Best Thing I’ve Read This Month: Pop Corpse

14 Oct

popcorpseLara Glenum’s third book of poetry, Pop Corpse (Action Books, 2013) opens with an epigraph from Hans Christian Anderson’s short story “The Little Mermaid.” In Anderson’s story, his mermaid endures a painful transformation into human form in order to pursue a prince with whom she has fallen in love. Unfortunately, her romantic advances go unrequited, and she dies in heartbreak.

With Pop Corpse, though, Glenum retells the mermaid’s tale wherein the protagonist becomes a champion of (and allegory for) sexual and creative freedom in a post-apocalyptic and “post-gender” (48) world. To this end, the book echoes Donna Haraway’s insistence in “A Cyborg Manifesto” that those with non-normative or marginalized identities need to “seize the tools to mark the world that marked them as other” through “stories, retold stories, versions that reverse and displace the hierarchical dualisms of naturalized identities.”

In her manifesto, Haraway also recognizes that we are engaged in a “border war,” the stakes of which are “territories of production, reproduction, and imagination.” In order to proceed most ethically, we should take “pleasure in the confusion of boundaries and for the responsibility in their construction”; ultimately, such confusion and construction will aid in the “imagining of a world without gender.”

And it these very issues of border construction, confusion, imagination, reproduction on which Glenum’s book focuses. Near the beginning of the Pop Corpse, an Undersea Denizen says:

[The mermaids’] gender was chosen for them by their parents. The King and Queen of the Sea. Who have the most to gain by keeping the current power structures in place. And they succeed not by openly oppressing us but by persistently courting/curtailing our lines of sight with spectacle of their Vision Machines. (37)

The Denizen goes on to tell his companion that a Vision Machine is a “culturally-produced spectacle that naturalizes highly specific forms of desire and consumption” (37). In other words, systems of power enforce predetermined gender roles by providing subjects with highly-stylized images in order to produce and reinforce a particular type of want and, thus, thought. Even more troubling, XXX the mermaid informs the reader that:

     I got no holes to fuck with

                    No legs
                    Nothing between (32)

Indeed, XXX has no sex organs; therefore, this “CUNTLESS DUMPLING” (17) cannot experience sexual pleasure. She is both subject to an identity she did not create, and incapable of sexual fulfillment. Or, in XXX’s own words: “The Disaster’s being serially cut off from our own pleasure” (44); and, a bit later, “we can’t fuck. And that sucks seahorse butt” (48). The remainder of the Pop Corpse, then, follows the mermaid on her quest for functioning sex organs, sexual pleasure, and love.

Of course, if XXX’s narrative was simply a conduit for didactic musings on gender, sexuality, and social construction, Pop Corpse would most likely fail (at least to the extent that a theoretical text such as “A Cyborg Manifesto” could convey the ideas more effectively than a poetic text). But Pop Corpse succeeds because it also employs language in an “excessive & slightly off” manner that places “emphasis…on artifice & the unnatural” (23). Take, for instance, the following passages:

My father is a gillygobber &
the King of the Sea

In his freakopolis the liquid children
do not go in for cuzzly wuzzly mooncalves

but I sure as fuck do (24)

#Yr anus heart
gives me

a retard-on (66)

#Eyetwinkle hawt

U have retarded my dayz
in2 a narcoleptic stammer

A labial hiccup (71)

How long will this stellectric meat knot take

In the suckshack

will his face debase me &
unbuckle
          My junk fliching pinkjoy      eggwhite noise spurt (172)

The poems in Pop Corpse make liberal use of Twitter/text short-hand, neologisms and kennings that more often than not refer to some sort of sexual activity/organ, as well as webding-like symbols. Such language play allows for Glenum (and the characters in her book):

                      to speak in a different register
The register of candied decay

The filthy register of the halfbreed
which is
[her] own (10)

By using such language, which most standard-bearers would consider unpoetic, Glenum creates a unique and highly poetic language of a “different register” that aestheticizes the “decay” of what we consider formal or proper English. In doing so, the poet undermines normative conceptions of beauty that the antiseptic echo-chambers of poetry (e.g. Norton Anthologies and Best American Poetry,) try to reinforce. By melding progressive social themes with imaginative use of language, then, Pop Corpse delivers a highly-charged and imaginative poetic experience.

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