Friday, December 05, 2008

The Reactionary Poems 

I’ve been reading The Reactionary Poems (Olywa Press) by Laura Jaramillo. If you open to the exact center of it you read EPIC MINIMALISM, a poem that seems to make the case for the short form of these 25 poems:

I, on the other hand, am

miniaturizing so my anger

doesn’t lose its


The anger, perhaps, is epic, as it steams out slowly, larger than the voice, from the other poems: a collective anger, in the end, tempered by wit and playfulness. After reading the chapbook, I imagine the tiny subject, this I, a speck standing on a giant hand that is the consumer culture or city in which we live, refusing to play the city’s games of hyper-individualism and one-upmanship yet not afraid to claim a stake in its own subjectivity—in fact, claiming identity in doing so, in reacting to the lie that there is nothing you can say about reality that has not already been said; that to risk repetition is not worthwhile, as whatever meaning you make will be subsumed anyway, ultimately, by big capitalism, so why bother—you don’t really have a voice.

The Reactionary Poems articulates the struggle to recognize that lie and to find ways of speaking against it. Laura has bound pieces of language from various compartments of our compartmentalized American life into a single absurdity. Working-class speech, corporate media-speak, institutional and academic idioms among others are exposed as rife with the same contagion, which you might call a desire to be god of something, god at the expense of all else. However, the voice – Laura’s voice – is never unloosed from each poem. She’s titled many of the pieces after overheard pieces of speech or idioms and written a short “reaction” that allows the title to work against the intentions of its original speaker/culture. The found title simultaneously inhabits and is inhabited by the poet’s voice. Here are the third and fourth poems of the book:



I spend too much

time convincing

myself the language

belongs as

much to me

as it does

to them. I am still

not convinced


How could the word ‘post-

heroic’ even

exist but it does


not from advertising

but from theories

invented to sell

concepts in the field

of advertising.

The ‘them’ in “F U” could be a teenager in an online chat room, a graffiti artist, an aesthetics professor, or a working-class poet. What’s suggested is all of the above and more. In what ways, I ask myself, have I been trying to become god of paintball?

Rendered ironic and polysemous, the titles, as well as words which reappear in different poems (such as still and drag) contribute to a book that’s reactionary in a useful way. The combinations of culture critique and self-reflection draw attention to the reader’s priorities, to one’s investments in matters which may be far more trivial than one realizes. To that end there’s also an attention to “the fact of being flesh in the world.” Such reminders are fashioned in contrast to the isms by which we order our lives and lose sight of the value of a single human life, whether oneself or someone else. POST-HEROIC DRAG is followed by:


Still, she drags her tired

arches her five o’clock

shadow her leathery

bosom into the empty


Another of my favorites, MORTGAGES FOR ALL CREDIT SCENARIOS, ends with the question “Who’ll return New/York to its humanity”?

This little book sounds to me like the very music of humanity.

-- Ryan Eckes

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