(REVIEW) UV Artefacts: Diffusely Yours, by Kate Garklavs
Maria Sledmere reviews Kate Garklavs's Diffusely Yours (Bottlecap Press, 2018)
> Colour diffusion, in photo editing, involves softening the hue of an image by ‘spilling’ it from one area to another, thus homogenising the tones. We can practice various experiments using colour diffusion to demonstrate insolubility and density, the mingling or resistance of different elements. The way oil bubbles in water, or the way the luminous wax coating (formerly shellac) of Skittles drags a rainbow from streaks of water. Diffusion, then, is a spreading. A softening. A way of reducing glare and harsh shadows, muting the stark contrast of chiaroscuro. It’s also, in chemistry, a name for what happens during the natural movement of particles, the mixing of substances. When I read Kate Garklavs’ new pamphlet, Diffusely Yours, I can’t help but apply a low-grade Blade Runner aesthetic to the scenes described. Everything is a little blurry and glitchy with rain, rain that softens the hard neon signs of late capitalism, rain that liquefies our average emotions. Emotions crystallised by cliché, our gelatine feelings. I guess I look out across the vistas, the oscillations of place and time (‘Turning over your theory of the trashcan of the mind / has me thinking — of Pompeii, latter day’), looking for a moan or a shout. There’s also a stillness seeking, a sort of mincing towards but only very slowly.
> Maybe that’s just the work of the letter. For most of these poems are titled as letters — it’s a beautiful mess of epistolary thoughts. If the mind is a ‘trashcan’, then Garklav’s poems are forms of temporary containing. The point is to forage, to pick apart. Sticky notes applied to abyss. The ink still sticks, even if we lose the placement of paper. I think about the internet, or web 2.0, as this great sieve, losing the dust of the daily. With lolling, satisfying assonance, alliterative thrills and cheeky runover lines, Garklavs finds ways of sealing the gaps, letting all things and thoughts congeal. Imagine the scraps at the bottom of your trash made mass, and these poems are the snazzy, plastiglomerate artefacts of all that rot, that anthropogenic waste and failure. These poems are cluttered with materials, impressions, scales and questions and reflections sliding. There is always a sort of deferral, dragging you along with descriptive viscosity, ‘listening as bullets passed for cicadas’. Writing a letter is a sort of deferral, a projection into space and time and mind. A slowing. The kind of empathy and delayed, attentive thinking required of a geologic epoch and economic condition that has us strung up in precarious immediacy, a crazed collision: ‘neural bursts chaotic as a pinball machine’s flash / on the eve of decommission’.
> Like a magpie with a nest chock-full of cutlery and broken rhinestones, Garklav favours the glitteriest bits of waste. A beakful of worms. The prettiest collapse into wormholes fluorescent. You can almost feel your pupils dilating, as each poem makes its ‘tinsel-drenched’ way towards resolving excess into some point, drawing from its heaps a few strings of philosophy, or broken reverie, ‘the lull of comfort’. And boy, does her speaker adore that waste:
What else is love but to carry the useless, hoard until the literal end casts us all in a still of accretion — knobs and screws, tickets, keys, condoms prim with unuse — and pins us, waiting to be found, with all things?
In this sterile, unsexed world of things, what we need is a form of carrying, bearing. A perpetual pregnancy of nonhuman spirit; these objects that promise protection, securing or unlocking. A search for maternal grace, opening ‘our tender selves’ with a poetics both slender and muscular, starved and rich, shaking its iridescent feathers. The avian metaphor seems to have swept up the letters. We need to take the memories of dead malls, gas stations, love scenes from movies, Christmas crafts and other cultural detritus with us. We need to fly between the scenes. I’m reminded of that Talking Heads song, ‘(Nothing But) Flowers’, in which David Byrne laments the lost honkytonks, Dairy Queens and 7-Elevens in a world of restored pastoral splendour and meadows. We need to admit our burdensome nostalgia, our affective investments in the infrastructures of childhood. The leisure grounds, the gold tones of late summer sunlight coming down over highways. Missing a time when a vivid, peachy trail of aeroplane vapour signalled something other than carbon pollution. The reason why we love the movie cut-up Lana Del Rey fan videos, or get a buzz out of those retro Tumblrs, with their cascading haze of faux-nostalgie photography, glazed with diffused, Polaroid colours. Can we set all that sugary longing free?
> In these letters, Garklav admits what we carry around with us. Poetry becomes a sort of gathering, hoarding — nesting, even. Imagine a nest made of fragments of pink-tinted sunglass materials (a la Lisa Robertson, Three Summers), the leftover glass and plastic of a glamorous era. Garklav’s speaker fondly relates memories and impressions pertaining to vaguely mythical landscapes, ‘the felt visibility of sky’ and the ‘astral vacation’ where ‘I can’t tell church from streetcar’. She wears her speaker’s perception like a kind of gauze or filter: ‘Sound is sound, semi-meaningless without context’, ‘I have no details’, ‘sick with fluorescent light, no exit’. You sense variant perspectives bleeding through bygone times, teenage memories and the panic of entrapment or bliss of walk and drive. The outdoors of external scenes is blurred like a dream: ‘We never spent time / out-of-doors, only the fogged interiors / of covered walkways’. Her interest, across the collection, is in the liminal spaces of late capitalism: places of recharge, energy, of temporary dwelling; places of waste and liquid lives. The backseat of someone else’s car, the ‘shuttered fitness studio’, the railroad bridge, the ‘underage pub’, the ‘security gates’. Places of exit and entrance, places of obvious porosity.
