by Joyelle McSweeney on Apr.23, 2013
I am slain, felled, sweetened up and served by Latasha N. Nevada Diggs’ TwERK. It’s like an almanac-zodiac-aphrodesiac-cum-emetic: it’s going to make the language come out of you, and the knowledge, too. At the bargain price of 15 dollahs, this book, fetchingly wrapped in a crunk doily designed by Doug Kearney, delivers page after page of astounding and invigorating rhymes, rhythms, inflections, infections, connections, inventions, allusions and sluices. It’s freaky-deaky, freaking alluvial. It’s brainy and broad and plays its own killer jingle and drives up in its own truck. Watch, children!
TwERK hollas at you from the very first page, opens up by inviting you into a profane dialogue, Elizabethan in its innovation, its linguistic voracity, virtuosity, swift pace, killer instinct and bawdy humor (please be aware: this is not the correct spacing/layout for this poem– only as close as I could get on blog interface):
Mista Popo said: oh bodacious Zwarte Piet,
How does the butterfly thrive
for my big ole kettle belly?
An extra scoot never too robust for my flying carpet.
holla at me Jynx, holla at me Jynx,
holla at me Jynx w/some soba on the side.
Let’s fly away!
Mista Popo want that corn husky hair.
What inmate of the twenty-first century, what language-loving carbon based life form could not rejoice in the presence of such a pliant, flexible virtuosity as LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs’s? In the above passage, a zesty and ribald momentum opens its throat for a wash of dubious figures from global culture, and the page is both a party and a scrum: Zwarte Piet, the blackface figure and holdover from colonialism who accompanies Santa Claus in Dutch culture; Jynx and Mr. (here ‘Mista’) Popo, literally cartoonish icons of blackness from Japanese anime culture who in their ‘Mista’-ness also call up the history of such images in Western culture; the iconic ‘flying carpet’, the fetish of Orientalism which hovers over and behind Western obsession with ‘Arab’ cultures and bodies ; even the casual imperialism and race politics of the 50’s Rat Pack tucked into that lyric from Sinatra’s ‘Come Fly with Me’. This poem is racy; this poem is rapier; this poem is sick and sic; this poem is fun! To me it suggests that the vicious vivacity of racist thinking is both the signature of our contemporary global imperialist culture and also its weakness, a circuit back through which lawless bursts of energy may possibly be made to reverse, amplify, over-dub, loop and surge, not unwriting the damage of globalism but defibrillating it, re-animating it, converting the damage to something else entirely: something next.
LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs has a lot of language at her disposal, more, I would guess, than most other North American humans. This book speaks Japanese, Spanish, English, Hindi, Urdu, Maori, Hawaiian, Samoan, Swahili, Runa Simi (Quechua), Yoruba, Portuguese, Cherokee (Tsa’lagi), Tagalog, Chamorro, Papiamentu. Some poems are written in an English so alive with Diggs’s ingenuity it feels like a new fabric (“Sunspot”); others mobilize Caribbean-inflected dialects; others are in multiple languages which incorporate translation, change, and doubleness into their very format, so that the reader can feel the languages touching and making out and mutating in ‘real-time’—that is, in the art-time of Diggs’s voice and brain– into an irresistible scintillating new element which is as valuable as a smart-metal but which can be enjoyed without being mined, bought, fought for, bled for, or sold. Something virtual:
knee deep as I speak, kino body rock.
lehelehe wit the glock
of menehune. freak of the week. you’s a pua‛a at a lû’au.
my hand lima blazes like Ka‛ahupahua.
make dope-a-delic like Redman in a hula
let me tell it:
I’m taking cheek papālina,
poli breast feedin’ malihini dust schemas.
In charming, generous endnotes which really read like rich and plentiful poems of their own, Diggs informs the reader that this poem was an experiment in scoring rap form for the page, and also that it makes use of Hawaiian language for various body parts with the translation of the body part “literally beside it (either before or after the word).” Just that explanation is an example of Diggs’s brainy, breezy brilliance; to be ‘literally beside it’ is to be in ecstasy; to have one body part ‘literally beside it’ on the page is for the two languages to ‘literally touch’ through a ‘literal’ double body. The circuit happens in and as a surplus, and so much life and energy and language pours through this light relay that it the entire current is transferred to and through the reader as joy.
I cannot shout loud enough about Latasha N. Nevada Diggs’s TWeRK. Language is not a neutral tool, and the history of the peoples who belong to these language and the hegemonic forces that would distress, suppress or obliterate both the languages and their peoples is what makes these poems so fierce, fraught, bladey and mobile. The showiness and flaunt of these poems are like the fierceness of the drag balls Diggs’ salutes in one poem: a visible weapon, a tactic simultaneously offensive and defensive, a wargame for the whole body. Diggs’s poems truly work the whole body of the poem, the whole body of sound, the whole body of history, the whole body of voice and ear, the whole body of language and the ability of the page to be its own sonic syntax; they articulate and rotate joints that seemed fixed; they are bawdy and triumphant and they more than work. They TwERK.