Amanda Earl’s (formally) kinky Kiki

kiki_coverAmanda Earl. Kiki (Chaudiere Books 2014)

Amanda Earl’s been publishing a variety of chapbooks for some years now; Kiki is her first full collection, & it is something of a roller-coaster of a ride through Montparnasse in the twenties & thirties, a place & a period that never stood still till the next war stopped it cold. In a series of sequences, made up of textual mash-ups & cut-ups, dream journals, & fictional memoirs, Earl imagines both Kiki (born Alice Ernistine Prin, &, says Earl, ‘One of the most exuberant celebrants’ of that special world) & the fantastic whirligig of artists, writers, dancers, actors, & just plain bohemians she came to know in the Montparnasse of the inter-war years.

She begins with the prose poem ‘memories’ of ‘Alice,’ a name allowing more than a few allusions to the most famous fictional figure of that name, as she stares at herself in the mirrors of memory & gossip, wondering with every iteration of her ego (‘This is Alice. This is fucked up.’ but also ‘I am Kiki. I wear pearls. I drink red wine and sing love songs to old reprobates in the boites.’) just who she, always changing, is. The sequence follows her through those changes, imagining her artistic/erotic life in that looking glass milieu, falling down various holes, stepping through mirror after mirror. At the end, as the next war approaches to destroy the artistic utopia she & the many artists (including her American lover, Man Ray) imagined they might build there, she is lost: ‘I am common glass. / I am broken fragments. / i am ugly, a nightmare kaleidoscope. / I am mad. I am naked. I don’t know what I am.’

‘Tales of Montparnasse’ presents visionary vignettes of all those who moved through that place & time, all of whom Kiki touched in one way or another, all part of the floating art world there. Earl’s mash-ups achieve a kind of surreal music of dropped names, as in ‘Kisling and O’Keefe / rise like angels with horses’ & ‘Frizzy femmes damnées / shiver with Schwitters.’  The section ‘Opium’ borrows vocabulary from Jean Cocteau’s Opium; the Diary of a Cure as well as various other texts to allow the drug to speak for itself, & it has much to say: ‘I am Helen of Troy, mixing elixirs. I am nepenthe. / I am a sunless sea and a lifeless ocean. This is alchemy.’

Finally, ‘In Which K Meets B in a Dream’ sets up a weird dialogue between Earl’s Kiki & William S Burroughs as manifested in Naked Lunch. Here the cut-up approach, obviously carefully edited, releases an anger they both feel at a world refusing to acknowledge or accept the outriders they love to be: ‘It’s cerebral as horse, / raw as Ouab. Hungry as terror. / A throbbing hero fossil scrolling / up morphine peddled screams, cornhole. // No, it’s lunch in a cocktail lounge where the spoons are chipped as a / black habit, you insect.

Kiki is very much the sum of all its parts, & needs to be read through. These quotations give a but a taste of the whole rich assemblage. Earl finds in Kiki & all the artists of that lost place & time a kind of ideal world where the erotic & artistic meshed beautifully & madly for a short time. Her slippery & convulsed textual play in Kiki seeks to reveal in its revel something of the experimental joy & pain of that life.

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