Friday, September 14, 2018

Kuppers, Pearl Stitch (2016)

Petra Kuppers, Pearl Stitch. Spuyten Duyvil, 2016. Pp. 102. ISBN 978-1-944682-06-4. $15.00.

Reviewed by Kathryn Allan

I first read Petra Kuppers’ poetry collection, Pearl Stitch, on a plane while en route to a conference on the fantastic arts. I don’t normally reach for poetry as my go-to travel reading but given my previous encounters with Kuppers’ writing—buying her short story “Playa Song” for Accessing the Future and thoroughly enjoying her short story collection, Ice Bar—I felt that reading something a bit out of the ordinary, as her story-telling always is, would fit the bill. I was not disappointed.

Six months have passed since that initial read through of Pearl Stitch and although life interrupted my ability to sit down and write this review, Kuppers’ verse left a residue of longing in my mind. Re-reading the collection reinvigorated that feeling of stickiness, of stick-to-it-ness. Much like the evocative cover image—“The lower half of a white woman’s face, with her tongue sticking out, and a delicate lace stocking over her wet tongue, dripping. The black hole of the throat leads the eye into depth” (cover image description from book)—Kuppers’ alternating clipped words and strung-out sentences queer and make strange the domestic and the normative (feminine) world. As she sets out right at the start in her “Hagiography,” Kuppers calls on (and calls out) women both mythical and real: from Sophia, “the mother of wisdom, the patron saint of alchemists. Jehova’s grandmother” to Olivia Newton John, “a muse on skates, trying to enter Los Angeles and the (love) lives of mortals, ends up being a waitress” (1).

Pearl Stitch is an interwoven series of embodied reflections on the global world of capitalism (of garment factory workers in particular) and the personal world of desire and quest for knowledge and justice: “Dead dragon skin lies tattered at your feet, resplendent one. Beloved nervous web,/ you tapestry of light, // hide the rooms we knew nothing about, open the way./ What will you discard this time?” (9). It is also about disability identity as a source of connection and the various labours required to make community. Kuppers’ words invite the reader into her creative sphere: “We stand and sit, and lie down my hand resting on your foot your hand in mine/head on shoulder // we reach out: in the circle of the activist camp circular dignity/ homeless” (51).

There is a definite challenge in following all of the strands in Kuppers’ poetics here as a single page can move from the cosmic (the poems are primarily organized under the headings of planets/gods, such as Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars) to the specific (such as Kuppers’ experience of creating art with the Arnieville disability activists). There are verses of eroticism and verses of stark political critique and verses of diagnostic analysis. By someone else, this would be a too heady mix, pushing the reader away; but in Kuppers’ hands, she manages to pull it all together by consistently evoking the power of lived experience. Pearl Stitch reminds the reader of the necessity to breathe, to take notice of the flesh, and to “Change your mind // just keep in motion” (99).

I recommend Pearl Stitch not only for fans of Kuppers’ previous work, but for anyone interested in poetry that explores issues of embodiment and (queer, disability, and labour) politics, and what it takes to love the self and the other in a world that is often hostile to both.

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