Thursday, May 25, 2023

Jenny Molberg, The Court of No Record



The MeToo poem was shocking, was it not? This was her dogged power of persuasion and not your actions, correct? The accused has written a poem about your treatment of her, has she not? And the poem, though it does not name you, leads people to believe you are the abuser because the whole world is watching, correct? She takes your private statements wildly out of context in this poem that details her experience with “abuse,” does she not? Though you did none of these things, you recognize yourself in the poem, correct? You are baffled, are you not, to have been MeToo-ed? This causes you great emotional and professional harm, yes? her poems exceed the boundary of creative expression, yes? And the other woman, she affirmed the false claims of this poet, did she not? She is a liar too, is she not? And all the other women, liars as well, correct?

Missouri-based poet Jenny Molberg’s third full-length collection, following Marvels of the Invisible (winner of the Berkshire Prize, Tupelo Press, 2017) and Refusal: Poems (Baton Rouge LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2020), is The Court of No Record (Louisiana State University Press, 2023), a collection of lyrics composed as an exploration of violence, with a focus on gendered domestic/partner violence and abuse. Set with opening poem, “MAY THE STARS GUIDE YOU SAFELY HOME,” and three sections of poems—“EXPECTING,” “THE COURT OF NO RECORD” and “WHAT LOVE DOES”—Molberg composes a narrative thread of violence and its effects across a sequence of first-person lyrics, writing from domestic violence into a second section entirely focused on and around a court system that often accomplishes little beyond re-traumatizing any accuser. “Her thighs— / out of nowhere,” the poem “EVIDENCE” writes, “purple blossoms surfaced. / Eruptions, as if no one had / struck her.”

While this is the first collection I’ve seen of Molberg’s, I remember discovering her work in an issue of Ploughshares back in 2018, struck even then by the no-nonsense swagger of her lyrics, a poem from which I suspect might sit in this current collection (I’m unable, naturally, to find my copies of the journal to confirm). The poems in The Court of No Record offers a crash and stagger, a clear through-line and fierce lyric, writing on power and our fascinations with violence, examining how such fascination might actually be doing little to diminish either the possibility of violence or its often devastating effects. “After I call the cops to ask for a protective order,” she writes, to open “MAY THE STARS GUIDE YOU SAFELY HOME,” “I read about the girlfriend of a serial killer. What she knew, // what she didn’t. how it seems we’re always punished / for asking questions. America is watching a show // about a man who is fascinating. His eyes ice / behind the fog of his glasses. // Such a nice guy. Such a quiet guy. The flooded house. / I don’t care about him.” She writes of violence, and of desperation. “My neighbor held a gun to his own chest / and with the other hand, his son,” she writes, to open the poem “SHOOTING AT OAKBROOK APARTMENTS,” “captive for being his son.”

Molberg writes of power, and it is interesting to be moving through this collection in light of the recent E. Jean Carroll verdict, held as yet another example of the difficulty of holding certain individuals to account. In The Court of No Record, the notion of power is also one of balance, from white privilege to cycles of abuse to the blatant depictions offered of women as liars and manipulators against young men too often seen as something wholesome, almost holy. “Perception is in / the eye of the beholder.” she writes, in the poem “OUR ATTORNEY’S CLOSING STATEMENT,” “To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. It’s got / to be anything but the hammer, he thinks. Not me, he thinks.” Molberg’s poems offer witness, and are forceful, even brutally stark, composed in a manner that provides its own power, through her clear eye and stunning lyric. “The sky is strangulation blue.” she writes, near the end of the poem “RECESS IN BROKEN MIRROR COUNTY.” As the piece ends:

The November air says I belong to the earth and not the court. Guard your heart, a poet friend tells me. By abiding with those who have not been accompanied by our systems of justice, you are on the side of the angels. The newly planted lacebark elms whisper the court’s atrocities. They push through their concrete dividers. The child of me held by security at the gate.


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