Friday, November 05, 2021

Robin Myrick, I Am This State Of Emergency



We vote with our fists. We think with our stomachs. We talk with our elbows. Our child is not hungry and we will not bear you a revolution. Our own is our own. Hope is an invasion of our privacy. We will not be bullied by free medications for senior citizens or low-cost pet vaccinations. Home shopping is what the founding fathers meant. You feel at us like we speak emotion. Our deductible is warm as emergency. Quit telling people they can have what exists. Stop saving stuff on our behalf. Take the field goal and give the ball back. There is no intrigue to your conspiracy. We are not the ones we’re not interested in. We are flashing the lights as a courtesy. But you’re in our lane.

California-based “conceptual and experimental artist working in photography, writing, and hybrid forms” Robin Myrick’s debut full-length poetry title is I Am This State Of Emergency (Dallas TX: Surveyor Books, 2020), a project shaped through interviews and conversations with friends, acquaintances and eventually strangers across a wide political spectrum. As she writes as part of her “Author’s Statement” to open the collection, I Am This State Of Emergency is, first and foremost, a listening project, one that attempts to articulate how conversations and thinking around politics have shifted into a discourse that is far less civil than it had been, at least in recent years. “Cite your sources,” she writes, to open “67,” “please / and thank you / and fuck you [.]” She records conversations, arguments, beliefs and consequences, and the ideological distances that exist, whether newly formed or long-held, between individuals and communities. “The problem is now you see yourself,” she writes, to open “11,” “not how we see you / On an unrelated topic, someone’s been eating our porridge / On an unrelated topic, someone’s been gaining weight [.]” Her project shapes these conversations into poem-shapes, narrative sketches collaged into a numbered (and not titled) sequence slightly out of order: the collection opens with “19,” and then to “36,” “50,” “8,” “14” and so on. Some of the declarations made are quite terrible, and others enlightening: “I’m terrified of being outnumbered [.]”

I’ve long been fascinated by conceptual projects, especially those that include some kind of human component; one that allows for the ways in which words interact with each other and provide meaning, however stripped of context. After all, as Meredith Quartermain once wrote: words can’t help but mean. Through I Am This State Of Emergency, Myrick offers a poetry based on response and belief in an effort to, I would presume, understand just how vast the distances have become, whether as long-held considerations or newly-formed. “I am so tired / of this anger / it isn’t me / I tell myself / but when it happens / it is,” she writes, to open “99.” And as anyone might imagine, it is impossible to approach such a breach in civil discourse without careful study; without, first, admitting how deep the distances might be. As her opening statement offers:

I Am This State Of Emergency captures my personal experience and maps my listening orbit, documenting and responding to conversations that people had with me, or things said in my presence – for better or worse. This means that the writing collected here reflects both what I’ve heard (direct quotations and bits of conversation), and sometimes how I’ve heard (tone, emotion, authority, coded language, and so on). Let’s also get specific about the way I am using this terminology.

For the purposes of this project, I defined hearing as receiving what others were saying to me because I was present physically or electronically in the conversation, whether or not I was an active participant in it. For instance, I listened when someone talked to me one-on-one, addressed a group at a party or gathering I was attending, or spoke loudly or generally to everyone in their immediate proximity (say at a public place, like the grocery checkout line), including myself. In each of these settings, I could clearly hear what the person in question said – and they knew it. Sometimes I responded. But eavesdropping was strictly off limits for this project, and I stuck to that constraint.

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