Poetry Spotlight #3: Primer by Laura Yes Yes

71f5lhMlakLAs I mentioned in my last poem of the week (which I admit is happening more like every 1.5 weeks), I recently picked up a copy of “How to seduce a white boy in 10 easy steps” by Laura Yes Yes. Note: when you’re reading a book called “How to seduce a white boy in 10 easy steps” you’re going to get some raised eyebrows on the train and (potentially) a layer of discomfort/awkwardness between you and your peers. There’s almost a need to explain… And fortunately  Laura Yes Yes gives you that explaination in the preface of her book: “In this context, the “white boy” represents the normative or ordinary force whose dominant presence renders other groups extraordinary, or outsider”.

These poems are bizarre, sexual, and social. I’m happy to say that Laura Yes Yes’s intentions for this book certainly come through as it is indeed “…a purposeful bending of self-image, the better to refract the light”.  However, I find this book is more weird than wonderful. Though I can’t help but feel that it’s going over my head and that, in a few years, I will revisit this book with a newfound love. Still, I invite everyone to grab it from the shelf of their book store and read through a few poems because Laura’s experimentalism will surely strike a chord with some readers.

One of the things I appreciate in this collection is Yes Yes’s ability to be both cheeky and hard-hitting: “The whites are growing bigger asses,/so I buy pants off the rack now. Progress is possible” (via “Black Humor”). Additionally, her unique formatting stands out. This can be seen in poems like her Ars poetica “College Transcript” which is from the perspective of the speaker’s brain, cunt, fist, and liver: “Brain | Indulgence can be seen as the path to enlightenment/ Cunt | Always take free condoms from the clinic”. While the poem I selected from the fist half of this collection, “Primer”, is one of the more “ordinary” ones–in terms of it’s form–it’s also one of the most effective ones.

Primer

Asking her the favor
Of her number.

He brands her
Special for her color,

Harbor, certain shelter,
Stepping stone in turgid river,

Saint and sometime savior,
Worry doll to nightmare over,

Sudden molotov of anger,
Steel wool and purple clover

Grove down under
Pooling drool from hunger,

Science project for the clever,
His first of her kind ever.

This poem is pretty straight forward. The rhyming couplets are fitting in the sense that it’s a “relationship” poem and, interestingly enough, almost distract from the dark subject matter. The title can be interpreted in two ways: primer, as in the undercoat of paint or primer, as in the strand of nucleic acid that serves as a starting point for DNA synthesis. Either way, this title plays well off the motif/themes of the poem: this idea that women of color are starting points that are swept under the rug. A mere “stepping stone in turgid river”. And if you’ve read my previous poetry posts, you probably know that a large part of my aesthetic is unique/vivid imagery which this poem provides perfectly: “he brands her… sudden molotov of anger… grover down under/pooling from hunger”. Lastly, I love when a poet turns a cliche on its head–playing with the reader’s expectations. This is given in the last line: rather than her being the first of her kind, she is “his first of her kind ever”. Further driving home the point that this woman is perceived more as an object/fetish than an individual.

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