965: from "Excess Sonnets"
965: from "Excess Sonnets"
I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.
I describe my friend Kneeland’s sartorial choices as “extra”... so “very very” as one New York School poet would say. When they walk into a room, whoever is graced by their presence silently applauds, or later, turns a gaze in their direction, which is by design. No shirt is too patterned. No color is too cheerful. They sport frilly sleeves and ruffled collars as though they were a pirate. Their headwear is Texas big: all hat and all ranch.
There’s a boldness about their demeanor which is the kind of spirit I like to encounter in a poem. I am drawn to language and imaginative conceits that feel ornate, excessive even. The Romantic poet John Keats, in a letter long ago, argued for poems that “surprise by a fine excess, and not by singularity,” that is, poets should avoid the performative in favor of writing that accretes in its delights.
Today’s poem dramatizes the vulnerability of our most extreme emotions as revealed on various platforms, such that no layered extravagance of mystery exists between us.
from “Excess Sonnets”
by Isabel Prioleau
I must call you to deliver devastating news. The Mets will lose the World Series. Your sister was struck by a golf cart. The bathtub you left running has overflowed its rim, leaked through the ceiling. I am obligated to inform you that my employer shall henceforth hold all rights to the excesses of your anguish, to be packaged and sold. Please forgive our methods, last resorts. We tried Tinder; you swiped left. We tried clickbait headlines but you found alternate news. Devastation was the only feeling you wouldn’t ignore. Now I must thank you for your time, your valuable tears. To the attention of our lawyers you may bring any grievances incurred by our business model. After hours, I take a peek above my paygrade. There your griefs I find greening, sponging up the rain. Like a dial tone through a receiver, I feel elegy move through me. It clears the mind, this frequency, lament. In my wake I leave a hundred unheard voicemails, an unfinished landscape project, a renovated bathroom. I tear up. Then I tear up the town. At birth, I was delivered head-first, discursive, blue in the face from lack of oxygen, was delivered like a speech. Now I only speak in words torn to pieces by my teeth. Infrared ad infinitum. Expensive oxygen. Lamentable, unfinished syllables. Lyric in my teeth. I read sentences over and over until they complete, I read sentences over and over until they feel complete, complete. I tear down the scaffolding on a lyric meant to self-destruct. Not a mine or a rocket, but a language turned volatile. I ask for the nearest exit, by telephone sales reps am instructed to piece together A Body for Every Body, buy a bucket of paint to Cover the Earth. The clouds are a system of government, a heightening voltage. Speech I sloganize. In lieu of a door, a window looking on my own obsolescence, through which I must pass. I awake 100 miles due east of Des Moines in the custody of my body. We make a hilarious pair. Into the inclement weather we pedal our shiny bicycle into the widening void of sleet.
"From 'Excess Sonnets'” by Isabel Prioleau. Originally published in The Adroit Journal. Used by permission of the poet.