Thursday, March 27, 2008

Jay Hopler and Cate Marvin reading, a postmortem

Jay Hopler and Cate Marvin came into town to give a reading at Cleveland State last night, and I was struck by their collective "comic macabre," a legacy, perhaps of the masterful confessionals like Berryman and Plath.

Hopler was a hell of a lot funnier than his poems sounded on the page on my first readings of his book Green Squall, and much of that humor is directed at himself, a la Berryman, when he even talks to himself in the third person in "The Frustrated Angel."

Marvin hews closer to Plath than Hopler to Berryman in terms of technique and style, though she also ranges into the fabular and postmodern manques more fully. I was particularly struck by this poem, "Landscape with Hungry Girls," from her latest book, Fragment of the Head of a Queen, for its directness and anger about patriarchy and what happens to young women who succumb to its vampirisms. It made me think of my short list of poems on anorexia, which would include Frank Bidart's "Ellen West," and Ted Leo's "Me and Mia."

"Landscape with Hungry Girls"

There’s blood here. The skyline teethes the clouds
raw, and rain’s course streams a million umbilical
cords down windows and walls. Every things gnaws,
and the pink polish on their girl-nails chips, flakes
off as they continue to dig through towering heaps
of refuse. It's a story, as usual. As usual, a phone
and dead silence. Or the phone: a lobster to the ear.
Girls resigned to being girls. The softer faces they
find in the mirrors. The limp shake, a hand placed,
a flower wilting moist on the man's palm. Or hard
handshakes deemed "aggressive": snakes. O, girls.
All of them carefully watching carefully the faces
of their sleeping men, even when their own faces are
more beautiful in their watching, and if only they'd
watch their own faces beneath the revolving lights
sliding between the blinds: they are blinded from
watching their men sleep so dumbly. The headaches,
the insistent grip of a gnawing stomach, eating itself.
Thinking hunger is strength, how hurt they are, girls
picking at food on their plates. I like a girl who eats.
Careful, what you say you want. The moon is distant,
yet cousin to her face: our genders worse than alien.
Bleeding is something everyone does. You don't call.
Girls snack on skyscrapers, girls gut their teddy bears,
and girls saw their own faces off. What is it to lack
compassion? When you walk through a zoo do you
not thinkg the animals it houses could have been you?
Who would you be, how hungry, if you were a girl
feeding only on the meek sleep of male countenance?
Would you stand vigil, would you starve if they do?

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