31 December 2012

poems (a.k.a. Sauce)

SP CE is a Lincoln, Nebraska-based art and writing studio, conceived of several years ago by the poets Paul Clark, Kyle Crawford, and Justin Ryan Fyfe in order to promote a conversation between local writers and artists. The collective hosts readings, workshops, and, with the release of Rachael Wolfe’s first collection poems (SP CE Books, 2012), now publishes chapbooks.

Wolfe’s collection contains eighteen short poems, each of which are titled “Sauce.” But Wolfe makes sure to note that the “very repetition of sauce makes it somewhat meaningless as a title. [Its] function is similar to that of an asterisk or a number or anything else used to separate parts.” To this extent, the chapbook can be read as a sequence of interrelated poems that speak to and against one another.

More often than not, the individual poems work as a series of both absurd and witty non sequiturs, keeping readers off-balance through threadbare connections and associative leaps. Take, for instance, the following excerpt:
Gifts are a passive aggressive act
is the best insult you’ve ever come up with.
Do you change the color of a fabric
simply by touching it. Can you put something
like bless your heart in a document.
Your face is an oil slick.
The above passage, which is the third “Sauce,” opens with the aphoristic declaration that gifts are “a passive aggressive act.” After the second line, though, readers discover that the first line is not an aphorism delivered by the speaker, but an “insult” leveled by an unnamed “you.” Afterward, two seemingly unrelated interrogatives give way to the absurd observation that your “face is an oil slick.” In this sense, then, the randomness of each syntactical unit produces a tension that works in contrast to the repetitive (thus expected) invocation of “Sauce” before each poem.

But Wolfe does not limit the push and pull of difference and repetition to the interaction between her recurring title and dissociative units of speech. She accomplishes a similar task by employing the same source material to create drastically different aesthetic products. For example, Wolfe mentions that “Sauce” five and eight are both interpretations of “the same dream.” They are as follows:
In a big thunderstorm the dead
come to you. Your grandfather’s
fallen away. He’s flailing
and saying I’m deaaad I’m deaaad.
They lock you in a closet until you agree.
Ok. I’ll marry the caviar king.
Everyone’s pulling up roses
instead of the weeds
we were gonna be pulling.
Get me out of here. At least before
You put them in the ground again.

They bring him out in a casket. He’s sort of
pulsating. Tells me he’s dead. At the funeral,
he’d been pumped full. Artificial
and smooth. That had all fallen
away. I think this means “the dead
are always with us.” I think this means
“the dead can speak in dreams
but only to say they are dead.”
While both poems address the death of someone’s grandfather, the shift from second to first person calls into question the identity of the speaker. Likewise, the first version’s use of dialogue and focus on horticulture offers a much different experience than the second version’s attention to embalming and internal monologue.

At the conceptual level, Wolfe intensifies the tension within these poems meta-poetically by putting pressure on the overall “healthiness” of her project. The twelfth “Sauce” begins with:
Sorry I dreamt of your wife
last October. There’s a sickness
in me. I see serials. Don’t
write them down.
The speaker of the poem believes the “sickness” inside of her stems from (or is somewhat related to) the fact that she “see[s] serial” poems and admonishes herself not to “write them down.” But she does write them down, even though they articulate her self-diagnosed sickness and make public the oppositional forces raging within her. The meta-critical juxtaposition manifests itself further when the speaker of the tenth “Sauce” says: “Disappear / before we all become real / poets.” Of course, with the publication of poems, the speaker finds an outlet for her voice, which renders such as a disappearance less possible.

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