Believe the Hype: Sarah Dowling's Birds & Bees

by on Mar.05, 2013

birds and bees

I want to throw down some hype for Sarah Dowling’s terrific Birds & Bees, recently published by Troll Thread. Birds & Bees is kind of its own hype machine, organized as it is around/after/by two affectively opposed but similarly contagious pop songs: the Temptations’ “My Girl” and Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody.” These two (and possibly other?) songs form the affective technology of the poems in this chapbook, their lyrics and beats pumping through insistently even as the record/CD/MP3 skips/glitches around. Activated by the slithery stop-and-go beat of Aaliyah’s hit, for example, the following poem stutters through a ventriloquism of the song’s hush-hush lyrics, desire reverberating and refracted:

I’ve got to tell you

Can you Can you Can you Can you Boy
grey Boy, I promise you If we and you know
We talk But see dry I don’t know if from
you shouldn’t tell you but if I If maroon I
let you You can’t I’m talking Are you noiseless Boy
I’m not lonely just Is it, Is it Say yes

or say no Cause I really Tell me are
you wet Boy Won’t you If you tell you know
that we’ll Oh real Boy See shouldn’t let you but,
If I If I You can’t tell proud I hope
you crowded Boy I’m not Is it, Is it Cause
I really Tell me are you empty Won’t you And

listen Cause I really need Tell me are you
If I You can’t tell I’m talking difficult I hope
alone Boy I gotta I’m not Is it, is it
Say Is it numerous is it Cause I really Tell
me are you cordial Cause I really You can’t tell
I’m talking further

(For your reference:


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In her Next Big Thing self-interview about the book, Dowling writes:

I’m really interested in modes of appropriation that don’t aim to debunk their appropriated material, and that don’t take a stance of critical hauteur toward it. I wanted to see if I could write a book based off of pop songs and pop-related material whose affective texture would be palpably and recognizably lyric. I wanted to think about how the everyday materials of normal life can undergird the critical project of building a life otherwise.

What she says here relates to recent conversations about fan fiction as a mode of art and criticism – these poems absorb the songs, in doing so becoming their own affective machines. The book opens with this epigram:

GS: And liking things is like being a machine?
AW: Yes, because you do the same thing every time.
       You do it over and over again.

I’m a machine for this book. Purchase or download here.

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