I see Gen Y not just as a challenge, therefore,
but as a great opportunity We all shop
at Target but who is Mr. Target
Some readers will be tempted in the critical fervor of postmodern analysis to read into Laura Warman’s dry observations and blog-inspired style a derisive mockery of “Gen Y”. But HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? is not an indictment of the same internet culture from which it derives; it’s an embrace. These poems are not mocking the digital age. They are experiencing it. Warman writes “the only place left to cry is the Ross Park Mall”. Here, comedy is an element of sincerity. This—along with lines like “Money is the closest thing to poetry”—sets up havens of capitalism as the only places we can dispose of interpretive frameworks, thus allowing for experiences and feelings without analysis. We are enlightened enough that capitalism (which has a single end goal) is clear, giving the mall a purity which allows us to acknowledge ourselves as we are, simply, without a need to be coated in layers of metaphor and superfluous intellect.
This, of course, can lead us to sounding stupid. Confronting our actual thoughts, without window dressing, is something Warman does frequently. One of her poems:
HAS ANYONE REALIZES YET THAT ALL
THE POEMS THAT MAKE ME SOUND
STUPID AREN’T SARCASM BUT
ACTUALLY ME SOUNDING STUPID
The most alluring thing about Warman’s poetry is that a learned person so consistently being honest sounds like a learned person trying to be funny (and it is funny!). Warman goes a long way to force intellectualism out from behind walls of carefully gathered thoughts meant to represent a person’s lived relation to the world. Concerns like drone warfare, alienation from labor, and feminism are intermingled with the same language that revels in text messages and Kim Kardashian.
Warman has her own walls. Some poems pre-empt criticism through tongue-in-cheek statements that give clear and self-aware observations of her tricks, tools, and failings, letting her write things like “there, now you can’t criticize me”. It’s a facetious move that makes the best of her poems harder to engage with. It’s the double-edge of a predictive wit; both veiled humor and directness, it leaves us amused but unsure. For all the assurance that her writing is not an affect—an obsession with the Kardashians and the mall enmeshed with political and cultural concerns—HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?is sometimes too funny and aware to seem anything but.
The ancient Greek skeptics used a laxative analogy to explain their use of philosophy. For them, philosophy, like all laxatives, causes itself and everything below it to be excreted, leaving a space for something new (or nothing at all). This, I think, is the power of HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?. Warman engages honestly with her connections to media, sex, corporations, labor, and day-to-day trivialities. She writes “there is nothing left but 705 channels” not with mockery but with dry precision—it disarms us, lets us experience the channels because there’s nothing else. By adopting the digital age sincerely as philosophy we are rid of a need to self-reflexively step back from our lived experience, thus giving us space to engage with it fully. HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? uses this experience as laxative, letting it pass through us, pushing down old frameworks of understanding and leaving space for something new. This makes it a book not only topical and entertaining, but radical.
I asked Laura Warman to respond to this review, paying particular attention to my critique of her sometimes defensive or affected writing style. Her reply follows.
LW: I put up walls for protection says each person when their dishonesty is revealed. But, maybe dishonesty is the new radical honesty. The more honest we are the more our thinking is compartmentalized, bought, and sold. The more dishonest I am, the more walls I put up, the less I am known and the more power I have to meditatively enclose myself in the mall, the car, the bedroom. Through meditation on capitalism I find my free space to Be, my comfortable form of radicalism.
I am afraid to be known. I hide behind “honesty”. Target knows I am pregnant before I know I am pregnant. (1) Honesty is a quality I can no longer possess because I am known more by corporations than I know myself. Honesty is terrifying because it represents something I do not possess. The television knew I needed a boyfriend before I did. The television knew women must be beautiful before I knew. I am playing a small role as possessor of body/ possessor of capital. My anarchy is fake. My dismissal of anything not feminist/ radical is meaningless. I still wake up to the punch clock, to the day at the Organic Grocery Store. I try to write to form radical change. But, I still only feel safe at the Ross Park Mall. This world wasn’t created for people who feel things. I cannot possess honesty, I can only reflect my place in a system that is growing out of control. The literal cost in How Much Does It Cost? is all of us who are not ready to make a radical change. It is we who want to walk down the street in short-shorts and not be harassed but instead accept silence. We who buy the “organic pork and the sprouted corn tortillas” and post about food-rights on our blog. We are the cost of the system. We were not first concerned with our comfortable spot, now the comfort is the Cost.
Joe Hogle lives in Pittsburgh, PA. He is also known as Ronny Cammareri, Mr. Weekend, poopsmithey, and The Love Guru. You can enjoy a hypertext story and read some of his poetry HERE.