Poetry News

Fraudulent Forms of Nature: A Review of Joyelle McSweeney's The Necropastoral

By Harriet Staff

Joyelle McSweeney: The Necropastoral

At Entropy, Laura Ellen Joyce reviews Joyelle McSweeney's chapbook, The Necropastoral (Spork Press). "By revealing the necropastoral"--described by Joyce as an uncovering of the “morbid, counterfeit nature" of the classical pastoral--"and revealing the long history of plague, death and infection which has haunted the classical vision of the pastoral, McSweeney brings the two states, that of the pastoral and the necropastoral, into combination and reveals the leaky borders which comprise our perception of 'ecology, globalization' and 'the occult way capitalism’s distribution systems amplify economic, political, biological damage as it spreads across the globe.” More:

McSweeney’s own words on the necropastoral can help us to understand her interest in the fraudulent and artificial forms of nature: “The Pastoral, like the occult, has always been a fraud, a counterfeit, an invention, an anachronism. However, as with the occult, and as with Art itself, the fraudulence of the pastoral is in direct proportion to its uncanny powers” she also says that “The Pastoral, after all, is the space into which the courtiers must flee in the time of plague, carrying the plague of narrative with them.” This interest in both the counterfeit and the contaminant is clearly recognisable in McSweeney’s poetry. The abject is evident both in the disgust and disease that McSweeney evokes and also in her interest in abjected or excluded peoples. An example of these two modes in combination can be seen in the following lines that have a symbolic resonance with Nazism and its victims:

(I live in a starhouse built for denial
Hygienists in Scarsdale.
A case of adolescent sarc-
It has six dental points despite the five on my papers. Despite
the Nazi hinges.

Structurally this stanza is abject; it opens but does not close the parentheses perhaps signifying an inability to incorporate such horror neatly into art. The position of the narrator is also abject, they are perpetually inside the “starhouse” that aligns them with the marginalised starred victims of Nazi genocide, and yet they are excluded from this lived experience. The narrator of this stanza can be recognised as Kristeva’s “jettisoned object” which “is radically excluded and draws me toward the place where meaning collapses.”

Read on at Entropy.