Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Megaphone Heart - Manuel Arturo Abreu

 I received my copy of Manuel Arturo Abreu's "Megaphone Heart" from Austin Islam, in person. Austin is the founder of SLAM DANCE XXXX, a chapbook press, which aims to make beautiful/powerful/interesting echapbooks into beautiful/powerful/interesting physical chapbooks. Abreu's "Megaphone Heart" from SLAM DANCE XXXX is a true work of art, both in the final physical product and, (perhaps) more importantly, the content: Abreu's poetry.

Currently, one can read several of the poems from "Megaphone Heart" online, but only some. As such, the physical copy is necessary as an expansion upon that which is available digitally. At the time of this writing, the physical copy is on sale, for $5, which is altogether reasonable for an art object filled with subtle beauties, muted emotions, and matter-of-factly stated observations. Example(s) from Abreu's next-to-last poem: "that time during my 1st year in private school some1 said to me / during lunch "you make eating into an art" &i start starving myself" and "that time in 9th grade i'd lost 60lbs and someone said "you look like / a cancer patient, wow, you look great" & i felt validated"

Of course, nuanced and/or matter-of-fact statements which downplay emotions is a common contemporary convention of the online writing communities. But Abreu handles this convention masterfully. Whether covering love, death, or even more uncomfortable territory (see: lowkey observations re: minority issues), Abreu has strained the emotions from these poems. To be clear, these poems are not merely devoid of statements regarding feelings akin to 'I'm sad' or 'I'm happy'; they have, on the contrary, squeezed out all emotional connotations from the words (except when expressly stated by individuals). This effect is purposeful for, interestingly, the emotions evidently lacking in the words and lines are conjured within the reader. It is the reader, therefore, and not the poems, who becomes the sole entity keeping the emotional weight of Abreu's poetry, such as aforementioned eating disorders and the deaths of friends and family members. Abreu knows a poem cannot function properly by simply emoting; rather, in order for the poem to succeed, the reader must be made to feel the emotional consequences of QUOTE/UNQUOTE --fucked up-- events in order to truly empathize, sympathize, understand, and (hopefully) make meaningful life changes. In this regard, SLAM DANCE XXXX's print version of "Megaphone Heart" is a resounding success.

One poem in particular, "transcription of a story my nepali friend told me," is perhaps the 'heaviest' poem in the chapbook, precisely because it masterfully employs Abreu's technique of strained emotion. Indeed, "transcription of a story my nepali friend told me" is one of the finer examples of Abreu's emotionless-esque method. Abreu's masterful employment of this technique is achieved, in part, due to the nature of the poem, the format in which it exists; namely, it presents itself as a transcription, a translation, which, as anyone who has used internet-based translators knows, tend to suck emotions from the statements being translated. In this regard, "transcription of a story my nepali friend told me" is doubleplus emotionless and, thus, is the most powerful poem in the chapbook, for it forces, as described above, the emotions to present themselves, not in the lines or words, but in the consciousness of the reader, fully formed and consequential. The reader must infer the emotions of the persons on the bus in this poem, since these emotions are not at all present in the telling of the story or within the poem itself. Thus, it is the reader's inference that forces the emotions to come forth, not abstractly with names, but wholly as mental complexities and physical feelings.

As noted, this sort of technique is not new. Far from it: a conventional "hallmark" of "alt lit"/internet-based literature is the reduction of (or an attempt at reducing) the emotions expressed in the poems or stories that have been steadily coming out of these cultures. A common question is, "What is 'Alt Lit'?" Well, a good way to find the answer to such a question is to compile a list of the genre's conventions or typical stand-out points, and the reduction of expressed emotion is one prime example of this culture's conventions. The reduction of emotions has been an established tell-tale "hallmark" of the genre since the early days of Tao Lin's popularity, but, as mentioned above, Abreu's poetry in "Megaphone Heart" has mastered this conventional technique. The poems of this SLAM DANCE XXXX chapbook have meaningfully snuffed out the feelings from the words and lines and, in so doing, Abreu has forced the reader to experience the emotions withheld from the personae(s).

Another of the chapbook's more powerful poems is "these are the tabs that are open in my head." Like "transcription of a story my nepali friend told me," this poem ceaselessly and matter-of-factly states various of the personae's memories, including the aforementioned quoted lines dealing with anorexia. Other topics in "these are the tabs that are open in my head" include murder, suicide, child abuse, cancer, alienation, drug use, police brutality, the awareness of racial differences, racism, belief systems, etc. But the magic Abreu has performed to make this poem so powerful is to actively, and successfully, withhold emotions. Like an objective video recorder, the poem shows these events without passing judgments; it is therefore upon the reader's shoulders to fill in the emotional blanks. As one 'heavy' event is paraded before the reader after another, without pause and without holding back, emotions rapidly descend upon the reader so strongly as to make one almost physically nauseated. By the poem's end, one nearly needs to come up for air.

Conversely, "my philosophy of love" does include statements of expressed emotion, but by way of the fact that the latter half of the poem is comprised of dialogue. Interestingly apart from, or perhaps in part because of, this fact, this poem is a bit humorous, though one still empathizes with and/or pities the young seventh-grader. The situation described, however, is like the most awkward scene in a film that derives its humor from awkward situational comedy. But it is the stated feelings during the dialogue, the abundant confusion, and the irony invoked throughout the situation described that injects pathos through the poem and into the reader's intellect. The irony is that the person on the phone, claiming to be a girl the seventh-grader knows, states they are embarrassed about expressing their love for the seventh-grader while the seventh-grader is, quite literally, in a physically embarrassing situation: bare-assed, shit-smeared, and half-naked in the presence of "my mom." Despite being somewhat like the opposite of the two previously discussed poems, "my philosophy of love" still causes the reader to feel, rather than read about, the emotions conveyed.

The poems in Manuel Arturo Abreu's "Megaphone Heart" makes one feel, but not in the way any good poem ought to make one feel; indeed, these poems force the reader to feel the emotions purposefully withheld from the personae(s) and the words/lines themselves. In addition to wielding this lowkey technique masterfully, Abreu covers interesting territory in both content and style. For example, "one poem" deals with meditation and possibly the most boring pornography ever committed to tape, thus acting as a commentary of the West's voyeuristic attitudes toward the East, while "exercise in perspective shift or whatever" divides a poem akin to a semicolon's functionality. Or, succinctly, Abreu's "Megaphone Heart" delivers: thematically, stylistically, and emotionally, shadowboxer-style. While the dedicated web-surfer could probably find these poems scattered through the internet, I assert the best way to take in these poems completely and wholly is to visit SLAM DANCE XXXX for a physical copy. Truly, Abreu's "Megaphone Heart" in a beautifully physical, analog format is a must in any chapbook collection.

No comments:

Post a Comment