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On Foam

Maria Sledmere

Figure 1 Foamcore. Coloured pencil on paper (2021).



Foam: An Ars Poetica



You called from the end of the line

want to go down

when you answer in polyester blouse of the weather

to exist in present-tense sphere inside the people’s sphere

unbuttoning to get closer to flowers, like when our chests

smash grass and other chests

the art of being here faster

crosses the skin


॰°ₒ৹๐



I want to replace my eyes with asterisks

so you know to look elsewhere

as if for snacks


in the fantasy of what Sloterdijk calls ‘spherological original

catastrophe’ I only ask what comes after

like toothpaste or bubble-gum or lux, latex, dry fast

this stuff of houses, levelling ethereal tokens

& dry my eyes with

the end of a line


॰°ₒ৹๐



Lossy of voice on the iPhone call of like, inexhaustible

morning belonging to ars poetica of compressed registers

was it Archibald MacLeish

who said ‘A poem should be palpable and mute

As a globed fruit’

I cut down the middle with moan to experience

the simpering plenitude of this foam

which is the poem’s vom, or like everything not to be said

inside stratigraphy, hot sweet foam

between lines, filling the glasshouse

with ‘be here soon’ and the same reply, latte

that scaffolds the altered state of the heart


nestled in blood foams and a book no one reads

is this anthropocene realism or am I the pomegranate

inside the blood orange you gave to me

a whole new globe


[…]


all fruit is deceptive

the poem believes anything


॰°ₒ৹๐


Foam surrounds what Marie Buck calls the lyric moment,

‘when the poem stops narrativising something

and starts using associative logic and goes really big’


(this is the bit where something is missing)


when the fertiliser actually works

and you get longest sentence, also palpable

and fat with pulp


॰°ₒ৹๐



if to operate systems as theatre, the glasshouse

where everyone performs the way blood laps

against their chest

lying down, pressed against imaginary meadows

hemmed by her clouds, It’s Okay

To Cry or like

put the poem on mute as you otherwise listen



॰°ₒ৹๐


To chorus or khora

like my body is sore


under a valerian chandelier, leaking vinegar…


this party of

more nature than you bargained for


chewing all chlorophyll jewellery….


॰°ₒ৹๐


From memory foam mattress to foam of the heart

is a sea-foam, emollient, harnessed

by pallor

to lay out the panels and salt mortar

as a porous cry-smile, like :’)


I give you it…


o

O


Try adding to bestiary the dream-foam

don’t forget ambrosia has many meanings:

food, soap and perfume of the gods, plus

popular American dessert of the twentieth century

featuring oranges, apocalypses, coconut, sugar…


this original spherological catastrophe could be in your mouth…


carbon negative

when I took out my tampon and foam came out…

and scarlet fishes

having circled the foam of the heart

and womb…


(O)


There are many variations on this recipe

as poetry goes, conformed to body shape


॰°ₒ৹๐


Foam’s therapeutic application of the moon

or to insulate the diamond swamp I fantasised

that candy is out the bag!


Poem’s therapeutic application of the moon

is pink and growing, it gets really full on Zoom

where someone vacuums their palpable flesh of glass.


The temporality of candy tends to shrinkage, lag, stream.

How long can you crunch a dream?

