On Human Cylinders: The Pregnant Poet at poets.org

by on May.11, 2012

My essay from 2010’s American Poet is now up on The Academy of American Poets site. I talk about bodies, pregnancy, vulnerability, intimacy, nerves, shame, brutal lighting–my usual haunts. Via Dodie Bellamy (guest appearance by *Barf’s* Eileen Myles & piñata), Aase Berg, Maxine Chernoff, Tory Dent, Toi Derricotte, Lara Glenum, Susan Howe (Mary Rowlandson!), Hiromi Ito, Mina Loy, Marianne Moore, Alice Notley, D.A. Powell, Elaine Scarry (paired w/ Eugen Baer’s bizarre *Medical Semiotics*, I’ll never stop doing that!), Anne Sexton, Cathy Wagner, Rebecca Wolff (re: Not for Mothers Only), Rachel Zucker, etc.

Though pregnancy and motherhood are hardly synonymous (all modes of child-getting to become mother, all modes of identity in the wake of the body occupied), I think it’s been posted in time for the weekend. Happy Mama Day if it applies to you & yours in any fashion, Montevidayans! Happy Body Day is Everyday if you’ve got one! (Did anyone else read Hilary Mantel’s hospital Diary in the LRB?)

Here’s a bit of my essay where I survey some of our Action compadres:

Along with the image of the mother as empty vessel or compassionate servant, we find the gentle mother, the soft and nurturing hand, Mother Nature, the sheltering bosom. When a mother is cruel to a child, an innocent, a cute animal, the world turns inside out. In the popular imagination, mothers who commit acts of cruelty are “monsters.” Berg’s use of deer, foxes, squirrels, and guinea pigs, as Lara Glenum points out:

radically upends the notion that women…are free from sadistic compulsion and cruelty…The preoccupation…with all things cute, perhaps, speaks not to their attraction to things that mirror their own innocence but to things that mirror their own abjection and fear of further deformity; it reflects the degree to which they have already found themselves stripped of significant social agency.

Here are the adorable deformed animals in Berg’s “In the Heart of Guinea Pig Darkness”:

The gorge is swarming with guinea pigs. They crawl on each other like spiders…The guinea pigs are swarming and crawling around on the gigantic guinea-pig queen’s sensitive, swollen egg-white body. She gives birth and groans, she moans and bleeds. Everywhere the membranes, everywhere their bloated puff bellies. We run with the heart in the tunnel, you and I, while nervous systems break down behind us, while the amniotic fluid surges in the pumping, pulsing chasm.

Unsurprisingly, the spooky multiplicity of selves doesn’t disappear in the postpartum. Berg’s Transfer Fat fuses cute and massive animals in an effort to fathom the disturbingly illogical postpartum experience of being devoured by a darling creature:

the hare skindry the whale heavy of the bag’s fatmilk

Just as these humanoid animals disrupt our sense of body and boundary, the mangled and spliced language intensifies our sense of unheimlich.

Lara Glenum’s own Maximum Gaga takes on the pathology of heterosexual unions and their inevitable offspring with a ferocious grin:

Mino feeds at one end of me
The Normopath at the other…

I’m half-in
of my blubber suit

Two feeding tubes dangling from my chest…
The animals my skin could not contain
are clanging through the hospital.

In the portion of the book that reads as a play, “Meat Out of the Eater,” the character of Queen Naked Mole Rat is staged thusly:

[… The Queen sits on the couch, her ribcage cranked open to
display nine tea-cups dangling on hooks. In each tea-cup, baby rats are
continually born and tumble out of her body to scavenge on the floor.]

It is worth noting that in the real world of naked mole rats, a queen might have up to twenty-eight babies in a litter, and that one human baby can often feel like twenty-eight.

A new translation of Japanese radical feminist poet Ito Hiromi titled Killing Kanoko contains the poem by the same name, a blunt exploration of infanticide:

Kanoko eats my time
Kanoko pilfers my nutrients
Kanoko threatens my appetite
Kanoko pulls out my hair
Kanoko forces me to deal with all her shit
I want to get rid of Kanoko
I want to get rid of filthy little Kanoko
I want to get rid of or kill Kanoko who bites off my nipples
I want to get rid of or kill Kanoko
Before she spills my blood
I have committed infanticide

Ito’s other works, transgressive and shamanistic, explore the dark, absurd, and glorious potentials of the female body, its sexuality and reproduction, resituating these, as Jerome Rothenberg says “somewhere between bliss & nightmare.”

3 comments for this entry:
  1. James Pate

    Great essay, Danielle. It brings to my mind two things.

    First, as you show here, how the human body intersects with both animality and with what could be called the imaginative body. How the human stretches between these poles. I think some critics imagine an interest in the body means a search for a stable sense of being within corporeality, but that really doesn’t seem to be the case at all — what could be less stable than the corporeal!

    Secondly, have you ever seen Cronenberg’s The Brood? It’s this bizarro cult film from 1979 that turns the usual sentimental notions of motherhood on its head. It’s pretty stylistically clumsy (as a cult film director he was worlds away from Carpenter and Romero at this point) but it relates in an interesting way, I think, to some of the issues you bring up here…


  2. Mom Day: A Double Encountering with Forslar Fett / Transfer Fat - Montevidayo

    […] facing, a pain cattle lorig and I, an immigratingrendel, will grind our “human cylindars” (a la Danielle Pafunda) up to the transfer fat and descriptfat will transfer through our fear, Hal living inside all of […]

  3. Danielle Pafunda

    Oh thanks, James–I’ve come across, but never seen The Brood. Sounds perfecto for Mother’s Day.

    And word! What could be less stable?!