Thursday, December 21, 2006

We interrupt this creeping sense of morbidity to tell you about two more interesting new books from Fence that I received recently, Tina Brown Celona's Snip Snip! and Ariana Reines' The Cow (click here to see 'em). Celona's last book for Fence, The Real Moon of Poetry and Other Poems, didn't make a big impression on me, though it was entertaining and whimsical. Snip Snip! has more meat on its bones: the whimsy is still there, but I'm more forcibly impressed with Celona's sense of the metaphysics of female embodiment. Her consciousness is saturated with afterimages from the work of Neruda and Paul Klee, while she also appears to have been designing surrealist covers for Vogue and O: The Oprah Magazine in her head. Like Chelsey Minnis, another Fence-published practioner of the gurlesque, she's also acutely self-conscious of the conditions of poetry production, as reflected in this excerpt from the last piece in the book, "Poem for Matt" (the ellipsis is in the original):
A poetry joke: A Language Poet and a Black Mountain School Poet and a Fence Poet are sitting around chewing the fat. What do we have in common? asked the Language Poet? But the Black Mountain School Poet was tired of stupid poetry jokes. He wanted to go to Asheville and smoke pine needles.

The Fence Poet kept getting up and going to the bathroom.


The old poets are afraid
The young poets will find out
They aren't interesting.
The young poets are afraid
Of getting old.
I have been cold all day, said the lemur,
When will people talk about my poems?

You can't trust me, I can't help being mean and clever. In a lot of the poems I AM JOKING.
This desperate tongue-in-cheek disavowal of sincerity exposes the bare rusted infrastructure of our poetry moment, caught between the exhaustion of the confessional impulse and the exhaustion of ironic wordplay. The naked desire to be somehow affirmed as a poet thrums like the nerve in a rotten tooth. Brown reminds me a little of Baudelaire, seeking to transform her lowest, most abjected moments into some kind of transcendence. Her language moves nervously back and forth between delighted wordplay (a delight in which she seems somehow ashamed) and an affectively reduced Valley Girl-type plain speech. Both formally and in terms of content she seems trapped in a series of mirrors, unable to stop looking at herself looking at others looking at herself:

There is some rotting fruit on the ground, a melon and some bananas. The men are sated and lie back on the ground naked. They are interested in each other's athleticism and their interest is not sexual. Where are the women? The women are absent. The colors are green and gold and black (shadow). I want to fight the men who look so tired. I want to revive them and straighten their shoulders. I want to transpose them to another painting and wipe their faces and give them sustenance. I want to give them milk.


The woman has a man's face. She is staring at her parts. Her breasts denote womanhood. She is in gray. She is naked and she props herself up on her arms. The ground takes up most of the canvas. I want to fight her and hide her belly folds. I want to fight myself with all my arms against all my arms. The pain causes me to become rigid and when I fight myself I know I am not coming back. This is totally fine with me.
Brown's book is primarily concerned with evoking the pathos of choosing an identity, or in having one chosen for you. She squirms, she tapdances, she smiles coquettishly while throwing up in her mouth. Ariana Reines' The Cow is fiercer and wilder, embracing the persona of the eponymous ruminant, taking the consumption of (female) flesh literally. Brown flirts with obscenity, or more precisely our fascination with obscenity; Reines is viscerally, exuberantly obscene, yet somehow more in continuity with the hidden obscenity of the Real discovered by modernism and psychoanalysis—I think of Sianne Ngai's essay "Raw Matter: A Poetics of Disgust," but also of the primal scene of modernist poetry, The Waste Land, where the corpse planted in the speaker's garden turns out to be the mass grave of the (feminine?) nature that our civilization perches precariously upon: the cow with her vulnerable eyes and the cattle industry that produces and consumes her is the figure for this. The body is cracked open, violated, marked for death, taboo rather than sacred:

She clasped the event to her and proceeded. Fucked her steaming eyehole and ended it. The cracked things was a doomed pidgin, it meant something.

Yesterday. A patience would be ideal. Make an art of it, sere notes winding their way through an air to have become the name of her going. Her name on the list, and some certain information they had.

After a time there is no more accuracy, after a time you can't get the note clean of what it might have been.

Under the skirt of Mother Ginger huddle little boys and girls. A holiday shit stain. His scholarliness justifies those flights

Of fancy you condemn in him. And the gummy hulls of words muzzle the chaw, a kind of cud that will not do. An umlaut could be a cousin's bone,

The poisoned nuance that started everything. It was from eating ourselves. It had to be

Someone else's sickness first, our silence, our good balance, our usefulness. There is something certain creatures long for. To be hacked up and macerated. That's having it come out and go into another body.

Eaten, gemmed with grease and herbs. Whose low language ruined our bowels. Whose lowing eventually meant nothing. We knew we were to become a ream of flesh. Another nothing.
"Gemmed with grease!" I can't recall the last time I came across a text so scarifying, so disgust-ed/ing, that also seemed so verbally alive. Like Brown, Reines is also concerned with the position of poetry and herself as a speaker within poetry, though the sheer force of her negativity seems just possibly to contain its own seeds of regeneration. From the last page of "Transport," toward the end of the book:
It's the same old story and you have to learn to speak the CLAMATO language of the elders or they will fuck you too.

You have to learn to speak the deciduous vocables of the true poets a beautiful whiteness.

The feet of white girls in flipflops. Fake hippie skirts from Forever 21. I hate the fop in me I want to eat a nipple of Venus because I am becoming a magnificent woman. Hurting culture want to bleed faggot

Leg wax high heel lipstick cuntface a marketing job designers wanting the best I want filthier but not to be homeless because I love myself too much bluebell cups in the rain a poetics of the music of the poolside therapy. Hate me. We are still thinking too much.

At this site, at this juncture, we are going to be we are becoming free.
Maybe Beckett is the more appropriate forebear to cite (the phrase "Go go" appears repeatedly, while its last words are "Go on. Go on"), and Stein if Stein were unable or unwilling to recuse herself as completely as she seems to from the matrix of heterosexual desire. Desire/disgust is the axis both of these books travel upon, Brown empahsizing the former and Reines emphasizing the latter. Above all I am impressed by their vulnerability, their angry nakedness. The only book by a young male poet that comes close to this level of lacerated sexed scrutiny that I can think of is Aaron Kunin's Folding Ruler Staranother Fence book. Say what you will about the magazine: as a press I think they're demonstrating some real vision over there, and an admirable willingness to tolerate discomfort. The pleasure of these books is in their sting.

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