But the numbers…


॰°ₒ৹๐


Foam as the intelligence of hyperlinks, dead pages, not the stuff

of improvised shimmer or wanting

the sour foam of unpasteurised autumn, somnolent


o

O

o


or conditioning your hair

in milky rain

as though acid did not exist

except as accident


and foam we didn’t know, naturalised peaches

dying in our arms when we were farmers

scything amazing yellow

catch crop

once in the dream


the same as foam is tender to know what daily happens

gathering up the sides of the poem


if I take out the candy I forget


॰°ₒ৹๐


please more of this fodder for living on

borrowed time, poem-time, exit main chatroom for better location

warm surmise, the cloudy femme clouds


what gets left behind and why



॰°ₒ৹๐



Foam is such a mood right now. You can’t hold it like water, it just dissolves or spreads elsewhere. Eileen Myles says ‘there’s just something hopelessly queer about foam’ (2018: 99). Squeeze a toy universe and you see it’s full of foam, the frothy material of a representative nothingness. Cumulus foam, luminous air, formless weather; everyday latte art of future divination. Whether you answer, sip or stir; whether you thirst or call. Something about the blurring of nature and culture: ‘an undefined cluster of foam bubbles’, Myles proposes, could symbolise ‘a condition of nature that is transformed into a condition of culture’ (2018: 99). In her essay ‘Telefoam: Species on the Shores of Cixous and Derrida’, Lynn Turner looks for a posthumanist ethics in the ‘distance-proximity of the telephone’ and non-anthropocentric modes of communication (2014: 158). The foam is something of a congealed excess between space-times and voices; the bubbling static on the line, ‘assonance’ signalling ‘waves washing against the shore’, gesturing hospitality towards ‘the one who arrives (l’arrivant) without ever fully arriving in the present’ (Turner 2014: 159). In a protean, contingent discourse, we can’t be sure if who arrives is human (Turner 2014: 159); telefoam is a play between open and closed, the thickening message of the call. Hello, it’s me; this voice is a touch, it curls and slips.


Calling to the anthropocene, we produce the bubbling mass of voices down the line, bodies on the line, a mass that forms in the body, amassing bodies. I think of foam in microbes, toothpaste, ocean pollution, thalassic expanse. Foam is literally the sea; it asks what we see of a call. The gull cries back across the bay, its throat congealed as the water itself — sip sip — the sand bar held in plastiglomerate [1] rasp. The anti-thesis, the anthropocene as a failed completeness, antithesis: ‘the Book has always been thought to be endlessly spraying foam of an inexhaustible ocean’, constituting a redundancy in thought (Nancy 1993: 325). To write or speak the anthropocene is to hold that contingency in your mouth: to want to expel a reverberating whole, to compose the repeat materials of bewildered sense, to want to control the volume of speech.


For Peter Sloterdijk, foam provides a ‘metaphor’ that shows up ‘a republic of spaces’, in which ‘“life”’ forms space without end to plurality, ‘intertwined with other lives and consist[ing] of countless units’, ‘articulat[ing] itself on nested and simultaneous stages’ (2016: 23). Foam offers an impression of ‘the independent spatiality of the communications’ that go between life-forms, entities (Sloterdijk 2016: 237). I want to think more about this link between foam and a glasshouse — this place where thought could grow. Where the intersecting lines of a network offer ‘a universe for data fishers’, foam captures ‘the topological allocation’ of living space in its ‘self-securing creations’ (Sloterdijk 2016: 237, 235). But what is foam actually used for? Foam glass is a porous, lightweight glass material, commonly used in building construction due to its properties of durability and insulation. New bioactive glass foams are being developed with ‘controlled microstructure’ including ‘porosity, pore shape, pore interconnectivity’, allowing for porous attunement and biocompatibility in the fabrication of tissue constructs (Hoppe and Boccaccini 2014: 205). This bioactive glass foam raises the question of a bodily supplementarity in the context of techno-innovation.


The supplement is that which adds, that fills in for what’s missing but also enriches. Derrida describes the supplement: ‘As substitute, it is not simply added to the positivity of a presence, it produces no relief, its place is assigned in the structure by the mark of an emptiness’ (1997: 145). I want to borrow this congealing of ideas — glass foam, supplement and ‘republic of spaces’ — to think about what a glasshouse could do. The glasshouse as lyric architecture. Let’s think of this glasshouse as the essay itself, embodied articulation of anthropocene textuality, here we are. The light comes in. The glasshouse as simultaneity; architecture experienced in the converging space-times of thought, interface, dwelling, flesh. ‘[S]uccessful application of an engineered tissue construct relies on highly vascularized structures’ (Hoppe and Boccaccini 2014: 200). For the supplement to adapt to its system, there must be a density or intricacy of lines, vascular flows of imaginary, energy, signification. The supplement itself ‘produces no relief’ and yet that mark of an emptiness is where we begin again, where we forgot we would even begin. Bioactive glass as scaffold, glasshouse as the affective, tangential architecture of where we are now, wounded in lack when we think of the future.


