Emily Abendroth tells us that society effectively criminalizes some of our most basic characteristics—our youth, our old age, our poverty, our needs for housing or a doctor’s appointment, our hunger—and feeds them back to us as dangerous behaviors and/or unsustainable demands
Emily Abendroth, ]EXCLOSURES[, Ahsahta, 2014.
“Sometimes there is a book you love so much you become frightened for the world. ] Exclosures [ is that for me. In a language invaded by false choice, infrastructured by ‘behavioral soundtracks,’ and occupied by dementia-inducing ‘privileges,’ Emily Abendroth implicates us in a relentless, marbled argument for her own hyper-communicable liberation. Here, oysters and otters come out of their word-shells and are exposed, alongside us, in a politics unsheltered from the fluids of Life. In bodies’ inchoate clamors, in their tangled historical idioms, there is still, Exclosures claims, the unmistakable pulse of possible justice. Improbable, yes, like much joy. This is writing that comes from many years of poly-barrage at the worst walls of our statesvilles, a decades-long voluntary encumbrance in the ‘best smidgens of radical hope.’ In such a project, all the camp-tools can ally-up—concept, lyric, document, narrative, luminous rhetoric, bureaucratese—no one’s unwelcome, all animals can come in and go out when they choose.”—Chris Nagler
“This book is so complicated in its juxtapositions. So inclusive in its explorations. So modest in its grandness. Really, I could go on and on. Emily Abendroth might say it is about the prison industrial complex. About various sorts of closures. But as she knows, once one starts on something as multidimensional as the prison industrial complex, one has to go wide and deep. And this book is both and more too, more as in meaningful, as in made.” —Juliana Spahr
What possibilities can poetics make in a world structured by logics that contain or constrain the human spirit? Abendroth’s debut charts some “improbable” options in a text that manages to sustain its beauty while directly facing this indifference. Hers is a world where a daughter’s “cagey lack of fidelity before all the boundaries/ that she’s been given is the best smidgen of radical hope/ we’ve got to our lot.” These boundaries are the boundaries of such broad-reaching powers as the prison-industrial complex and state, yet it becomes possible to weaken them with language, as even in placing words together: “There’s no combination we can forge that isn’t mutually contagious.” The poems, with their rich internal rhymes, read like sly escapes from Abendroth’s own structural play—brackets, multiple choice lists, and quoted text that make the book a hybrid affair. That she comes close to using her lyric powers to upset those boundaries makes our own personal projects of liberation seem livened again. She ends with an extended poetic statement in essay form, and though it is insightful, its real success is pointing readers back into the poems proper. Abendroth’s final poem concludes, “We went to the water as if it were an usher/ Let us make it one/ Let us gushing”—we should take heed and dive in. - Publishers Weekly
“‘You been to the peas?’ the old lady said, and Clara leaned over to pass them to me.
I had been to the peas. I had been to the chicken, several times, to the peas in a
sauce, the potatoes in a sauce, the onions in a sauce, to the coffee, and the butter-
yellow ice cream. It left a waxy coating of fat on the roof of my mouth.”
It left all that.
But lying in tatters on two orthogonal continua were the further nuances
the trance-inducing vacillations between knowledge formation
and its feasible maintenance. The chancy tensions and concessions
compounding what any single person was bound to be open to hearing
on a given evening and which, if any, variously creamy dishes
they could be convinced to willingly veer off “to visit” in what proportions.
In his orbiting photographic novel The Home Place, Nebraska author Wright Morris describes one of his notoriously resilient rural protagonists with the words: “He ain’t a farmer who thinks what he plants ain’t liable to die.”
We ain’t that either. We tainted and we pain-bent and we clear on it.
* * * * * * * * * *
Leaving aside the leanings that we nonetheless experienced
towards fear-induced triage, towards the collaging together of wildly
diverse materials into cursory-onto-bursting equivalencies.
The strange reasoning by which we forced ourselves to imagine:
a “fair match” for the color “nutria”
a “fair match” for “an absent care-giver”
a “fair match” for “lone air strikes, conducted via drone”
INTERVIEWER: What are the people fighting with?
RESPONDENT: They have fecal matter.
They’re burning sewage to try to keep the U.N.
out of their neighborhood—to stall the violence
being perpetrated against them?
“You been to the biscuits?” she reeled.
“You been to Soliel?”
The Rumpus Poetry Book Club Chat with Emily Abendroth