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Sonics in Warholia

April 2, 2012

Sonics in Warholia, by Megan Volpert, hooked me at first because I enjoyed the experiment of form. I started liking it the same way I liked a phrase of Sarah Kay’s spoken word poem “If I Should Have a Daughter” that she sings (“mama told me there’d be days like this”). When Volpert writes “you must whip it” I hear that as a phrase of song:
“Are you happy now? Try to detect it. Malevolence breeds contempt into a devious crush. Now whip it into shape. This is beginning to feel just like a competition. When a good time turns around, you must whip it. Fifteen minutes of fame is now the name of the game. Give the past the slip. Snapshots and flashbulbs ignite along the runway, and you freeze like a pale mannequin, I think you like what you see. No one gets away until they whip it. You have not even seen the last of me. When a problem comes along, you must whip it. Bring me the head of Andy Warhol. When something’s going wrong, you must whip it. One day they’ll find me with a candle burning inside of your skull. You will never live it down unless you whip it.”

One paragraph about tin/aluminum foil in this long poem is a charming little poem all by itself, but relates to one of the points she keeps meandering back towards:
“Tin foil tends to transfer a tin taste to the food wrapped in it, which is why it was replaced with aluminum foil in the early twentieth century. In a random survey of my acquaintances where I ask them to tell me anything they know about aluminum foil, they invariably all begin the response in one of three ways: a serious description of how to cook opiates or crack, a satirical description of how to make a hat to hear aliens or radio waves, or a warning against putting it in the microwave through none of them can say exactly why this is dangerous.”

The Bret Easton Ellis and Robert Downey Jr. motif in the section entitled “Illusion of Depth and Vanishing Acts” is fascinating and virtuosic, the way it keeps turning its lens to look at connections between artists, actors, visionaries, and addicts. Addressing Warhol, as she so often does, the speaker of this long poem says:
“Ellis published his first book, Less Than Zero, in 1985. You were at the launch party because you liked the title, though you did not read the book. When the book was turned into a movie in 1987, McCarthy played one of the main characters, Clay Easton. This is the film that famously broke Robert Downey Jr., who played junky Julian Wells….McCarthy has been sober since 1992. Downey Jr. has been sober since 2003. Whether Ellis is sober is less than clear.”
Later, we begin musing on 3-D:
“Just looking at the screen is not enough to see an image in 3-D. It is the glasses that actually expose a film’s extra dimensionality for the eye to read. They are polarized just like regular sunglasses can be polarized. Do you wear Ray-Bans, Andy, or imitations?”
And then:
“Robert Downey Jr. once wore Wayfarer knockoffs by Oliver Peoples to the Oscars. He visited your museum in 1999 while filming Wonderboys, for which Bob Dylan won an Oscar for Best Song.”
Finally:
“Addiction and disembowelment seem like things worth avoiding, things that pop out at you. When I think about my relationship to aluminum foil, it’s about wanting to partake but then being unable to back out, about wanting to study electricity but then becoming electricity.”

It’s difficult to convey the pleasure of the way this poem does its turning and intersecting without reproducing the whole poem, or at least one of its sections in its entirety; my excerpts barely serve to give you the flavor of each course.

The section on calling Warhol’s former telephone number is pleasantly narrative, but also poetically dream-like:
“I consider seven ways to approach making the call. The number is owned by Verizon. My heart pounds like there is a chance you might pick up the phone yourself. There are three increasingly shrill warning tones, followed by that oh so familiar voice from times of rotary, ‘I’m sorry, the number you have reached is not in service.’ I’m sorry, too. I want to connect with someone, Andy. I want to ask for a name and occupation, find out if they know who you are.”

The final section, entitled “Recurring Fear of Cheap Champagne,” has the concentrated power of abstract idea and image only found in poetry:
“A direction to act natural is impossible to obey, everything having an out of control seemingness. Brightness falls as a pin in the corner of the scene held by my girl body covered in a lime and flamingo cheerleading uniform. Never in life have I worn such an outfit, evidence the central character is not the boss of the dream.”

The attempt to capture something, while unsuccessful on some levels, is breathtakingly successful on others. I like the way the attempts end with a dream sequence in which the poem’s speaker is Orpheus but the story doesn’t necessarily end the same way:
“You may be right behind us. You may already be long gone. I am moving quickly and do not look behind me….If you disappear, Andy, how will you know?”

It was fun to read this volume as part of judging the short list winners in the poetry category of the Indie Lit Awards, and reading it was also rewarding as only the best kind of literature can be–sneakily, on the side, while the fun is going on. It tastes like my favorite sugary cereal, while nourishing like the one my mom urges me to eat. Have you read anything that good lately?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 2, 2012 5:13 pm

    This seems like falling into someone’s mind!

  2. April 2, 2012 5:23 pm

    It really is–the mind of someone smarter and more interesting than I am.

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