Tuesday, November 10, 2009

On Ariana Reines' THE COW

In honour of HTMLGIANT celebrating "Ariana Reines Week" I thought I'd post the following. It didn't make the final cut of an essay ("Recent Developments in American Poetry" - and I had to loose 2000 words) to be published in February's Poetry NZ, replying to Lee Posna decrying the amount of so-called bad poetry being published in the States.


[…] Ariana Reines enacts a poetics of disaster, overflow and obscenity. Her first book, THE COW (Fence, 2006), is “is a voluptuary, a vat of mushy ideals and disgusting feelings” (“Sucking: a Statement of Poetics”). She states that she has often “resented the cleanliness and elegance of tight and perfect writing”, and “felt that writing should be dirtier and more excessive”. Dirt and excess abound in these poems, such as in “Nico Said Excrement Filters Through the Brain. It’s a Kit”:

I’m here to work GO GO so I can’t call you. I’m here to work GO GO so I’m alone. When I’m alone I stink. I shit with the door open because there’s nobody here and because there’s nobody here I can taste my GO GO shit.

There’s no malediction. No thought can poison me. (15)

This work is anti-homogenisation, anti-normalization; an assault on ideas of aesthetic, literature, morality, gender, society and pretty much everything else. As James Pate states in his essay “Wittgenstein, Deleuze, and the Political Grotesque”, Reines is functioning “in a similar vein as Burroughs and Godard, who were committed to stealing from any genre that they might find useful in order to create effects that a more normalized aesthetic … could never achieve”. Reines reinforces this in the acknowledgements page at the back of the book: “This book contains text from many sources”, then lists these as variously coming from poetry (John Ashbery, Paul Celan); Philosophy (Deleuze and Guattari); and religious texts (The Bible, The Koran, Alistair Crowley’s Magick Without Tears); alongside Carcass Disposal: a Comprehensive Review by Auverman, Kalabasi and Ahmed; The Merck Veterinary Manual and the website of bioSAFE engineering – manufacturers of the WR2 Tissue DigestorTM, a system for the “disposal of anatomic and pathologic waste” such as “animal tissue and carcasses from biomedical and pharmaceutical research facilities” (bioSAFE website).

The centre of subjectivity in these poems rapidly shifts from site to site, though a stream of carnage, holes, tearing and animality, in which language fails and falls back on tropes of self-doubt, self censorship and interruption: “I am part of something because my life is so stupid” (25), the eruption of “CROTCH” (26), refocusing attention on the materiality of the process of composition. This foregrounding of tics often associated with ‘juvenile’, ‘bad’ or overly emotional (hysterical) writing is reflected in the choice of an epigram from Stein: “Sucking is dangerous. The Danger of Sucking.” This is echoed in the title of her poetics statement, demonstrating her commitment to a poetics of the distasteful, bad, dirty and excessive, dismantling masculine tropes of wholeness, logic, craft and art. In short, a poetics that “sucks”. The poetic enacted in this book problematizes subjectivity through its scattering and stuttering, its privileging of the emotive, the “mushy”, the libidinal and the disgusting.

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