(SPAM Cuts) ‘Sorry is a Girl, Grown Up’, ‘Fire’ and ‘Epilogue’ by Hannah Regel
Rhiannon Auriol explores the poetics of demand, reproduction and blaze in three poems by Hannah Regel, recently published in Granta.
> The currency of these poems is the ‘small difference’ of ash, the ‘curl / of austerity’; the ruinous contemporary. They burn at a time when the world too is burning. ‘Crisis adjacent’ is how Hannah Regel describes them in an instagram post. It follows through.
> At the time of reading I have just placed a large order with the online clothing store Shein using Klarna to postpone paying. Like the speaker at the beginning of Sorry is a Girl, Grown Up I am buying new clothes to affect some illusion of control over ‘my position in the world’ – its rapid uncertainty, its eschatological stagnation. Many people are in a similar limbo, ‘Grown Up’ but stuck back in a childhood home feeling sorry for themselves, sorry about the deaths, sorry about the state of it all, sorry for spilling such a ‘gallant waste of cash’ over semi-desired products in the hope that they might satisfy the relentlessness of ‘our already small days’. I will probably return the clothes and be sorry about that as well. But what does ‘sorry’ do? It is abstract, unenviable; as this poem demonstrates it is ‘rendered null’ by the coolness of the speaker’s observation of themselves, the suggestion that both action and inaction are equally useless in the face of the fact that ‘everyone is ugly, once in a while’. Another thing to be sorry about.
> ‘Has anyone congratulated me today?’ The child-like plea for validation creates tension in tandem with the speaker’s sardonic awareness of their own refusal to grow, an apologist for insecurity at a time when to feel safe is to feel extremely lucky. But this speaker’s self-aware demand for attention is nothing compared to the demands of the ‘Grown Up’ world, a world where they must play mother to ‘the open mouth of a wage’, a world where the patronising question from a father about whether they are ‘Still Making Art’ can only be answered with a ‘no’. This matter-of-fact cynicism reflects how the poem sends value into the void: ‘I am too expensive for my life’ the speaker asserts even as the rhyme between ‘ash’ and ‘cash’ turns the illusion of worth to dust in the mouth, like the cloddy softness of the tissues dissolving in the mouth of the ‘wage’ / baby.
> In capitalist terminology, reproduction is the reproduction of labour power, the necessary role of women to provide the work force and (obviously) their primary functional desire. Fire usurps the toxic tropes of traditional kinship with the idea of ‘abortions for the climate’ and the speaker’s radical self-parenting: ‘I am old enough now to be my own mother’. The dark surrealism of the journey to hell ‘in a shoe’ with a mother who is also themselves creates a sense of fractured reality, or as Sean Bonney writes in All this Burning Earth it portrays the way capital distorts our perceptions of reality in order to ‘ensure its own survival even within self-destruction’. Here kinship is shown to be something actively tragic; reproduction a ‘grand fallopian tragedy’; art, like desire, ‘a joke / only the rich find funny’[i].
> The grand ambiguity of Milton’s Satan pervades these poems as the tone oscillates between defeatism and insurrective possibility. As Fire insists, ‘it makes no difference / if the devil has been defeated or if it is your character’. The point is: none of us are the main character. The point is: ‘within an infinite universe, defeat is always inevitable, but so also is victory’ (Bonney 23). We are all inferior angels. But there is a joy in the force of the language around the fall; in its proximity to paradise, which is perhaps hell after all – and the one which we ‘hankered for’.
> It ends wildly. It ends with a fantastic hell, with people ‘throwing petrol’ and cheerleading the inferno, ‘Russell’ a hellish hypeman who then descends into a verbal volley of ‘damn it damn it damn it’ when the speaker is ‘actually really burning to death’. ‘It ends in petrol’, as Bonney’s poem After Rimbaud co-iterates. A post-apocalyptic epilogue; fire and brimstone: a poetic approximation of how 2020 feels. There are echoes of Rimbaud’s une saison en enfer, of the ‘clamour of the damned’ from l’Orgie Parisienne. There are also parallels to the climate crisis; in a way we are all Russell, with our ironic understatements, our cigarettes, our casual expletives as we watch the planet’s death. The sacrificial aesthetic of ‘abortions for the climate’ is expanded in Epilogue to a blaze which consumes performativity itself, simultaneously ‘a joke’ and a revolutionary act, the Luciferan war against the god-like flow of capital. The conclusion? ‘Pandemonium is suburbia, pure and simple’ (Bonney 18).
Text: Rhiannon Auriol