May 2013, 186 pp., pbk.
A fairy tale, a popular tale, a pop tale, a dead tale, a pop corpse. A rotting version of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid which nevertheless hews closely to the original. A love story, love letter, and happily-ever-after.
Published by Action Books, Lara Glenum’s Pop Corpse is presented in the “register of candied decay.” Which is tooth decay, mouth rot, rotten speech, a kind of half-speech found all over the internet. An expression of what poet Kevin Davies identified as “a metaliterate culture with time on its prosthetic tentacles.” Ostensibly in the form a play, Pop Corpse appears more as a mutated internet chat. It’s a hyper-contemporary re-mix, a Frankenstein-monster stitched together from adolescent status updates, feminist theory, Johannes Göransson’s poems, emoticons, chaotic online flotsam. The text is alternately presented as a traditional play and spattered anarchically over the page. One section recalls a Twitter feed, some pages contain nothing but a series of icons. Cryptograms or gibberish? At any time, huge fonts may interject: “SEA PRINCESS INDULGES IN SELF-ABUSE!!” or “YR COCK BELONGS UP THE ASS OF THIS BOOK.”
Pop Corpse opens with a quote from Andersen’s original in which the mermaid princess is about to have her fish tail transformed into legs in exchange for her tongue. For Glenum, the gain is not merely legs, but human female sex organs. The epigraph behaves as a thesis statement to which the rest of the book is an apoplectic reaction: in order to become capable of pleasure, a woman must be silenced.
“THIS POEM IS MY VOCAL PROSTHESIS” – a prosthetic voice to replace the voice claimed as payment for pleasure. The drama which follows can be characterized as a struggle for pleasure in an apocalyptic world, to escape a suffering which is “frivolous & ornamental,” an entire life of “ornament and excrement.” An entire world of excrement where we find a building which appears “as though a gigantic infant ate Barbie Dream Wonderland & shat it out & rolled the turd in glittering crustaceans.” These environs are “festooned with horny mermaids” though the mermaids cannot self-produce the excrement, the excess of their world: “The mermaid is the forgetting of the colon + / piss tube + snatch.” Thus our narrator, the mermaid princess XXX, desires to have the fish tail removed, become “all holes” and “open 2 whatevs.” It’s a desired freedom from horniness, from possessing a body incapable of orgasmic pleasure. The mermaids exist in a suspended state of sexual tension which cannot be dispelled. For XXX, it’s preferable to bleed out.
Occasionally, abstract academic language will appear in the midst of the Pop Corpse‘s far more characteristic “candied decay.” For instance, directly following a conversation between a Land-Dweller and Undersea Denizen about the “atomic dumps” the mermaids take from their mouths (“WTF?”), we’re treated to a definition of the mermaids as vision machines: “A culturally-produced spectacle that naturalizes highly specific forms of desire and consumption. The abject recuperated in the service of reproductive capitalism.” It’s impossible to know if we’re meant to take this seriously, as the whole of Pop Corpse seems a kind of “vision machine” in exactly this vein. A stilted argument between XXX and the other mermaids about gender, interiority, and agency concludes: “Fergit this shizzle! Let’s bounce!” It’s good advice.
But to read a Lara Glenum book primarily for theories on capitalism or gender would be a terrible mistake. The joy of her work is found in the astounding word-play which abounds not only in Pop Corpse but her two previous books as well. When the text gets “all swiggnotic / & whammo” Glenum enacts pleasure rather than theorizes it. “I’m vextipated / in my boo shank // I need some varmint to crank my jank” – the quirky sexuality of the language surprises on nearly every page. “In the suckshack / will his face finally debase me & / unbuckle / My junk flinching pinkjoy eggwhite noise spurt” – the lines unabashedly have fun, even as XXX fears debasement. The words roll over one another, it’s a simple pleasure, but potent. “I go squelch / in my welkin.” In order to enjoy Pop Corpse, it’s necessary to put aside the theoretical confusion and revel in the words themselves, to take pleasure in Glenum’s uniquely twisted language. Her neologisms and typographic distortions impart a mutant physicality to the text which provides the perfect vehicle for getting in and around the characters’ bodies as they traverse their excremental environs.
As Pop Corpse concludes, the newly legged XXX and her land-dwelling love interest, The Smear, have cemented their relationship and run off to be artists, “cannibalizing themselves in2 art.” It’s a perfect teenage dream and, in fact, teenagers are the ideal audience for this book. Muddled sexuality, self-harm, becoming an individual and artist; the themes and confusions present throughout speak to forming consciousness and would undoubtedly resonate with young readers. Send a copy to your local high school’s library. Pop Corpse is a splattered fairy tale for today, a new flavor of poetic candy, and, ultimately, a pleasure to read.
David B. Applegate lives in Raleigh, NC. He works for the North Carolina State University Libraries and co-operates the electronic music net-label Immigrant Breast Nest. New poetry will appear in the forthcoming issue of Bestoned Magazine.