(SPAM Cuts) 'Lasagne' by Wayne Holloway-Smith
In this SPAM Cut, T. Person explores the sense of double vision in Wayne Holloway-Smith's poem 'Lasagne', the second poem in the pamphlet of the same name (Outspoken Press, 2020), revealing the poem's peculiar lens through which we can view our past bodies.
> In My Way: Speeches and Poems, Charles Bernstein posits (promises) that when a poem enters the world we confer political value on the odd, eccentric, different, opaque, maladjusted — the nonconforming and in doing so ‘[we] refuse the criteria of efficacy for determining the political value of the poem.’ This poem invites a sense of mutual privacy, an expanding efficacy, like sitting with a friend while they get it all off their chest.
> ‘Lasagne’ is the second poem in the pamphlet [of the same name] and I’ve read it over and over. It builds a warming logic of the miniature, while reading like a bedtime story, a fable written for a 90s RnB fanbase, but its hook is a psychological phenomena.
> The solidarity presented in the poem is nourishing; it provides a peculiar lens through which we can consider our past bodies. An illusory palace, a welcoming mirror that blesses the sight of a body; this poem gives permission to the body as shared, woven, as both subject and object. On the page the poem is a single narrow column, fully justified with lengthened spacing and em-dashes ‘dotted’ throughout, scarring the poem from a distance.
> In the opening lines ‘too-sad my ribs gift-wrapped / in fatfat — god forgive me’ we’re introduced to the minuscule. The first instance of the wordword feature of the poem. We meet not only a body as a gift, but one made honorific, and lamented through its fatfat. It continues ‘we were so small and / reckoned our bodies wrong / — too-tight not ours to keep’. The playground is found, as memories of youth, or just earlier, come out with ‘too-sad’ and ‘too-tight’ edging on hyperbole, and the bodies, forever to be reckoned with, are deemed ‘wrong’ by the us. Do you remember that too?
> The instant assonance brings a surreal, lyrical sheen to the poem, which is further enhanced by the line the ‘O lordlord — we grew up / smoking and checking our / waistswaists’. There’s a splash of melodrama and a hip-kink—self-conscious of course—and hiding somewhere at the back, there’s a landlord; all uncovering that infamous school-report word ‘Attitude’.
> Our waists expand/contract: rubato? Metonymy? Health? Image? But the doubling of waists to waistswaists reads, I suggest, as diminutive. An illusion in which the reader experiences more double-vision than hallucination. It’s more cute than threatening, and above all there’s comfort in
didn’t want this lifelife let’s
pretend it’s happening anyway
— didn’t want this meal let’s
make believe: lasagne moving
silent peas across a plate chips
these commonalities: a shared body and especially chips and cheese.
> With the leap from waistswasits to lifelife, we can contemplate the diminution of life— isn’t it one of the largest things after all? The wordplay *waves the red flag* : is it a doubling or a diminishing? It may be both, but is reminiscent of complexes, and their manifest mechanisms in language. On the page it is doubled, but to the mind— the ear —it signals a complex, a brief echolalia that might make the therapist scribble a quick note, you think: a psychic collapse from the concrete to the abstract.
> But could the central line of the poem be ‘let’s / pretend it’s happening anyway’ ? With its imperative lightened by the line break, a hesitation, a doubt, a youthful assurance of uncertainty: should we umm make believe?
> Onwards: WE. JUST. HAVE. TO. EAT. Here it’s the lasagne that invites the reader into the imaginary, by moving silent peas across the plate. As if feline, the poem animates the edible, for fun; there’s a promise of sustenance.
> It’s structure like memories whispered to a mirror snapping between convex and concave, we’re given access through the lyrical ‘O’ and ‘you’ to feel intimate with a new reasoning, it’s a privilege to become culpable in the poem’s practice, which is at once psychological and giving, a play between inside and outside.
> These bodies are magic: ‘— and you set a match / to your own arm — flame —‘. They are fluid, never static, and the object of high demands: me burning calories off my / fingers. This poem is a site of anxious memory, tracing a history of my, your, our body/-ies from way back then til further forward, until now: ‘— the edges / of my frame are scribbled / out’. The appearance of the present continuous is an embrace, relieving the tension of the recall.
> There is only bustling life in this poem, and it brings up the poem Ejaculation by Else Freytag von Loringhoven for its word-binding, though to different effect:
I want to live —
I want to die —
> In Ejaculation, what is at stake is time rather than space [as if they are separate]. We read a desire to live and die not before and after this ‘lovembrace’ but to have it beyond comprehension, that is before life and after death. In the binding of nouns and verbs together— eateat or forkfork— we’re invited to question the perception of space and scale and its presence in the poem’s image making and psychology.
> There’s more on this repetition feature used in Don Mee Choi’s translations of Kim Hyesoon’s Im okay, Im Pig! (Bloodaxe, 2014), discussed through translation by Sophie Collins on the Poetry Society website.
> We could call this an optics rather than a poetics. Could we name it a twist of fata morgana? An event where fairy castles, though founded in perception, are imaginary. They hold no empirical promise and constitute a forced perspective, where X is at distance small, but as the reader zooms in, the carbohydrates unfold, there’s a slip in vision ‘and you burnt / calories off your forkfork.’
> This sense of double vision is magnified by the various scales of the nouns used: earthearth, lordlord & lifelife; these three in particular, when set against others like browbrow or forkfork, guide the reader to questions of perception. How can the mind make that without size, the abstract that is, seem small and trivial? Or present a particular form of association? Where the mind plays down its fears, and they become manifest through a syntactical quirk, an oddity.
> Or is it The Crunchy Part of the Lasagna — to knock off Massimo Bottura’s obsessive purism. His famous, indulgent dish of memory, based on childhood lasagna(s), where he created only the crunchy part. Lasagne gains bonus points for its intimate, aural fusing of size, proximity and tenderness: the NYTimes have a sound piece of this exact dish. Delicious listening. Note that the title of the poem is plural, although Lasagne and Lasagna seem interchangeable in english.
> A quote from The Poetics of Space (1958) by Gaston Bachelard: ‘Miniature is an exercise that has metaphysical freshness; it allows us to be world conscious at slight risk. And how restful this exercise on a dominated world can be! For miniature rests us without ever putting us to sleep. Here the imagination is both vigilant and content.’
> We read miniature as noun, for Bachelard, both subject and object, and in Lasagne we experience an act of slippage into the miniature, that soon expands to a feast, and bears room to consider the nature of diminution and the psychological significance of bodies told by minds.
> This poem posits a world image of bodies as insecure sites of feeling, in the stomach everywhere, but comforts the reader with lyrical mechanisms and voices of intimacy which provide hope of some kind—as seen in the ‘pink-hot dust’— A reader’s attitude shifts and destabilises; consider the scale of it, an expansion throughout the poem that builds to the final lines:
we’re taking up so
little space turning our
earthearth pink-hot dust
praise be — I can’t
Text: T. Person