॰°ₒ৹๐


In moving between material metaphors, what if to write, here, was to meld divergent agents, foaming the glass of the world to harden in the mind of whoever might read or listen. To move between the abstract and tactile, looking for a suppler microstructure, tracing the foam of a thought in space. Lending hypermaterials to the everyday. When I bring in this or that thing that happened, the dam’s collapse, the closed-off roads, the viral form, the screen-time of my double vision. Trying to see where we mutually make our spaces, finding a way to articulate that intertwined existence which is queerly in excess of itself, which spreads regardless, which touches: ‘Put them here and put me in beside the / caribou and them beside the past and / put the little stars inside their heads / inside the place they are’ (Jarnot 2013: 63). The anthropocene raises the conundrum of where things are placed or put, the ethics of assignation. Lisa Jarnot’s poem ‘Altered States’ moves between entities and their traces of presence and motion, ending on a gesture towards ‘the things / still left I never cannot name’ (2013: 63). With this double negative, Jarnot’s speaker notes the imperative towards speaking what still holds language in the twist of presence among absence, the need to vocalise what remains, reminding. The poem is a way of asking where I belong, what constitutes a ‘we’, who are ‘they’. Its politics is a way of arranging the spaces we fill as living entities; reminiscent of Sloterdijk’s foams it shows how this ‘republic of spaces’ might play out in time and, more specifically, its human arrangement. Foam’s poeisis is this bringing-forth of the inside as outside, the distant adjacent, the unexpected intimacies prompted by loss. With its imagery of ‘bodies’, ‘the highway’, ‘boats’ — ‘let them row for days’ — this could be a poem about those displaced or in transit, the crisis of existing between, of living only in a liminal space whose occasion dissipates. But this is also a poem about the caribou, whose population is stable, despite ‘the little stars’ that fill the reindeers’ heads with intimations of a distant extinction. The animals she names are not of immediate conservation threat (by ‘orange bird heads’ (Jarnot 2013: 63) does she mean the Western Tanager?) and so are still nameable, even with their names aslant. Foam is an altered state. Jarnot’s poem stages the shifting republic of spaces as a question of pronouns, timescales, here and there and now and then.


॰°ₒ৹๐


‘Foam begets nothing’, Sloterdijk writes, ‘it has no consequences. With no life expectancy or next generation, all it knows is running ahead into its own bursting’ (2016: 31). Foam is against reproductive futurism [2] in the realm of art, intimacy, life itself and the work of critique: it does not solidify hereditary traits or build by foundation; it clusters, slides and flows by instinctive effervescence. Although recent developments in bioengineering have situated foam in the realm of productivity and construction, foam remains the stereotype of ephemera, dissolution. Foam’s queerness might be its resistance to fixity, legacy and reproduction. Sloterdijk calls it ‘a charlatanry made of air and something or other’, this ‘unreliable and shimmering’ thing (2016: 29), gesturing towards a certain vagueness, a wishy-washy quality we associate with its substance. Foam is a lightness, a fugitive trick. What is it to seek no consequence with my prose, to promise nothing? To admit a foundational defeat? Is foam a kind of ‘queer negativity’, ‘dispossess[ing] the social order of the ground on which it rests’ (Edelman 2004: 6)? The fuzzy red line of a radical grammar, something we’d thoughtlessly clear with a swipe and click? Or the irrepressible bubbling outwards of the matter of the line itself? I want to look at the sociality of foam, the worlds of memory, touch, word and speech it shores. I want to see what hardens and cools, and what warms up. What of which globe, bubble or surface is warming. The glasshouse, then, as a kind of ‘“extended hothouse science”’: an ‘interpretation of foam’ (Sloterdijk 2016: 36-37).


Evelyn Reilly’s Styrofoam (2009) poses a floating poetics of its inexhaustible namesake, a closed-cell polystyrene foam whose evaporated fumes contribute to ozone degradation. There is something humming within us we still can’t say, we might not know (for all the polymer diagrams the book shows, the chemical breakdowns, how do we really know styrofoam). Reilly writes: ‘& all the time singing in my throat’; there is just this myth, ‘this mood of moods’, ‘All this.formation’ (2009: 9, 11). A kind of periodic lux that blinks between verbs and determiners, so we have to look close to see the happening; we notice the arbitrary tense of grammar in a time of objects whose scales elude us. Light as the epiphenomenon of false ephemera: as though all the granite in Cornwall or Aberdeen were replaced with Styrofoam, snowily glittering. I could take pictures. I could drink coffee, ‘all the time singing’. Does time itself sing in Reilly’s speaker’s throat, or does she merely sing all the time — and what permeable state do we achieve of song? Pieces of styrofoam snow still cling to your lips, after the takeaway drink. There is stimulant, detriment, after-effect.


