This is the montage that shorthands
quelched by the knell—
a dénouement ringing ringing
ringing ringing ringing ringing until rung.
Elsewhere, sisters are erecting statues
to temperance. There’s early morning
light, morning after pills, our rented room.
We seem to have these desires
to cut a hole through a profile,
my eyes snuffed embers.
From Kansas City poet B.J. Soloy comes the full-length debut Our Pornography and Other Disaster Songs (Slope Editions, 2019), winner of the 17th annual slope editions book prize, as chosen by Ocean Vuong. Composed in three “chapters,” Soloy’s book-length exploration bobs and weaves across the first-person lyric essay-poem, meanders in a slow and steady rhythm, catching and capturing everything and all in and around their particular American experience. As he writes: “Now I’m at happy hour // in the Town & Country Lounge, / where the screens are flat & bright // & the tears come in pitchers. In this state, // I’m unable to answer your questions or your letters, / so I’ve drawn you a picture.” As Vuong’s “Foreword” to the collection open:
While reading through the manuscripts for this year’s Slope contest, I found myself perpetually haunted by Our Pornography, even long after I put it down, long after I was immersed in another manuscript, and then beyond the project of judging a contest—the book and its language entered my world, inflecting my daily living. It’s no surprise that a book so invested in American detritus might burrow its way into a reader inhabiting an America at a time replete with this nation’s now classic mode of joy and horror. And to such a culture this book holds up a mirror, but one that’s distorted, its imagistic syntax rearranging at the joints. What is reflected then, is not mimicry—but revision. Or perhaps, more accurately, a new vision entirely. Echoing, to my mind, a literary ancestry as rich and myriad as Alice Notley, Frank O’Hara, John Keats, Anne Carson, Richard Siken and Gwendolyn Brooks, the book length poem oscillates between wonder and bewilderment, between the commitment to linear time only to just as quickly dismantle it.
Soloy’s book-length poem is accumulative, building narrative and steam through an extended through-line, stretched out across the whole of a culture and contemporary moment, which, themselves, are constructed out of legions of cobbled-together cultures and moments, many of which confuse, confound and conflict, but somehow all fit together to become something greater. Somehow this is less collage than a re-working, or a re-imagining, as the third section, “INFLAT- / ABLE PRO- / LOGUE” begins:
with the urge to faint, I swoon on the diet
of the calendar’s sad flesh. I hope to someday throw
my shoe at the president. I’m walking around, untreated,
ready to spoil. I shit myself for rock ‘n’ roll in this soundless room,
panting for water. Listen to the world, to the nearest iteration,
amplified, but, my dear dear, don’t let them lie to you—
Iowa is ugly. Missiouri is wounded. We both grew up in dirty houses.