This review is about 2 printed pages long.
Can we be better people? This question is prominent in Yedda Morrison’s poetics, and Crop is an investigation into the workings of a system coupling human and inhumane. Crop collects four fascinating and powerful poem-projects. Reaching a pitch that is sensitive, sharp and grave, it goes beyond recognizable styles and methods to require us to consider conditions material and psychical, physiological and social – and to really see that with which we had felt somewhat familiar, or to realize the pull of what had not been drawn to our attention. In this sense it is a work of displacement – an effect that is both force and counterforce; for as much as we are relieved of our grids of understanding, the 15+ page poem-projects themselves each provide a new context for meaning. Morrison is not simply a poet; she is a social-negotiator bringing to the table both reader and an influx of disturbing data and fact about what it is “to be” American – not to be “of” this place, but to create it through individual (in)actions:
standing next to or shining in side of
bright American moments where I might be
an inside supported of light Machinery
shaft or laser driven physically
or American physically supporting prosthetic silk flower Production
Americans as borrowed individual index of
purely American efficiencies
(“Control Tower Intravenous” 65)
Our “individual index” abstracted into “pure efficiencies” – Crop is the harvest of what’s cutting us short. Thus its scope of inquiry is impressive, ranging from the vivisection of the individual evacuated of desire and agency by industry: “on diagonal salt plains riotous it-girls assigned to the pump” (“The Cherry Pickers” 8); to the desires limited by the individual isolated and intact: “she craves the authority of a Public Art project but is covered in skin” (“Aerial Motive” 38). These poem-projects hope for collective re-imagination and action, but also begin with the basics – the examination of the place of writing itself, laced with difficulties and limitations. For example, “The Tissue Commission” gains momentum with a repeated articulation of the limitations of meaning: “By writing this I mean not to suggest / intention . . . produce / literature . . . paint / art . . . frill / desire”; as though the poem anticipates the ways it might be misread. These four anxious stanzas recycle and displace their own “material” or code, creating a new creature thought on every page; they are separated by prose sections that treat genetic and reproductive cruelties exacted on animals, constructed with inventiveness and achieving a unique clarity. It is not that the poem mimics the heartless mechanics of industry, but that both poem and ostensible target of attention are subject to the same troubling confusion of centers. Here’s part of one prose section:
Day two and the protein supplement chicks are debeaked. chick-pullers drop them into heavy plastic bags like flowering weeds. inside the hen house the nuclei is project on the eyeball scrota. dolly, my porcelain cell life, is physically crushed. one entrail escapes toward the neon exit, fully reproducible. the man’s uterus is presented on a decorative platter. I breast for him. I breast for dolly who is a breast, my units reproduced and floating in the even pink vat, wobbly white cups, inverted. for dolly. (49).
Is this a description of industry? science fiction? personal journal? These poems walk a tense line between the vulnerable, implicated, and activist. They avoid the simplification of a single perspective – they are not a form of witness, but of systems analysis working a language that is emotionless and abstract yet responsive as poetry, as only poetry, can be:
We are refusing, repeatedly and tiring
refusing facts of our Composite
To cough between Sincerities
inside a FleshWhip
riding the inclusion shock wave
doggedly and tiring
(“The Tissue Commision” 51).
In an epigraph to “Aerial Motive,” Morrison quotes an 1948 publication entitled “Service is My Business” which defines the factory as “a laboratory of human engineering where vital knowledge is waiting to be organized.” Crop is a laboratory of poetic invention, an attempt to re-engineer humanity, and a scrupulous organization of vital knowledge at the same time. These are rich poem-projects that document the turmoil of conditions of existence (always precarious) and of being human and of writing poetry within such conditions.