Reviewed: Tender Data by Monica McClure
Birds, LLC 2015
I am reading this book of poems, Tender Data, by Monica McClure and I am constantly thinking of you and that time we almost died in the Gretsch building with that couple looking for a good time. I’ve never read poems that express that fear of what’s to come and also the pleasure that the fear can give you. There is constantly a lot of chatter about television shows serving as the voice of a certain group of New York women, whether it’s Girls or the far superior Broad City; people want women our age to fit inside a package, to be knowable. Monica McClure’s book is the best and least knowable package I’ve found for experiencing life as a young women in New York. Look at these lines from the poem “Tender Data,”
Rights without responsibilities-
that’s the kind of humanism I want
Her sense of humor is so sharp. Yet, there is a touch of truth to a statement like this. At least in writing to you I can say: I could do with less responsibility a lot of the time. And when we were 23 and living in that shitty apartment maybe that was when we understood humanism best. But I know we’ve moved on in some ways, like McClure describes. In “Epic Lyric” she writes,
When you decide to live
for someone else
it’s so mature
like having your own stash of coke
and doing it moderately
to get ideas for your screenplay
You know, the kind of bourgeois existence where you can tell yourself you’re still young and relevant- well to someone. Maybe.
I remember this time we went to the arepas place under the bridge and the guy asked of if we were sisters. I know I’m not Latina but my grandparents are from Sicily, which has always made me feel different in white America. That we ate snails and believed in magic wasn’t something I volunteered when I started private school. Yes, I know how privileged that sounds. Anyway. In the poem “Tender Data” McClure writes in response to someone calling her white trash:
Hello I am brown on the inside
And if you look for my trash
you won’t find it
And I get it. “Brown on the inside” can be taken in many ways in America 2015 for anyone who feels like they’re fooling the people in power into believing they belong. I felt like this nearly every day of graduate school. McClure parses race in America through personal experience- like most of us do. She demonstrates how much of a construct race, particularly in America, actually is. And what a nasty construct at that. The feeling of difference, of passing, of living a lie is something prevalent in many of our lives, for a variety of motives: race, gender, socio-economic background. She isn’t talking about being treated unfairly because of how she looks but about the internal effects being “different” has on her, how exhausting it is to be constantly explaining identity. In “The Return of the Story” she writes,
Let’s get paid. Let’s get bought! Let’s be ascetics, feeding on ourselves. I am literally
on the fence. Filling one hole with wine and another with a soft cheese, the gentle
lady kissed her daughter goodnight. The mother. That was the dangerous relationship. Achieving white womanhood, that was the truest thing we did together.
She isn’t only in-between about race but also about sexuality and this is another reason for my loving these poems so much.
McClure has this tiny poem:
Why are you
Each and every time we accidentally ended up at a strangers’ party I thought exactly that. Because also, we were so used to the homogeneity of our queer scene. But like her I remember our experiments, our testing to see if we were really going to commit to queerness. McClure talks about men a lot and is both attracted to and repulsed by their allure and power. In “Funny Money” she writes,
What is best for my little earthlings
is best for my conscience
I don’t regret accepting money
in exchange for healing love acts
Eros has her own currency
Some people say I should be a model
or an Indie queen
But all I really want
is to live a beautiful life
paid for by someone who feels
indebted to manhood
Not that I dated so many men, but there was a minute where I liked that guy from the Mexican restaurant. He was bad for me and in so many ways but just look at this description from “Tender Data,”
Sometimes life is like
dating a rapper who is afraid of
It is such an odd play on a Forest Gump cliché and it couldn’t be truer. Because life can be like that. My life was like that.
I know we both studied “useless” things in college so I am sure you’ve read Kristeva. When she writes on the abject it’s like she’s talking about the women in McClure’s poems who move about the world in control of their own agency and their own bodies and they refuse to fit into any simple classification. In The Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection Julia Kristeva writes,
“It is thus not lack of cleanliness or health that causes abjection but what disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules. The in-between, the ambiguous, the composite. The traitor, the liar, the criminal with a good conscience, the shameless rapist…”
In Tender Data the women are criminals, but in the best sense. They are bandits. They see how to navigate all kinds of spaces immediately and use what they have to gain control, as shown in this poem “Skunk Hour,”
I would rather flirt with a hick than be a female lumpy space
There are little drawings, particularly at the beginning of the book that remind me of Etel Adnan’s poem “The Arab Apocolypse.” there is the sense that one language, one set of signs is just not enough. Of course, that isn’t where the similarities between the two writers end. Besides the doodles, the conflict of identity is something the poets have in common, the lack of belonging to one group and instead feeling connected to an array of selves.
This use of many forms is something that makes the poems so intriguing. They are varied in tone and style. McClure experiments with online forms and the repetition of phrases found in common speech and turns them into something much more foreign. Like when she says in “Tender Data,”
The best words don’t function
as language or function
Monica McClure expresses so many ideas and emotions and rages I have wanted to express in these poems. Her language is functioning. She understands the flux of identity and the in-between spaces so many of us live in. I was watching that video you sent me of Maluca Mala singing and rapping and there is something in her aesthetics that goes with these poems. There is a total obliteration of high and low, a total obliteration of a fixed identity.
I miss you. Come visit.