We like Feelings. We are Serious.

by Julie McIssac (A Buckrider Book, 2018) is possibly destined, at least in part, to become one of the essential poetically feminist texts, though in style it is actually more prosaic (despite its form-experimentations) than say Diane di Prima’s memoir Recollections of my Life as a Woman or Jowita Bydlowska’s sordidly insightful novel, Guy. Sometimes I wish we could say to hell with generic categories because to call some of this collection poetry makes me question a certain laxness in craft at times while to name it nothing but itself allows me to attend more to the valid shock of its contents. As an avid poetry reader for many many years, I continually realize that I am hungry for forms of many kinds and not just “saying things in words on a page.” Why I was perhaps most drawn, poetically-speaking, to McIssac’s “Haibun Dribs & Drabs/Scars & Scabs” section as it innovates Basho’s ancient form, filling it with contemporary content in the manner of Thom Gunn in The Man with the Night Sweats, sonnets rich with tragic details of the AIDS era. “White Smudges,” for one, turns a boyfriend’s masturbation (our jerking off “culture” being one textual preoccupation) into a symbol for the absence of gender-connection in a relationship: “there is no shame in masturbating, but why should I clean it up,” concluding with the form’s haiku: “In a cramped one-bedroom apartment/white smudges become/a blame machine.” The first piece in the collection plunges us fast and hard into the personal bond women are likely to feel with the author: “every loss I have ever felt has registered in my brain, marked my body, and influenced all my relationships.” Pow! I am in. Repeated drawings of a woman inserting a tampon, visual evidence of feminist archives, as well as the resulting forms of interview, notation, speeches, and harangues, then meddlings with the sonnet as grocery list, a long dramatic monologue on an obsessive masturbator (his fascination with his co-worker’s shoes – or “steppie sharks” – reminding me of Bonnie Bowman’s brilliant novel, SPAZ) and pieces of First World Context, all called “It Could be Worse,” provide incessant shifts in perspective, voice and focus, most of them shuddering with underlying infuriation, such as we all should feel over how so much of who we truly are, as woman, has been quashed by the patriarchy. Along the way, McIssac’s book made me question my resistances and pruderies, as has been the case with memoir writers like Trisha Cull and Lynn Crosbie. It is a book of unabashed brute protest, irreverently sticking its cunt in your face.  I did wish, as with the powerful long protest poem, Inventory, by Dionne Brand, that the language had been sharpened a bit more by metaphor and aurality so that the author is not just doing, as she orders in one poem, occupying “this form with your content,” but, at the same time, I was utterly jolted and thus held less tightly to the reins of my genre-hopes. McIssac’s father’s death by fire, as chronicled in parts of the final Fire Poems and especially the elegiac essay, “The First Poem: Destruction” is full of rage against always-unjust loss, a tragedy that extends beyond the death, to someone else inheriting his journals, to the stupid things that people say after someone’s passing. Although a seeming departure from prior material, it’s not. Grief often leads to the uncovering of other required ires and it is as if the annulment of the Father tore open wounds of being Woman in the World, enabling spillage, these compositions in menstrual blood that ensued. The collection ends with a sequence of scenes that all conclude with one word: blackout. “…knowing that this/writing came from the body/ Blackout.” Yes. It’s true. As Penelope Spheris yawped, “Good rock & roll breaks all the rules.”

3 whups


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