(SPAM Cuts) ‘Modern Diction’ by Lauren Turner
In this week’s SPAM Cut, Sean Wai Keung examines power, play and political expression in Lauren Turner’s poem ‘Modern Diction’, which you can read at Canthius for free, here.
> I came across Lauren Turner through her chapbook We’re Not Going to Do Better Next Time (Knife Fork Book, 2018), a modern retelling of the Delilah-Samson tale which impressed me with its witty explorations of power and futility: power both in terms of internal narrative and external presentation; futility in terms of the undramatic, beautiful uselessness of power in everyday communication, or in the retelling of a story where the ending is already familiar. Modern Diction, a poem published online by Canthius, plays with similar themes as these, although the story at the heart here is far less biblical.
> As with We’re Not Going to Do Better Next Time, the power issues explored in ‘Modern Diction’ exist on multiple levels, but here the majority of references are artsy in nature – different creators and/or creations in different forms and at different times are referenced, some directly, others less so, but each individual reference feels less important than the collection as a whole and it’s ultimately the theme of power within all art that’s really in question here. The opening line ‘Task the poets with rebreeding the expressions our tongues have civilized’ sets forth this questioning directly and with zero filler. Yet while the questions within We’re Not Going to Do Better Next Time are treated with a degree of playfulness and directed mostly towards the audience, here a much sharper wit is being wielded at far more insidious targets. For instance, in the beginning of the third section of the poem: ‘There’s a term for vanishing. Occupational hazard. / Or womanhood.’
> This sharpness is similarly evoked in some of the choices of reference. The image of a girl vanishing while wearing the ‘matted furs / of Anne Sexton’s mama’ is a sad reminder of the depth of history when it comes to power issues within the poetry world while ‘there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation’, a direct quote from Pierre Trudeau (former Canadian politician responsible for the decriminalization of homosexuality in Canada), broadens the issue into the wider political world. At the same time none of these references feel overly forced, or like a direct attack against those who are being referenced. Towards the end of the poem, in the line beginning ‘Something like that…’ Turner briefly reintroduces a sense of futility to the poem, an acknowledgement that perhaps no amount of references, words or art are enough to convey the depth of feeling behind such responses to power-abuses. However, the conclusion to this line immediately fights back against such moments of wavering: ‘… Let me write back to you’ it implores, a fuck you to that same sense of futility, a weaponization of collective reference against those who use art as a tool to gain non-consensual power over any other. ‘Let me look in its eyes’ the poem ends, a ten toes down assertion that no matter what, art will always find a way to fight back.
Text: Sean Wai Keung
Image: Justine Camacho