my life for the world to see
I am such a sponge fisherman. I have so much pores. When you speak to me, I suck it in. It drifts around the insides of me like a box of jewels (Joe Brainard dreamed repeatedly of boxes of jewels and considered it a good omen). When you read around me / When you read a good part out loud / When you leave books around for me to pick up, I will suck it in. It drifts around the insides of me like a floralabundant hurricane / like a dangerous potentiality / like burning / like big petals of thunder the bees suck on. There has been so much Bernadette Mayer in the house lately. My pores are covered in all her dreams / her incredible, synesthetic relationship to sex and color. I’m reading Mayer’s Utopia and re -/ re- / re-reading Elisabeth Workman’s book, Ultramegaprairieland. I’ve been thinking about them so much together. 1) Because closeness, intuition, recommendation, and reading are most often how I work through / acquire a stack of literature / language. I tend to trust these things more than genres, schools, canon, etc. 2) Workman once gifted me a copy of Midwinter Day by Mayer. It took me over a year to read the book / realize what I had in my possession. What’s amazing now, being so accidentally and purposely immersed in Mayer, while simultaneously being so connected to Workman, is seeing how MUCH more naturally they overlap than I ever anticipated or understood. And isn’t this actually the most vivid thing about literature and language? / It’s re-configuring of time and distance in terms of how people need / find each other?
The titles, Utopia and Ultramegaprairieland, too, crack bootskins together. Both create flickering surfaces jokingly / seriously meant to be other names for Paradise. Both books, in their frothy, meaty layers, think intensely about what it means for a woman to speculate and imagine such an area / any area. It occurs to me that any writer / any woman writing any area / such an area / Paradise / ends up thinking a great deal about what / in the current space / is trying to kill them / or her. Thinking about Paradise means Touching Hell / Bouquets on Fire / means seeing how you, / like Paradise, / are unproven. / How you are imagining yourself / in reality / because reality doesn’t really / imagine you / at all.
“Year after year the toil
and the coitus. This would be
the real story told to earth people
in a voice more trusted
than the situation warranted.
What then? Maybe Malibu.
-“Maybe Malibu, Maybe Beowulf”
There’s a recording of Mayer and Clark Coolidge speaking at Naropa in 1986. There’s a Part 1 and a Part 2 we play again and again while we’re doing aimless things. Breakfast. Pulling the String Around For the Cat. Bloody Marys in a Greasy Sunset. Mayer and Coolidge’s talk is Black Velvet, totally tough and thick. A stone come / impossibly / to life. The Naropa students in the audience want so badly for them to tell them form is meant to stabilize the language of a poem, to make sense of it. They want form to stronghold the occasion for the poem / the event of the poem into a recognizable, readable space. Mayer and Coolidge insist instead that form is something closer to ritual encounter, a presence which can hold / support writing’s peculiar, plentiful folds as it unravels and glimpses itself. I nod, thinking of how, when I begin to feel a poem drift around the insides of me (hello, box of jewels), the potential I feel there for movement / for new movement / for further movement / is deafening / engulfing / tidal / spectacular. “This new opening of a site,” says Anne Marie Albiach. “The riot thru and thru,” says Workman.
At one point, we speculate that Mayer becomes frustrated or angry enough by the conversation / by the lack of listening on the part of the Naropa students that she stops speaking. When she starts speaking again, she ends up reading a list of 50 words for story other than the word story that she’s brought with her. I immediately think of how much Ultramegaprairieland is, on one level, absolutely a book of poems that continually explodes / implodes the word poem. I leaf through the book and pick out 50 words / languagemouths based on what I’ve underlined and marked.
50 other words* for poem by Ultramegaprairieland:
weaselfish, Budweiser-can-size, Judy Garland, STARING INTO SPACE, Marie Antoinette sits on a metaphor, “power wood,” Wallets, Potion ingredient: creature, 7TH AND 8TH GRADE VOLLEYBALL, pettifoggers, subliminal jellyfish, Three Centuries of harpsichord-making preceded the acknowledgement of jellyfish capacity for both feeling and silent want, Absorbent Technology Transfer Kitty,My boss & me, dark dolphins amongst bashed blossoms, Eternity: I meant to wear a unitard, mankind, sniper adrenaline, mysterious glistening aerosol force, Broken Heart Health Spa, flimsy taco, one is a tourist, one is a torturer, Jungle Snow Pants, whorish pterodactyl, My hairy peony, Stop optimal hero mist, O wherever, the governess, Somewhere is a surface entirely untouched, Caucasian dawgs, duller menthol billboard, letterheads self-replicating, These early bodies exploded violently, BLISS, wanderlust like barnacle sex, wild sweet blood oranges, the largest ghost encoder, accumulating galactic silence, “a factually correct object,” “I put a hex on my body,” Maybe Malibu, Maybe Beowulf, firelight, Bea Arthur enormity, kind of like a holograph with a man voice, crucial sea, transubstantiate, the riot thru and thru, To be “tense” is to live in the past, present, and future at once, red lipstick smeared across the horizon bleeds into Americans for a few minutes in order to make words out of their blood.
