Jul 15, 2014

Ultramegaprairieland by Elisabeth Workman (Bloof Books, 2014)

There's some books of poetry that at first make you feel old, but that also inspire you to reject that feeling, and Ultramegaprarieland is one of those books. Each poem is psychotically charged and beautiful and the speaker sounds like a buzzing neon sign twisted into cursive to read Wanderlust! and then hung around the reader's neck like linguistic bling. Walking away from Elisabeth Workman's verse, one sees the world again not as the dumb bodybag of empire, but a shifting landscape that begs you to play with it by subverting, retwisting, junking, and valorizing it. Vulgar, political, hyper-referential, every poem is stitched together with lines of diamond syllables and fed to us with the whispers and shouts of a charmingly exuberant speaker. If this book came with an electrical cord, you could plug it in, and then generate enough power to light up a small town or village.

Several days ago, a Syrian rebel leader was seen with a Hello Kitty notebook while giving an angry pep-talk to his fellow Jihadi fighters. Weird juxtapositions like this are common now. They're the logical and preposterous outcome of globalization. Consumer products are powerful for a host of reasons and in this example you see one of them: they are fashioned to thrive and exist in any environment. What makes the Hello Kitty appearance in the middle of a revolution so compelling is that the product itself is intended to be insanely cute. Meanwhile, people are dying and a nation disintegrates. 

Workman's artistic antennas are tuned to the civic mindfuck that characterizes our age. While we're both paralyzed and tantalized by the entanglement of fantasy and reality scripting our daily life, Workman's poetry seems at once to reflect the ethos of this world, while simultaneously rejecting it by making it entirely her own. And she makes it her own precisely because it's poetry and because she's published by a small press. Her book is not a product designed to bully or seduce us into abandoning our best instincts or numb us into cynical apathy. Quite the contrary. Some poets protest the onslaught of fabrication by displaying a daring vulnerability and nakedness, while others hack into the heart of that fabrication's software and rewrite its codes:

Why does Hello Kitty have no mouth?
To illuminate across borders a daring epic emptiness?
To terrorize the emptiness by refusing supreme leader penetrations?
To say there is nothing left to say or to never ever leak or blow 
what should have been said and serve on many boards in the process?

Transmit nothing across the sound as a way of saying
Hello Dummy, according to the Kama Sutra for MBA™
rape requires at least four witnesses, Twitter spews the susurrus
and Hello Kitty grew out of a merger at a very young age
of minimal syllabary hotly tilted then deranged.
A state of deep unconsciousness produced by injury
from aircraft, blowholes, sky teeth, flocks of Captain Ahab.

Who put Hello Kitty on the Grand Master? Solar panels
are being installed on top. Who put her on Steve Jobs's lap?
BP's to nationalize his "Pimp My Spill" white girl handjob app.
Who Frankensteined her ass with all of the small dead animals
then passed out pantless in the Hello Kitty crop circle? And who
put kitty on the Women's Breast Feeding Animals and Sex Mothership
and called it an experimental alternative to "top kill"? Who?
Rub petroleum jelly all over your body then put on a wetsuit.
Your kitty may be secretly planning your death by deepwater.

WTF Boots & Coots Orifice-Prone Kill Kill Kitty Fatwa? Hello
Foreign Investment and Absorbent Technology Transfer Kitty.
Forecasts, car forts, fat viscous bumpers in my mouth make it impossible
to say "hello". Bleh. By Thursday I'll be in a different time zone
sleeping in a hot house with all all the other futures 
perpetual, apostate, their amnesiac bleating, their failed B.F. Skinner auras,
their out-of-state plates of noise the noise of stars
wasted on thin air and thirsty, naked commuters.

This is a fail-state-owned moment for ceremonies involving extra oil
and a low, continuous vibratory movement, in which oil is the thing
produced by sacrificial virgins born again for Hello Kitty lepers.
Oil for viper brides posing with dark dolphins amongst bashed blossoms.
Oil for chapped plutocrats and real Husseini ectoplasm and also oil
for wetsuited peoples in Hello Kitty combat fighting for Hello Kitty nuclear power
their plants bearing fruit for the glory vowels and gory joys and flotational devices
of the Kama Hello Kitty Extracting Oil from Luciano Pavarotti Lunchbox Sutra.
Abundent, radiant, operatic oil in which to dip the crusty bodies of barons
for whom mortification is an altogether different phenomenon.  

("Out-of-State Hello Kitty Grand Master Petrol Sutra")

The poem displays Workman's excessive and provocative energies. Inside the landscape of the psycho-political, the poet tills and interrogates the Western lust for (and stalwart protection of) oil and the system that sustains it, and the large-scale negligence it engenders. And that she frames the poem as a "Sutra" makes the poem even more outrageously beautiful. While the CGI nature of this poem's syntax and semantics - and many other poems in Ultramegaprarieland - reflect the sensual spectacle of modern life and Western cultural hegemony (btw: the "master" in Grand Master is an American invention), there's a fascinating calmness at the center of this book, a fact I'm afraid will go unnoticed because this calmness is actually the reader herself.

Workman's style, volcanic and voracious, over time relaxes the reader and I don't mean that in a bad way. Her poems, so extreme and so manic, seem to incentivize the reader to remain composed. Here's "The Canadian Tuxedo in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction":

A real man wears everything that went down
in a headlong impoverished style revealing
the energy and violence of his mind.

For example Popeye is walking down the street
dressed in a flimsy taco when the Atlantic Mountains
shake with a teenage wont, paving the way for the new methods

of controlling robot limbs simply by thinking 
about J.D. Salinger in denim man panties stretched
on a creek bank surrounded by a circle of arrows

from the quivers of sexy albino zoomorphic ex-literary 
critics. Sometimes you get to decide exile. Like
the Canadian Tuxedo in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

is a form of exile though simultaneously more commonly known
as the Texas Tuxedo in Canada, the Mexican Tuxedo
in Texas, the New Jersey Tuxedo in Mexico, and

Fucking Awesome in New Jersey. An exiled
stonewashed aura subsumed by the metropolis
as the epitome of "who cares" which is really

North America getting paid to pay attention
to what shoes Kayne West is wearing as he stands
in the crucial sea with ultrashiny animals.

Some are put off by the heroic music score, this 
being an open world, its sandbox games burst asunder.
Among the players: the homecoming queen the deviled egg

grey-haired Canadian-tuxedo-wearing hair metal bands
ants and amoebas and ostriches and a just-hatched
duckling bonding with an absentminded balloon. 

An indictment of NAFTA, literary culture, or youth culture, I'm not exactly sure, but Worksman's fiber-optic verse is overwhelming and to deescalate its effects one must become quiet. This is one of Ultramegaprairieland's most compelling and gorgeous features and accounts for the serenity invoked by the nearly forgotten prairieland in the title of her book. While reading this book, the reader winds up embodying and internally mimicking the disposition of an ecology unscathed by people. Oddly, Workman's art turns our bodies into time-capsules filled with the memory of virtues we handed over a long time ago.  

Probably the greatest characteristic of Workman's book is that it is confrontational. In a political climate where the well-intentioned whine about the quality of discourse instead of resisting power head-on, her work, rendered in just the right way to be heard by the contemporary ear, does more than just challenge our current political dialogue, it shows how obsolete it is, and begs us to remember that we know how to do more than just talk, we also know how to fight.

-John Ebersole

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