Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the novel Here Is How It Happens (Ampersand Books, 2013), the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), the chapbook Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.
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“The most honest act I can do,” Escoria writes in one of the poems collected here, “is pop a pimple and watch / the pus squirt onto the / mirror.” In contrast to this Bukowskian act, the poem says, “Everything else is / dishonest, / deceitful, / a cover-up.”
“Perfection,” this collection suggests, is a thorough purge, thoroughly catalogued—a detailed accounting of all that is honest, like the “pasty and grey” material removed from under one fingernail by another or like the spiky new growths of hair that emerge from raw and bleeding, deceitfully-lotioned skin of a narrator’s legs.
If you want to call it confessional poetry, then it damn well better involve some confession, not merely the practiced strokes of autobiography, this book seems to say. Let’s inventory those grayest and most pasty moments. Sections of this text offer case studies in anxiety attacks, self-loathing, and “bad thoughts.” We have detailed accounts of sexual assault and other forms of violence, of operating in the wake thereof, whether by chasing an attacker or contemplating the purely symbolic nature of a restraining order (“...I had no proof for the property damage and I had not photographed the bruises. They told me if you violated it, I should call the police, which left me unsure of the restraining order’s purpose.”) or just trying to figure out what happened during a section of time that, gray and pasty, is picked out of the narrator’s psyche and considered:
I did not feel violated, then or the next day or even now. You never caused me pain. The only thing you gave me was a question: What happened during that time, in that space? And if you did something bad, and I never knew about it—does the bad thing have no weight? Does it not matter?
The weighing of such events, such feelings, is what matters for this text. Opinions are confessed, regarding the look of cocks (“dumb / Noses waggling in the / Air... Billy clubs / Mistaken by / Blind people / For guns”) and old Axl Rose videos, romance (like a mutual agreement for sex to just end quickly, be “mechanized. / Like we both come / and that’s it. / No funny business / in between”) and those witch hunts that flame up in our net-bound yet digitally-distanced “social media” era. Confession here is a compulsion, one that outstrips itself, that leads to a kind of performance of the raw, the vulnerable, something beyond a confession of the past but, rather, an enacting, in the present, of that which will need to be confessed—a kind of anticipatory confessional mode. A poem, for instance, about dressing as a “sexy terrorist” and celebrating 9/11 because “freedom” is “the opposite / of sexy” reads like a poem about an event that may as well be considered poetry already, performance art at the masquerade. Another poem is punctuated by a sketch of a leaking vagina and asshole spread open by a pair of hands: this is my body, displayed for you; this is the real, all else is commentary.
In this vein, we have, offered as a poem, a receipt from a gas station in West Virginia—“This poem was made possible by money and a few movements of my hand,” the title goes, “(which makes it no different than any other poem).” Another confession, but here also something like a fetish, a relic of an event; words as record in the most literal sense. A poem recalling a time the narrator tripped on acid involves a similar literalism, with the world around being named in Sharpie-scratched letters: “I am lying on the cement. I write on it: CEMENT. My head is next to the stairs. I write on them: STAIRS. My legs are next to a wall. I write on it: WALL. I know where I am in relation to other things. I feel them solid under the tip of the pen.” This, it seems to me, is still confession, even if the individual confessor is largely removed. This is the logical extension of the stance proclaimed in the poem about popping pimples. Write WALL on the wall. This is poetry as an honest act; everything else is deceit, concealment, a lie.
Official Juliet Escoria Web Site
Official Lazy Fascist Press Web Site