Knowing what to say about Lara Glenum’s recent Pop Corpse is tough, partly because the volume says so much on its own. From the title (and cover) on, Glenum loudly announces that she’ll be dealing with the glut and detritus of popular culture with a means at least as violent as her Action Books counterparts. She doesn’t disappoint.
Speaking of Action, its also tough to write on Pop Corpse because its publisher and part source-text generator, Johannes Göransson, has recently done so over at Montevidayo. For Göransson, Glenum’s volume fits into a postmodern discourse of humiliation, one in which Basquiat’s paintings indicate their own excessiveness through the bodily, non-productive gesture of a smear. Similarly, Glenum’s mermaid bears what Guattari and Deleuze would term an excessive series of “territorializations” in the form of her tattoos. That these tattoos feature several repetitions of the most tired, hackneyed nautical designs only furthers this case, that they are “external” markers undermining any sense of interiority to her own body and self. With this in mind, Göransson goes on to very adeptly read Glenum as positioning herself against the tradition of conceptual poetics, which he characterizes as attempting the minimize this “tasteless hand”—Basquiat’s smears and, by my extension, the tattoo artist’s needle—rather than embracing it. In extending this hand to pop culture at large, I’ve added a larger ontological dimension to Göransson’s point about humiliation, but I think it gets us somewhere interesting with Glenum’s volume.
Although first the plot. This is a play in verse, so it demands a quick synopsis. Very simply, Pop Corpse is a retelling of the Little Mermaid myth. Its aptly named protagonist, XXX, is a mermaid princess who desires to be human. Rather, however, the the noble aim of love that we’ll most all be familiar with, XXX desires a human body. Specifically, she desires genitalia, a pussy, something that none of Glenum’s mermaids (of either gender) possess. Early in the volume, we’re treated to the intense physicality of this desire:
XXX: Krikey I have to go muck about sea mutants
When what I really want is to poke the sun out
myself black & blue
[Turns on webcam. Opens her cutting box and takes out scalpel. Carefully cuts a hole in her scales where her snatch should be. Lubes her finger with her spit and inserts it.]
Thus, with the existential horniness of a teenager, XXX goes in search of a human body and “snatch.” After exhausting several prosthetics in a downright disturbing take on our culture of excess in its treatment of the transgendered and disabled, XXX receives her wish. She is a “real” woman, but only so long as the smear (voiced exclusively by repurposed Göransson poems) wants to fuck her.
Clearly this proves problematic. The female quest for freedom is attained, but only with the denial of her own agency necessary to make herself appealing to this smear as a sex object. It should be noted at this point that the Smear is no charmer. Aside from the excess of Göransson’s verse-speak, the Smear is mostly known to readers as a figure masturbating and viewing pornography throughout the volume. And while this should set up a really neat piece of anti-patriarchal literature, it doesn’t. XXX actively desires the smear. And as with the territorializations of her own body in tattoos, she desires her own subjective dispersal (if not destruction). After all, she spends the entire volume seeking a radical change in her affective experience as a mermaid by becoming human. So then, how are we to perceive these strangely moving lines conveying this bliss? Speaking of sex with the Smear:
This is the de-narration
of everything I’ve ever known
This is the evacuation of the memesphere
4 some hottie tottie cocklove
& a little cloud blindness in parking lots
My lyric putty awake
in yr boss hands In the goatsong rising out of yr crumbcakes
Clearly this is willful abjection, but XXX doesn’t seem nearly informed as Chris Kraus or even Marie Calloway. What do our university-trained cultural intellegences tell us to do here? Like most readers, I didn’t at first know, but Glenum seems to have something of a clue. At the volume’s conclusion, she reasserts XXX’s new body (the territorialized mermaid body? or the human body? and is the human body similarly tattooed?) as well her enjoyment of it:
They [XXX and the Smear] sign high-rolling contracts as models for the House of Slop. They party down. They are hawt 4evah.
Clearly XXX and the Smear have it figured out. Their lives attain that elusive mix of success and happiness, meaning that the problem is with those of us who can’t quite follow. I think maybe I am following. Pop Corpse is a mess, but is most assuredly wants to be. Its a mess of poetry, culture and even ethics, but it gets more things right than nearly any poetry volume in recent memory. These are things like the picture below. And I know that I like them: