Trembling Pillow Press, 2012
Reviewed by Lisa A. Flowers
THROUGH A CRASS DARKLY: THE MYSTERY AND IMAGINATION OF AESTHESIA BALDERDASH
We live in a world where everything—from the sea to ships to father and motherlands—are assigned genders. But genders are fluid and ever-expanding, and Kim Vodicka’s Aesthesia Balderdash seems to open on a drag queen’s indiscreet tucking in an avant-garde douche commercial written by Elsa von-Freytag Loringhoven. The regularly scheduled program is one where Kathy Acker, Emily Post, and other luminaries get their very own alter-ego transsexuals in a fusion of Rimbaud’s “belly where sleeps the double sex” and Genesis P Orridge’s “Pandrogyne” project—a fully contained entity where “it am the selfsame cum it swallow” …“Like a flock of fucking myself I was invited to identify with.”
“Blithe undies, werewolven, starry blithe/So gendered in egoism/Ought to opt out of a slit”, Vodicka observes, also synching egoism with a poem subheaded A brief herstory of the huwoman condition:
A long blonde time ago,
in the gaping god awful…
I found myself so utterly,
I looked so good,
I could hardly stand myself.
If Aesthesia were a holiday (not merely owing to its Mary Kay cosmetics-pink cover), it would surely be Valentine’s Day, its missives done up in “whispery, pink-packaged poésie, signed by Elizabeth Arden and sealed with an adulteress”. The recipients are femme fatales like “Rose Atelier, Intoxidanseuse” and “Melissa Limoncella” (“A tranny for all of your beautiful faceless”). In Vodicka’s vision, Miss Anorexis Malibu, in her eternal plastic archetype, is “an infinitely sustainable, primordial hoe bag,” Zsa Zsa Gabor is an “adulteress skull, overwintering in the Hamptons”, and “barflowers drunk on prisms full of Rhine water” recline “face-down in…irascible sky fontaines.”
“Slut me open and load me, dreamy”, taunts one of Vodicka’s coteries of “thinking man’s Britneys”. Sometimes poems interrupt themselves:
I am so touched by this play,
Playing ghouls, that I—
There’s also an antebellum grace beneath everything, a kind of unhinged elegance that brings to mind Djuna Barnes’ image (based on Rousseau’s 1910 painting The Dream) of “a jungle trapped in a drawing room”. Just as Dylan Thomas is to Wales or Robinson Jeffers is to the Northern California coast, Vodicka is to the Louisiana from which she hails. Her poetry is, to quote Carson McCullers,” as wild, extravagant, and beautiful as the poison lilies of the swamp.” It is also, like its homeland, fetid with decomposition brought on by humidity, or a kind of metaphysical positive ions that incites heaven to act up, and go bad. “A dove beat the shit out of me/and I was hospitalized on a cirrus cloud,” writes Vodicka, and
…blind out of mind
that we haven’t any earthly.
What burns is our bloat soul stink.
With not a bang, but a pile drive.
There is, sometimes, a writerly/poetic phenomena, in the realm of half waking/half sleeping, where pages of verse will come to one in a fusillade, rarely remembered but for snatches of odd lines/tunes, upon waking. Vodicka has somehow brought all that REM-grown bougainvillea back from the other side. Thus acclimated to a new climate —like the Australian-indigenous Eucalyptus to California—it grows freely, making the soil of waking consciousness its own. Hence, we are able to walk about in a world dominated by ingenious dream-mishearings of language, where the “rain is expected to porn soon” and “objects in mirror are closer than they blear”. Logic is recognizably backwards, like words in mirror-speak. The ‘View Master’ toy of the 70s featured hand-cranks by way of which one could wind the cartoon film they were watching backwards. Had Vodicka’s images existed then, baffled children might have found themselves
the moon of direct address,
raspberry pornography through a glass of wine, retardedly,
[speeding] away with [their] hard-ons behind [them]
in a much outdated snow,
Sometimes trannies become tyrannies, as in the whip-smart Variations on the Theme of Last Night: The Roofies of Laughter and Forgetting (A tyranny for Kathy Acker):
She waxes and wanes until dumb and ovulate.
Her hustler admirer,
her fryer of dingers, clit black
in moments of extreme duress…
Repeat after mediocre:
I know you want to be raped.
I can tell by the look in your asshole…
After a hard day’s nothing,
I fix myself a glass of
and curl up
Characters streak through the text, from figures who “vow to wear white in a spirit of arctic hysteria”, to Wild at Heart’s Marietta Fortune—face kettle scalded and devil-red with lipstick—trailing garbled dialogue from her own film:
O lopsided heart!
My moon is always with me.
He barks some.
“Why is she on Facebook when she should be on heroin?” an exasperated narrator is given to wonder about one unruly teen, while another poem casts corpses as slain valley girls, with eye-rolling rigor-mortis clamps on their gum:
She’s all like, I’m dead. Deal with me.
By contrast, a dreamy erotic emptiness fills Vodicka’s hypnotic Margaux Hemingway: High Priestess of the Avant-Garden, a psychomancy of ghost sexuality longing for its fallen body, unrelieved by the loneliness of isolation and death:
We left flowers
in the space
where her frontal lobe
used to be.
We felt so important
with our underlying
We were so
though we were we.
At other times, we seem to awake with the cream-heavy eroticism of Vodicka’s lines lying upon us like purring sun-warmed cats:
There are firecrackers in the way my empty mind…
out of sheer time,
can fall just shy of competing a thought,
when he opens his moth…
a series of hums she can only dove heavy,
ears pressed firmly to
sweet lamb of untranslatable…
I have one ear pressed to the phantom ocean in a seashell,
blind in both deep blue bleary eyed Carolines,
blonde as a bat, beautiful and infidel.
What is the upshot of gender? “All Greece hates/the still eyes in the white face”, that very austerely, beautifully feminine poet Hilda Doolittle said of Helen of Troy…a tragic figure whose sex, and its inadvertent corresponding beauty, rendered her an ultimate object completely beside the point of her own existence (if, being myth, that’s not a given. Or is it? On the other hand, it should be remembered that Galatea, Helen’s antithesis, morphed from object to woman). In the midst of Aesthesia’s linguistic flippancy, its ingenious plucky Broadway-style improvisations, there’s an eye in the storm, a place where high-born classicism and Emily Dickinson’s “formal feeling” in the aftermath of pain meet. These spots of contemplative sorrow are even more arresting for occurring in the midst of the book wacky frenzy, its inexhaustible exuberances. All at once the noise falls away, and we circle back, once again, to the inescapability and finality of love:
Though it was my pleasure like a lock of Helen,
there’s schooling in the moaning bride,
however once, twice, three times,
There are people in life, rest assured,
the proverbial oh my
in the armful terrible.
Lisa A. Flowers is a poet, critic, ailurophile, cinephile, vocalist, and the founding editor of Vulgar Marsala Press. Her poetry has appeared in The Cortland Review, elimae, La Fovea, and other magazines and online journals. She is the author of diatomhero: religious poems.