Monday, May 5, 2008

A review of "Sirens"

Sirens: Five Femme Fatale Poets
Sisyphus Press:
Authors: Iris Berry, Debbie Kirk, Cynthia Ruth Lewis, Misti Rainwater-Lites, Jude Lynn
ed. Victor Thorn
ISBN 978-1-4276-3006-3
March 2008

This anthology is very worth reading, especially for the contributions by Misti Rainwater-Lites and Iris Berry, but all of the poems are great. Some irritate me, but they are all well-written. The collection seems in a sense to be unified by one thing, that it is motivated by feelings of desperation and loss, that loss of the illusion of rootedness which is perceived as a malaise in most western societies, and motivated by a refusal to swallow the social lies that Kant, benevolently, and Freud, perhaps slightly cynically, wanted us to swallow.

As to the question of whether this book will actually make you shoot yourself or someone else. Reading it does express a Sisyphean lesson. (It's published by Sisyphus Press.) But a genuine Sisyphean lesson. Sisyphus was no hero, but a self-serving criminal and a murderous bastard. His handcuffing of death, his last crime that so angered Thanatos, was absolutely not a good thing. Hideously injured men couldn't die on the field of battle, the old lived on as shells, robbed of their right to die. Pretty much as the old do nowadays. The reconciliation of Sisyphus, as Camus depicts it, is that he can't help smiling in the face of his meaningless punishment. Life is worth living just out of sheer obstinacy, though a thinker knows that there is no God, one can't live for that fatuous delusional crap, and trying to help others, adopting the political solution, is just being a self-centered twat and generally making a nuisance of yourself.

If you belong to that category of people who strive to see the positive side of life, the positive as it is conventionally presented, then many of the poems in this collection may disturb you. Goog job too. If, like me, you actually think life is an imposition, in the Sisyphean sense, an unpleasant contingency worth little beyond some token hedonism, then you may miss the point of the poems that strive to disabuse you, in that they actually are rather humane in their intent. Cynthia Ruth Lewis, in “passing through,” would probably say that the hole in the ozone layer, which many people (who don't follow South Park) actually believe in, and believe to be growing, is a bad thing. Sometimes I think it's rather a good thing.

Most people are probably like me in not giving much of a shit about the general division, that people constantly nag about, between “the canon” and “the outlaws.” There are just poems, and writers of poems, and it is surely coincidence that I only ever happen to read nowadays in magazines those on the underground side of the divide. But I don't see why I should have to choose between Bukowski and Auden. Bukowski liked Auden, so do I.

Generally, there is much more positivity here than might be expected. It's probably an American thing. Maybe Americans have to affect their affected ennui, my affected ennui, like that of many Europeans - well, several - is genuine affected ennui. But some of the problem that burdens these poems seems to be the general American attitude to sex, which, judging as I do from literature, gender studies, and TV, is hideously and extravagantly distorted. I'm very far from pretending that Sweden, where I live, the land that god apparently hates, is some sort of feminist paradise. It's not, but it's probably better to be a woman here. Though the problems are related, both lands are in the control of the regime of the brother that Juliet Flower MacCannell has analyzed so well. The general accessibility of bitches as commodities, combined with the remnants of the ancient condemnation of uninhibited promiscuity. That's what I focus on in this short and vague review, the sex and gender issue. Perhaps interestingly, the father is usually a quite significant figure here.

Considerations of space and so forth preclude a general consideration of everything, but I shall focus first on Misti Rainwater-Lites, since she is generally regarded as “underground” though she obviously carries the heritage of older poetry in her, and since she is the only one here I had ever read before. Most of the poems here are familiar, and the language drags one in as usual, the lines fall well into each other and reflect a world very familiar. A heavenly King James' hell where

.. everything crumbles
even cookies left out for Santa
and some of us
crazy motherfuckers
do not mind
at all


Misti's poetry is really exceptional, she portrays herself in a way that actually interests the reader in her fate, her history, and she is evidently going to succeed, if she doesn't then I have one more reason to despise popular taste. She is also very good at finales, ends poems excellently, something most poets can't do.

Debbie Kirk, who starts the anthology, writes painfully. But though she writes of her sufferings at the hands of mental illness, she is not without humor and a rage that is, one hopes, an empowering rage.

There are really wonderful lines like

Put me in a room full of
Crazies and drug addicts
And I feel the spotlight in my eyes

And it's like I'm a debutante
Claiming my white trash heritage
And somehow I feel like
I've finally fucking arrived


Iris Berry is excellent, her poetry swarms with punk subcultural references that work on both sides of the Atlantic, except, you know, we think that Hanoi Rocks really sucked. She depicts the junk life with perfect clarity

I think most of all
It was that last OD...
first i saved you
and then you saved me.
Waking up in a bathtub
of cold water
fully clothed,
you standing above me
just wasn't fun anymore


Cynthia Ruth Lewis has in particular one poem here that really struck me as great “cut & dried.” A fearless poem about cancer is fairly unusual. I'd quite like cancer too.

death doesn't frighten me --
let it come, softly,
at its own pace
like night ends the day,
taking it under its wing when it's spent,
slipping gently into oblivion;
a quiet ending to a day undone--

a tender, new moon rising
to replace a burnt out sun

Again, some of her poems reveal the shortcomings of gender relations in the USA. Maybe Judith Butler should be allowed to write a list of men who deserve to die and Kirk and Lewis should be given free reins and a chainsaw?

Jude Lynn's poetry, which is less bound to traditional forms, or at least to the use of the enter key, again reveals the shortcomings of gender relations in modern society though without taking sides against men.

The problem is not the individual men that often feature as dick-heads in the poems in this anthology, it's the regime of the brother and heterosexism that prevail in the west, and probably everywhere else. I'm very far from being against bonking, but heterosexuality and a taste for pussy is not the same as a belief that god and nature have told me to do it without really asking first.

Anyway, the book is in general superb. There are rather lovely pictures too, for most if not all of these ladies seem to be artists. I think it may become a significant landmark collection that you will curse yourself for not buying. So go do it now, fucker.