Reviewed: Beast Feast by Cody-Rose Clevidence Published by: Asahata Press
Beast Feast, by Cody-Rose Clevidence, is a slippery book, resisting easy description. Conveniently,
Clevidence outlines their project from the start: “be prepared for many forms… this is an argument re: ‘natural’ ‘animal’ ‘world’ etc.”
Okay, seems easy enough, if a little vague, only this credo doesn’t do justice to the text that follows. And that et cetera! What a crock-pot bomb of a word. So, I sought outside counsel.
I brought Beast Feast and the Major Arcana cards of my tarot deck into bed with me and together we slept, touching, for ten hours. Then first thing in the morning, trying not to look, I fingered the two cards closest to me–most of the cards splayed on the floor (sorry!)–and the book just so in the crook of my elbow, and slipped the cards into BF at random. The next night I slept with BF under my pillow, and in the morning (O pink spring sun!) I unburied the book to find the Devil and the Moon wide awake inside. Good morning, Moon! Hell-o, Devil!
Now, I feel I should mention for any tarot experts who may be reading that I come by this interpretation crudely, but in good faith:
I am pricked–tickled and dismayed by this combination–O the possibilities!, they slither sick in drunk delight beneath my skin. This will not be an easy go; we are treading wet and shifting sands. The Moon is a bright and dizzy lure and the Devil her shadow dancer. Moon-manic and spellbound, we pluck the wrong fruit and eat it with the wrong mouth. The Devil ensnares us in luna’s glistering veils, and we, “bedazzled–/ hyperreal w. synthetic pearls,” lie down drunk in the mud of our own “ObScEnE SeCrEtIoNs.” In the distance, a pack of dogs cackles over their kill. We are the dogs too.
“Be prepared for many forms” I think, looking down at the bloated red satyr: “beast of multiplicity,” “ungentle and urgent beast,” “beast for glamor”…“u soiled masculinity ‘divine’. u fatty fat / fat beauty.” “LiStLeSs VuLgAr” Capricorn speaks through these poems in twisted sissy voices, transmogrifying form at every bend of the book’s ectoplasmic irradiated river of sludge and spunk, that “multivalent deluge in the nether regions”; and we the readers–breathless and half-annihilated–are swept away in the flash-flood of its sexy oil-slick clitic detritus-for- language. Clevidence utters “beast” again and again, dozens of times, and we–suddenly suspect/ subject–spin 180 degrees to see the baton/strap-on of our interpellator.
This violent erotic gesture which initiates the reader mobilizes a mutual gaze, flattening the expanse between “subject/ object”…“mind/body/world”…“he/she,” “right/wrong,” and “syntax/semantics,” thereby estranging and desecrating the seen thing(ness) in a fractal explosion of operatic bloom space. “A fetished gaze sets forth all prism in the deed.”
Turn around and “each daisy is looking out at us.” The shadow dancer is gone, shape-shifted, “is/is not human,” meat, flower, coin. The Moon flares oneiric and the landscape undulates: “by necessity/ embedded/ embodied/ necess/ ity/ embedded/ clover/ erase over/ laid <laid on/ top of>/ [laden]/ erasure/ vibrating/ lover/ dissolv/ ed/ land/scape/me/ subjectless wind/ mis/place/ d/ de/ sire(d) ‘all over.’” The terramorphized body throbs with an urgent but unidentified desire that turns inward angrily and melancholically, demanding self-effacement through sacrificial immurement (“embedded/embodied….erase over…landscape me”), proposing harmony only in the total and radical erasure of boundaries between self and other, body and wor(l)d.
And this book almost does it too, as much as any holdable/contained/commodified thing can. It lives on sharpened edge of language, almosting it outside-ish Symbolic structures of signification in brief ecstatic spurts of columnar non-alphanumerical text reminiscent of Hannah Weiner’s “The Zero One.”
