If, as Jacques-Alain Miller proposes, “the choice is a forced choice: either our clinic will be ironic...or our clinic will be a resucée
of the psychiatric clinic,” then perhaps we are getting a little bit closer to understanding what Lara Glenum’s poems are doing. But Miller’s admission (cf. Breton’s Anthologie de l’humour noir
) that surrealism affords humor sets up an interesting continuum. The pivot between this ironic clinic and Breton’s black humor is a good way to approach Glenum’s brilliant work, which I find both troubling and liberating.
But let’s put that idea aside for a moment, for, plainly, Glenum’s poems both delight and instruct. In “How to Discard the Life You’ve Now Ruined,” Glenum gives us a step-by-step process for ridding ourselves of an unhealthy “life” in order to make room for a new one:
Sneak into the “shame hole”
Remove the squirming pink sack from the gray pelt & put a second
Or hang the body from a telegraph wire that transmits instructions
Which instructions are we to pay attention to? Glenum’s, or the eerily “state-licensed” telegraph’s? My favorite stanza in this fabulous poem provides a more than explicit answer:
In the evenings
Use the spine as a flute to play
the soft nationalistic marches of the “bodies without organs” collective
Here Glenum taps into her first point in the “Manifesto of the Anti-Real”: “Art is neither a form of consolation nor a butler to hegemonies.” Both nomadic and collective models of protest are here brilliantly swept aside as “nationalistic” in the context of a brilliant book that serves as a protest itself. Incredible.
The last stanza:
You’re a weeping brute clogging the light-hole
in the eye of the sun
What could be more profound? A perfect ending, I think, to perhaps my favorite of Glenum’s poems.
Another favorite of mine is “Message to the Department of the Interior,” whose title doubles (triples?) as an address to both the state, and the subjective “realm,” and the physical interior of a body. I read the speaker as a pregnant woman, with good reason. Here’s a taste:
I have decided to grow a second body This may be of some concern
And here’s a poignant parent-child moment that speaks directly to the aforementioned subjective “realm”:
It will most certainly attempt to cut off the face of the first body & wear it as a mask whenever it enters “the reality testing booth”
Or does it? Let’s see where the poem goes.
I know you said I should try to relax & ignore the residue the bombs
left in my torso
by eliminating all my bodies & proto-bodies, but who can relax in our
republic now that it’s laid its terrible eggs on our tongues
The poem becomes less a mother’s confession than…a mother’s lament. The speaker shifts here entirely into the subjective, becoming the subject of the realm formerly addressed (a shift that I think mirrors what I spoke of earlier—a move into the ironic clinic). First the bombs are a “residue,” and then the awareness of them (may I call them scars?) shifts, in the last stanza, to an admission of carrying “bodies and proto-bodies” (concepts? ideologies? more scars? fecundity?). Glenum then brings the poem home with a zinger—revolution as a… snake, infesting its true believers with the inability to speak truthfully and singularly. Incredible, revolutionary, etc. It cuts like a knife.
In closing, it’s possible to both look for, as well as find, these rewarding and illuminating shifts and placements in this amazing debut. Glenum takes her readers through what we safely call the psyche, but, wisely, she does not neglect the complex relationships that we have to the state, to our families, to those we have loved. And her wildly ironic humor helps the medicine go down.
I leave you with Glenum’s words, an address from Kreimhilde (an inmate) to the scientists:
very interested in your experiments. I do own a baton. When do
--Review by Laura Carter