Wednesday, May 08, 2024

Travis Sharp, Monoculture


in the distance, a man
            body flexing in labor
            standing so far from the combine
            he looks nearly of  size with it


              they’re plants, they’re
              people, they’re planted

                                    potted one
                        dutifully pruned
                                    new growth cut back

                        “to be fucked
                        in the fruits
                        of some labor”
                                    and in deep

                                    debt to the sun

The author of the full-length debut, Yes, I Am a Corpse Flower (Knife Fork Book, 2021) [see my review of such here], the poetry pamphlet Behind the Poet Reading Their Poem Is a Sign Saying Applause (Knife Fork Book, 2022) and the chapbooks Sinister Queer Agenda (above/ground press, 2018) and One Plus One Is Two Ones (Recreational Resources, 2018), the second full-length collection by American poet and editor Travis Sharp is Monoculture (Greensboro NC: Unicorn Press, 2024). Composed as a book-length lyric suite, I have to admit that, even beyond my enthusiasms for Sharp’s work, I’m already partial to any collection that opens with a quote by Denver poet Julie Carr, a quartet of lines pulled from 100 Notes on Violence (Ahsahta Press, 2010; Omnidawn, 2023): “Under the immense pleasure of conformity, I find myself / delivering // flower boxes with body parts // Under the immense comforting plane of conformity— [.]”

Sharp’s Monoculture works a collage-effect, weaving the elegy across American histories, including the interwoven histories of slavery and commerce, specifically the cotton industry, “(and how it’s still felt,” he writes, “encroachment of / overwhelm, even to this / day, today, it’s all too / much, there is danger / there, danger, there, it / comes up, again, / danger, there, and, this / throat, cottoning up, in / the face, of— // still—) [.]” Set as a book-length lyric suite, the poems of Monoculture are tethered together across the length and breadth of eighty pages, yet clustered into untitled groupings, each poem an untitled fragment that adds to an accumulation across (as the back cover offers) “the economic, social, racial, religious, and sexual dimensions of currency in America. Travis Sharp begins with cotton crops in the South and follows the tendrils of consequence wherever they lead: into the food we eat, the work we do, the prayers we pray—and into the hungers that are never sated, the work that is never done, the prayers that are never said.” The effect is accumulative, allowing one to open the book at any point and see the line stretching out across both directions, from the ending all the way back to the beginning, wrapping critical observation and archival material with the most beautiful music. “we live among the plants we love among the plants we graze among the plants we gaze / among the plants we thrive among the plants we dive among the plants we strive among the / plants we plead among the plants we please we please oh please among the plants [.]” Through the shape of this single narrative thread, this long, accumulative poem, Sharp questions and examines the implications of such supply chains, especially those underplayed, yet essential to both American development and growth, all the way back to those original foundations. As Sharp asks, mid-way through the collection: “and what does it mean to hold cotton / unformed by labor? and what does it mean / for the cotton unformed by labor to be the / product of labor? and what does it mean / that father child labored in those fields for / his own father who unlabored for rich men / to bag that cotton? and what does it mean / that after the beatings he came to pick / faster and faster, his arms slashing/ through the fields?”


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