> Garklav’s speaker passes through with the reflective lubricant of maturity, nevertheless charged with a desire specific to youth: ‘I want to return with you / to the underage pub and eat neon popcorn til sickness’. We gorge and binge on whatever’s bright, whatever is left. I think of the lush, peripheral details Frank O’Hara lists in ‘Having a Coke With You’ (by the way, Garklavs prefers Dr. Pepper). These objects (whether O’Hara’s attested orange tulips, the orange shirt, the ‘love for yoghurt’, or whether Garklav’s luminous, E number treats), are less the negative space of the projected image than the atomic jangle of fleshy memory around it. For we make our memories material in language, we create little worlds to fall through, to pass between. That’s just poetry. It makes you hungry.
> I guess a mixtape is a bit like a letter. I’d situate Garklavs’ pamphlet in this metamodern tradition of epistolary mixtapes, shimmering with equal irony and sincerity. Richard Brammer’s Warehouse Mixes: Unselected Poems 1975-2015 (Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2016) are like love letters to specific points in time, slices of life as they were in the eighties or nineties, smudged out by glow stick sundowns; or on noughties reality tv shows, recent scenes, the Facebook daze of daily aporia, the bland Bar Italias of a near-distant future. There is a lyric regurgitation of ‘all the scripted silences’, as Brammer moves between the codes of swaggering indie journos, techno, trash movies, daytime telly, therapy terminology and contextless crumbs of history. Pop culture is curated to fix cognition in material space, the collision of honesty and humour expressed through a dry rehashing of commercial language. Existentialism as practiced, radio enthusiasm: ‘If all else fails it pays to ask yourself / what would Lauren Laverne do?’.
> Making a mixtape, writing a poem, allows you to talk to people you can’t anymore. Whether through love or loss or death, or maybe just awkwardness, the passage of time. This is something Chelsea Hodson writes about in her recent collection of personal essays, Tonight I’m Someone Else (Henry Holt & Co., 2018). There’s a sense of transmitting a desire you can’t properly relay, a redirection of signals, switching of wires. I love to think of wires as colours. Wiring lines. I love to write you like a riot where you can’t see the differences between people and things, almost colourblind. Garklavs: ‘We’re in this together, timid dance of what to do / next’. I like to write you like a jumbled up story of what could’ve been; to write is resistance. To write into politics is a riot of lines. The jostling, the drawing of distance. Brammer’s collection has the dazzling cool of knowing cynicism, but also there’s a dance to the arrangement of his lines that recalls the rhythms of the music he’s writing into. I don’t mean this is a techno collection per se, but it does sorta do what it says on the tin. It feels like a mix, in the proper sense of a diffusive mingling, both cognitive direction and its concurrency of randomness. The flight of Friday night fancy stirred.
> Diffusely Yours is a bit of a riot. I mean in the way you might say, ‘the riot of colours in that bouquet’. It’s so many voices jostling, details colliding. These are letters from different points in life, different lives. There are these coruscating little moments remembered. Sometimes I think of that cascading Cancerian confessionalism in someone like Sophie Robinson, the sense of pouring your feelings into a poem, like letting the juice brim up to the top, really push the expression, really push the blood into it, shuddering: ‘I fucking / love your reckless face. Love, Kate’. Keep a drowning grip on someone else’s adoring face. It’s yours, it’s yours. I wrote this for you. In this collection, in the end-times, ‘We’re all waiting / for a vibrant, unassailable sign’. There’s the Anthropocenic, future anterior time: ‘Someday we’ll take down / a wall and revel in the dust we ignore’. There’s that hunger again, a little nudge towards destruction. With all bright detail, these poems are list poems, letters, laments and missives on the act of noticing. A Pavement lyric comes into my head: ‘Go back to those gold soundz’. It’s like Christmas with a banquet of capitalism’s extravagant decay. I shake up the snowglobe, and the snow comes down in two-line stanzas — Garklavs is surprisingly neat. You take her stanzas like nips of whisky, you cough on the dust bunnies. Sonic Youth’s ‘Teenage Riot’ comes on except the sound is all furry from lossy compression. It sounds like rain.
> There’s the naming of places, the wanting to claim something. Millennials are hungry for a world worth sharing. We feel it burst out from the atoms of everything. We want to retweet the universe but find it instead beneath our fingernails. Society is kind of delay and suspension; shiftwork remixes circadian rhythms and blurs our time: ‘Yawn of a new day’. The bruises and alluvium and drifting smoke, the variant detritus of time’s passing, of beauty and damage. I think I love Kate most when she’s most chill. Crossing the street and winking at me, except I’m just an old face in the glass, with soda all over my skin. These fizzy feelings. The way we like each other, incidentally lovely. ‘Stay effortless, friend. Love, Kate’. Keep cool, sweet signatures at an easy distance. How to close this, scrunch up my confessional letters in waste-paper balls and say sorry to trees, like Eileen. Be free in the Anthropocene, blur through every material burden. It’s all we can do. I wonder what these poems would look like with the people taken out. Perfect little elegies to saturated times, end zones, petroleum and plastic and peril; microbeads and rolling fields, the smell of something anonymous burning. This world we’ve already over-filled, plundered and clicked to death. This world of trash and lust, bruised like a fruit, forever jukebox ‘storm-bloomed’ purple. You read these poems over and over, trying to conjure the addressee, to fathom the lost object. What happens next perhaps is just chemistry.
Text: Maria Sledmere