Review of Fuckscapes by Sean Kilpatrick
by Sean Kilpatrick
Blue Square Press
Takes guts to call your book Fuckscapes — among other reasons, because you’ve immediately raised the reader’s expectations. "This is not Poetry’s poetry," you’re saying, and you’d better be right.
No worries. Fuckscapes is brimming with guts, a vomitous gush of violent, horrific imagery that reads like the burst amnion of a new kind of poetry. Sean Kilpatrick wants to pummel every one of your puny human senses into submission, from the opening flurry "fistfucking rules" to the last splash "The Fuckscapes" (a kind of post-Beckettian play featuring, among others, two characters called The Penetrator and The Penetrated). He will rub your face in feces and urine and every other form of bodily emanation, and he will use Nazi imagery until it loses its shock value and becomes just another smoldering pile of ordure in his anti-pastoral screed. Most surprisingly, perhaps, given the lanced-wound drip of pus-laden word-blood, Kilpatrick will make you laugh. Or at least cackle.
I would argue that Fuckscapes is in fact a kind of human comedy, and that Kilpatrick’s skillful evisceration of the hipster-headed angels among us is at least second of all funny. Humor is a necessary counterpoint, anyway, to the more unpleasant imagery, but calling a piece (for instance) "führer" is in the first place silly, an adolescent provocation, but works precisely because it is not about its title except in the most oblique way possible, and ends with the line "and flopped down purring like a truckload of bellybuttons," which is almost LOLCats-cute, and undermines (in a good way) the occasionally scabrous blather that comes before.
Kilpatrick’s wild, dissociative, loping tropes are never random, however off-handed his poems (I’m going to call them poems, because I don’t know what else to call them, and maybe, too, because that’s what they are) might seem. Every surreal turn, every jarring juxtaposition is deliberate, and he knows how to pull back from the edge just before tumbling into the abyss. His constructs (fine, POEMS) repel and attract in equal measure and seem designed to evoke sensations rather than sense, which is not to say that Fuckscapes is nonsense; quite the opposite. I’d call the writing painterly, except that doesn’t mean anything. I’d call it impressionistic, but that’s worse than painterly. The book embodies the body — partakes of a corporal poetics. It’s like Pasolini’s Salò except with an acute awareness of popular culture and situated very specifically in the now. I haven’t watched Salò in a long time, and I’m not getting paid enough to watch it again, so I don’t remember if that film had anything approaching the sense of humor Kilpatrick shows here. In any case, Fuckscapes is much less single-minded, but in its fearless exploration of every kind of psychosexual degradation (to the point of transcendence, I would argue), just as relentless.
There is real beauty amid the squalor, too. I’d be remiss if I did not point out Kilpatrick’s evident lyrical gifts. He has a well-tuned ear and his sense of rhythm drives the reader smoothly (well, as smoothly as possible) over the 85 pages of Fuckscapes. I may not know what "dummy pardons paint you hard / snots whose womb I midget / audience all abortion" (from "who else here") means, exactly, but its sure-handed lyricism reminds me of, oh, I don’t know, certain Guided By Voices lyrics, for instance. That is not faint praise.
What else? There’s an "Ode to Lynndie England" that makes barely-glancing reference to its subject and yet creates a portrait of existential horror with pointillistic precision. There’s a poem called Trans Am that begins "I build a twenty minute sorrow in cop bedrooms, confessing up and down the street," which compresses more melancholy into one line than Lars Von Trier has dreamt of in his philosophies. There’s a court transcript that is of course not a court transcript. There are text messages between Lynndie England and Charles Graner that are not text messages between Lynndie England and Charles Graner but something much, much finer; something that somehow examines the human impulse to degrade at the root of the Abu Ghraib prisoner torture, without explicitly referencing the incident itself.
There is not, so far as I can determine, any didactic intent, nor is the primary purpose of Fuckscapes to shock. The repetition of Nazi and/or religious imagery, the pile of body parts, the laundry list of depravities real or imagined, the viscosity of the various in fact, if you read the book through, all at once, have a kind of numbing effect at least on me so that the cumulative effect is one of recognition. I recognize Sean Kilpatrick. As a human being, as a writer. His book is a fine magic trick, all the more impressive for laying all its cards on the table before it begins. This is (literally) coruscating stuff. Don’t tell me you’re not thirsty: just drink.