought. In fact, nailing down Choate’s poetics with this book is almost impossible given the multitude of readings many of these “poems” allow or refute.

horse by watching

What does someone do with a piece like “horse by watching?” Many works here deny any kind of limited reading because they just don’t make any “sense.” “Horse by watching” could be read as a kind of minimalist, concrete poem; it may even be a sort of pun on something like “hoarse from talking”—or it’s just some random shit thrown together. Much of Stingray Clapping echoes and updates Robert Grenier’s almost-forgotten Sentences, another enigmatic and seemingly nonchalant work of pure pleasure-granting experimental poetry. One of the more intriguing elements of both books is that they don’t make excuses. Choate isn’t rationalizing his “project” here; instead he seems to be celebrating a kind of lazy, half-assed aloofness throughout the work.

It’s odd to think that almost all significant poetry movements of the latest half-century, at least since Olson, have been spearheaded by manifestoes, diatribes, and policies wherein the poet-scholars are engaged in a nervous kind of poetic apologetics for their work, through which they illuminate the otherwise muddied waters of poetry. In the early 21st century (the age of the poetry “project”) we seem to have even arrived at a point where the explanation or the recording of a work is more central (and certainly more interesting) than the work itself. Stingray Clapping, meanwhile, doesn’t have that problem because there is no justification for its existence, other than to give strange pleasure to even stranger people. This pleasure isn’t singular: laughter, bewilderment, and a slack-jawed absorption are a few of the immediate reactions I had while reading it. At some moments the pieces even rise to an unexpected cryptic beauty:

military secrets
culinary secrets
romantic secrets
technology secrets
family secrets
architectural secrets
educational secrets
military bliss

Rationalizations, excuses, and justifications are now the hidden machines powering most of our poetry. Choate’s work actually contains no “secrets”—it is quite forward in its lack of any particular assertions of “value.” This is poetry that often says nothing, and says it very well. These pieces appear to have been composed in a kind of lazy stupor, with little conscious intent or motive, and this is what makes them special. This book discloses nothing, not even itself:

I am not disclosing any
trade secrets.

At a time when so much poetry is almost singularly concerned with justifying itself, Stingray Clapping represents an attractive, empowering, and refreshing new alternative.

 

***

Housten Donham is an MA candidate at Mills College in Oakland, where he is completing a thesis on Allen Ginsberg and political poetry. He has a tumblr (elkrunningfromwolves.tumblr.com) and he sometimes contributes to the blog mildred (mildredgroup.blogspot.com). He is currently working on an epistolary poem-essay with Tom Trudgeon via text-messaging.

How to Review Vanessa Place’s Forcible Oral Copulation

by Nicholas Grider

Parrot 11: Forcible Oral Copulation
by Vanessa Place
Insert Blanc Press (Parrot Series), 2012
18 pages / $9.00  Buy from Insert Blanc Press

 

 

 

 

 

1.  You could just write a short summary of the chapbook, which is artfully arranged and darkly comic legal testimony of, no surprise, forcible oral copulation. You could mention that it’s part of Insert Blanc’s Parrot series, provide an excerpt like the one below, and write something to the effect of writing a review of Strict-Lift Conceptual Writing is sort of like writing a review of a rock: is it a good rock?  Does it fulfill its implicit goals of being a rock?  And so on.

When asked if he orally copulated his victims, appellant said he hadn’t; when asked if he’d forced his victims to orally copulate him, appellant said he hadn’t; later, appellant said maybe he had.

2.  You could breeze through description and head straight into a discussion of Strict-Lift Conceptual Writing (henceforth SLCW), outlining the history and current state of it and then providing your opinion of it, writing maybe that unlike the more engaged conceptual writing found in great books like I’ll Drown My Book SLCW is sort of like the kind of joke that’s only funny the first time. The novelty wears off yet you keep hearing the same joke and you’re too bored to laugh so the joke-teller tries to confront you with titillating and/or shocking subject matter and you yawn because SLCW is SLCW is SLCW.

3.  You could breeze through points numbers one and two and throw down a gauntlet maybe something like Forcible Oral Copulation would be right at home on Paul Ryan’s bookshelf next to his Rush Limbaugh books because SLCW is inherently neoconservative in its negation of creativity, complexity, and pleasure in favor of dumb objects. SLCW the opposite of Conceptual Art’s dematerialization, a fetishizing of the material and content-free vs. anything remotely avant or provocative, and you could maybe say that SLCW is not going to hurt you but it’s sort of like trying to swat a dead fly with a completely numb arm. You’d go on to shore up your dragging in of capital P Politics by paraphrasing Adrian Piper’s statement that all art is political, whether explicitly or implicitly, and you’d compare the production of SLCW unlike thrilling freeform conceptual writing as a shutting down of possibility, a reduction, conservatism in the literal sense and so in the political. Or maybe you’d avoid politics because SLCW is maybe the it-girl of the 21st century alt lit scene and knocking it would be like yelling back at the television in a room full of people who want you to shut up and just watch like a reasonable person or else leave quietly.

4.  You could talk about your history as a rape survivor and wrap your discussion of Forcible Oral Copulation around its ability to do anything other than function as the outcome of an idea, simple curation that puts you on edge even though you’re supposed to be clinically distant and Over It anyway.

5.  You could zoom through points one through three and go light on the politics in favor of discussing why conceptual writing, along with The New Sincerity, are relics of Bush-era willful ignorance because both SLCW and The New Sincerity are not sincere but naive in their fumbling mimicry of something past or lost and serve the purpose to present a literary angle of attack that reduces literature to something fundamentally unchallenging and unnecessary. You could maybe bring politics in at this point but maybe not.

6.  You could maybe just skip the politics/naiveté stuff because you’re going to get called out on it and it’s more gut than thought-through strategic position and focus instead on the formal qualities of the curation in the pamphlet/chapbook, finding zest in the way Place has crafted her found language re: oral rape.

7.  You could just sing.  Loud, off-key.  “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.”

8.  You could hit it through points one and two and then admit that as brief as it is you didn’t even bother to read the whole work, and let that stand as its own review.

9.  You could skip points one and two and be radical and just wonder how a writer as brilliant as Vanessa Place and a press that regularly publishes great writers come up with something equivalent to salty oatmeal. Nothing wrong with salt, nothing wrong with oatmeal, but nothing you would necessarily want to spoon up, so you’re confused re: the lukewarm lumps with respect to evidence of brilliance you could document ranging from La Medusa to Place’s use of Facebook as a format for conceptual writing and you could list the great writers Insert Blanc has published or just link to their website. And you could be kid-gloves about this because it’s not as if Forcible Oral Copulation is a steaming pile, more that it just reads as lazy, even the provocative nature of the subject matter.  More could have been done here, you could say, but maybe that’s the whole point, you could counter, and you could leave it up to readers to decide what to do re: purchasing decisions based on your cursory summary without either endorsing or naysaying the chapbook because opinion re: a rock is not the point either.

10.  You could simply excerpt the text in its entirety and let readers decide what to do from there.

11.  Finally, you could be kind of coy and write a sort of meta-review that jabs a few sticks in a few directions but ultimately doesn’t address the work and make a point out of not addressing it because the whole idea is that writing a review of SLCW is cracker-jack because it’s beside the point.

***

Nicholas Grider is an artist and writer whose work has recently appeared in Conjunctions andDrunken Boat.

fuckscapes by Sean Kilpatrick

by Chris Moran

fuckscapes
by Sean Kilpatrick
Blue Square Press, 2011
85 pages / $12  Buy from Blue Square Press

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“O you cancer victims, O you hemorrhoid sufferers, O you multiple sclerotics, O you syphilitics, O you cardiac conditions, O you paraplegics, O you catatonics, O you schizoids, O you paranoids, O you hypochondriacs, O you carriers of causes of death, O you suicide candidates, O you potential peacetime casualties, O you potential war dead, O you potential accident victims, O you potential increase in the mortality rate, O you potential dead.” – Peter Handke, Offending the Audience

Reading Sean Kilpatrick’s first full-length poetry book fuckscapes is an experience that brings to mind Hart Crane’s dictum to create “a new word, never before spoken and impossible to actually enunciate.” Sean Kilpatrick’s poetry gives me that feeling. It is the feeling of a new language. Of expression so impossible I can barely begin to put into words how it makes me feel. But I can tremble before it. This book is insane and suggestive. Its brashness smolders like a confluence of spirit. He says, “bitch I doggy paddle the stars,” and “motherfucker my stains dance.” No thought is too outrageous, no obscenity unspoken. “Did you get your hysterectomy at Toys R Us?” This is not just poetry with an edge – no, it is beyond all edges, from the other side of the abyss, like gazing into an obsidian mirror at your non-human self.

“I am the temperature of sound
a carbon monoxide ballroom
dreaming public toilets in Sicily
I am the pauper of glows
fraught with bow wow
I am the furnace of every disorder
Saying Christ inside a toy”

What makes Kilpatrick’s poetry really outrageous is its annihilation of meaning. This is nothing new, but under Kilpatrick’s eye it is totally alive, and puts shame to the “half-assed English majors” and other beholders of vision. In lines like, “time for sanitarium gods to moisturize the day,” it’s like he’s sabotaging the nature of expression. Words like ‘absurd’ and ‘surreal’ come to mind, but they are historical commodities, and in no way adequately describe the wild violence Kilpatrick demonstrates.

This book contains every shade of darkness refracted through a fine crystal. This is the curious threnody of integrated circuits. Its contingent vacuity is a nebulous beam – a spiral into ether gushing with waves and intoxication. There is deformation and mutation. It is the glowing confluence of a billion black suns! His singular vision levitates a wave so grand, its core so fresh, it feels inexhaustible. Kilpatrick’s poetry – undoubtedly obscene, grotesque, perverse, even sadistic – offers a new experience of language. This is the full flight of teenage dementia. “Let’s do the Charleston on your restraining order.” This is discord as hilarity. Its spirit is the union of divergent energies all powered by the light of unseen dimensions. The highlight of the book for me is “a spurious lobotomy,” a sort of insane medical journal:

“My medical training is limited both to the proximity of the wounds I create for myself and to the punctuality of human rot: a minor self-injurious culture of paltry accumulation. I know, for instance, enemy means anyone. I refer to the mating process. As a doctor, I am no fan of reducing body counts.”

