Thursday, March 11, 2010

Recyclopedia: Trimmings, S*PeRM**K*T, and Muse & Drudge

Mullen, Harryette. Recyclopedia: Trimmings, S*PeRM**K*T, and Muse & Drudge. Saint Paul,
MN: Graywolf Press, 2006.

Recyclopedia is a reissue of three Harryette Mullen books writeen during the 90s. The first two collections, in Mullen’s own words, are “poems that talked back to Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons” (vii). While employing a fragmented and oblique style similar to her predecessor, Mullen attempts to “recycle and reconfigure language from a public sphere that includes mass media and political discourse” (x), whereas Stein’s writing focused on the intimate details of her private life. Take, for example, the following excerpt from S*PeRM**K*T: “Eat junk, don’t shoot. Fast food leaves hunger off the hook. Employees must wash hands. Bleach your needles, cook the works” (88). In addition to conflating drug addiction and fast food eateries, wherein the slang “junk” refers to both heroin and mass produced food, Mullen includes both street-language (i.e. “off the hook”) and corporate signage (i.e. “Employees must wash hands.”) so that the two tropes not often associated with one another develop an association through linguistic slippage and spatial proximity. Many of the prose poems from the first two books examine what it means to be a woman, particularly a woman of color, in a contemporary moment that simultaneously bombards us with stereotypes and targets those stereotypes as consumers of a ceaseless stream of commodities. Whether it be tampons, in which “It must be white, a picture of health, the spongy napkin made to blot blood” (71), or struggling with “How anorexics treat themselves” (89), Mullen offers fractured visions, each paragraph a “shadow [that] wears color, arms full of flowers” (11) just clear enough to provide us with the outline of an image, or a woman’s “body wearing language as clothing of language a body of thought which is a soul” (62). The final book, Muse & Drudge, contains a series of poems composed of four stanzas, each stanza comprised of four lines, that Mullen “imagined [as] a chorus of women singing verse” (xi) akin to the blues; but, by incorporating “the tradition of lyric poetry” into the blues form, she tries to “unite audiences often divided by racial and cultural differences” (xi). The individual poems use strong rhymes and a distinctive rhythmic pattern to create “a path through tangled sounds” (104), often made more tangled by extreme alliterative qualities, as when she writes: “some little bitter/ spilled glitter” (166), or when her verse transforms into scatting: “tussy-mussy mufti/ hefty duty rufty-tufty/ flub dub terra incog/ mulched hearts agog” (146). Such techniques, then, create a “leaning meaning/ signifying say what” (131) that offers readers “honey harmonies” (135) and “rhythm docked for trick crimes” (137) more than a comprehensible narrative. This is not to say that the poems do not tell a story, but that story is an accumulation and inextricable from the sonic elements of the poems.

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