Ambient Shame, Power & the Voracious "I": Coeur de Lion vs. Paula Deen

by on Oct.30, 2011

This week in Intermediate Poetry Writing, we’re discussing Ariana Reines’ Coeur de Lion in a unit I am calling “Shame, Power & the Voracious ‘I’.”  I’ll be trying to convince my students that Reines’ “I” is not a pronoun paralyzed by navel-gazing confessionalism, but rather an agile and all-consuming force to ride and reckon with (a force or hunger the poet herself must reckon with).  The first-person lyric, in my opinion of the book, is a Möbius strip of twists and turns set in motion and empowered through an ambient, aching, melting, throbbing, cheese-filled and cheese-eating shame:

I am probably doing something horrible and destructive.

But this ‘I’ is the I of poetry

And it should be able to do more than I can do.

After watching the following clip featuring Paula Deen–that illustrious culinary TV personality–we will think about heart attacks and heartbreak as two sides of the same coin:

14 comments for this entry:
  1. Lucas de Lima

    Fans of this clip should not miss out on Paula’s lasagna sandwich:

  2. Feng

    eating a really fatty delicious burger makes one feel complex feelings, combinations of shame, humiliation, pleasure, comfort, guilt, arousal, etc… eating can make you “the other woman” (with clogged arteries). does reading certain types of poetry do this too?

  3. Johannes

    The other day I ate a burger and then I couldn’t fall asleep; my insomnia had the same texture as when one takes cold drugs or stuff like that and can’t sleep. So I wonder if the meat was full of drugs….

    I always found there was something vegetarian about people who object on moral grounds to the use of the word “I” in a poem. It’s not good for you, this “I”, it makes you too fat.


  4. Johannes

    But then Shelley was a vegetarian and he’s the most I-iffic poet of all time…. / Johannes

  5. Johannes

    I guess vegetarianism is another kind of intemperance. When I was a vegetarian I was always hungry. Then one day I ate a kind of meat stew my roommate had made – I picked out the meat chunks so I thought that would be fine – and it sent my body into horrible convulsions.


  6. ariana

    hey lucas

    i’m psyched you’re teaching coeur and i gotta go steal (or buy if necessary) some gold grills so i don’t offend the halloweeners at this reading tonight, but i was puzzled by the word “shame”. i don’t have time to reread the book but it really struck me, hm, how interesting, i didn’t realize that SHAME was so prominent. ok aching, melting, throbbing, uh uh uh, yeah, but SHAME? i get that some people would be ashamed of reading somebody else’s email and that there are emotions in the book to which shame could be associated, but is there really a lot of SHAME in the speaker’s voice. i’m inclined to think not. i think it is a scarier and more powerful book than you realize, even though this idea of throbbing shame really tickles me. i think genesis p-orridge needs a new gig anyway. BOO!

    happy halloween


  7. ariana

    SHAME chanted over and over at cops battering protesters is the place for SHAME. when i hear the word SHAME SHAME SHAME that is the place for shame, that is the object for shame: the crowd brutalized by the police whose job it is to protect them. SHAME on the oakland pigs for the murder of oscar grant. SHAME on the nypd for the mass corraling and arrest of protesters. SHAME on all of us for allowing our own lives to be stolen and wars to be waged in our name most especially these last ten years.

    but my shame? the shame of the speaker of coeur? please. that bitch has no shame. she is kind, she suffers, she is scared, she is mean, but she is WITHOUT SHAME. the woman’s shame, downcast eyes, burqas, veils, double entendres, fears, doing things that scare us, bla bla bla, it seems like SHAME is mightily regressive. what shame? what shame?

    i realize this is pretty incoherent. i just drank 2 esperessos and i am running out the door but i aspire to being less of a tightwad when it comes to the internet as in i just almost never respond but i WANT to be more relaxed about it and participate in a conversation it’s just that the internet is such a suck and once i let it in it rules my mind too much.


  8. Monica Mody

    I am a vegetarian.

    Sometimes I get embarrassed when I’m reading my own poems. To an audience, I mean. The audience becomes a repository of all my shame, and I stop, stare at the words I can’t believe I’ve written and giggle and blush a little. Next time I should try to eat the paper. I’m on board with shame, power, voraciousness.

    Haven’t read Coeur yet (shame!) so can’t speak to Ariana’s point about its speaker being without shame though I find it an interesting intervention. What about the reader’s shame?

  9. Feng

    I tend to project my feelings onto other bodies too, (reader shame and reader shame) including and perhaps esp bodies of texts. I am not strong and do not have a heart de lion but I don’t think that shame is regressive as it occurs, but it is as an imposition. This might relate to Johannes’s comment about the decadence of the “I”… The presentation of the I in CDL is definitely an negation of shame.

  10. Lucas de Lima

    Hey Ariana,

    Totally appreciate you not being a tighwad and weighing in. I wish you could Skype into my class like you did into Sarah’s in the spring (I was there!).

    To me, your book works through and even past shame but doesn’t entirely erase it. I don’t think any of my favorite writing erases shame altogether; the stuff I tend to like is too vulnerable and politically charged to do that. I think that’s precisely how such writing, including your own, draws its immense power.

    Yes–definitely–shame on the NYPD and everybody else you mention. If anything, what I’m trying to do is get my students to work through any undeserved shame they might feel about becoming vulnerable on the page. I don’t want to pretend they don’t feel it, as if there weren’t a backdrop of undue shame against which we all (some more than others) write. I know that, as a poet inclined toward the “I,” I felt restrained until I discovered books like yours that taught me how to repurpose my crippling feelings (god, now I’m melting too).

    I elaborated more on this kind of repurposed throb of shame in a previous post, and wonder what you’d think of it:


  11. Lucas de Lima

    And yes, Monica, the reader’s shame has everything to do with it! It’s ambient shame–it’s not just the speaker’s. The post linked above gets into that too.

  12. ariana

    ah! i LOVE that. ambient shame. that i love. i get it. i do.

    i think that shame, the word shame, i just couldn’t not see it looping back into this medieval lexicon of a woman’s shame, the shame of adam and eve, the shame it is the woman’s job either to envelop pussylike or absorb diaperlike.

    but AMBIENT SHAME. now that is something i am definitely on board with. thank you. this computer is shaky and my hand shakes even as i write this, i am abusing espresso again, but i will be back soon.


  13. Lucas de Lima

    Cool–I’m going to edit the post so it doesn’t sound like I’m limiting shame to the speaker.

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