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Friday, January 19, 2018

Reader's Diary #1713- Joshua Whitehead: Full-Metal Indigiqueer

Reading Joshua Whitehead's poetry collection Full-Metal Indigiqueer, I found myself thinking a lot about accessibility and more specifically, how accessible poetry should be. Over the life of this blog I've gone through, and got exhausted with, a poetry phase. I was reading a lot of contemporary white poetry and after a while it all sounded the same: slightly mournful and full of words only poets use. When the poems wouldn't trigger any emotion except for bitterness over the use of "ephemeral" or yet another Greek reference, they started to become inaccessible. Yet, poems that are too accessible are problematic as well. They become poorly written rhyming quatrains, odes to dead dogs in the local obituaries. Though I've not read anything by her yet, Rupi Kaur's poetry has been similarly criticized as pandering to the masses, equivalent to shallow pop songs.

To be sure, Full-Metal Indiqueer, despite its many references to modern global culture, is not a shallow pop song. It's as inaccessible as all hell. But damn it, unlike all that dull white poetry, it's evocative and makes you want to access it. I'm still not 100% sure I understood all of his intent, but I trust that there were true intentions (verses obscure for the sake of it), and how I did interpret some worked for me. This is thoughtful, exciting poetry. While the themes can be angering or sad from time to time, reading it as a whole was a fun experience.

The most startling thing about Full-Metal Indigiqueer is the strong voice. The back of the book identifies the narrator as being a trickster hybrid of organic and technological identities and whether that is Whitehead's own voice or a character remains to be seen. It was, in any case, completely mesmerizing. So completely inventive and in control and unique and proud of it, weaving effortlessly in and out of more standard English and occasional Cree to invented spellings, number-letter combos, and pseudo-programming jargon. Language is essentially his bitch. His use of punctuation was like nothing I've ever seen before. Instead of adding actual question marks (?), for example, he consistently wrote [question mark] and to me it solidified these questions, acknowledging that by merely asking they become real, a Schrodinger's cat statement/question; a perfect metaphor for a character that is comfortable in his own skin regardless; he's here (H3R31AM) and whether he is organic or technological at the moment or somewhere in between hardly matters. What matters is love, sex, culture, Culture, death, history, future, and all those awesome themes good poetry brings us closer to understanding.

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