Contrapposto Action Queen
by Connie Scozzaro
Bad Press, 2013
$9 / Buy from Bad Press
Before I’d ordered the book, I listened to Scozzaro read “What Is Parents?” on the Claudius App and fell in love with the poem. I listened to it the way an eight year old listens to Beatles’ songs. I’d drag my partner in to listen to it and tried to dub the poem to a mix tape but it didn’t survive the transfer. “Isn’t this just the best?” I’d say, jumping up and down as Scozzaro read in a brave and insistent voice.
“What Is Parents?” is one of the more elegant ones. Her verses make adept shifts from a naïve diction to classy Rimbaud/Swinburne-esque lyricism. I like the tension between the vague, the true, and the fantastic in “What Is Parents?”
After this good work with something not mine,
I come home to you, we feed each other and laugh. I love you,
especially when we fuck really well, but probably
we fuck really well because I love you so much.
In the heart of the grass, a fountain rushes,
blood in the shape of a rose. For seconds
I understand birth, and the Incredible String Band
play their instruments
well. What is parents?
What are dreams?
These poems, and this poem, consider everyday ritual and material limitation, but also seem to mediate banal domestic desperation through an intensely personal kind of verse. In my reading, I like to think that the poems are able to capture the boundary between boredom and fetishization.
Contrapposto Action Queen is eight longish poems long. These poems are exhausting in the best way. Reading them I’m too full of ideas. The collection is so full of colliding images, unresolvable emotional states, and shifts in diction. Scozzaro is very good at eloquent and cool verse that isn’t afraid to betray itself with urgent brattyness. Her poems are exciting because they seem to constantly shift, from image to image, from the exact to the vague, as they unfold. From “Elena, Whatever: You Are But Dreaming”
Suitors buy her roses, or posies, which upon inspection,
are but mauve, petals trembling pools,
obscuring heaving shoulders on ahead.
Two or three swoon from daily collapse, this way and
that, to be in another world, to know
how to use your hands.
Write what pleases you, what displeases me,
black liver wobbles out the drain,
dragging itself on a few gross legs.
You are the hero of the bathroom mould,
blocked drain, streams of tangled hair,
you squirt, we get deposit back.
This cover, it’s a wraparound color illustration by Ellen Van Engelen of a polymorphously perverse edenic orgy, like Flaming Creatures but also a buffet. It mirrors the content perfectly: a blue-haired blue-eyed demon babe gnaws on the haunches of a lamb while all bent over like a tiger.
Scozzaro’s poems are about women: women with perverse suitors, jobless babes whose fun is just out of reach, reproductive labor, unpaid labor, hungry women, and women that get devoured. Images of home, sadistic babies, peeing, eggs, raisins, black eyes, teeth, aquatic life, crying, animals and biological inescapability repeat through the work. Dreams, self-conscious writing, fucking are acts which seem to ground and fix these poems into place. The poems are all candy-colored mucoid garden mushed up with the lit and art history canon and then some Sylvia Federici and Luce Irigaray to get heavy.
From “Happiness Roller Eclipse, or, a Poem About Money”
Wear my job on my face like a woman
but I don’t have a job. When I feel for her next she is gone,
& in my hands is my vagina. I find myself to be on the M25
& to have been thrusting into traffic
all night long.
In the end, I have a job in the city modeling at an art school for extra bucks. Baron, the illustration instructor who draws elaborate black diaries, tells me to Botticelli’s Venus it. Contrapposto, the one with the shell, right? Of course I know it. I take the pose and think about Scozzaro’s poems again:
your adversaries with the costly weapons of your
masters, this friendship is tyranny & I find myself
caught in the clap of a shell, mechanised
& pleading on credit.
My body is a Lucian Freud body, and also a Jenny Saville body, this is what instructors have said in classes. It is sometimes Olympia, sometimes Titian’s Venus, sometimes Ingres’ Odalisque, but I think it a bit of a stretch.
I think about shame and take a pose of charming passivity. I don’t have a giant mop of hair to cover my vagina. Nor do I have the body of totally ripped sixteen year old boy swimmer, which I think was maybe more the anatomical fashion of the time. Baron makes a remark about how Bouguereau and Botticelli are like pop and eye candy. Eye candy is a funny thing because it brings up images of eyes eating and consuming things.
I think about how being the goddess of love and sexuality is more like being an unrepentant slut than like being the Virgin Mary, but how I am standing here pretending modesty while totally naked. In the end, ten percent of the day’s income is burnt up on the cost of travel and the coffee I’ve bought. I wonder if my self-employment income will negatively effect my EBT food claim. I smoosh myself into the commuter train and look forward to having a nourishing meal of cheese and mayo on a corn tortilla for dinner once I get home. Some Venus right?
Angela Roberts lives and writes in Oakland and edits a zine called Supertrooper. She also plays cello.