Kama Sutra For A Lost Minimalist

Barrett Warner reviews Megan Boyle’s “Selected Unpublished Blogposts of a Mexican Panda Express Employee,” (Muumuu House).

Megan Boyle’s Selected Unpublished Blogposts of a Mexican Panda Express Employee sharpens an important discussion about range and scope that we’ve almost forgotten how to talk about. Her command of gesture buzzes the reader as Boyle’s eyes adjust to the black holes of the everyday. Hers is a narrative of sensations and moods, doubt, hesitancy, and curiosity punctuated by tense, conflicted anticipation and the unpleasant ennui that follows. The poems are recorded as a series of unpaginated, uncapitalized “blogposts” no longer than a dozen sentences. The whirling and wheeling motion is carefully hinged by temporal markers, which we don’t quite trust since the breaks remain unbroken. While very little actually occurs, Boyle evolves from someone who’d rather play with cat toys to a familiar heroic model, even if she might think an epic, or “e-pic,” were a digital photograph.

Boyle’s book has been quite successful. Less than three weeks after its November 2011 publication it reached number one on Small Press Distribution’s list of titles. That December, Boyle was named an one of French Glamour’s “it girls of 2012.” The Wall Street Journal covers her readings. It seems she has found a poetry for the modern reader.

Selected Blogposts follows the architecture of the blog. The book opens on January 2, 2009, the day after new resolutions. Right away we see this writer is not too interested in any action, because the outcomes are merely games.

i could never be a sports writer, unless my assignment was to write                                       
‘sports, sports, sports, sports’ for three pages

Boyle is more interested in anticipation, “waiting for someone in a car or something — the way time doesn’t exist when you’re waking next to someone — the thing that happens in your stomach when you’re looking up at the stars and see a lot more than you thought you would — the night before leaving for a trip on an airplane.” Three days later she writes: “everything i touch is going to be a fossil some day my dad still hasn’t taken down his christmas decorations/ i walked to his refrigerator and immediately unwrapped and ate a square of american cheese/ if i drop a toothpick i’m pretty sure it will remain where it fell for three days/ not sure what happens after that.”

These lines help us to get to know the speaker, share in her amusement, let ourselves agree with poignant observations like “my blood pressure rises during the period after sending a text message, before receiving a response” and “being sick feels like you’re wearing someone else’s glasses.” Boyle coaches us too on her aggressive side: “i want to make eye contact with a stranger and say ‘fuck’ in a way that makes them feel like i’ve caught them doing something shameful” and “i want to pull very long, multi-colored strings out of my brain and place them next to a bowl of doritos at a party.”

The meat of Selected Blogposts is the poem “Everyone I’ve Had Sex With.” By the time we come to this long extravagant meditation we’ve already been seduced by Boyle’s wit and frankness, her many stomach complaints hinting at some ominous condition, her food issues, her thrill for romance, her dissociative patterns. “Everyone I’ve Had Sex With” is a literal catalog of her 23 sexual partners, several of whom are related or hang out together. It is the Kama Sutra of a lost minimalist poet. Boyle has anticipated that readers might judge her, or else get too caught up with how she objectifies herself as she reels through recent memory and so she judges herself before the reader has a chance:

kyle: kyle was the most attractive guy at a halloween party this year so we had sex in the basement... he was an okay kisser i think, it was just alright... i was dressed as a piece of pizza. i don’t think he had a costume.

In typical Boyle fashion, she comments on the poem she’s written within the text of the poem itself. This gives each poem the appearance of being written before our eyes. She concludes her sexual inventory by adding what she felt after completing the list: “...surprised at how many details i remember, surprised at how passive i’ve been, angry at myself a little bit, self-pity a little bit, sad about failed relationships, happy remembering some moments, irrationally hopeful.”

The corresponding blogpost doesn’t take place until ten days later. What has been going on in the interval we wonder? It begins “last night i slept next to ‘a good school’ by richard yates. i only wore underpants.” We feel as if we’re still in Boyle’s catalog of partners, but in its newly added library. Having cut away the action of destiny, or at least played it down, she finds many connections normally hidden by plot. Boyle creates the impression of one long seamless day without any interruptions. She doesn’t lose her thread, whether it is snowing, or she is vomiting, or seeing her mother, or having sex. From June 12, 2009:

        i can’t stop using my tongue to feel my chipped tooth
        last night i got drunk and cleaned my room, it was okay
        i don’t know why i just wrote ‘it was okay‘
        i think it was because it would make the line look complete
        that line was a little too long
        that one was a little too short
        but since they were together it looked okay

Another poem, “Embarrassing Moments,” would seem a brief catalog, given Boyle’s age, yet endures through crisis after crisis. To this sort of poet, “forever” is about three pages long. The busier our lives, the more clobbered we are by our own mock-mythical destinies, the less time we have for the reflection essential to poetry. Boyle observes: “the more busy my life is, the less interesting thoughts i have, i think,” and “i stop thinking of my purpose in life when my life is filled with ‘things to do.’” Dial it down, she tells us, so we can get to some compelling revelation. The only reason to have jobs, apart from being self-supporting, is because at times of lavish, near-suicidal depression, we need to give our senses and our minds a rest:

        when customers stand in my peripheral vision for too long
        it feels like my throat wants to choke itself

        i want to scream ‘what do you want from me’ and fall to my knees

        from the perspective of my tongue my mouth feels infinitely huge

        if i close my eyes and someone touches my skin the touch feels somehow enormous

        i think i experience emotions similarly

        i want to see a periodic table of emotions, i want to see flow charts

Some two weeks later Boyle adds: “everyone i know is processing information using an interpersonal equation based on their memories and preferences.” This is our key as readers. Boyle’s is a memoir in verse, without a lot of memory. Though seeming to lack desire, it is deeply alluring.                    

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