Poetry News

Visual & Aural Fix on Laura Elrick's Propogation

By Harriet Staff

Laura elrick

Laura Elrick's recent book, Propagation (Kenning Editions 2012), gets a deserving review at HTMLGIANT. Nicholas Grider writes that the seemingly quiet poems are in fact "loud shouts and angry jokes, raucous and just as ready to hit you as to be read." He adds, "And this is a good thing during a manufactured crisis in poetry having to do with affect and identity and stuff you already know about if you’re all conversant with what’s going on in the poetry teacup right now." The poetry teacup! Grider continues to consider Elrick's poetry both devoid of content, and overdriven with it, but in good ways, where he's sorted out her "deadpan," repeated "thanks" and "you": "[W]hat seems wan gets pounded home with great force until something as ephemeral as a thank you lands in a constantly shifting territory between and I and a you that don’t need to be named or described because it’s not them that matter it’s the gesture trapped in the stammer." More:

...What’s most striking about the poems is that they balance the above-mentioned facelessness and lack of affect with a huge amount of affect lingering just outside the poem, or often in an ending twist. Many of the poems here operate almost like jokes, with iterations of simple phrases given a sudden left turn in the last line or lines. A good example of this is in a repetitive page-long untitled poem (all the poems in the book are untitled) about a sword swallower that ends with the simple statement “six / bucks.” The poems here both stay out of the fight of any kind of lyric “I” but also avoid completely detached delivery of facts; what they do instead is bear a kind of remote but implicitly angry witness.

The witnessing going on in the poems is thanks largely to the subject matter of the individual poems, which don’t cohere as a thematic whole (and don’t feel lacking for it) but often focus on some kind of work, whether it’s an office job, a hostage negotiation, sword swallowing or sex traffic. That, or violence. Or knowledge. Or two of the three or all three at once. Elrick doesn’t treat work etc. as narrative so much as position, a fixed point around which she can fix and refix language until the subject, whatever it is, is covered without leaving the poems seeming like they’re either abject depictions of abject subjects and persons on one hand or like shrugworthy information on the other.

Some good examples of work (and violence) in the poems arrive throughout, as in the hostage negotiation poem:

don’t say do say
don’t say
have you got any hostages
do say
are there other people in there with you?
don’t say I’m the negotiator say
my name’s Joe can we talk

The poem takes the form of advice given to the negotiator about how to do his job effectively, but there’s something off about the need for advice: why does “Joe” need it if this is already his job and who is giving it to him? By both getting involved and staying away from a narrative or lyric I Elrick creates a scary and actually funny poem about the boredom of being a hostage negotiator, implying that negotiations have to go on but are going to lead nowhere. Elsewhere the work/violence/knowledge reportage is a lot more direct, as in the following two excerpts, first from a very bloody poem:

and the blood is
coming out and
the blood is coming out
the blood is flowing
the blood pools and
and the blood is

Then there are four pages of blood! Read the full review here. And if you'd like to hear it, check out Laura's Segue reading from 2012, where she read from Propagation.

Originally Published: September 10th, 2013