by Paige Taggart
Greying Ghost Press, 2011
Currently Sold Out (Book Page at Greying Ghost)
Can one person constitute a chorus? Can a chorus be composed of your lungs, the highest cloud, and a blue flame? Paige Taggart’s Polaroid Parade captures the procession of an adamant, demented song of departure and alterity: the battle to fracture and move meaning along with our horns and feathers and fallen hands. This collection shines with the allure of commodity culture and entertainment—ravishing storefronts, “a gentle circus,” after-parties, the “tilted banquet”—while at the same time it undermines and challenges this very structure through an avalanche of precise, pollinated images that subtly warn us of the threat in becoming an “unsubstantial paper-doll.” By immersion and then departure, these poems lead us to a new space where we no longer expect anyone to inherit or claim ownership, where our hands finally release the “spoon” that “cradles every object that surrenders to it.”
Through a revolving door of vocal pronouns, Taggart critiques the darker underbelly of connectivity and community, its inextricable link to agreement, accumulation, and waste. Within the first few pages, the chorus breaks into a gated neighborhood, builds a house from clipped paper, and no one slows down on the seventh day to nap. Instead, “We tapped the ground, put speakers under the dirt, covered it back up, then proceeded to play music and girls would come over and shake their bellies then walk away, back to the sand pits.” How quickly we form new communities and patterns over the ruins of similar but failed routines and complicities. Excess abounds, and the reader is told, “we are children in jeans, we have speakers through our thumbs, we are loud and incommodious, we have, we have, we have, villages.” And a singular voice claims, “I’m always in love with five people at once.” Yet, “the warm cycle never sterilizes our predicament” and bright, startling images infect/replicate the rapid production of new commodities to reveal the empty chill of these engagements: “embraces backfire through the windmill.” We see the danger in “calling shotgun to every justifiable cause.”
In our contemporary capitalist experiment of acceleration and disposability, Taggart shows us how quickly identity is shaped in relation to the surrounding objects. Both product and detritus touch us, are connected and therefore mimetically looped. Taggart writes, “Her character is in the carpet…her character is Maybelline, her eyes are Georgia. Her teeth are puzzles, with pens in her mouth she records you, over there, having a picnic.” This main character surfaces and takes shape as pastiche or collaged culture. Thus, animate and inanimate blur and recognition becomes an alarming process/parade. As gender, too, is controlled through these heaps of possessions and garbage, a struggle emerges to repel product in order to allow the unnamed, young female character to find an escape hatch in this mimetic Mobius strip. We fear for her, because as Taggart ominously articulates, “Inside Polaroid you can observe luxurious edges, understand being boxed.” Instead of connection and coalescence, we root for the sloughing off of wares and reflections. I’m reminded of a line from the beginning of The Maximus Poems when Olson laments that we are “in the present shame of, / the wondership stolen by, / ownership.” In Taggart’s landscape, tensions arise from the inextricable relationship between the thrill of existence taking shape, and then this form as recognizable and commodified. Language itself must daringly find a way to renew and embody wondership without being co-opted by ownership.
To puncture the procession, Taggart disrupts our expectations of cause and effect. Polaroid Parade glistens with unexpected and disarming movement: “I put a puzzle in the attic and hide the hammer,” “A hand dipped in the parade, lifted out a steel wool baby,” “Swing anything dirty across a monotonous sky and make an epistolary.” These lines reject an itinerary or standard instruction manual. They offer relief from expectation: a language that encourages creativity and introspection but does not celebrate completion or a set position. If “a puzzle is not a puzzle without a piece hiding between the couch cushions,” then the shape of the missing piece presents space in which the imagination can gestate. Possibly the same space where we can experience the “right now,” the tangible immediacy of the moment, stripped of projected identities, the “tall-white castings,” the “repetition in the mouths of your daughters.”
In Polaroid Parade, the pronouns cast multiple perspectives from inside or outside of the frame, yet all work to prove that there is no such thing as a witness. The plural and inclusive “we” splinters into “she,” “I,” “they,” and regardless of whether one voice is complicit and another critical, these shifting pronouns reflect the numerous concentric social, political, economic, and gendered circles in which we exist. We are sticky with overlap and connection and Taggart’s poems “twist the arm of every accomplice.” The jarring, unique images throughout this collection, though, propel the reader away from acts of collusion and into the space of emotional engagement and agency: “O we breathe sand and elephant…feel comfortable thinking about contrary imagined.” The strangeness of syntax and imagery is not replicable, but instead reminds us of alternatives to mimesis. We can point a Polaroid camera at a mountain and a photograph of three spoons and fraternal regrets pop out into our waiting hand, “shifting my ability to be impossible.” Alterity serves as a link broken to enable new action and engendering.
The format of unpaginated prose poems compliments the disjunction of grammar and imagery. The series of prose blocks captures the threatening sense of accumulation as sentences consolidate into bricks. We’re confronted with the tension between fresh arguments rising into unexpected emotional and intellectual shapes and how to avoid form acquiring oppressive, dominating qualities. Yet, with only one prose poem per page, the text never towers, and we can jump around the collection without feeling weighed down by false chronology. Disruption haunts form through ambivalence in identity and the alinearity of the text, further unanchored by the lack of pagination. Taggart writes, “I’ve never shoveled snow, I’ve never made a mountain of it to call my own. I momentarily consider what you think is important, then immediately dissuade myself.” Identity does not evolve into static singularity, but instead indicates the plurality within us. There is room to change, disagree, feel indecisive. In his essay, “The Ethics of Alterity,” Thomas Docherty asserts:
If the self is heterogeneous, Taggart explores the possibility of creating culture that does not subvert the “differing.” She celebrates a fractured but inclusive complexity.
These poems navigate between the “demand to meet ideas,” this preexisting structure, and the desire to carve out a space that throbs with diverse vitality and ambiguity. To break the loop, to distress relationality until it dispossesses recognizable identity. Polaroid Parade is the practice that prepares us for the starting line. It teaches us how to stretch, offers us water and sweatbands, and then fires the gun. So we must start running, on our own, into the forest where on every tree hangs a mirror. And when we run by these mirrors, we see our stranger potentials. Taggart writes, “pity me if fate were possible,” but these poems negate fate’s possibility. She has chosen emotional agency over fate and, to our relief, any predetermined finish line evaporates.
Julia Cohen is the author of Triggermoon Triggermoon (Black Lawrence Press) and two forthcoming collections. Her work appears in journals like DIAGRAM, jubilat, New American Writing, and Octopus Magazine. She is the Associate Editor of the Denver Quarterly.