Wednesday, May 20, 2009



Maximum Gaga by Lara Glenum
(Action Books, 2008)

Prepare to read Lara Glenum's Maximum Gaga, but I will tell you now, you cannot prepare. Maximum Gaga will slit your eyeballs open like the straight razor that cuts a woman's eye in Luis Buñuel's "Un Chien Andalou." And you will find the gruesome experience pleasurable.

This monstrosity of a poetry collection – and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible – will leave you with images and phrases you cannot get out of your head, no matter how you try.

Take this excerpt from "The Sign of the Goat" for example:
I saw myself dressed in pink-eye             & tumors :             modeling
the latest vivisection device:             : I saw myself lying on a gurney

surrounded by deer in white jackets :             My spine being pulled out my
asshole :             like a string of diamonds             :

After reading the first half of the book, I found myself walking around the house, chanting some of the character's names and phrases from the book in a sing-song, sinister way: "Minky Momo! Minky Momo!" "I'm flexing my eye-pods & feeling nasty," "My squealing gristle."

Maximum Gaga is filled with a surreal, carnivalesque freakshow of grotesque characters, animals, and machines that will fuck you up, but good. Like a David Lynch movie, you will finish the book feeling violated, yet in some weird way, liking it and wondering how you were manipulated so precisely by a writer. As you read the book, you'll mutter like Minky Momo in the prose poem "Will the Real Minky Momo Please Step Forward, "This is not really happening."

Maximum Gaga is written by, through, and about the body, which is why on page 62, almost exactly halfway through the book, Glenum appropriates three statements from Michel Foucault:
The Body is the Inscribed Surface of Events!

            A Volume in Perpetual Disintegration!

                        The Body is Always Under Siege!

The book is constructed like a play, and is also very film-like, written in Acts and Scenes, which combine poetry, prose poetry, stage directions, letters, documents, an anthem, and even what could be construed as an essay or manifesto ("Proclamation of the Visual Mercenaries"), set in sequence for maximum effect.

Glenum points out how language is a symptom of the body, which, like the rest of the body, ultimately and always fails its owner:
"How to rectify this, o dog of language? How to rectify your losses at the hands of your own tongue?"

Words, on which humans rely to communicate through our bodies, are merely another trap, painful in its limitations yet pleasurable:
"The glorious cage of language from which we never hope to escape!"

The machines in the cast of characters are but extensions of the body: King Minus's Daughters (a Hysteric machine), Ded (a Schizophrenic machine), Icky (a Paranoiac machine), the Miraculating Machine (a Desiring-machine – a simulacrum) and the Traumadrome is a maze of muscles. One never felt so claustrophic inside a body as one does while reading Glenum's book. Beautiful yet grotesque phrases in the book like "dribbling figgity," "cream-slammed oinkers," "twitching placenta paste," "cunning runalingus," ""custardy runtwort," "false tentacular udders" and "vaginaless parent worm" leave you twitching and squirming, and emphasize the claustrophobia of feeling trapped inside a flawed body.

Maximum Gaga could have only been written by a woman with a feminist perspective. In the poem "Feminine Hygiene," the narrator begins, "When I contracted 'the female disease.' " Glenum wrote about a quarter of the poems in this collection while pregnant with her second child, and the entire book was "more or less written/cobbled together in the (utterly sleepless) months right after he was born."

By email, Glenum writes, "To Bakhtin, women represent the quintessential grotesque: they are 'penetrable, suffer the addition of alien body parts, and become alternately huge and tiny.' To me this is on the right track in terms of describing the body, but it's also a fine piece of sexism because it shunts the description of the body that is out of control/forever in the act of becoming onto the female body."

"There's also this great quote from Mary Russo about how the grotesque stands in opposition to the classical model of the body:
"The images of the grotesque body are precisely those which are abjected from bodily cannons of classical aesthetics. The classical body is transcendental and monumental, closed, static, self-contained, symmetrical and sleek; it is identified with 'high' or official culture… with rationalism, individualism, and the normalizing aspirations of the bourgeoisie. The grotesque body is open, protruding, irregular, secreting, multiple and changing; it is identified with non-official 'low' culture, and with social transformation…"

Glenum says, "Obviously, the classical body is also usually typologized as being male, white, able-bodied, heterosexual, etc., all of which is just massively oppressive."

Maximum Gaga reminds us, in the most beautiful, twisted language, that we are mere animals, that we are going to die, trapped inside deteriorating, grotesque, and failing bodies, and that along the journey to death, there are many transformations, desire, pleasure, and much violence.


Angela Genusa was born in 1961 in East Lansing, Michigan. She is a writer, poet, visual artist, video/film maker, photographer, and musician.

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