Jen Tynes to Brenda Sieczkowski
Two films I watched over and over as a kid were Labyrinth and Disney’s Alice in Wonderland. As I read and re-read Wonder Girl in Monster Land, I’ve been thinking about what drew me to them and also what questions they made me ask. As a kid (and maybe especially as a girl kid), I noticed both the entitlement and the trap of Alices: how their curiosity and disobeying allows them to travel to worlds that are both foreign and Alice-made, and/but when the Alices arrive, instead of trying to blend in or taking some pleasure in the new rules, they mostly try to make things more like the home they just escaped.
As a kid I also watched a lot of Bugs Bunny cartoons (still do), which enact a kind of cousin experience: trickster creates scenarios and then subverts and upheaves them for the sake of doing so. Where Alice and the characters in her Wonderland are all making friction in the name of affirming the rules of their own tea party, trickster don’t give a shit. Bugs doesn’t have any steady residence, and he wants to make sure no one else does either.
As a girl kid and now, I see a lot to envy and criticize in both types, and a lot of my thinking on this comes down to what it means to have a home and – something that is trickily related – what it means to be present, how improvisation happens in the space that home-and-present creates.
To my mind and my reading, Wonder Girl in Monster Land explores this tricky relationship between home-sense and creativity in a really important way: how to be home when you are not a patriot, that a person can only really be present when patriotism is not available or interesting or possible, how to live in generative, intimate estrangement. The world Yomi lives in feels full of friction and fracture and also fully occupied. Most of the prose poems happen in Yomi’s house or garden, where she’s always thinking about and re-making her space in a way that feels really urgent and necessary and life-saving and goddamn serious sometimes mournful sometimes frustrated sometimes terrified sometimes knife-edged sometimes indulgent and always like deep play. It’s the kind of making that comes out of ambivalence and tense connection, connection via tension.
The improvisational making that happens inside the poems is also how the poems have been made, it feels like. In part, this has to do with the way the poems grow talismans, important objects and events that withhold (or don’t know) their whole story. There’s this glowing, half-told energy around Yomi’s collections and, as with the Alices and tricksters, part of the reason I keep re-reading Wonder Girl in Monster Land is a confidence that the poems are capable of rearranging and recreating themselves from one reading to the next. I don’t mean that in the tired but true way that people like to say, “every time I read it I discover something new.” I mean, really, I think the nails and hair keep growing on these poems. I think they are capable of independent mutation and generation. (Just now, not knowing what I was working on, Sikkema read me a story about a woman who has fingernails growing from her hair follicles. I am not going to bother linking it here, because as little as I know you, I’m pretty sure you already know about this skin condition, but the fascinating, physical serendipity seems worth mentioning.) Your act of writing feels so immediate and re-creational in these poems that it makes my act of reading them, and maybe just the fact of their being present, feel strangely, physically generative. There is a way that the speaker/writer/maker/observer has chosen to stay still so that the poems don’t have to/can’t. The poems enact the talismans they describe, then, becoming concrete objects with accumulated sentience and the ability/need to incite rearrangements and revisions.
While I’ve been reading and re-reading Wonder Girl in Monster Land, I’ve also been spending time with some other complex, amazing, regenerating Alices: in Kim Gek Lin Short’s China Cowboy and Terry Gilliam’s Tideland and Karen Russell’s Swamplandia and Benh Zeitlin & Lucy Alibar’s Beasts of the Southern Wild and in Rebecca Loudon’s forthcoming horse less press chapbook TRISM, which features not only an important bear but also a collective of characters called “the Alices.” Throughout these stories, Alices have interior worlds that both reflect the terror of their outside lives and allow the Alices to keep being functional and creative and active within those landscapes. In Wonder Girl in Monster Land, vigilance seems like an important function. Humor (I’m writing so seriously about this, but it’s an amazingly funny book) makes fabulous vistas and distances from which looking can happen. The “little songs” that make up the stations or sections of the book and the drawings that seem to follow after the stories suggest different ways of keeping watch, of the way protection can turn into observation can turn into ceremony can turn into awareness: everyday alchemy.
Alices are usually being asked to estrange some strange. There’s magical math involved. I am not in the business of articulating the remainder, but I appreciate that you seem to be taking your Alice beyond the moment of initial creation and self-preservation to the aftermath zone, where the loss-ghost is already good and settled in and it’s less about surviving and more about understanding what that means and where it takes you.
Jen Tynes has jam tomorrow and jam yesterday but never ever jam today.