Reviewer: Cindy Hochman
“More to the point, there are three versions of every story: yours, mine, and the one we make up for the sake of art.”
In her inspired compilation major characters in minor films, Kristy Bowen, the creative dynamo behind the well-respected Dancing Girl Press and online journal wicked alice, produces, directs, and stars in a cinematic feast of electric eccentricity. Spoiler alert: this is not your mama’s reel-to-reel; rather, it is realpoetry in realtime, under ambient light, through a lens of quirk and daggers, replete with drama, disaster, and conflagration. This is truly a one-woman show, with Bowen perfectly cast as the ingénue, the naughty daughter, the provocateur, the seductress, et al. But while it is clear that the “major character” is the poet herself, “minor films” in the title may be a misnomer; this juicy collection is more like a tour de force, a blockbuster—a dark, but exhilarating, ride.
So bring a large tub of buttered popcorn. Put your feet up. Lights. Camera. Action.
In which I play the coquette. The vixen.
In which I am carnelian, carnal. All carnage, all the time.
In which I am curator to a museum of clarinets.
In which I wear a red coat and lipstick that screams murder.
In which I am corrupted by janitors or Jesuits.
In which I am a porn star. A tiara at the top of a cake.
The teaser in Bowen’s proclamations is not necessarily her deft use of alliteration, although, for poetry lovers, that is certainly a draw. A self-proclaimed vixen is arousing, and being “a tiara at the top of a cake” is no mean feat, but the most tempting question is, how much of Bowen’s “Autobiography” is truly autobiography, and how much of it is, as she implies, “what we make up for the sake of art”? The poet gives us clues. In “pink test,” she admits “If I stay perfectly still, you can make/ out the hairline cracks in my story,/ the bit of salt in the cake” (well, so much for that tiara!). In “fictions,” her confession is even more blatant: “All things considered, I’m an excellent liar,/ throwing out my tongue like a rope,// leading you back through houses without doors,/ the windows without latches.” And most telling is when Bowen reviews Bowen: “Mostly, it’s a story that begins with/ strong coffee and ends with non-sequiturs/ and shot glasses.” Now, that bit of spot-on analysis is the key.
For Bowen, it’s all about the language (“in fact, there is a dictionary where my ribs should be”). At first, her stripped-down, achingly imaginative, engage-the-senses prose creates the impression of being off-the-cuff, yet, the careful reader can discern the craft—and, indeed, the craftiness—behind the seeming chaos. Bowen is obviously an adherent to Coleridge’s edict “the best words in the best order,” for although her syntax often begins in medias res, this kaleidoscope of fragments melds into meaning, however nuanced it may be.
William Carlos Williams wrote that, when it comes to poetry, there should be “no ideas but in things,” and Bowen no doubt agrees. That is to say, she interprets art through concrete objects rather than vague connotations, but while Williams favored flowers and fruit, Bowen’s accoutrements have a more distinctly contemporary and feminine slant (“I was counting girl-shaped things…a poem within a movie within a girl-shaped world”). There is a synchronicity to the recurrent buzzwords “mother,” “dollhouse,” “pocketbook,” “a bridesmaid dress,” “pink.” The poems also contain a multitude of less gender-specific tangibles: “my anxiety has a house and a fence and a deer in the yard; a zip code; a plague of starlings; a broken watch; a tinge of grenadine, tobacco; a continent lost in my hair.” While Bowen’s discourse is not always “sugar and spice and everything nice,” her female fans can take heart in her assurance that “no girls were harmed in the making of this poem.”
Despite the considerable strength and fire in Bowen’s work, her demeanor, for the most part, is deadpan and poker-faced; that is, until her attention turns to the actor James Franco, to whom she dedicates a whole “I hate you James Franco” section. Hurling vituperation (including a liberal dose of the F-bomb) like a lover spurned, Bowen takes umbrage at Franco’s interloping into the poetic realm. Once again, it is up to the reader to decide whether this is merely an exercise in mock ire, but the outrage does seem legit:
Poetry is dead, James Franco, and I’m convinced you killed it.
Mostly what bothers me is your listlessness. It makes me feel like a dull pencil or a broken wheel.
Sometimes I think I have too many cats, James Franco. Cats and graduate degrees. My drains are thick with them.
Among Bowen’s litany of grievances is the issue of his ethnic mendacity:
The irony, of course, is that while Bowen chastises Franco for meandering beyond his field of expertise, Bowen is guilty of the same crime—a poet who has forayed into his world of film—but one could argue that at least Bowen’s transgression was successful.
The hapless Mr. Franco aside, Bowen’s poetry is largely an ode to her own craft. While she insists that “for a month I couldn’t write; it was the loveliest vertigo,” one would be hard-pressed to believe that this prolific poet has spent any time battling writer’s block.
In the last chapter, that über muse, the Moon, becomes the coquette in various poses (and, thankfully, Bowen’s treatment of the white crescent is considerably more delicate than that of Franco). Here, she once again displays her faithfulness to material objects rather than concepts (no ideas but in things), with titles such as “whiskey moon,” “mermaid moon,” “Cadillac moon,” “sailor moon,” “feldspar moon,” and “barn swallow moon.”
Cut to final scene. Credits roll. Kristy Bowen thanks the Academy and takes a humble bow, exits stage left to wild applause and standing ovation.