To mark National Poetry Month, In other Words is being guest-edited by rob mclennan. Throughout April, rob will present the work of dozens of poets he thinks deserve readers' attention, as seen through the eyes of their fellow poets.
Nicole Markotić: Nikki Reimer - in her poem fist things first, published in the Wrinkle Press chapbook series - plays with and challenges the idiomatic language of our socialized, gendered selves: "cut off your mother to spite your face" the poem insists, instructs, yells, advises. Nevertheless, an identity emerges from amidst pronouns that supersize readers as nationalized subjects yet also threaten them with an is-she-pissed-off-or-what? persona. For Reimer, the goal is not simply to twist well-known expressions into flipped-over contortions but also to peel back layers of culture and history and patriarchy and linguistics in order to get at the skin below the skin, to infiltrate the sensual textures that have encased the gendered and racialized body to the point where - in a word-play-inducing, yet metaphor-mixing reasoning - the toes are responsible for keeping your ass aimed at the kidney-soaked prize.
The persona, who presumes a sardonic cynicism about a much-flawed world, turns her rant inside-out, as she teases (and perhaps tickles) the poem. Visually, the poem offers the ritual of the left margin, a traditional pushing off, a habitual place of return. As expected in poetry, the image-laden lines engender uneven, yet recognizable stanzas. The word-play grazes against rhyme, the lilt of the language tilts readers into lineated juxtaposition. The poem, then, presents itself as poem: no nonsense, please, we're Canadian. Yet the poem is chock-full of nonsense, from the very first pun through to the jokey aside about punning, and leading readers right into the ending that "all starts with." The speaking voice opens - sincerely ironical - as a generic command, and ends - parodying the lyrical - as a difficult-to-dismiss gendered subject.
Spanking the monkey now emcompasses a squeegeed viscera as well as the rude cakeholes of lingual gymnastics. This is a poem that shouts back and forwards, a poem that refuses to wait gently, a poem that won't ever "turn the other kidney." Instead, the poem jerks and gyrates on the page, much like a body loosened from its constructs or ripped from its comfort zone. But what else? The deeply antagonistic poem responds to an a priori antagonism that can leave one's (male) spine lacking, and one's (female) insides bleeding. Reimer's poem asks: whose body? - but never presumes to supply an absolute answer. Her words sound out a particular corporeal protest, as she squashes pornography into Saturday morning cartoons, brands diets with an internet flavouring, or weighs the post-Reubenesque form against the Jenny Craig "before" scraps.
At the end of the poem, Reimer connects the persona to her grandmother, via their similarly enclothed bodies. But it is not the uterus that reaches from baseball-loving grandmother to word-meister granddaughter; it is the rotational mechanism of the too-oft-ignored romantic kneebone that invokes, for this poem, the cycle of organized sport and menses. What matters, then, is not just the guts inside the body, but the overdeveloped wrists, the respectably paired "parts," the forms of glaucoma that can elbow "you" out of the way. In her impatiently queued poem, Reimer conveys a social context so vast that it encompasses stylized global mirage as well as the macro-micro of depleting consumerism. In breathless and a distorted grammar that churns through multiple ventings, her words virulently demand manifold readings: "supermodels crave the physique / of starving Sudanese but without the flies and death / wanted a pear shape but fresh out that year scientists suspect girls / are hitting puberty is hitting back hormones..." Not impossible to grasp the meaning, here, but intriguing that the subject slips from popular culture figures to an invisible "i" yearning for supermodels yearning for pear shapes, to arranged images from (this time) Sudan, to girls under medical scrutiny. And are the girls suspect, or merely that their hormones retaliate? Do the pundits who quote the stats also report on starving deaths? Or only when the starvation is via self-inflicted superskinnymodel? The uncouth suggests its linguistic counter-villain, the couth. And the girls - like the knicker-crammed grandmother - are hitting back. Hormones: beware. Buyers: waist high in skin.
Nicole Markotić has published two novels and two books of poetry. She currently teaches English literature and Creative Writing at the University of Windsor. She is Managing Editor of the chapbook series, Wrinkle Press, where this poem was published.