Poetry News

Joyelle McSweeney's Percussion Grenade as 'post Flarf ergo propter Flarf'

By Harriet Staff

Joyelle McSweeney's newest, Percussion Grenade (Fence 2012), has been reviewed over at the Tarpaulin Sky Press blog, with writer Erin Lyndal Martin noting its ambition:

It is comprised of six sections, one of which, “The Contagious Knives” is a polyvocal piece featuring Louis Braille as a 14 year-old girl in “pink panties a pop-star t-shirt from Target.” Another section “Hanniography,” features poems delivered by “Hannie Oakley.” Hannie speaks in prose paragraphs while Braille speaks in lineated verse, but otherwise the voices are similar enough that the reader can easily confuse the two upon a first reading. The voice throughout is unmistakably McSweeney’s—Braille refers to the “necrospheric,” a close echo of the “necropastoral,” a concept which McSweeney has written about at length, namely in her chapbook entitled The Necropastoral, which is not part of Percussion Grenade. There, the closest she comes to a definition is to say that “Rather than maintaining its didactic or allegorical distance, the membrane separating the Pastoral from the Urban, the past from the future, the living from the dead, may and must be supersaturated, convulsed, and crossed. The crossing of this membrace is Anachronism itself.” The Necropastoral seems to be one of the main modes in which McSweeney currently functions, invested in the crossing of the “membrace.” To further define the Necropastoral, Joshua Corey writes, “it would seem to go beyond a pastoral that merely foregrounds its own artifice, the better to play with the tradition of turning nature into a standing reserve for sovereign authority and cultural norms. Is it a zombie pastoral, the pleasure of the walking dead in devouring brains, the hypersublime viral pleasure of mindless multiplication, unlife, earth without world?”

Martin also notices the potentially close associations McSweeney's work has with, of all things, Flarf:

McSweeney is not a Flarf poet—rather, she is post Flarf ergo propter Flarf. While search engine results are not key to her aesthetic, the definition she provides of Flarf could very well apply to her own work in Percussion Grenade. Her diction runs the gamut from virtually ululated neologisms (“Opeeeeeeeegalala!”) to the more technical: “It’s wired to a neural hinge inside a mountain / and swings out smoother than gravity.”

“Killzone” is perhaps the most accessible portion of the book. It features poems that could be read aloud with a surprising ease. One of the highlights here is “Guadaloop:”

Just the whole world like a wadded-up burden in the mouth
Just the asphyxiating banquet
Just rolls around helpless as a star
Just on the noplace of the universe
Just before the speeches can be made
Just like a girl

I also had the pleasure of taking several courses with McSweeney at the University of Alabama. During one day, we were addressing the work of a student which many of us found difficult. “Start somewhere familiar,” she advised. “If there is an ‘I,’ start with that. Who is the ‘I?’ What is the ‘I’ doing?” McSweeney’s “I” first appears in the title poem: “In my / percussion grenade / I loaf and invite myself to lock and load.” So McSweeney’s speaker claims authority (“I […] invite myself”) to be deployed.

Does this, perhaps, answer the question of why McSweeney wanted a breathless text to be read aloud? Is it that the speaker is meant to embody the grenade, something that is both a message and a weapon hurled from a distance to the target? And does this explain the album’s title? There are many readings of “percussion grenade,” including the grenade being the book itself, the tongue striking the teeth and mouth to sound to form the grenade of words hurled against the reader.

Read the full review here.

Originally Published: September 14th, 2012