What Reilly names ‘INFINITE PLASTICITY’ (2009: 54): is this the malleable ‘stuff of alchemy’, ‘the very idea’ of a substance’s ‘infinite transformation’ (Barthes 1993: 97), or the everlasting afterlife of plastic, which does not degrade so much as fragment into pellets of scattered excess. ‘It is a misconception that materials / biodegrade in a meaningful timeframe’ (Reilly 2009: 10): Reilly’s volume, according to Lynn Keller, ‘challenges readers to confront the perhaps unfathomable reality of thermo-plastics’, their time-scales and planetary effects beyond human comprehension (2015: 847). Read by Keller as a case study in Timothy Morton’s notion of hyperobjects (2013), Styrofoam anticipates a troubled poetics of material agencies colliding at the limits and overspills of language. In Styrofoam, language itself is a hyperobject of divergent disciplines, scales and times, moving between evocative, conjunctive or disjunctive lyric fragments (‘hence this mood of moods’), definitions, images, parenthetical asides that form as nested, representational loops ('one of many permutations possible’) and question/answer formats (Reilly 2009: 11, 15). With its command-line prompts and sense of ‘overflow’, the volume resembles a (styro)foam of inscripted code for sounding out the ecological thought of complex materials, whose reality settles snowily around us in prompts, interruptions and fragments. Coming in drifts, slushes and precipitations. Holding code, diagrams and visual materials, I wonder if Styrofoam comprises not just a conversation between poetry and science but an anthropocenic archive that hails an im/possible reader to come, whose intelligence may well be artificial. The qualities of the kind of ‘ecopoetics’ Reilly sees in her own work are not ‘really anything to get the big aesthetic glands salivating’ (2013). Might there then be a beyond-human quality to the work, with its foam of mutual spaces, its stammering algorithmic lilt, its hyperlinked syntax?


Asking ‘Why would any poet want to touch this stuff?’, Reilly writes:


Perhaps because it is not “stuff” at all, meaning it is not a genre or a movement, but rather a fact of writing in a world of accelerated environmental change, meaning one cannot not touch it. And this makes me wonder if it is a poetics at all.

(Reilly 2013)


‘Stuff’ invokes the plural thinginess of styrofoam itself: polystyrene comes as foam, plastic and film. Is this ‘another language or no language at all’ (Wood 2013: 17)? What if Reilly’s work was styrofoam’s khora, radically resistant to definition, touch, human intervention, expression. As though it had congealed, placenta-like, with the membranes, hormones and nutritious stuff of language, synapse, discipline: the virtual space of contingent poetics. Contingent because hardly ‘a poetics at all’, at least in the sense of traditional lyric expression set to a poet’s (however divergent) intent. Like khora, this kind of anthropocenic poetics is ‘a fact of writing’, mutating along the lines of ‘accelerated environmental change’. What if khora was more like tumour: cancerous assemblage of contemporary toxicities, slow violence (Nixon 2011), moving across the page, the snow of our screens, our sense, the streams of our blood, of its own accord? One cannot ‘touch’ the fact of this writing: it’s just there in the foam, shimmering, trembling, falling as snow. And to invoke this both as metaphor and literal description. I think of Christina Sharpe, riffing on Toni Morrison’s novel, Beloved (1987): ‘In my text, the weather is the totality of our environment; the weather is the total climate; and the climate is anti-black’ (2017). The climate is a psychological weathering and a physical abrasion on persons striated and marked by race, geography, gender, class, sexuality and (dis)ability: suffering the disproportionate effects of teargas, surveillance, poverty, pollution, toxicity, food scarcity, the architectures of public and private space. To weather an anti-black climate, Sharpe argues, there must be ‘changeability and improvisation’, which ‘produces new ecologies’ (2017). An experience of the weather is always relational and produced in specific material contexts. Perhaps it isn’t a question of what poet would ‘touch this stuff’ as what poets have choice to.





Oversnow


As though snow

through a flavour,

Seafoam forever.

It’s no use as zero

running the ones.

“How are you today.”

Tropical lime on

cocktail snow, before

Pink snow, no noise

is elliptical precise

portion of crust & yellow

to chase, less of a corduroy snow

listens for snow-sound,

harsh bright rush

bell-bottomed, indifferent

species of hormone

eclipses clearly, head spin

the sentiment set to speak

eons of us without ornament.

