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Poetry: The Office is a Cruel Muse

Sharon Mesmer, Annoying Diabetic Bitch (Combo Books, 2007)

As Sharon Mesmer explains in the afterword of her new book, the poems of Annoying Diabetic Bitch were written to conform to both textual and social rules.

Broadly speaking, all poetry is composed under such constraints. An Elizabethan sonnet followed a certain stanzaic or metric pattern while, at the same time, only coming to be within a certain social coterie composed of aristocrats and their hangers-on (like Shakespeare). However, when Mesmer speaks of a social component to her lyrics, she is linking them not to an enclosed segment of society, but to a practice. She writes that she belongs to “a handful of poets with full-time jobs and little time to write [who] were entering outrageous and/or inappropriate word combinations in the Google search engine and making poems out of the results.”

From this we can conclude, to put it baldly: many writers verbally subvert corporate mentalities, but this poetry is outright sabotage. Mesmer is paid to work at some (probably) insipid and meaningless editorial task, but instead, being careful to pretend to be busy on task, writes verse. She is striking her employer at two points. For one, she is cheating the firm out of wages (or, should we say, exploited surplus labor); and, for two, given that her lyrics are flighty, fantastic, witty and vulgar, she is (metaphorically) offering a rebuke to the writing the publisher is expecting her to work at, shaping up what is (undoubtedly) sterile, slack-jawed pabulum.

Of course, for good or ill, created in these circumstances, every piece deals, at least obliquely, with the work experience. And this, too, seems back of the general tone of the compositions, which is, in a word, vitriolic.

In the U.S., standing behind the economic shift that has sent jobs skedaddling overseas and pushed the middle class into underpaid peonage (at such jobs as Mesmer’s) is the politician. Bush, for example, comes in for some headbanging clouts. She visualizes him as bragging:

When I do my flight suit sausage strut
On the deck of the frigate, flippin’ the bird
The grunts all know I have the primo cunt

Then there’s our mayor: “Mike Bloomberg ogling boobs in decent Christian literature.”
And what about the right-wing supporters of these politicians? Lay out the skewers. There is “Compassionate Conservative Girlfriend.” Mesmer comments, “You have to pass Ashore 101 to get into that.” And also “Fascist Girlfriend,” who “deploy[s] evil sexual sponges.” Let’s not forget celebrities and the baby Jesus—they are now in one category—who helped create the numbed mindlessness that gives our leaders free rein. In this world, the Good Book now has other purposes than providing moral guidance. “The biblical strategy for choosing a fetish model life partner//is to seek Jesus in prayer.”

Like any good screeds, Mesmer’s poems tend to be unbalanced. Often they are diatribes moving up through a crescendo of curses or blasphemies until they reach an insult that can’t be topped, and then they close. Frequently, however, a simple narrative or associational vortex is used to control the writing’s volatility. For instance, in “Apropos of Monkey Penis,” which is a poem about your typical Thanksgiving dinner, the appearance of the guests, “J. Penis, Scrotum,//Doodiekins and Debbie,” quickly leads to mayhem, when “Pookieboo straddled his giant hose//spewing frogs, saints and little Davids.” Eventually, the festive party collapses in “monkey penis fights” and the occasion is ruined. Here the tendency of her poems to become scattershot is held in check by the plot.

If we go back to Mesmer’s original tenet, that the writing must be done at work, a sociological explanation for the looseness of some of her constructions readily offers itself. In an office atmosphere, it would be nigh impossible to craft a carefully modulated, fully lucid, temperate book of lyrics. There are too many disturbances, spies and deadlines. One can write, though, as Mesmer does, an angry, disturbed polemic that laughingly whacks out at the pieties and false faces that overpopulate our media and streets. A poetry collection, then, like a box of fireworks, in which a few fizzle but most burst with an illicit delight of sparks.


Jim Feast


The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2008

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