In “[OXYD],” Clevidence writes “,;1];.,m[p]/ 010WILDL/ YGENITAL/ EDPOLIS:;,” with an urgent fervor, celebrating a radically deconstructed language which asserts the primacy of lived queer experience in the face of patriarchal constructions of social space through the controlling language of law. Ultimately, however, this book is far too Romantic to yield totally to a radical dismantling of the signifier, choosing instead to privilege a lushly pastichey and queerly optimistic “I.”
And thank god for that, because I absolutely adore the Romantic “I” of this book. There is more to this “I” than meets the eye. If it defines itself, it is by way of disidentification, of diffusing I as a wave, disrupting the temporality of its enunciation. I is constructed iteratively in a patchwork-citational way, jamming critical theory and daggered slurs into one long hypnotic nonce fingered open and fringed as an hymnal. “I am as a ragged edge in this [yr]/ [our] dimension is a fist of noise I place hard in the bulging geometry.” I, I, I, the Devil yowls, earth lapping at his groin. Sound populates [our] holes and it feels damn good.
The Moon swells the tide and memory is swallowed in waters of sugared (dis)illusion. “Swim with me in the river,” Clevidence says with brutal simplicity in one monostich, nymphal, siren- like. There is a vulnerability and emotional resonance to every poem that bely a crystalline weaponization of language. Sometimes they TALK LIKE THIS and oh so matter-of-factly: “THE COLOSSEUM WAS BUILT BY SLAVES. THE PYRAMIDS WERE BUILT BY SLAVES. THE WHITE HOUSE WAS BUILT ‘LARGELY’ BY BLACK AFRICANS FORCIBLY BROUGHT HERE AND ENSLAVED.” So goes the “blinding sum” of human cruelty. And where did it all begin? One Word, and another glowering tower is erected. Clevidence celebrates this wor(l)ding, wilding in the ground zero Garden of their/[our]/[western civ’s] (un)making. “To speak,” they write, “= an apple”; and their “apples are full of madness.” And what a pleasurable madness it is, paralleled in my tarot reading by the bacchanalian symbiosis of beasts evoked by the Moon and the Devil.
It is through this celebratory coexistence that I read Clevidence’s lyric as one that is drunk in love in the Garden of Eden. Except instead of Adam and Eve, the garden is populated by roiling horny rotting beasties abstracted from ourselves–more mammal than zombie, but just as blood- hungry.
And as in a zombie apocalypse, the garden is buttressed with walls of bone and excrement, and armed to its phantom teeth: “Is an arsenal enough to free an orchard? Swampthing, inebriate. I’ll arm a garden. We can all live there.”
Strange new beasts prowl this undulating necropastoral landscape with a violent tenderness. One moment the poems proceed as if sniffing for land mines, the next they run brazenly into the hot thicket strapped with grenades of ecstatic new language.
This is a poetry of sublime liberation: an anarchic call to arms against all the batshit capitalist latent-homosexual politicians, against the fascist regimentation/rationalization of mind and body.
This is a poetry against boring poetry. This poetry is proudly “historic, odorous, and loud.” This poetry desecrates poetry, seeping at its infinite fissures. Just like Divine in Pink Flamingos, this poetry Eats Shit in orgiastic pleasure. “Disgust is the mechanism by which societies enforce social/moral codes,” they write. And so for Clevidence, as for Jean Genet, to whom they dedicate a poem, disgust becomes a necessary and “obscene cult,” the scripture of which could be this very book.
“Fetished gorgèd spring/ indecent in genetic shock/ all muscled sprung…in ‘wild’ is brute x(tasy) gleaning/ the ripe aspect of a pink-tipped sky.”
The garden ground we thought we knew underfoot is suddenly transformed, (r)/(d)eterritorialized, sorely configured inside ourselves, throbbing, abscessed. Then slowly, but suddenly, the wet and shifting sands of time dissolve in the wide white riptide of history, and we are all but plunged from this world, hanging on its vast and budded rim, salivating.
shelley feller is an ex-gallery girl and current MFA candidate at the University of Alabama, where they serve as an assistant poetry editor for *Black Warrior Review*. their work can be found in *TINGE Magazine.*