The stimulant blues of futures

collate as white, tiniest

fractal you are now

warmer layering ice

to not new snow,

absent powdering

hero snow, once-

slush plastics of lucite scent,

actual ground &

nothing completes.





Shimmer Lamb


I dream of the lamb and foam.

Old and ersatz roses.

Quietly you cut the cake

but candles are too expensive.

I feel like a secondary quality of lichen, nightfall

Foam begets foam, a form

you fill. Scratch that infinity

place beyond gender.

Stupid petals

of crescent sugar. Still,

had I been to Manhattan

watching the fractal lambs in the mall

and the hyperloop of future sleep.

Wearing my password protection.

I dream of the family loam

inside the land. Milkily

feeling down, I dream you

cut my hair.




Figure 2 The snow was a virus of time. Digital illustration (2019).


January 2019:

The snow was a virus of time, I felt it still beneath my nails in beads.


Who speaks to recognise the line from a diary?


Foam is a talk. Open their mouth and there is all this gush. I imagine a necklace of bubbling pearls, and other anachronisms; legacy materials we let scatter and burst. ‘Foam is a kind of a radio show’, Myles writes, and what of all these voices, ‘Foam means I want’ (2018: 95, 102). I cook lentils and the foam brims up to the edge of the pan, spills over in a hot sizzle, fire and water. I overwrite; I inherit an impulse towards destruction. ‘An intricate and hollow polymer network is energy transport at its finest’ (Bergvall 2011). Foam can progressively extinguish a liquid fire; I once saw a chef do this with such performative aplomb I had to immediately write about it, neglecting my customers’ breakfasts. Then it was New Year and the manager opened something bubbly and it burst all over her hair, foam in her hair and the drains below, and the drink itself tasting like acid rain, my first adult taste of weather. But the subsequent writing was sugar rush. We line glasses up on the bar for others to take, the ones that are passing. What do we know of what we just take; is there anything free at the bar at the end of the world? I could just take and just take this. We slide between points of nourishment.


She unplaits her hair to let out the foam and this is conditioner. I need something soapy soft to make gloss of what falls. On the first day of the year, still underwater I wrote


To float is to make of your body a thread, and imagine someone is trailing this thread on and on, and you start to unravel just so and so that is the beautiful thing, the one you should relish, the becoming undone of yourself in the feeling of water. If I could just make of that pool a mirror, glassiest surface, reflection of skyward…what


If I had known then that the sky was finite. The ozone thinning. Foam is dissipating storage. Foam can form from the harmful degradation of algal blooms, such as dinoflagellates and cyanobacteria; foam is the ocean’s dyspeptic bile, a spuming mass of flarf and particles. Blooms of Karenia brevis along the Gulf coast, when popped release algal toxins into the air as a poisonous aerosol; a ‘soap-like foam’ of ‘decaying Akashiwo sanguinea algae bloom’ found in the Pacific Northwest stripped bird feathers’ of their waterproof quality, making it tough for them to fly. Many suffered hypothermia and died (NOAA 2018). Foam can be a deathly mood, a paralysis; I can’t fully look into its sparkling archive of toxic excess. Caroline Bergvall recalls how ‘Proust’s memory work is foamic in a foam-lined room’ (2011). Remember when we used to ‘surf’ the internet.

॰°ₒ৹๐


What if foam was knowing what we could not know, what the other did not know. ‘Look I told him, or maybe he did this drawing and gave it to me. It’s a squiggle, not much’ (Myles 2018: 95). In foam the note becomes a squiggle, this pathetic fallacy of a cloud, what you sketched incidental of the unlistenable feeling. ‘I had just’, Hélène Cixous begins after the beginning, in this passage from Hyperdream (2009) where she writes of ‘What he doesn’t know’, this thing she is saying in the present, ‘shivering with cold’ [3] in this lapse between speech and what is spoken, I say/I had just (2009: 109). This thing in death, the entity gone as she gestures to her daughter:


I indicated with jerk of my chin, that, the still blue canvas of the silence that was snapping up the sky, but how to name that which does not exist and whose notexist one feels as the outcome of a supernatural Annulment like what the Thing might have been after God had erased the world with a swipe of his sponge

(Cixous 2009: 109).


