Catherine Daly’s Secret Kitty (sixty-nine pages, six poems, Ahadada 2006) romps through the thickets of language, culture, and gender. It links new sentences together with puns, often wickedly bad and awfully revealing ones. References to nerd culture lard the poems, along with references to various consumer culture hipster/irony products like Sanrio’s Hello Kitty line. You might need to be a slashdot reader to catch all the techno gags/references/meanings, many of which play upon the logical structures and/or language of web databases, CGI languages, or similar constructs, but as the more familiar ones will show you, these allusions and uses are to good effect:
commandeer command steer cyber cultural pedagogy
pictorial collections of cultural institutions
A template-based WYSIWYG web site design tool. Functionality extended
through installing plug-ins
player is a language and network
stage simulates population mobile robots
–––––––––––––––2D equals fantasy film
online product purchase–––––discreet
components and features, as well as a full theatre
In this passage from “Ogle,” the last poem in the book’s opening section “Hello Phantasm,” you can see how the language of web design reveals culture’s gendered control systems. Something like Macromedia’s Flash player becomes the male sexual predator seducing with language, participating or creating his own control system of “language and network.” And the passage promiscually reveals even that formulation of itself to be too slack in its constriction, as it broadens the same technolect to a critique of a fuller “theatre” of culture-as-stag-film in its concluding lines.
Sanrio’s Hello Kitty functions as the impress into a wax that may be any wax. It is a product and a poetics. Hello Kitty is many things, and the operations upon it in Secret Kitty are more diffuse than profuse. There are, as here, many hints and suggestions in the verse, and a great many assumptions we’re expected to assume as our readerly burden, with breadcrumbs of quotation and allusion and plain old reference of various Language Writers’ critical efforts. But Daly’s play is more open than her showing suggests, and, allusions notwithstanding, there are few indications in her writing as to where she’s going. Her parataxis is simply not “thick” enough.
A following line advances the claim that “the picture of the sound doesn’t make those it does not show.” The unifying sonic conceit seems to be the operation or mode of parataxis combined with homophony, and the homophony serves to provide linkages between sentences or near-sentence syntagms that are internally coherent, but which often serve as surd or defamiliarizer for surrounding sentences, as in this example:
She is angry at me for standing her up.
————while men generally dominate, women make up the most stirring things
They picked the field
————pluck string ————page
theory from the bones, choose life, choice cuts not prime
————do not compost ——fight despair
clean— licked _____—— fingers
————pick me, pick me
My pocket was picked.
She— had to —pick at her food.
he was my pick I’m finicky
—————avoid being a mark
take your pick ———————your fantasy
She picked her successor. Her way.
a pick and a kick
picks and sledges
set an illegal pick
The staccato recurrence of plosive pick isn’t a complete sample of the rhythm in these poems. Often, as here, the lines have a few stresses in a rough regularity approaching the iamb. Then the poem will race into a breathless long line a few times per page, breaking up a rhythm that—if the line is taken as score—is more or less breath-based.
The lines of these poems sometimes contain gaps or are shoved over a bit off that friendly left margin, and these spaces fall at natural segmentations suggests that they score our rests, so I do suspect we are dealing with breath-based lines occasionally irrupting into longer flights or more brief interjections or pauses over words like “your fantasy” or “the cream.”
Individual sentences, for there are sentences and near-approximations of sentences, are coherent, but this coherence is generally not shared with the following or preceding sentences. And that’s my one-sentence definition of New Sentence, and my definition is wrong, as it’s too short. But that’s what this poem does most often.
If this line were constant or only interrupted by those occasional long lines, I’d suggest the poems could be read in slam-style; they lend themselves to that sort of percussive syncopation. However, the gaps in the lines lend the poem an occasionally thought-full air, but they also contribute to an impression of glibness, as in these lines
————manumission surf’s up
————in her lap
————————in chiffon, sitting in a shaft of light
all the parts of Emma Bovary not in the book
—————————————o———— o —————oo
Or at other times, the poems’ lines are sold short by lack of follow-up. The wisecracking lines “I had a dream/montage deferred” appear as the end of a section, and the next strophe flies into fresh fandangos. One-off one-liners (or two-liners) do not hold up well for ten, twelve, fourteen pages—these are long poems. The “good bits” pass by swiftly, and the overall body of the work lacks intensity. Yet, the poems clearly are not Dada work, despite the imprint Ahadada. Nor are they as aleatory as so-called flarf. Perhaps as the developing scene of young poets in L.A. begins to cohere into coteries, a better reading method for these poems will appear.
REVIEW: secret kitty by catherine daly
reviewed by jp craig