Kate Hargreaves’s Language Leak

201421_LKate Hargreaves. Leak (BookThug 2014).

If ever there was a need for the term ‘visceral writing,’ Kate Hargreaves’s Leak provides it. A bruising book of bruises, of both body & mind, Leak refuses to play down the internal & external wounds we all suffer, & sometimes even seek. Certainly the various ‘I’s,’you’s, & ‘she’s that appear therein sometimes seem to need to seek out the in-grown nails, backs burned & bruised, sore thighs, & various symptoms manically googled on a day of insanely obsessed self-examination.

A kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder perceptional machinery organizes many of the pieces in this book; nor does it go unnoticed by the text, as ‘Oxford Classics Dictionary’ slyly points out, with its references to various symptoms, ‘blood clots, leaks, or shaky limbs’ or even just thinking ‘for years Classics meant the Oxford kind . . . . I re-bought a whole set, 13 books I already owned so they could match (now that’s good marketing). Jay underlines the acronym for the Oxford Classics Dictionary.’

At any rate, whatever the topic — & they range widely — the poem enters the subject, then subjects it to some heavy verbal pummeling. Puns (‘She skims. / She skims the floating fat off his mother’s minestrone soup. / She saves it in a Ziploc bag in the freezer. / She skims flat rocks across the sodden backyard. / . . . She skims her milk. Sometimes she one percents. /She skims a little bit off the top at the office. / She scams.’)  lead the way through a forest of symbols leaking significance. They signal only what the many bodies (the various selves) perceive, experience, feel, as their senses betray them in all the usual, ordinary ways most of us tend (try) to ignore. Here’s one example, from ‘Blush’: ”words stack up in my throat, backed-up serifs scratching their way through like nacho chips / I wrap three red scarves one over the other over the other around my neck and chin and lips and forehead / fingers damp with saliva / backs in knots.’ Or this, from ‘Cracking,’ which begins with the familiar ‘ Step on a crack: break your mother’s back’ & rises to an hysterical ‘Eat your dirty spoon. Tip over the stove. Check your mirror. Go to court. Double-triple-check your mirror. Wash the blue skirt with yellow flowers. Eat green beans before 5 p.m. Leave a dirty stove. Check your mirror. Double-check your hands. Lose the cat. Don’t close the front door. Check your — / Step on a crack.’

So that’s how Leak works, full of strange sounds, the groans & whines of the body-machine in extremis; & it slowly draws you in to its cracked, wounded, bruised world. Luckily, a kind of mad desperate comedy animates many of these pieces, such as the demands of ‘October 9th’: ‘Take transit to the mall. / Purchase pregnancy test four-pack. / Cramp in right calf. / Bump into shoppers in the aisles. / Set off alarms by standing too near the entrance. / Call clinic and demand an appointment. / Vomit in a planter. / Check for blood. / Cover face with scarf. / Call back. Demand cancellations.’

Kate Hargreaves takes chances with this, her first book, knowing her acerbic vision may out off (at least some of her potential) readers. Leak is not easy going, but there is much inside its bloody body to exhilarate anyone willing to face it, head-on so to speak.


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