K. Lorraine Graham
Edge Books, 2009
Reviewed by Joe Atkins
There’s many ways to describe the poems of K. Lorraine Graham’s Terminal Humming—Gurlesque, flarf, procedural, postmodern—and likely most of them would fit in some fashion, accommodating a singular aspect of the wide range of voices, sources, and techniques within this particular appropriation of language, this particular poetics. Yet, within the pages of this compelling volume, the visions of circulation, connective tissues gone awry, there’s a sense that semantics have shifted into a collage of relativism, and what a wondrous multitude, that. Which is not to say there isn’t an underlying truth here, however elusive this truth may be, but that as the language slides from one amazing line to another, one moment to the next, the real substance is actually contained in this entertaining, leaping action.
In the fist section of the three larger poems, “If This Isn’t An Interview I Don’t Know What to Say,” the poems are quick bursts of broken thoughts. These small stanzaic moments, either titled by single lines or summarily-accented, render a fleeting autonomy before juxtaposing the next stanzaic body below. The overt presence of the tilde in between stanzas facilitates this circuit movement—the tilde indicating equivalency or similarity between two values in mathematics.
The Way We Boil
Living motion any place is some
where else to be written in, a fundraising
fax blow-job, a particular strand of un
interrupted programmatic policy making room
for messing around on the copy machine
in lieu of driving to the park in snow to
hold someone else’s mittens in the
middle of the day on a Tuesday.
Culture collection Staff Meeting
Academic lab possession obstacle transfer
q.p.q. dangerous radical NAM germ
commerce. Compliance control attempts
to harmonize sensitive confidence and
flesh. Devil in the undercut. Report uniform
dual use denial, radical party agents subject
to aligned malevolent non-elements. (36)
And the next, and final poem of the section:
Nuclear Socialism Staff Meeting
Fortunately there is, embedded in a forest,
not a bomb but a peaceful nuclear device. Driving recognition
in a cycle background of soft mining
paths to obviate risk. Embarking partition.
Ops Mounting Dialogue Staff Meeting
Ideas suited to the life
of themselves. The announcement
of position or potential position.
Where would the literal be if
I didn’t love? And might the
physical being in-place as desk
or bed or laundry room (monitor
glow in cheek) change if building
alternative families was not possible
without always an excuse for forgiving? (37)
There’s a conscious critique here of material—call it the real, call it things. This critique moves from the business world of a sexualized office setting, displaced through telecommuting, faxes of genitalia that exist prior to the plethora of online pornography, both of which co-opt the physical intimacy of actually touching another human being, subverting all of the snow-storm obstacles that real people actually face, with intimacy-tech. This thought is brought round to poetic concerns in the second poem, “Ideas suited to the life / of themselves.” In the distance we hear “No ideas but in things,” now come full circle; those things contain our ideas, now ever more difficult to access, shipped across the world for consumption: no ideas but in endless exchange. “And might the physical being in-place as desk / or bed or laundry room…” The breaking apart of the physical is also the Eros of technology—or specifically the rapid advancement of capitalism:
Automatic shredder joy.
At least headhunters understand pain. If it doesn’t blow up, I’m not
going to write about it. (17)
The tilde, persistent throughout this collection, is a metonymic device, relational proximity serves as our means of movement, of exchange. All values are equivalent, flat, superficial, slipping into one another. Fits of convulsions, then stillness; an erratic and rhythmic field. Technological innovations which rip apart whole documents, coincide with xenophobic online dialogues and neoliberal bureaucratic middle men connecting labor with employers, shaving a bit off the top of each neatly placed hourly wage—class tension slowly coming to a boil, “The subject of an essay on scrounging”(24). Ultimately we’re left with an intense hub of things colliding, a murmur which is unceasing despite the announcements of destinations and arrivals, allusions and sources, information flowing in and out. This is the terminal humming as noise, and what it signifies is a long path where the humming becomes a terminal symptom of the forces which bring so much confusion, fear, abstract hope, and monotony. Graham treats us to the sweet subjective torment of Io in the digital age (goodbye Argus Panoptes, viral times call for viral measures), “I’m a lily-white fuck toy of the patriarchy:”(69). And she poses a direct, darkly entertaining image of a contemporary kettle primed to scream, “Language / as angry form”(79).
* * *