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Rich Owens Reviews Thom Donovan’s The Hegemon Say and Sara Larsen’s Merry Hell
Over the weekend, Rich Owens at Damn the Caesars posted this short review of Thom Donovan’s The Hegemon Say and Sara Larsen’s Merry Hell, published by Compline (a Michael Cross and Stephen Novotny joint). Owens calls these beautiful and gritty books a “communique from the front line of a protracted cultural assault” and adds, “The publications are outstanding specimens of an approach to book making where the material production of neither print object exceeds or overshadows the writing that occasioned it. At the same time, neither book can be adequately approached without reading them through the bibliographic codes that frame and inflect the writing.”
Owens first tackles Donovan’s The Hegemon Say, “a book built after Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Pomegranate Offering (1975)”:
Like Pomegranate Offering, Donovan’s Hegemon is a spray-stenciled sack, coarse burlap in this case, with a drawstring at the top and, as with Hak Kyung Cha’s piece, the mouth is everything: “Hand in mouth | Mothers in excess | Recessed like | This shore just moved.” In the stanza that appears on the title page (pictured below) “Surfeits,” excesses, “like surfaces” flare up, flashing, disclosing their exile, their location beyond the inside of a shifting limit, “This shore just moved.” These lines, hand-set in monotype and immaculately printed, appear on smooth granite stock (the stock itself alluding to the granite in Cha’s pomegranate), but they are encased in the crudest of materials, spray-stenciled burlap, and this crude exterior at once complements and undercuts the smooth blemish-free interior. A dialectic is at play here, active and irreconcilable, between interior and exterior, the abstract character of the text and the concrete materiality of the print object, and these actively antagonistic spaces of articulation shore up the strength of the poem itself where “History exceeds every | Vision I’ve ever had.”
Then, he moves on to Larsen’s Merry Hell:
Likewise for Sara Larsen’s Merry Hell, which opens with an epigraph from Rimbaud: “morality is water on the brain.” The book is dedicated to “Helen” and “for the women of the Paris Commune | for my friends.” Here “author ity is spirit, semen, CASH.” Dedicated as it is to the women of the Paris Commune, I have wondered at times if this writing is a statement of protest critiquing activist organizations in Oakland, where Larsen is located — I mean, Merry Hell seems much more than a mere indictment of capital and reads instead as a far more interior critique, an internal memo circulated to address a problem among activists within a particular community: “to only crash through costume lavish sweetbread club officers un union of femme | is my serious task.” Further on the narrator relates: “i hear sirens beyond whatever barricades appear.”
Read rest here, where Owens connects this writing to political activism in Oakland and San Francisco and the fault lines therein. It’s a great read!