Staff Picks 2015

 

The Great Medieval Yellows Jim Krull recommends

   
Beast Feast

Garin Hay recommends

Beast Feast by Cody-Rose Clevidence

BEAST FEAST is the ecopoetics book I've been pining for but have sought in vain until now. Many other postmodern pastorals have a politics, a critique of gender, a critique of "nature" and the "natural," use Language-poetics-inspired ecological mimesis, or depart from an anthropocentric phenomenology, but rarely all five of these elements. Beast Feast is sensuously immersed in "nature," but this nature is deeply self-aware, political, queered, and rhizomically ecological in subject matter. Cody-Rose Clevidence warns the reader to "BE PREAPRED FOR MANY FORMS," and the book at large pushes language into new forms using a vast toolkit of Language poetics in order to alter-naturalize human phenomenological experience, to reconceive and re-sensualize what a human in "nature" might look like through an intervention of radical poetics. The incredible success of BEAST FEAST is in its use of Language poetics for mimesis: mimesis not only of sounds in nature for example, but of ecological processes, even of genetic processes. Rife with neologisms and words pulled apart into their basic lexical elements in order to maximize their potential connectivity, Clevidence understands that a new conception of "nature" will require fundamental transformations to the language through which we conceptualize that nature.
 

".OXYSM GENETIC DRIFT & MUTE AS A FAT SEED, GNARLY ZOIA U UNSEXED ANTECENDENTS FEVERISH W. CAPTIVITY, WORLD // -FLUID VERSE (PER) SAY O BIOME ‘SO ROMANTIC' SHOT" (50).

Clevidence explodes our typically conservative zoopolitics, or the organisms we typically see poets write about (e.g. birds, bears, trees, etc.). Although they do mention more charismatic species like wolves and flowers, Clevidence frequently zooms into the molecular level in which the borders between live and dead matter are in flux. All earthen activities are fair game and deeply at stake in Clevidence's analysis of sovereignty in this economics-ecologics-politics. Agamben and the Derrida of The Beast and the Sovereign are present as Clevidence reckons with the assemblages of human beasts on this earth:

"| | :: I radii poured cement & wept (j/k) - is a lol in the sovereign face-is a membrane of the Real-is kind of like whatever- hauled galvanized aluminum screwed nailed & stroked load-bearing beams thru which I erect a wound cut into the meadow- is my sovereign resistance embedded in dumb hard wood is my resistance a material stance:: | |" (41).

Any human gaze and any privileged human phenomenological position to make objective sense of its "surroundings" is delightfully and sensuously troubled throughout BEAST FEAST. Flora and fauna actively return the human gaze and pierce us: "my apples are full of madness. / each daisy is looking out at us" (11). Clevidence's poetics refuses the human a set of senses by which we can neatly objectify the world, but rather insists through new ecologies of language that we must cultivate new senses, as many senses as there are things: "to cultivate a sense of the many senses needed to sense the many things- / versus to cultivate a way to parse the world into sensible objects" (6).

Clevidence maximizes the potential of genetics to serve a queered ecopoetics; the organic and non-organic forms of BEAST FEAST are in metamorphosis, are a shifting mosaic of sex, selfing, parthenogenesis, trans-species and trans-life assemblages:

"rhizomic, lightly soiled, multigendered lily of / hypersexual ungraceful fluxuation, amassing in / mutagetic saprophytic bud all gown, strut o / lunge into this the forest where all nature's dethroned" (2).

Although replete with forms that transcend the human, Clevidence does make ample use of the lyric to write (often humorously) through any typical notion of a human longing for nature or a romantic sexual completion via sexual dimorphism: "U centaur in yr accident // corrosive in yr gendered unicorn be all like fuck you in my pink quartz diodes I'll jizz in my own paradise" (81).

In "THIS THE FOREST" columns of text exhibit manifestos that are rendered difficult to read by lack of spacing between words and the presence of distracting computer keyboard symbols. The section functions-much like the project at large-as a mimesis of the forest itself, of a human attempt to garner anything of use and meaning from the dense and overstimulating environment of a forest: "Fjfn;ual;ksd / AMFULLof / DesIREIAM / IAMFulloF / DESIreInthe / FORESTWh / ereSAREyo / OU?}{jkw;r" (53).

Even in their more straightforward language, Clevidence wields the comparative horizontal reading of Language poetics to demand active reading:

"THE COLOSSEUM WAS BUILT BY SLAVES. THE PYRAMIDS WERE BUILT BY SLAVES. THE WHITE HOUSE WAS BUILT "LARGELY" BY BLACK AFRICANS FORCIBLY BROUGHT HERE AND ENSLAVED. THE CORAL REEFS ARE BUILT BY CORALS AND PROVIDE A HABITAT FOR MANY SMALL FISH" (90).

