Saturday, March 31, 2012

Letters to Kelly Clarkson, Julia Bloch

Dear Kelly,

Lately I’m having that dream again, where there’s an extra room I didn’t know I had. It’s a woman’s dream, D. says. Last night my apartment unfolded an extra bedroom and an extra kitchen, and A. reclined on a futon in a Yankees baseball cap, glowering at me inexplicably. We were to serve dinner to twelve and thank god for the extra kitchen but it stretched very far away, tall and white. I wrought anxious over the cream-based soup, the way one is uselessly anxious in dreams.
Kelly I believed I could make it into something fine, make it fantastic. What will we do with these boys, these pretty tongues. Kelly you know how it is. You streak your hair & still it’s the same morning every morning, and you’re going for the eternal afterspank. It’s nothing and sugar-colored coffee, it’s don’t you want me baby. Then you swell over the fact that you can name two affordable boarding houses in Paris, one across the street from the Gare de l’Est. Do you believe timing is everything?
I wasn’t entirely sure how much I would like Letters to Kelly Clarkson (Sidebrow Books, 2012), Julia Bloch’s first trade poetry collection, a title I might have expected, perhaps, from Toronto writer Nathaniel G. Moore. The premise to Bloch’s Letters to Kelly Clarkson is exactly what the title suggests, composing epistolary poems to American pop singer and winner of the inaugural American Idol in 2002, Kelly Clarkson. Why Kelly Clarkson? Why letters? I’m intrigued at her choices here, but left wondering why, in places. Montreal writer and critic David McGimpsey once argued that his Ted Danson references in poems will outlive most of my literary ones, and he just might be correct, a lesson long-learned, it might seem, by Julia Bloch, as well. McGimpsey, I should point out, is one of the very few poets (alongside Moore, Lynn Crosbie and Michael Holmes) in Canada I’ve seen who is able to use pop culture references in a way that add to the poems, as opposed to merely showing off an ability to reference. In Bloch’s Letters to Kelly Clarkson, the narrator poses various missives as a series of questions, responses and answers, poems as faux-letters.
Dear Kelly,

Inauguration Day and it’s like, I want to cash in on the next season now, please. O your sophomore album, late and yet too soon. A girl drinking from a lake. You wear a cold jewel. I am in Pac Heights, in a black chair at Tully’s. You’ll still recognize me through the darkening window by the glittering at my breast. I know your voice has more to say—listen, everyone wants music that transports them, Give me this moment in the Tully’s, like an arpeggio, I admit! I love Gershwin! The world, stinking blonde in its ordinariness, will take your face and make it simply your own. And in a distancing gesture she creates space around the memory.
Lately, American poet Lea Graham has also been working the epistolary poem in her “Dear Robert Kroetsch” series, more directly composing to her late friend, mentor and influence Robert Kroetsch, easily accomplishing the finest writing I’ve seen from her yet. For Julia Bloch, the benefit of writing with such a frame is that, in the right hand, the project can incorporate just about anything, and she writes her way through commentary and critique on American culture and politics, some of which read as poems composed between other activities, whether waiting for her phone to ring, or riding the subway. The poems read very much like diary-entries, even creating a character, the “Kelly Clarkson” the narrator speaks to, separate from the American pop star, instead creating a secret confidant, hidden within the pages of the narrator’s journal. The framing of poem-letters composed directly to “Kelly Clarkson” is wonderfully and oddly deceptive, and nearly irrelevant, a way of irreverently writing out all else Bloch wants in a way that enters into the reader’s consciousness before it’s even noticed. Why Kelly Clarkson? Why not, I suppose. Didn’t American poet Tom Clark compose a poetry book in the1960s titled Neil Young?
Dear Kelly,

Nothing’s neutral, not the atmosphere’s power to cool and soften, not skyscrapers, not the glitter embedded in sidewalks, not the violin’s swell, the tug of the piano, that lush At last—it’s a system and you are its fabulous, winged drone. I wanted a fashionable new tilt at the heel, an excuse to part my knees and let the black fabric dip. You wanted it, too, but then, I believe you’re wholesome in the same way I believe the United States is a democracy, which is to say in a manner innocently misled.

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