Pure Fat Being: The Untitled, Unnamable Poem in Feng Sun Chen’s Ugly Fish

by on Sep.01, 2011

[Sarah and I decided to discuss a poem in our colleague Feng Sun Chen’s Ugly Fish chapbook, which Johannes also just wrote about.  I ended up acting more like the grease under Sarah’s pork chops than a full collaborator, but here are the results…]

Lucas:  We are gathered here today to honor the poet who, according to the untitled final poem in Feng Sun Chen’s chapbook Ugly Fish, “does not survive.”  That poet “is already dead.”  She is “Pure fat being with mammary and simultaneous craters/Ham shaped packed and honey infused pink in delicacy.”  Despite (and because) of her leaky orifices and industrial lubrication, the ham “has a special wetness.”  Feng Sun’s speaker, I think, is herself more than your typical processed porcine slab.  Her lines distend and contract as if in a crate; their double-spacing produces rinds of fat instead of breathing room.  This speaker is at once Tori Amos’ breast, the suckling piglet, and our transfixed gaze, wouldn’t you say?  As a postmortem and posthuman dissection, the poem enacts an uncanny expansion, splitting, traversing, and suturing worlds.  If we suffocate in these pages whole hog, it’s only because of the body bag Feng Sun throws open in a supermarket aisle:  “Through is the only direction to run.”

Sarah Fox:  I do not feel suffocated in the poem. Is this a transcendental poet? “It is a fine day when the poet wakes up and finds herself a pig. / I am happy about it.” David Lynch is happy about being a transcendental meditator and a Scorpio rising (like Julian Assange). Scorpios: secret water everywhere.

Yes, I would say the speaker is that trinity you describe in all of its various incarnations. Pig/Fish/Mother. (“My mother is a pig.”) Blood/Spam/Magma. Gland/Milk/Light. Droppings dripping from the mother into the mother, pregnant with herself. Parabola in a trough of offal. Did your mother ever read you William Steig’s The Amazing Bone? With a stylish purse, much like the type of accessory Feng Sun might carry (she is so stylish! Not surprising for a Libra), the poet is cast as a pig named Pearl, confronting nonsurvival. One surmises her adventure is initiatory, and indeed she does cry “juicy tears.” Here, Pearl’s first encounter, from which she just barely escapes:

You can see in Pearl’s purse her amazing bone. She found it under a tree in the forest after hearing the bone speak to her (the bone can imitate any sound and speak every language.) After the clever bone assists her in waylaying the gunslingers, Pearl is abducted by a fox who intends to throw her in the oven for his supper. It’s quite an initiation for Pearl—if not for the child reader, who, filled with the body of Pearl, imagines herself suddenly assaulted by thugs with masks and guns under the sweet apple blossoms, and perhaps she’s had pork chops for dinner. Says the bone to the fox: “’You must let this beautiful young creature go on living,…Have you no shame, sir!’” The fox laughed. ‘Why should I be ashamed? I can’t help being the way I am. I didn’t make the world.’”  In the margins Feng Sun said yes.

In the margins Feng Sun said “Lucas has a wetness of yearning / …inside him a brothel without customers.” Do you get the brothel all to yourself? Is it filled with gay earth bird mothers? Zurita said of poetry “all art is it.” Of the earth, he said “it gives us images of desire and compassion: the mountains advance, they walk, they are never static.” Feng Sun’s Ugly Fish is filled with menstrual copper that drops from her maternity as light. The poem is light and “pigs are everywhere.”

Lucas:  I love Pearl’s boner.  It’s very gay earth mother.  The gay earth mother is never alone in the brothel.  In her wish to become a “historical being,” to puncture a hole in herself and give birth across spatiotemporal categories, Feng Sun’s speaker expresses a voracious queer maternity that is also an impossible longing:  “Let me be filled with your body.”  Or is this self-emptying pregnancy viable?  Does the speaker actually delimit and undifferentiate herself from the bodies that the poem accrues?  Such boundlessness is perhaps what the poem’s lack of a title wants to signal.  The poem, in other words, cannot be titled because it sheds its own nameability.  Instead of circumscribing itself through the signifier, the text exerts uncontrollable, unmappable flow.  Language unravels, reversing and reducing itself into a lump of fat:  “The ham in the store, the ham in the crate, the ham before it was divided.”  And yet, and yet…  What enables this undifferentiating flow is precisely a cut of difference.  An exaltation/violation of the porcine.  The carving of a wound on the sacred pig.  

