A Faux-Radiant Dud

Embryos and Idiots,
Larissa Szporluk
(71pp, $16.95, Tupelo)

The last five poems in this book I like. They stand as fine lyrics, calm, collected, deft, striking, moving. The last lines of the book--from "Satan at Length" --I come in/handy, without meaning/much, like a happily-ever-after, / or a belch of trust." Wry, witty, sure. Most of all they are free of the effort to invent new mythic narrative that shapes the earlier two-thirds of the book. 

In those poems, Szporluk tries way too hard to create a new mythos
and to use it to handle material that is shrill, painful, nasty, mean, ugly and, one feels, or I felt, anyway, unresolved, not fully transmuted into either myth or poetry or even memory. We're not sure throughout if we are meant to feel the emotions of powerful pattern-tales--rape, family romance, domestic violence, you know, all the old stuff of those ancient and well-shaped and worn stories. Or if we are also meant to feel the violence of real memory, real pain from this speaker's life, memory that is still too raw to touch? 

     All my little boy wants
     is a whipping.
     suck his own dick
     down to a droplet
     hummed a bar, dropped
     his pants, fanned the flames
     just a john stuck in time,
     jacking off, cock in palm,
     I was pet like a dog
     in a dark garage
     by a children's doctor.
     . . . . .
     a crow, it seems, to eat,
     it seems, eat crow,
     she squeaks, her silver
     fork sinking through,
     a prick or two, to make
     cocksure I'm stuffed.
     . . . .
     fear is its own safe crowd, just let it

     out, old fart, shit is the one straight
     art, that's what it takes, old mouth,

     shit that can sing a brick house to its feet,
     wing the dead breeze, bring it back

     the birds with a load of its cheep---
     eat shit and shit green and keep quiet.

Fierce stuff. It seems. But it's not really. It's a form of fakery, of hiding behind dirty words for the sake of hiding. I wish Szporluk could really have followed her own advice here and really let us know what was bothering her and then really let out the anger and rage she tried to costume in a "new mythos." The poems are so tight, stiff, cryptic, clever without being very bright, that it feels like we've picked up torn-up scraps of old feminist agitprop. 

For contrast, listen again to Cynthia Huntington in "Curse Two: The Naming," sending the woman who stole her husband to eternal damnation:

     Fish-eater Katherine, whose nails dig blood.
     I'm going to call her pinch-cunt, pickle-lip
     piss-dribble, shit-smear, goat's-meat breath.
     I want to throw stones at her mother's corpse,
     send her children to name-change foster homes.
     May the coat she is wearing burst into flames
     and boil the flesh blistering off her bones.
     May she be refused in both heaven and hell
     and wander the earth forever without rest,
     a hungry ghost clinging to the rocks and trees.

It is not at all fair to ask one poet to "be more like" another poet.  I want Szporluk to be more like the last five poems in her book. "Make up a new myth" might be an easy assignment to give oneself.  Neither play nor purpose alone, though, are guarantees. It has never been that easy to challenge the gods. 

         Robert Garlitz 2007