Jennifer Kronovet’s "Awayward" is Way Inward

Approaches To Reading Avant-Garde Poetry

By Jake Marmer

Published October 28, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Reading Jennifer Kronovet’s recent collection “Awayward,” you may think she’s translating from another language, transposing foreign syntactical structures, turns of phrase, rhythms, tonalities — a whole unfamiliar psyche — into English.

Kronovet’s speculative original is forever inaccessible, and can only be known through her translation. “Known”, though, would be to overestimate its accessibility because, while at all times confident and articulate, her poetry remains exotically alien and outside of the normal conventions of meaning.

If anything, it is the language of interrupted daydreaming, free-associative thought fragments, cut up and juxtaposed images — both moving and still. French philosopher Jacques Lacan claimed that the unconscious is structured like a language; Kronovet shows us a language structured like the unconscious.

Consider this poem:

Faithfulness

A whole place changes in a month
like a man marrying a horse.

You don’t want to stick your face
into this new intersection

Even though it doesn’t smell
like rubber any more:

A face quickening into faith
that you’re still either syrup or golem.

While admittedly, there’s no right or wrong way of reading this piece, I’d caution you from trying to crack it like a riddle: however we might force it, our traditional meaning-making techniques are not particularly helpful here. Just let the images and the sound of the language pass through you. As well as the connotation of “life” that its synonym “quick” has (as in the phrase from the First Epistle of Peter, transformed by modern cinema into “The Quick and the Dead”), the face that “quickens” into faith is as much a grammatical, alliterative image as it is visual. One can imagine a cartoon-like face actually stretching out, transforming into a faith — a result of self-operating metaphysical surgery realized externally.

Both syrup and golem can definitely be the unfortunate side-effects of such surgery: the latter as a mode of robotic human automation devoid of creative thought, and the former as a manufactured sweetener of New Age-like angst-free self-deception — a high-fructose corn syrup for the soul.

What exactly does betrothal to a horse have to do with faithfulness, I can’t fathom, but I do agree with the author’s thinking that it is not an intersection I’d want to find myself upon. It reminded me of the horse’s head in the bed from “The Godfather” and Lenny Bruce’s piece “Psychopathia Sexualis (I’m in Love with a Horse From Dallas).” Not only because of the obvious correlation of images, but also because, ultimately, they are both grotesque, even if Bruce is also comic, though in a much more cerebral, avant-garde way. In the next verse, the riddance of the smell of rubber implies some sort of post-industrial transcendence. The elusive subject rises above the constant smell of machinery, burnt rubber, polluted air and other such odors, or at least believes it has done so.

My attempt at reading the piece is avowedly subjective. With a poem like this, a product of an abstract dream, the best we can do is to try digesting it, too, as a dream — to glide through it, and enjoy the vistas of free-associative landscape it opens up. The great thing about the piece is how well it lends itself to such process, not only opening the doors to readers’ imaginations, but also providing a funky door-mat, mischievous irony that cleans off our interpretation-dirtied shoes, offering a whole new start for thinking about thinking.

Here are some more poems from Jennifer Kronovet.

The Uniforms. Heh. Waitress, Nurse.

Wheel as wheel.
Bull as bull.

A kind of clean.
The dirty kind.

A line reaches
from one person to another.

Army-style staff meeting:
You could do better.

Irony? Irony stored
in my stomach like toast.

We pee squatting
with our butts so close

to the ground. Us girls.

Sediment

We met at the bottom of the river.
We you lie, your teeth fill with lead.

Here is a handful of current.
When your teeth are lead, your mouth sinks.

Read it properly: scar tissue.
You repeat yourself: mud mud mud mud.

We met at the bottom of a thought.
When your mouth sinks, floating = the little walk away.

Where do conversations go?
You cannot swallow enough to lower the tide.

Sky Bridge

I name the railing where
I stand like myself before:
Hebrew lessons or
tongue on the roof
of my mouth. Or teams.
Each paper thought
attached to the next
with wax to become
by myself or seeing
myself stopped
on the bridge.
Now,
I am willing to undo
safely, one ligament
at a time – but then,
you’re in a funny hat
and we stare
down at the traffic
like animals who never
went to high school.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • Meet Alvin Wong. He's the happiest man in America — and an observant Jew. The key to happiness? "Humility."
  • "My first bra was a training bra, a sports bra that gave the illusion of a flat chest."
  • "If the people of Rwanda can heal their broken hearts and accept the Other as human, so can we."
  • Aribert Heim, the "Butcher of Mauthausen," died a free man. How did he escape justice?
  • This guy skipped out on seder at his mom's and won a $1 million in a poker tournament. Worth it?
  • Sigal Samuel's family amulet isn't just rumored to have magical powers. It's also a symbol of how Jewish and Indian rituals became intertwined over the centuries. http://jd.fo/a3BvD Only three days left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.