*(Do words always have only one word in them? No words only have one word in them.)
What’s essential as a listener to both Workman and Mayer’s reconfiguring / excavating / of Paradise / of literary forms and the words (story, poem) that supposedly dictate shape rather than invite shape / is that they uproot your expectations as much as they confirm them. The list / the poems in Workman’s book mean to demonstrate language and formations of language as they’ve been studied/ jaggedly coalesced / until transformation is inevitable. These writers possess a careful, full knowledge acquired via wide curiosity and crawling over. A knowledge acquired and still kicking around like a pollen / plankton cloud. A fruitful fruit / an enthusiastic strawberry, crushing.
we’ll spawn vast fleets of offspring theories,
a public impossible hairdo farm, flower fields writhing
with featherweight wrestlers and enamel retro rhyme
toys. Or we can just say we did.
But sorrow is a lot you can do with glitter—Zam Zam.
Hi, poetry ad. Welcome, foaming pithy adore.”
– “Zam Zam”
Ultramegaprairiealand’s poems and their language are a complex collection gathering around what it means for a body to approach a forest called poem / called language.
“Visualize a forest
is a looking egg.”
– “Poetry Genealogy Project”
Workman knows / displays what’s real (“accumulating galactic silence”), what’s potentially problematic (“Stop optimal hero mist”), what’s difficult (“I put a hex on my body”), and what’s unstoppable (“to an unforetold BOOM”) in a body and a consciousness perpetuating poetry / in a body and a consciousness studying poetry / making poetry it’s life. And yet, what most strongly radiates through such a collage or list is that a poem is anything it needs to be / is anything it needs to be alive /or dead / or urgent / or necessary.
Any poem can be read to also be about poetry / Any wet grid. But sometimes it feels like the volume and urgency of that particular layer gets turned up in a poem when it’s a work distinctly aware of how much it rearranges poetry / how much it startles with that rearrangement. Deserts of love, says Raul Zurita. How is this a poem? What is excited? Who have I disturbed? Am I a threat? Who will ask me to apologize for it? Can I write about movement at this intensity / at this pitch / with this much red / with this much Flower Moon / with this much unpatterned field?
“Call it the dead
center of a garden, the institute of a mouth, red awnings totally read
wrong, the ghosts living inside like light in love with anything.”
– “Holy Anything”
“Poetry is beyond opinion,” says Mayer. What Mayer means by that is that we are still learning / how poetry allows us to experience mystery / as proximity. How it allows us to define mystery as / closeness / as an involved process of living. A secret / raging with flowers. What Mayer means by that is that we are still learning how this particular encounter with art allows us to speak in the car with our feet dangling out of the window / like flowers exceeding their form. We are dangling and full of soft tacos when we say, / Writing is creating a possible future / Writing is making a future possible / through touching. What is unexpected / but also touchable/ and about to bloom? “You can write your opinions,” says Mayer, “but why would you want to?” Why would you want to when there’s a more continuous porousness you can insist on? Transgression, it’s presence, felt and followed to the ends of the crushed body / the crushed page / to the ends where everything begins to change.
“This plot of perseverance sprays
like pleasure boats across
– “Once Upon A Time I Was”
Transgression and its potential for transformative compassion is a huge part of Ultramegaprairieland’s attention / emotion / motion. Ultramegaprairieland, like much contemporary poetry, allows itself to become saturated in popular culture references. How Workman integrates them into her poem’s critical and comedic dynamics, though, is slightly different. Instead of allowing the magnitude of whatever reference she utilizes (Hello Kitty, Stephen Hawking, Comic Sans, William Shatner, Dow Jones, “The sun is brutal / Chick fil-A, Chick fil-A” –“Landscape with Porn Stars”) to become an instant anchor and magnet directing the poem’s narrative / tone / weight, Workman prioritizes the language / sounds of the references that she gathers or encounters in order to (in)form the line or sentence. (Another writer triaging the poem in this way: LaTasha N. Neveada Diggs.) The depth and particulars of an object’s cultural baggage is still present, denting the poem and recognizing its weight as important to a rich critical landscape. However, by strongly focusing on linguistic make up / wordshape / and sound, every cultural touchstone becomes part of a material and texture being sucked in by ears and sensitive antennae of the poet.
“Something to do with cattle and Cartesians and emergency management.
Earrings that bling in states of existential despair.
Eventualities to therefore the twirling batons.
To the next meeting I will wanderlust like barnacle sex.
To the next meeting may the beckoned don synchronized swimming nose clips.