The deictic movement of the chin is a jerk: a moment of syncope that marks an impossible communiqué in the khoratic space between mother and daughter. A bodily twitch of intuition. Look, here. I draw you a canvas of sky because silence itself is a supplement for the ozone duvet I have drawn for you many times, little one, drawing you into the text of a sleep that is warm. We separate ourselves to know our existence. We lie so exposed, and yet what do we know of ‘What he doesn’t know’ (Cixous 2009: 109). The author as other, the authorial lack of authority. Could we so easily ‘swipe’ this world with a sponge; we the author-god running excess suds of foam? Can foam be deleted, its form annulled? How to name what no longer exists and not call it a death, for that would seem so ‘natural’ and perhaps extinction itself is the ‘supernatural’ or what Morton, riffing on Coleridge, calls super natural: ‘like those tubes of toothpaste that say “30 percent extra”; extra Nature, more than you bargained for’ (2010: 45).


Perhaps foam is the material whose immanence most closely embodies dissolve. As in Rachael Allen’s dreamlike ‘Monstrous Horses’, where a Siamese doubling of the horse marks a strange identity in plural among plush Nature: ‘The forest beneath them is so green / it is an optical illusion / mounted on foam’ (2019: 8). Punning on the doubling of mounted as the scaling of a horse in order to ride it, or the backing or setting of a work of art for display, Allen situates the ‘forest’ as an idea or a dream, a super-natural whimsy set to poetry’s glance, as art. Foam being a common material for installation supports, here it acquires the extra sense of spaces within the space of the artwork and its framing poem, which collapses ‘distance’ in its quick-lined unfolding of vivid, surreally-associated objects and images (Allen 2019: 8). Its im/possibility of merely ‘illusion’, propped by a porous substance (and what passes through the pores of the poem?).


Foam gets into all sorts of poetic landscapes. James Schuyler’s ‘Amy Lowell Thoughts’ uses the filter of a playful questioning poetics (in the manner of the poem’s namesake) to think through agential materials up close, sensually brimming over: ‘Just at the surface / toothed rocks / spit foamy mouthwash’ (1998: 319). We are this close, subcurrent, ‘Just at the surface’. Something Maggie Nelson writes of Schuyler: ‘He had a cruising eye, to be sure [...]. But his poetics struck me as refreshingly without a will to power [...] They feel triumphantly wilted’ (2016: 129). The cruising eye: to cruise is to look and be looked at, to feel the frisson of an animal magnetism between spaces and bodies, often via shifting degrees of containment: the cruiser in the bubble of their car, turning between streets/lines, ‘performing [...] a drive to speech or creation’ (Nelson 2016: 129), towards what would (re)act upon them. The lack of a ‘will to power’ in Schuyler’s poetics is refreshing (I think of salt air, bubbles rising in ice-cold soda), it just comes, here in the event of reading, like the unfold of seafoam as it meets the shore. It feels less anthropocentric and bound: more like turning between the outside and in, making liquidity of our mutual spaces. There’s the memory scene of pollution, the city and its adjacent, plastic-wrecked beach; there’s a slight collapse that bears strange beauty. And so a kind of wilt, fragility’s weird endurance, soapy suds met with the harsh, micro-excreta of the world. I think of foam browning at the edge of the sand, I think of roses past their best. A plaque we can’t scrub clean, a melting world.


॰°ₒ৹๐


Like toothpaste, super natural is a sort of foam: desire’s excess, what we spit out after polishing the nodes of appetite, ‘snapping up the sky’ with our teeth. The condition of ‘notexist’ (Cixous 2009: 109) is so gaping that everything in its place becomes a foam, the nothingness substance; what remains after God sops the world back up ‘with a swipe of his sponge’ — as if this had all been a mistake, was too much Nature. Annulment: a speech act that (retroactively) declares something null. As if in this sweep the world was made void, but there was still a foam, a poetry, a talk show, a shimmer of echoes across the shore at the end, between us. I read the passage beside another body, I could not sleep; I felt the sleep of this other in several jerks, I closed my book. I found this poem I had written, ‘Altitude Song’, where


the foam disappears

like stolen jewellery


The poem was a kind of emollient, foamy emotion, nourishing the face of what we could not know.


