This review was published in The Poetry Project Newsletter, June 2006.
Écriture feminine—the assertion of a singularly feminine mode of writing in which the play of language in and of itself is understood as a political act in that it, through the disruptions of syntax and logic, usurps patriarchal power structures and foregrounds the text as a living, porous, fragmented, body. Yet, without the looming theoretical context of 1980s deconstruction, where are the inquiries into the effectiveness of “the text” to absorb and reconfigure dominant discourses? With the shocking assaults on individual rights—from the right-wing imperative that a woman’s constitutional right to choose be abolished to the cutbacks on programs for single mothers—surely there is a need for a recontextualization of radical feminism and its relevance to everyday life.
Laura Elrick’s first book, sKincerity, presents a possible push towards a new articulation of feminist poetics that makes it relevant to contemporary poetry in general. Although still playing with language at the level of the sign and disrupting a text’s claim on any singular meaning, Elrick is doing something quite different than her “ecriture feminine” predecessors. Her language is not of “the body” but of the body politic. Her language is pillaged from social and political realms that she then fragments, breaks open, and replaces. In its specificity, her formal disruptions of this language call into question the way that meaning is inscribed through dominant discourses onto our bodies and minds. She is writing through the official documents and scraps of information that are absorbed and incorporated into our mind frames—states of thinking that are aware of how we are implicated in larger discursive systems and are struggling to resist, to fight back.
dangerous persons by bettering
The smoldering decades
A true story, if you wish.
This section is from a long poem called “serial errant” which begins with four prose poems in which a case report on a woman who has been through jail, child services, and other rubrics of “the system” has been cut up and reassembled—but still allows the woman’s story to be understood. The form the poem takes mirrors her life which is also cut up—she, like the case report that is attempting to officially document her story, is fragmented, broken, torn apart .This poem uses avant-garde techniques not simply as a formal experiment but as a means of mirroring the social context in which the original text was created.
In sKincerity, Elrick achieves the articulation of a new feminist poetics dependant on but entirely removed from écriture. Elrick’s conceptual imperative is tough and almost recognizable as coming from speech, political discussions around the dinner table, media coverage. The form the poems take on the page—lots of blank space, words tossed about like confetti, phrases pared down to their rhythmic “sKins”—is familiar. And yet what is being said—and not said—is relevant to a larger political body. Elrick’s poetry is political not because it is overt or polemical or representative of certain issues—the social imperative comes through direct allusions but not overt descriptions. What is alluded to are local particulars—her job, herself in relation to the poetry community, her involvement in labor struggles. This book marks an important contribution of the poetics that claims “politics” and yet too often fails to deliver either.