At its most utopian, BEAST FEAST is a practice in "radical ambiguity," which "if taken seriously would dissolve ‘rationalist' structures of division like ‘subject/object' ‘cause/effect' ‘mind/body/world' ‘he/she' ‘right/wrong' ‘syntax/semantics' ‘supply/demand' (98). The book's exploration of organic form at the least denies any appeal to "nature" in order to defend the dichotomous powers that be, a much needed intervention in a long pastoral poetic tradition in which nature is used to naturalize oppression. But more than this, BEAST FEAST's linguistic sensuality offers hope that we may employ the prosthetic graft of language that is/on human organisms to realize a radically non-anthropocentric phenomenology while also critiquing the oppressive socio-political-biological pitfalls of our current racialization, sexualization, class-ification of other human organisms.

 
 
 
Ban en Banlieue | Bhanu Kapil | Nightboat Books

Jim Krull recommends

Krull Review: Ban en Banlieue by Bhanu Kapil
    
The Islands | John Sakkis | Nightboat Books

Jim Krull recommends

Krull Review: Ban en Banlieue by Bhanu Kapil

 

deadfalls & snares | samantha giles | futurepoem books

Garin Hay recommends

deadfalls & snares by Samantha Giles

deadfalls & snares uses the travesty of the torture of prisoners carried out by the US since the War On Terror to elucidate the horrific complicity of our human interconnection within this nation. Giles insists on "I" and "we" over other pronouns to the radical extent that the first-person performs violent acts upon itself. The prison guard tortures him/herself or the prisoner tortures him/herself: "I routinely deprived myself of food and water. At times, I gave myself spoiled food, which caused me to vomit. I shackled myself for extended periods and denied myself access to a toilet, causing me to soil my pants" (22). The work of deadfalls & snares is not only to remember, but to alter the place of torture in our public imaginary.

Ostensibly torture is used to gather intelligence, but this dimension of torture is completely absent in the book. Any notion of knowledge garnered to protect the US citizen has already degenerated into the pure play of torture. Giles writes through the documented cases of torture to foreground the carnival in which the binaries of guard-prisoner and of spectator-spectated generate their own baleful logics (when was sexual assault on minors ever necessary for "homeland security?"). Other poets have similarly isolated and exhibited the logics of brutal state power, but Giles takes the next step, implicating the reader and public by writing an impossible social relation of masochism. An "I" that tortures-is-tortured (by) itself exemplifies the self-wounding of our social body-all of us who form the US and benefit from its power-under militarized governance. This masochism implicates us in a collectivity that we hitherto could not think or feel until reading these poems. deadfalls & snares' historical work is to mandate recognition of what has been rendered by our militarized society impossible for us to feel and acknowledge publicly but whose structure constitutes our very citizenship via militarization-as-social-self: sadism turns into masochism once you deprivilege the level of the individual and think on the level of the social.

The relationship between the trapper and the trapped animal further provide grounds for exploring this social self-harm. The fur trapper must sympathize with the body of the animal: "know what pose you / are trying to replicate / the bend of the legs / curve of the back / placement of feet;" so the torturer similarly sympathizes (in the more literal sense of the word) with the body of the tortured: knows it, its possible positions, and its limits intimately. The torturers imagine themselves in the body of the tortured. This is the dimension that deadfalls & snares investigates: masochistic sympathy in which one forcibly fantasizes the body of another. As spectators of torture via media leaks and belated Freedom of Information Act document releases, we must be re-sensitized and newly sympathized to the torture whose forms we receive so distantly through screens.

Sectioned throughout the book, Giles excerpts every moment of the word "white" in Moby Dick: "what the white was has been hinted at it was the whiteness that above all things appalled me, whiteness refiningly enhancing beauty [...]" This is the study of whiteness via the epic, by whiteness's semantic effects and associations, revealing its aesthetic-discursive optimization through literature. The word repeats hypnotically among the fractured and compounded stream of Melville's beautifully-wrought prose, a monopoly on the aesthetic of the epic-the text of the national community. The white aesthetics of the hunter-like the hegemonic aesthetics of the torturer and the state.

We find we have been fighting for a world in which prison guards gleefully adopt the nicknames of Saturday-morning cartoon characters. "hello Dr. Claw / hello to you Piggy and Twitch / we're here to watch / just fit ourselves through the bars to say / hello Gilligan and Yuck Mouth and Big Bird." The friendly world on television we watched as children is easily militarized. The cartoonification of militarized torture, of power, has been the logical conclusion of our seemingly passive spectatorship. Throughout deadfalls & snares Giles takes apart recognizable forms and presents us with their fragments or with an unfamiliar relationship composing them, re-attuning us to the form (digital) and hidden human content from which we have been affectively estranged.

Torture is part of the logic of everyday relations of power in the US, but of course our ability to see and feel it is hidden from us. By writing these powers as masochism, we feel what has been rendered impossible for us to feel: namely, the effects of our living in their very constitution.

It's not simply that the torturer is affected by the act of torturing, that when we hurt others we are also hurting ourselves. Torturing as a relationship is productive itself, unbounded by a single subject and object. Nor are there spectators for whom this experience is simply translated via media.

It's essential to find collective social emotion within seemingly singular and hidden acts of violence, not as memorialization but as collective self-indictment. Our emotional lives are not our own. Our emotion belongs to how we are produced, protected, and regulated. Our emotions belong to surveillance and to the military.

 

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