Kelly Rafferty, Poetry Panelist
“Sometimes I see it like the last of a movie. You know how how they start the picture up real close and then back it off steady and far? Well that’s how I dream it. I’m living in a McDonald’s and it’s real late at night and you see me up close, smiling, and then you see the whole McDonald’s from the outside, lit up and friendly. And I get smaller and smaller, like they do, and then it’s just light in the darkness, like a star, and I’m in it. I’m part of that light, part of the whole sky, and it’s all McDonalds, but part of something even bigger, something fixed and shiny… like plastic” -Anna Mae’s monologue from French Fries by Jane Martin
I have been thinking a lot about plastic. Or maybe plastic is thinking a lot about me? I’m not sure how this works… with the octopus issue , its possible sentience cannot be understated. Frankly, experimental literature and plastic are both basically just persistent entities, that persevere (indefinitely) in a dark sphere of either the mind’s and/or a physical landfill. Ok yes, perhaps plastic bags/ideas can be “recycled,” but these days the body’s cellular turnover rate/China are equally FED UP.
The first piece of experimental writing that moved me (not emotionally) but physically as in got me up and out of my seat was the short monologue French Fries by Jane Martin. This was (mostly) because I dropped hot tea all over my lap, but secondarily because it was absolutely electrifying. The pages read like burning garbage and fresh flowers, and there was this noxious pulsing voice that reeked of infatuation and disgust. After reading it aloud in 12th Grade English, my best friend *COUGH* (at the time) leaned over and muttered that this was the worst thing we read all year. I say, that’s heresy. As an ardent French Fries defender, Martin’s work bounces around like a plastic tumbleweed in the background of my consciousness and acts as a mental template for truly effective literary voice. As French Fries Anna Mae would likely tell you, here are five ways plastic and experimental literature share a similar ethos.
1) They are infinitely persistent
One word…microplastics. Currently, I am eating salmon and savoring the flavor of the imbued Bisphenol A. Next, to the plate, I am drinking out of “A CARAFE, THAT IS A BLIND GLASS.” Both are tender (for different reasons), and both will stay inside my fat molecules for eternity.
2) They are (not) clear.
Clarity is the antithesis of plastic. Everyone knows some plastics are completely translucent while others are sort of in-between opacities like Coca-Cola bottles or high-density polyethylene AKA plastic bags. Never are they solely transparent, no, they are dense with dysfunction the same way reading House of Leaves backwards on a Tuesday night will (invariably) leave your dome.
3) They are difficult to sort
Yes, those handy infographics posted on the recycling bin strive to create a near-biblical sense of order. But what if I told you that bagging your recyclables is (maybe) the ecological equivalent of strangling whales with your bare hands? Touché for attempting to subjugate experimental works into ‘genre’…is it a play, poem, or enigma? Pale Fire has been known to yell “we are most artistically caged” in a rueful tone.
4) They leach
The only problem with creative experimentation is that it (often) seeps into the entire literary world. See, the first person who wrote a poem about the splendors of Springtime in the shape of a sunflower was (quite possibly) a demigod, the billionth person was me in the 5th grade. Similarly, the problem with plastics is that they inevitably leach into the groundwater and spew carcinogenic material into the atmosphere. Luckily, we work hard at legislating the legality of one of the two!
5. They both eat you alive
Death. Destruction. Stomach Digestion. I wasn’t really going for shock value until Anna Mae assaulted my keyboard and whispered: now type how you actually feel, perhaps the line… “what I really like is the plastic.” NEVER. This is where their similarities diverge, unlike the (hopeful) proliferation of innovative literary work, let’s avoid feeding the great Atlantic Ocean Gyre even one more measly plastic bag. Instead, why not put our energies towards producing experimental forms with the same maniacal fervor, and intensity?
Yes, with the usefulness of a mere Dodo, it would be wonderful if all single-use plastics would leap off the edge of a precipice and (with a great gasp) obliterate themselves. Even so, I sometimes still reminisce about infinity and wonder if there’s any cosmic truth to Anna Mae’s line: “God gave us the idea of plastic so we’d know what everlasting really was.”
But then I remember…