Sarah:  If I were a Lacanian, I would probably have less sympathy for the queer maternity you note and the speaker’s refusal to name or be named. Luckily, I am not a Lacanian. I am an Ugly Fish (Pisces Moon; Feng Sun = Pisces Rising), and so Ugly Fish is dedicated to me (along with “all the ugly fish in the world.”) How do I know I am an Ugly Fish? Because “I am full of shit. I am full of Tao.” Oh, but that’s another poem (“Ugly Fish”)! And since I’m not a Lacanian, I’m glad we aren’t discussing Ugly Fish’s opening poem, “Excerpts From Petit Objet A:”

Indeed, the pig is sacred, central to feminine cult practices as far back as the 7th millennia B.C.E., according to Marija Gimbutas. “The sacred animal of the Pregnant Goddess is the sow. Its fast-growing, rounded body was probably allegorical of seed and field fertility, and its condition must have been regarded as magically influencing the crops….Pork fat is also a fertility symbol; it is used in agrarian rituals, for instance. In Lithuania the custom is preserved of burying the bones of the Easter ham not in one place but at all four boundaries. In this way the field is injected with the Goddess’s fertility powers on all sides…. The sow-headed figure was an epiphany of the Goddess.”

Not much of a leap, then, to Circe. As “historical being,” Feng Sun must surely have become possessed by Odysseus, and Circe, and the pigs that Circe made of Odysseus’s crew.

Miyazaki referenced this event in his Spirited Away, the Odyssey of young Chihiro, whose parents are turned into swine when they can’t refrain from pigging out on the enchanted meal put before them by the witch Yubaba:

Incidentally, Tori’s suckling of a piglet is nothing radical to agrarian women of New Guinea, who do it all the time:

In the Norse Eddas, Sæhrímnir is the pig who’s boiled and eaten every night, yet alive again the next morning. Renewal, abundance, nourishment, self-proliferation, magic—if the pig is symbolic of and empathic with the feminine, it’s no surprise that patriarchy has thoroughly recontextualized the animal’s signification. The male chauvinist is a pig and so are cops.  Pigs are hoofed, “like devils.” And, the symbol of gluttony: “you’re a pig.” A godly nation has no escape valve for gluttonous, disordered beings. After the Reformation, no more Carnivale, prostitution, no more Feast of Misrule or Saturnalia…The opposite of being saved by Jesus is being a pig.  Eating pig, therefore, is forbidden by almost everybody. (Cf. Leviticus 11:8, “…the swine, though it divides the hoof, having cloven hooves, yet does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. Their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch. They are unclean to you.” Qur’an 5:4, “Forbidden to you for (food) are: dead meat, blood and the flesh of the swine.”  “Pig belong to the forbidden animals, and not allowed to be eaten by the believers. Pig eats almost anything dirty and  they are very  lazy animals. It is the most avaricious of all domestic animals. Amongst all animals, pig is the cradle of harmful germs. It’s meat serves as carrier of diseases to mankind.” Swine Care Handbook, “Although difficult to define, the potential for detrimental stress is a significant animal welfare and production concern. A pig may be distressed if it is required to make abnormal or extreme physiological or behavioral adjustments to cope with adverse aspects of its environment or management. When stressful situations in pork production are identified and minimized, the animal’s well-being, reproductive efficiency, and growth improves. This yields economic benefits for producers, consumers, and the entire pork industry.” Etc.) “Pearls before swine.”

The decadence of the poet, in light of our present economy—the poet who chews the cud of language, who rides the wavelength of feral underpinnings, who neither shows nor is shown the money, has no gifts to bring you, no assembly line, no allegiance to work or the rule of law or the bottom line, no little piggies for the market—is like the decadence of nature. Such decadence will not be tolerated, will not survive. “Through is the only direction to run.” Yes. Let the poet be a pig.

1 comment for this entry:
  1. Lara Glenum

    O I love this convo so much, you guys! Ajumble with pleasure.