Few make it this far and admit the unbearable pervasive state that is full of shit
Far fewer make uber alles a tattoo”
– “Eliminating the Hairy Obstruction”
The braiding of both vowels (the e’s / the complex i’s / wanderlust + barnacle sex) and consonants (s’s, f’s, t’s, c’s) in the excerpt above is a seamless Blackberry of beatitude I want to pluck / swim in. Flowers Slay Noise, says Alice Notley. What this emphasis on sound in the (re-)arranging of the line does is allow for the poem and its form to encounter popular culture on more intuitive terms, allowing for any critique to also contain elements of chance, play, and rhythm. Workman’s love / hate / particular affections for whatever object or reference is not simply transparent or fetishized. Rather, their presence is part of an interest and constantly (re-)arranging relationship Workman has with a surrounding of signs / signifiers. The constantly re-arranging relationship Workman has with the constant scarring / freedom of language. This book doesn’t seek a reconciliation with culture so much as it aspires to sink into the depths of whatever it can in order to discover just how much joyous mutation / UnEarthing a female mouth can transmit / cause / imagine. What paradise / parasite is in that flexible / malleable powerfeel?
in the kegerator
From within the cryogenic depths
the ICE offices headquartered
in Lake Wobegon’s asshole
A nearly mystical invocation
of local sense; a magic,
timeless, music sphincter
for a white, “nonemotional”
wormhole in which Kafka
meets Garrison Keillor
and eats him
It was going to get ugly
It was already ugly
It was never ugly and we
have no recollection of anything
ever being ugly”
– “Commuter Song”
Workman also stretches her cultural inclusions further (into the ULTRA- and the MEGA-) and integrates a contemporary stream of products / influential figures / vibrant slang with the language and terminologies of America’s history and academic settings. Our many World Wars / our Nihilist Yetis / our Much Lace and our Mulch Lace / our Druids Eating Drones on Crete / our Victorian Cowboys quoting Ptolemy and Robert Frost on the backs of Mini-Ponies / “To be “tense” is to live in the past, present, and future at once” –“The Weary Guest Ledger.” The creation and categorization of those separate languages (historical, (pop) cultural, academic) all stem from or get cultivated by a Western idealism consciously / unconsciously used to shroud / perpetuate hierarchies / the ever constant vilefire raging / the Patriarchy / the Power Groping. To gather these languages together is to reveal the widespread nature of the situation / the filthy ball pit surrounding / whatever excluded body. To gather these languages together is to revel in what can be partied and poem-ed in anyway/ what tension can be thoughtfully recognized and then re-imagined / given the topless middle finger / re-envisioned / maybe healed / maybe not.
“House of Wax is about more than just pain
and its uses in the Western literary tradition.
The house may be able to accommodate you
Is about relating to something else and maybe
Also Vincent Price, adjustable to breast size.”
– “Woo Faxes from the House of Wax”
Ultramegaprairieland, in title, makes a sound like a Manifest Destiny roller rink party / Sam’s Club discount Louisana Purchase. It’s a hellscape / a hysterical commercial for an apocalypse that’s already run by / run over us / split our lips. “Meadows in Middle America are on alert,” says Etel Adnan. Workman digs and combs and re-combines until sources of thriving are flowered elsewhere. It’s not Paradise / It’s my Prairie Skirt Flapping Up / It’s the Wheat Cutting Off My Braids and the Blood Pouring Out / THX THOMAS MORE. It’s not Paradise, but there is some ground to be born in / to get bold in / to get bawdy in. And maybe most importantly, Workman’s I, like Mayer’s, is sometimes alone, but sometimes not. There are the People You Name and the People You Love, and they exist in all your worlds, imagined and real, poetic and sunburnt.
“This secret )(dream)( is future public tense not remembered never
– “TWO NOTES ON THE WORLD GOVERNMENT,” Utopia, Bernadette Mayer.
Portions of Mayer’s book are written by other poets and other people in her life. On the care of the sick and dying by Anne Waldman, on the laundry machines of the future by Grace Murphy, note by Rochelle Kraut on utopian theory, poem by Lewis Warsh, poem by Huang O, an essay on the ideality of chairs by Rosemary Mayer, digression on current world leaders by John Fisk, “the Great Law of Peace of the Longhouse People” by Hannah Weiner, etc. But what, asks Mayer and Workman, is idealism / revolution, even at its most “imagined,” if not collaboration / a collectivity? While the continuation of much of Western society’s structures depends on mass ignorance and romanticization, collectivity is also a potent instinct which threatens any and all assorted veils. Collectivity is a survival tactic continually building and questioning means of communication whether it’s aware of it or not.
“You won’t have proficiency
unless you’re made of layer cake
luscious, broken, alive.”
-“Where to Sit at a Disaster”
Collectivity is language / is the future tense. A poem is a written collectivity / a poem / is writing / the future. The page / it has the same stretchy material / as my yoga pants. Will it hold us / alive? Will it keep us? Hold us? Will it reveal all our underwear / when we bend over /in uneven unison?
“relentlessly afar, as if caves, cavern, rockfall
were part of a greater radiance that meant I miss you
depending on proximity
depending on collective commitments
the community presses
the community resists
the community ingress”
-“A Brief History of Shooting from the Hip”