reviewed by Kristen Stone, poetry editor
There’s been a lot of talk lately about the fear of poetry, of its decline, all the bad things techno/postmodernity is doing to it. Johannes Goransson wrote, for instance, about Tony Hoagland’s insecurity surrounding authenticity and “bad influence,” worries that echo a suburban parent. It’s easy enough to personify them as the old generation afraid of their decreasing relevance, who want the strong-willed Modern Subject Poet to stand against poisoned influence, remaining true to a stable, traceable, coherent identity and have a healthy, productive lineage of influence. The underlying assumption is there is some creepy good touch/bad touch metaphor, when it comes to what touches what in the writing.
While Megan Boyle’s Selected Unpublished Blog Posts of a Mexican Panda Express Employee is not experimental in the same way(s) the montevidayans write, I think of it as being part of a cluster(fuck) of work that investigates the idea of boundaries, the place where experience and representation touch and feed back. What experiences does the writer allow into their body? What can you not ‘keep out’? This watery, multidirectional ‘bad influence’ is all over Boyle’s poems, and she obsessively, self-consciously documents the act of having an interior monologue: “every thought i had while walking to school” (45), for instance.
Selected Unpublished Blog Posts of a Mexican Panda Express Employee describes a nebulous sense of struggle that I know and have a hard time naming: “i have frequently thought ‘i am trying to be okay’ in the past 48 hours without really knowing what ‘okay’ is or what i need to do to be ‘trying’” (87). Boyle’s poems are painted over with the anxiety and ennui that I assocate with My Generation, if it’s not too annoying to make those claims, littered with the currency of internet culture, text messages, refreshing your browser hoping for an email, getting drunk and watching Youtube videos. Boyle’s speaker (whom Michelle Tea, in her review refers to as “ ‘Megan,’ the girl in the book not the girl who wrote the book. I’m not sure of their relationship— you know how that goes”) negotiates the problem of the girl in space: the girl in the city, in a body, the blog-girl. What happens when the girl tries to pretend to be a person in public? The girl on the city bus. The girl at starbucks.
The poems shave closer and closer to— not direct experience, but the direct experience of someone else’s inner life, a creepily intimate and yet also pleasantly boring experience, like watching that person get dressed or pluck the stray hairs that grow between their eyebrows. Boyle’s speaker is full of shame when she goes out in the world, yet is able to document for us, as if in real-time, the anxiety of the girl and her various processes. Megan goes to the hospital because she has an ulcer. Megan eats subway. Megan-the-narrator is bored and boring and anxious and sleepy and utterly fascinated with her own existence, or the documentation of her own existence. She presents and picks apart the paradox of internet culture: the sense of being boring or having no interior, and yet the continued obsessive documentation, the blog, of one’s life details.
The poems serve as a meditation on trying to be a person: a person who feels sad but also blank:
‘i wanted to cry more than i was able to at the time,’ she writes (p56))
At their best moments they also document sensation, as when Boyle writes:
“something about the way the light looks right now reminds of me of being on a curb next to a maybe gay kid at a birthday party in high school” (84).
“i walked outside and it felt like ther was no boundary between my body temperature and heat of the air, like i was just walking around in a big human body”(88)
Like my favorite writing, Megan Boyle’s Selected Unpublished works on the body in a very subtle and exciting way: how her voice gets into you, how you think like that for the rest of the day, long unrelated sentences documenting the boring facts. All the questions about intimacy you want to ask are here but not. In reading you get closer and closer but never quite touch her actual interior: because the interior monologue hinges on the act of documentation. Present are both the anxiety of having no interior, of being “boring,” (a hipster or cliche) and yet also the fear of being vulnerable or unable to keep the inside in: the working of a (hyper)active imagination in web-saturated postmodernity. The paradox of being a trying to be a person, now, here, present, but always, also, enmeshed: online. at school.
Boyle’s writing is straightforward, but also beautifully textured: the way you might look at a pile of someone else’s clothes on their bed, all the cottons and corduroy. Selected Unpublished might make you feel sad or lonely or full of something or like you want to look at pictures of cats with funny captions on the internet, take a bath forever, call your best friend from fifth grade even though you know you’ll feel old and alienated, blog about your personal hygiene and dating habits.
I told myself I wouldn’t use in this review any of these words: sweet, candid, honest, refreshingly anything. but, really, it’s kind of all those things, and maybe you will like it. I sure did.
Megan Boyle’s Selected Unpublished Blog Posts of a Mexican Panda Express Employee will be released by Muumuu House on November 15, and can be pre-ordered: