Reviews of the Ephemeral

‘Snapshots of Rude: From Rude Tube and the Idiot Box’ by Catherine Woodward

In Pamphlets on July 16, 2012 at 9:00 am

-Reviewed by Sophie Mayer

TV guide listings, haiku, conversation, final score screen, Christian Bök-a-like vowel riffs: Catherine Woodward’s first collection goes boldly into the channel-surfing of contemporary poetry. Snapshots of Rude: From Rude Tube and the Idiot Box implies both this playful, formal variety (‘snapshots’) and the controlled focus of the over-arching project, a post-human song of the (lack of) self in the transmedia era. The second poem, ‘A Rude Tube’ introduces us to ‘our hero’:

Bound to his own spine,
tangled in his own wires
and chilled to the bone,
where the pop-out panel of his chest is propped, rigid, open,
our hero jibbers a string of hopeless wing-dings in protest.

This post-modern Spirit of the Age is alienated by his immersion in media, ‘trying to find the frequency / at which this all makes sense’ (‘Rude Tube Watches a Comedy Quiz Show’). With verve and cleverness, Woodward anatomises the incoherent streams of information that have come to constitute contemporary interiority, ending ‘Rude Tube Tells You What’s On His Mind’ with the pathetic, in its strictest sense, repetition:

our hero is just saying
our hero is just saying.

For all its invocations of pop culture from Pikachu to Kerry Katona (‘who knows that single mums / go to Iceland’), there is a nostalgic – even conservative – air to the collection, as poem after poem offers either a lightly satirical or broadly sentimental resolution that suggest the emptiness of mass consumer culture and the internet. The alienation device of calling the perspectival consciousness ‘our hero’ combines sentiment and satire, leaving the reader a little at odds: is the collection critiquing him, or asking for empathy with him as he, as we do, struggles with the mediatisation of feeling? The project takes on the air of a Pilgrim’s Progress, an amorality tale attempting to hold a mirror up to culture, ‘when Death came to our hero in the shape of Lady Gaga’ (‘Rude Tube and Death’). The snarky attitude towards consumer culture replicates that culture’s own snarkiness in a mise-en-abîme.

The redeployment of the ephemera of celebrity culture feels as trivial and throwaway as that culture itself. ‘Second Day: Rude Tube Finds a Last Inscription’ reads, in its entirety:

Sun-perished, dust worn,
reads: ‘I’m a celebrity,
get me out of here.’

This is the way the world ends, Woodward suggests, not with a bang but a snark. Such bathos is a key note of the collection, both in the colloquial tone and the rare use of enjambment, which gives the collection a flat auto-cue diction. And yet Woodward’s catchy recitation and quotation of the pithy blandishments of media rhetoric suggest that they should be able to do poetic work: this is not flarf, which uses found text only to insist, conceptually, on the meaningless of language, but by and large mainstream, often narrative lyric. Her formulation of the hero as machine, ‘the ejected DVD of his mouth hang[ing] open’ (‘Rude Tube Feels’) are reminiscent of the Blank Generation of the 1980s, but the collection doesn’t build enough on this possible throughline. There is a fascinating project to be undertaken on the (im)possibility of lyric in a post-human era, in which the self and the status update are entwined, and affect and affectlessness are excessive symptoms of the same disease. Snapshots of Rude suggests the parameters of that project but, in repeatedly repeating the symptoms, can’t begin to frame, address or even diagnose the cause.

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