Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Lisa Jarnot and the Poetics of Outrage(ousness)

Reading through Legitimate Dangers for an independent study this past semester, I came across Lisa Jarnot. While her blasts of language and steely irony clearly place her within the presiding aesthetic of Legitimate Dangers, her political outrage and outrageousness--blended with a relish for absurdism--made her stand out, at the edge, as it were, of "legitimacy."

The ability to be outrageous and yet also dramatize outrage is no easy balancing act, but somehow Jarnot expertly handles it. For one thing, very few people I know (and in particular, Arab Americans) would never, never, NEVER, joke about terrorism or being a terrorist. It's not good for one's health, what with all the phones being tapped. There are too many idiot literalists out there.

But seriously, as an poetic intervention on the chilling of public speech, Jarnot's "My Terrorist Notebook" and "The United States of America," published in the O Books anthology enough, feel something like Allen Ginsberg's "America" must have felt like for those at the famous reading in Berkeley in 1956, in which we can hear the laughter of recognition and of liberation.

"My Terrorist Notebook"

This is the beginning of my terrorist notebook all terrorism
all the time. I would have had to blow up the World Trade Center
to get anyone's attention when I was a kid. I'm tired of being nice.
Nice is out. I want to live in a cave with Osama and sleep on the floor
of the cave by myself. I want to poke people's eyes out with their
cell phone antennas. Maybe I would feel better if I exercised more.
Pretty soon I will run out of money and that will be the end of my
terrorist activities. We have a situation here, we terrorists, in our caves,
blowing up the rest of the many muddy mouses, swinging by their
mousie tails over the heads of the mousie moms under the muddy
mousie moon, don't move, and watch the mousie moon, you mom of
mouse, now watch the mousie moon.

"The United States of America"

I’m going to ask you to transition into a new theme about
the war. The thing that comes to mind now is the war:
the big war, the little war, the war that’s in my head,
the war around the edges of my ears, the war to kill
the troops, the war to kill the cows, the transitional war,
the bloody war, the not-bloody war, the semi-bloody war,
the figure of the neighborhood with war, running toward
the herds of cattle in the war, not good at war, awash in war,
the war-to-mores, the more and more to war.


These poems were published in Black Dog Songs (Flood Editions, 2003). Jarnot has a new book out, Night Scenes (2008).

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