Percussion Grenade

Dress Up with the Contagious Knives

louis braille

Besides possessing a really pretty first name, Joyelle McSweeney has earned a place as one of the top three poets presently (the other two are Ariana Reines and Chelsey Minnis). Totalitarian, deathy, and melodious, Joyelle has composed a Hunger Games-like novel, an essay about Ronald Regan, and a play, the Contagious Knives, that’s rich in rancor and in rhymes.

The Contagious Knives displays the diction of a nimble rapper and the pitch of an impassioned preacher.  As the play’s hero, Louis Braille, tells Bradly Manning, “No indian giving, no taking it back, / except when you take it from me, / Indian, Chinaman, Brad-lee.”

Obviously, Joyelle needs no help decking her characters. Louis’s costume consists of pink panties, a Target t-shirt, a Victorian sailor suit, liquid eyeliner, and more. But what if it was required to dress the Contagious Knives’s characters in designer labels for a French Vogue editorial? What would they wear then? Well, maybe they’d trot out on stage in these things:

Boastful, sassy, and violent, Joyelle’s Louis Braille is a boy for boys to admire. Some of Louis’s first lines are: “I’m a very special cunt. / A very special fucking cunt. That’s what daddy always said / (wink wink).” Not humble about inventing his eponymous language for blind boys and girls, Louis likens himself to napalm and hints at an affiliation with Nazis by repeating “Not see!” four times in a row.


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December 12th, 2013 / 1:13 pm


25 Points: Percussion Grenade

Percussion-Grenade-coverPercussion Grenade
by Joyelle McSweeney
Fence Books, 2012
96 pages / $15.95 buy from Fence








1. “Hold a cheerleader’s cadaver up to Nature.”

Percussion Grenade is full of these lines that leave me a little breathless, a little confused, satisfied, sad, all sorts of things. I think the dead cheerleader is an accusation: evidence against the concept of nature.

2. “I maketh you lie down in fracked pastures
in central Pennsylvania
o my blood boils, my tapwater burns”

My favorite part of this book is The Contagious Knives: A Necropastoral Farce which made me put down the book and step away, walk around the block a few times, and then finish the book.

3. Since Kyle Minor wrote on this book here I’m going to try to focus on the The Contagious Knives and a few other sections of the book that he didn’t focus on.

4. I think some concepts that Tim Morton uses in his books Ecology Without Nature and The Ecological Thought are useful for thinking about the necropastoral. The essays Dark Ecology of the Elegy and Queer Ecology are also interesting to read along side Percussion Grenade. The authors are not strangers, and other people have talked about them together.

5. Object Oriented Ontology and Speculative Realism might also make an interesting groundwork for looking at Percussion Grenade, the rest of McSweeney’s work, and the Necropastoral, but I’m not sure what to say about it at this point.

6. “The ecological thought includes negativity and irony, ugliness and horror.“ This quote from Tim Morton seems like it applies to the Necropastoral of Percussion Grenade.

7. “To appear to be acting masculine, you aren’t masculine. Masculine is Natural. Natural is masculine. Rugged, bleak, masculine Nature defines itself through contrasts: outdoorsy and extraverted, heterosexual, able-bodied—disability is nowhere to be seen; physical wholeness and coordination are valued over spontaneity.” From Queer Ecology

8. McSweeney has a particular interest in the marginalized, the other, all of the opposites of able-bodied, heterosexual, extraverted. She’s interested in how a particular kind of power or ability is derived from instability. The Contagious Knives is full of allusions to Tiresias, the archetypal seer, who happens to be transgender and blind.

9. “My Prius drives to the reservoir for some system downtime 
without me: to blow off steam. There runoff collects
from picturesque slopes and shops. O Jeunesse, Dream
Prius, Brainless, Brained.”
Mont Blanc (lines 1-4) Joyelle McSweeney

“The everlasting universe of things
Flows through the mind, and rolls its rapid waves,
Now dark—now glittering—now reflecting gloom—
Now lending splendour, where from secret springs
The source of human thought its tribute brings
Of waters…”
Mont Blanc (lines 1-6) – Percy Bysshe Shelley

10. The Prius replaces the mountain and Ravine of Arve as object of aesthetic and philosophical contemplation. The Prius becomes a sort of liaison to the non-human, communing with the runoff. READ MORE >

February 28th, 2013 / 12:03 pm