‘Do I dare to eat a peach?’ asks the bewildered speaker of T. S. Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’, before musing on whether to walk by the waves. You could say Eliot’s poem, in its state of negative capability[1], its questioning, its shifting between concrete, abstract and imagined spaces, is foam-adjacent. In Lila Matsumoto’s poem ‘Peaches’, the speaker addresses not the ‘six peaches’ but the ‘fleshy foam sleeves’ ‘unburdened of their charges’ once the peaches are removed (2018: 24). To ask ‘the six foams’ is to ‘gesture to the whole wide world’, relieved of its charge and thus purpose, to ask what it means to feel ‘numb and insignificant’ (Matsumoto 2018: 24). Which is surely the existential status of most of the foams in the world, cast aside as waste once their transient material cargo is gone, consumed, dissolved in a way they, as foams, never could be. Taking its cue from Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons (1914), a poetic glasshouse of everyday objects and the thinginess of their emotional and aesthetic relation, Urn and Drum attends to the microstructures of our porous, anthropocenic reality. Matsumoto enacts a tenderness towards a felt world of curious assemblage, musings upon a foamy republic of spaces, whose thingly presence absorbs, warps and zooms in scale. ‘What, finally, do we elongate ourselves for?’ (Matsumoto 2018: 39). Alexa Winik refers to Matsumoto’s object-attentiveness as ‘an embodied feminist hermeneutic’ (2018), one, I would add, that lends clarity to the fractal realities of a less-anthropocentric perspective. That asks where we go to when we go beyond us, or think about a newly-epochal world of reflexive filter. Late-capitalism, anthropocene, call it what we will, it falls around us, it’s coming, it leaves its deep-archival, planetary trace, like Matsumoto’s ‘Meteor’. The lyric speaker can only ask: ‘To what extent is it sustained by longing. / To what extent is that longing mine’ (Matsumoto 2018: 43). The longing itself folds back into it, the metabolic surge that continues the poem, even as we stop, it goes on reading us.


॰°ₒ৹๐


After a death, we argue about what gets left behind and why. What can I gift to the future, my imaginary poem-child and her poem-children, but this string of foam in lieu of pearls or a decorative sentence, grief’s adhesive gleam. It hardly holds the nape of the sky, but I click its beads like the tender steps in a recipe. I look for bubble and squeak; something that steams, a homely entry, overflow. It’s July and the blue sky threatens a rain that exists, freckling our faces by the sea with its solar paint, and beside you I’m almost empty, complete and content to notexist: ‘So much hunger never to feed in the water & never to breathe there. Break up. I’m stormier’ (Mayer 1975: 56).


॰°ₒ৹๐


[1] A term proposed by Patricia Corcoran, Charles Moore and Kelly Jazvac for a stone whose combination of organic debris and sedimentary grains is held together by hardened molten plastic. The high density of plastiglomeibits transport by wind or water, thereby increasing the potential for burial and preservation’ (Corcoran, Moore, Jazvac 2014). We think of plastic as a light, throwaway material, but plastiglomerate marks a more permanent, anthropogenic trace in the Earth’s geological archive.

[2] Lee Edelman’s term for the political, heteronormative imperative to be always ‘fighting for our children’ and thus ‘for the future’ (2004: 3).

[3] ‘Have you ever been to a nightclub foam party?’, I once asked. We talked of the strange euphoria of material contact, darkling novelty which soon dissolves when the foam starts to melt on you, slides upon the dancefloor, and you grow cold, so cold in your skimpy dress as though washed up a thousand times over by the end of each song, taking yourself out to smoke if only to escape the foam, finding it still clung to your garments, your skin, your hair. How absurd the foam looks on the others, as though we had all grown sloppy barnacles! The crowd as one mass, aqueous, the undulating foamy body. We shivered, then, to think of the foam from the bar, years later, and how someone sick had conceived of its generative pleasure. Was the foam always already a trend extincting. They say a party is a fire and what you put out of it. Why do we still dance despite what we know.

[4] John Keats’ term for ‘when man is capable of being in Uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason’ (2019). We might compare this to Nelson’s assessment of Schuyler’s lack of a ‘will to power’, or the state of between that Lerner describes in the ‘impossible’ reach between actual and virtual in poetry. In the accelerated knowledge economies of the anthropocene, it’s worth noting that the sheer proliferation of purported, often conflicting ‘fact & reason’, makes ‘negative capability’ a general state that precedes all creative endeavour. We all must dwell in these murky foams, leaking into the mouth of whoever would speak, the space between our keys, the ink of our throwaway pens, jamming our mouse clicks.




Acknowledgements

With thanks to Colin Herd for much discussion and earlier feedback.



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