This sparks with the explosive energy of a dark fire. Its essence is vicious and exciting. It feels to me like the core spirit of all poetry. Kilpatrick’s work exemplifies moving beyond individual consciousness and the personal self and into the abyss of black thought. This is poetry in love with its sickness. Glistening with violence and profanity, his words take me to a space where language is compacted into a kind of glossolalia that violates itself, like a dark field expanding in all directions and interacting with infinitude. Kilpatrick uses Fulcanelli’s “green language,” the ethereal “language of the birds” of medieval occultism, to convulse poetry with energy so wrong it feels impossible. This is the fusion of blank elements. And its ugliness transfigures the very idea of alchemy. It is completely beyond any autonomous zone of transference and in an insane sphere of singularity all its own. The uproar here is internal, annihilating ego and self in ways so singular it is disquieting. “Another whiff of sainthood might kill this flavor.” This new voided alchemy, this digestible dilemma, harkens to the abyss of black thought, like Bhairava playing the role of poète maudit.

Another highlight of the book are the two plays, an outrageous confluence of Antonin Artaud as imagined by Frank Booth: “This play took many generations of actors to perform. The writer masturbated for research. I wrote this play once. The avant-garde is a candle of ruin. I am occasionally fascist. I go to school against my better judgment. And yours. I live at home. Or not at all.” Kilpatrick siphons insane energy out of the air. He speaks in tongues. Reading fuckscapes is to be contaminated with its own diseased energy, and I welcome the infection this book gave me. Kilpatrick has fondled the celestial fire and he also jerked off in it. His aesthetic exemplifies the art’s omega point in its annihilation of meaning. What it aspires to is “this killing of the sky with surgical rhythms.” He knows that “Nothing’s been okay since the big bang.” This book’s violence is like a diseased prayer, like the dance of vatic sores. This rain of language coagulates much like all the invisible forces throughout the world that are waiting to become visible. This book’s annihilating energy destroys lesser expression in that it navigates interior structures that are seemingly formless and in tune with hidden layers of reality.

***

Chris Moran lives in Columbus, OH. Recent poems have appeared in Zhoupheus.

25 Points: Dear Editor

by Nick Ripatrazone

Dear Editor
by Amy Newman
Persea Books, 2011
80 pages / $15.00 buy from Powell’s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Dear Editor contains cover letters from Amy Newman to an unnamed editor or editors, spread across three seasons. Most of the letters follow the typical format of writer correspondence, beginning with the word “please.”

2. Writers are expected to treat editors with professional respect, particularly if that magazines ends with the word Review.

3. The pejorative connotations of the word “submission” have been investigated elsewhere, but Newman revises the process. Submission is a form of prayer. Waiting occurs.

4. Writers need editors. Editors need writers. Some people are both.

5. The manuscript being submitted is titled X = Pawn Capture.

6. Newman does not include any direct poems from this hypothetical collection, and for good reason: the project is contextualized, not concrete. The collection appears to be “a lyrical study of chess,” or not.

7. Saints appear throughout Dear Editor.

8. Saints are abnormal. Such is their beauty.

9. Some saints who appear in this book: Saint Berry (not real), Saint Lucy (real, but the letter writer’s grandmother claimed that, on her wedding day, “Lucy came in and winked behind the altar, stuck out her tongue”). St. Brigid of Ireland. “Isn’t faith a kind of belief that is never satisfied?” Euphrosyne.

10. Is the letter writer Amy Newman? Amy Newman signs the letters. Her name is on the front of the book.

11. Are writers ever their real selves?

12. The act of writing one’s biographical note in third-person must affect other elements of life. What is more vain than thinking others will care about your words?

13. Prayer is an act of vanity. Why should God listen to you?

14. Why chess?

15. Because the letter writer “picture[s] the chessboard as the field on which my grandparents first made love.”

16. Perhaps chess is not even real, instead “a trick my own grandfather played on me while my grandmother cried in the kitchen into an apron I myself have invented for the purposes of this story.”

17. Is God a trick?

18. “Because it is not our privilege to understand the world, which is shown to us in such irritating dimensions and swatches, like the scratchy tweeds I would have preferred to the wrinkled handkerchiefs of my upbringing.”

19. The Catholicism of Amy Newman the letter writer is one of doubt and superstition and accepting the Host “as a favor to my grandparents.” Her grandmother says “the wafer is not a Holy hors d’oeuvre it is a sure piece of evidence and proof He is with us.”

20. If all writing is a form of confession, than is the cover letter the opening prayer?

21. Confession is a letter to God, stamped by a priest.

22. Editors are not God/god/g-d/gods.

23. But isn’t this book about cover letters to editors?

24. No. It is much, much better than that.

25. “The one thing you have to understand is how my grandmother’s hand felt against my neck as she discussed the merits of each individual saint on those afternoons and evenings when the light in the windows hesitated across the aspects of our house.”