Don’t call me ‘you,’ me!, Cecilia Corrigan commands herself in a startling line from her recent chapbook True Beige (Trafficker Press, 2013). I read this line and totally flipped out. Throughout her voracious and hilariously self-defeating piece, Corrigan weaves similar, self-reflexive threads that jolted me out of my basic assumptions about everyone’s roles in this unspoken contract: the poet writes a poem, bows out, and then the reader reads it. Not in Corrigan’s world. Here, the poet sticks around. Her active gaze follows you everywhere; it makes a subject of you, of the poem, of itself (Cecilia?), of the narrator (separate from Cecilia?), and of other characters, swiftly and freakily, like a demon possessing different hosts.
The poet’s thoughts about the unfolding poem appear often: These Sentences are getting more complicated in this poem, now; The ‘you’ is shifting in the poem; So many abrupt changes in this poem! By reminding the reader of everything that is happening as it is happening, Corrigan creates a real-time temporality that slaps your imagination on the wrist just when you were about to suspend disbelief. Spooky, twisted, and strong, each of these observations seems to be Corrigan’s cannibal who eats her own body.
The narrator of True Beige has a brassy voice, eager to leap off the page and into a throat.The read-in-my-head text simulates a read-out-loud text, aperformance. There’re only two possible outfits I could wear which could be appropriate for the performance of this poem brings me right there, in the audience, watching the poet in her outfit, gesticulating. When I read, Oh look can I get a volunteer to call me ‘the enemy of all things good and holy?’ I’m like “Ooh! pick me!” Because I do want to call her that.
The narrator further transforms the reader into a listener with these deliberately audible emphases: liiiike, It is so uhhhh?,MATH <clap> MATH! <clap> MATH! <clap>.But the listener in this audience doesn’t stay distanced from the performer. Corrigan is quick to wink at you, show you backstage, even take you home with her. You get to be in her room late at night, creeping over her shoulder, watching her lean on the w key: I think it was the American Poetry Reviewwwwwwwwwwwwww. There are other, less intentional, spelling and grammatical errors that show up across the poem like little cuts and scrapes. Did someone copy edit this? The effect is either revealing of some kind of rough honesty, or just a product of an editorial process that was, as the poet puts it, a real horror.
Settings and narratives in True Beige arise and drift off. Cecilia is in front of a classroom, she gchats with Trisha Low, writes little essay fragments on Spinoza, makes outrageous requests of interns. A breathless female character shows up at a library, then at a Delray Beach restaurant, a brief glimpse at cinematic clarity. These tantalizing moments of story fade in and out – well-placed and oddly erotic distractions from the main work of the poem, which is, invariably, the writing of the poem. Corrigan shows us everything about this process with unflagging irony: Ok. insert dialogue from maybe a movie?, Oh should I mention something German now?
Roman numeral sections and poems within poems provide some structural organization of the work. Corrigan calls her Roman numeral use a bad habit and a lazy self aggrandizing style, an admission both shameless and accurate. The poems in poems are tricky though. The narrator will periodically find a poem under a floorboard, or a rock with a poem tied to it will fly through the window, and the reader will be momentarily fooled into thinking that this is the entrance of a brand new poetic voice, only to hear the same the narrator’s voice, hidden behind the italics. This move comes off as egotistical, but also honest, like the poem itself. Corrigan’s narcissism is so explicit that it evades judgment or criticism. She writes, I couldn’t stand being around anyone who didn’t think I was the best and most enchanting person ever. You can’t argue with that. It’s beautiful.
The persistent but complicated feminism of True Beige rings true to the scenarios in the life of a young-privileged-white-academic-female (I would know, I’m one myself). The female narrator fluctuates between outrage (he was looking at my shirt ‘yeah I know it’s see through fuck you I’ll rape you’) and apologetic doubt (sorry to be so negative, does this make any sense?) and a combo of the two (Yeah, I’ve looked at other women. Yeah I hate my body. Ts’a lifestyle choice). A lot of her feminism shoots arrows directly at the patriarchy of the poetry academia scene as well. I delighted in her line Do I sound like Bruce Andrews yet?, a sarcastic jab at the broetry (poetry bro) community that fawns over the straight-white-male poetry canon.
Corrigan warns her reader immediately on the first page: I’m a big faker. She seems to dismissively admit that the content of her entire poem is arbitrary, instructing, just imagine I’m saying different things. And as a reader, this is extremely comforting. You realize like, yeah, that’s right. It doesn’t even matter. All I really care about is the sound of her voice. And I think that’s a product of the expert and almost manipulative flirtiness the narrator plays with. She calls you baby, she seduces you completely. And ultimately the poem is about her power over you: without Cecilia you would not exist. (In that particular moment, the you is actually the poem, but I couldn’t also help but feel that is was also me). It’s about Cecilia Corrigan being the shiny object. And does it turn me off? No. It wrestles me into total submission. I put up a tiny fight for show, but totally love being pinned down.
If I had to assign an image to the whole poem, I would describe it as a ruched silk glove, unavoidably beige.The spacious, drifting fragments of text create the effect of the glove’s fabric falling away from itself in loose folds, and the dense, prose-y sectionsare where the glove clings to itself with the tight cinching of elastic. In True Beige, Corrigan puts on this glove, winds up, and spanks you. Or does she finger you? Feel you up? Titty twist you? Whatever it is, you like it.
Leslie Allison is an interdisciplinary artist and writer based in Brooklyn. Her band Cross‘ debut album “It’s Curtains” will be released this January.