Art by Maeve Ethridge
“THE MISSING MUSEUM” – REVIEW BY SHERRY CHANDLER
Back in the late sixties, early seventies, certain heroes of the electric guitar, e.g. Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, learned to control and exploit the distortion and feedback of an overdriven amp. They used the sizzling electricity to make music that reflected the violent energy of the time, culminating in Hendrix’s Woodstock “Star-Spangled Banner,” in which he drove the anthem to the extreme of its battle imagery, realized the modern version of “bombs bursting on air,” took us aurally into the thick of Viet Nam combat. Its inhuman sound of explosions and deafening volume were a musical “Guernica.”
I hear an echo of those tortured sounds, those torturing sounds, when I read Amy King’s The Missing Museum. Consider the imagery of “Violent Blossoming Cities Ask How to Hear the Song:”
. . . white tulips growl to hold
our crisp momentous maker
fully cocked and loaded,
Now we are engaged in a never-ending Orwellian war, one that most days we forget about, too hypnotized by the atrocities perpetrated by our duly-elected protest president whose razzle-dazzle of constant lies and venality tell us he has no intention of actually governing, being more interested in establishing that he is fully cocked and as loaded as Daddy Warbucks, so can grab any pussy he wants to with impunity.
“[T]here is no legitimate innocent event” writes the poet
. . . The architecture of how
things come to be proves mostly unable
to escape the marketplace,
“And why should they?” asks the man who sees no reason why he should not exploit this President gig to buy more golden flush handles. “A cape of laughter howls at character culture.” So says the voice of the poem and we who are fully immersed, baptized, and reborn into pop culture where, in “The Wind is the Wandering Moon”
Predator dances with a half-naked
Schwarzenegger in a life and death eroticism
. . . impenetrable and intimate.
and in “Pussy Pussy Sochi Pussy Putin Sochi Queer Queer Pussy”
WHERE A PUTIN PISSED BY THE SITE OF PUSSIES PRAYING
GOES TO THE GRASS WHERE A PUTIN RIDES
SHIRTLESS ON HIS STEED.
MY BONES ARE STEEDS,
Schwarzenegger, a showman who became a governor, and Putin, a dictator who already was a showman, that being part of how one keeps power, and power is seductive.
This all-caps pussy-riot poem opens the collection
I CALL PUTIN PISSED ON WITH ONE BONE ALONE,
HELD HIGH IN HARD HAND.
and a sister poem, “The Stars You Are Looking At Don’t Tell You What To Write,” closes it
IS “DUENDE OVERLOAD” AN OXYMORON?
. . . PEOPLE ALSO ARE AS OLD AS THEY TEND TO BE,
AND THAT MAKES FOR A VERY GOOD STORY INDEED
I tend to be a 72-year-old farmer’s daughter, and Amy King a 40-something urbanite. I am flyover states, colored bright red and without texture on journalists’ maps. She is East Coast solid blue, though we both have roots in the South. We share a certain sardonic sense of humor and a love of language for its own sake; nevertheless, I make no pretense of “understanding” these poems that partake of surrealism, L*A*N*G*U*A*G*E, and New York. In the words of John Berryman, “These songs are not to be understood, you understand?” Besides, I live in the set of those who do not live in New York City, and by the poet’s own statement in “Understanding the Poem,” “Only people who live in New York City will understand this poem.” “To poet is to process,” says the poem, “is to Amy King, the poet is still one who longs for another /viewpoint not her own to see her own through . . .”
I mean I have to ask myself with honesty, Amy King,
What would Amy King the reader do with this poem?
because we all need a starting point and right now it is this, Amy King
Five pages long, “Understanding the Poem” is perhaps the key to The Missing Museum. One key. The poet herself seems to struggle for understanding. It covers a lot of ground including these three lines that throw us right back into pop culture
Those also who don’t get that Stephen King rewrote Ed Dorn’s
book of poems, Gunslinger, into his best selling novel, Gunslinger,
will experience a difference in understanding that this poem inspires.
The presence of Stephen King in this book gives me an opportunity to point out that, like that pop-culture super star, Amy King seems to have reached a point in her career where her name on the cover is bigger and brighter than the title. No graphics but letters on the blood red cover, only the poet’s name and the title, The Missing Museum, which seems to be slowly fading away behind that bright white of the poet’s name. Fading or slowly filling with the red blood. I look at it and think of the Iraqi culture museum that was sacked in the first bloody days of Shock and Awe.
Out of the masculine guitar-as-erection sound of rock hard hard rock there emerged two women whose voices are iconic: the cool purety of Grace Slick that soared on the updrafts generated by all that electricity to sing a drug-enhanced surreality and the hot distorted whiskey voice of Janis Joplin that, when she sang the blues of blighted love, wailed for a generation. I know I’m pushing it here, but in the music of Amy King’s voice I hear an heir to those two women.
I will give Amy the last word, from the poem entitled “I Go Gunslinger,” “I absolve you of everything now, which is what I meant in the beginning.”
If you hear an echo of Genesis in that line, I won’t take responsibility for it.
* Review originally published in Goodreads
Sherry Chandler’s work has appeared in many magazines and anthologies, including The Louisville Review, The Cortland Review, The William and Mary Review, Kestrel, and Calyx. Her work has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Chandler has had professional development support from the Kentucky Arts Council and the Kentucky Foundation for Women.
The Woodcarver’s Wife is her second full-length poetry collection. She is the author of one previously published full-length collection, Weaving a New Eden, and two chapbooks, Dance the Black-Eyed Girl (Finishing Line Press) and My Will and Testament Is on the Desk (FootHills Publishing).
Chandler was born and raised in rural Owen County, Kentucky. A 1963 graduate of Owen County High School, she has degrees from GeorgetownCollege (BA) and the University of Kentucky (MA). She has recently retired from a 25-year career as a board-certified Editor in the Life Sciences. Chandler lives in Bourbon County, Kentucky with her husband, the wood carver T. R. Williams. She has twin sons and twin grandchildren.
Amy King is the recipient of the 2015 Winner of the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA) Award. Her latest collection, The Missing Museum, is a winner of the 2015 Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize. She serves on the executive board of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and is co-editing with Heidi Lynn Staples the anthology Big Energy Poets of the Anthropocene: When Ecopoets Think Climate Change. She also co-edited the anthology Bettering American Poetry 2015 and is a professor of creative writing at SUNY Nassau Community College.