This is a collection of poems I have enjoyed very much. Each single piece is like the free flow of the waters of a river. At times the waters run crystal clear when the persona of the poem shows determination to unmask the truth of a life too much based on money and appearances in the context of a nation in decline; other times, instead, and as a reader, you get the feeling of drowning in the darkest waters ever as the persona feels too much trapped in obsession, infatuation, objectification, oppression, failure and anxiety, central themes of this book, which shows the inevitable inner contradictions of any human being.
Many verses, with their melodic rhythm, sound like modern pop songs in the reader’s head; often repetitive when the author deals with the issue of obsession. Alexandra Naughton uses beautifully impacting images and well-thought wordplays with profound meanings.
Inspired by Lana Del Rey’s songs, one can inevitably think of that singer’s piece Cola and its opening line “My pussy tastes like pepsi cola” just by reading the title of the book. Alexandra Naughton transforms Del Rey’s lyrics and creates the following lines that have especially caught my attention for their beauty of expression and deep social critique: “my posey taste like coca cola / my stanzas snide like american thighs / I got a thing for a palm that’s colder / ashes high like american skies”. There is clear disclosure of the inborn American identity of the persona of the poem. The words “coca cola”, probably the most iconic ones to define America worldwide, provide a perfect opening verse to go deeper into the topic of identity, combined with the word “taste”, a powerful sensual image. The voice of the poem emanates great inner strength and defiance with “stanzas that snide like american thighs”, another beautifully sensual image. At the same time, this sensuality appears together with a sense of coldness in “I got a thing for a palm that’s colder”, as if the voice of the poem needs certain distance to reflect upon life and human existence, as if trying to seek balance to get ready to take a stand on things. The coming verse is very eloquent and keeps up with the topic of identity adding more to the already implicit critique of the American way of life: “ashes fly like american skies”. The idea of the paradise lost appears as the so-called American Dream turned into ashes, unreachable like the sky. And “loneliness is so sweet it sours my stomach” seems to be the consequence of such failure: capitalism destroys human relationships at all levels, and sweet is probably the conscious realisation of a frail world with lost values where, however, deep thinking takes us to higher grounds and makes us more free, but also more lonely, where loneliness tastes sour, and where “only i can make myself”. And finally, the shift from the “I” to the “she”, immersed in a dream-like world, and the new change of perspective with the “you” provide great emphasis to the whole piece.
As you keep reading the book, you inevitably think of Lana Del Rey’s song “Born To Die” and her videoclip where she sits on a throne like the voice of the next poem echoing “cold, cold, cold” so emphatically, “all ways cold” (a great poetic use of “all ways” vs. “always” in “all ways cold” and “always wating for you”). While Del Rey’s voice yearns for excessive co-dependency (“Don’t make me sad, don’t make me cry”, “keep making me laugh/ let’s go get high”), Naughton reverses here this role into someone who is much stronger sitting on the throne confidently (“i feel pretty. i don’t want to settle any/ more”). The imagery of the next verses is wonderfully vibrant while connecting the inner emotions of the voice of the poem (“the whirring sound in my head”), with nature’s force (“wind whipping through tree branches at night singing”). The refusal of co-dependence reaches its highest emphasis when the voice of the poem says: “i want your thick limbs/ around me some times but i don’t really/ need it”. This is a plea to live “in a world on my own” where the desired person is kept at a distance and just gets the role of a visitor. I think there is a powerful feminist message in this piece: too much co-dependence harms us, let us get rid of it!
The next poem closes with impacting visual minimalism and great depth of thought. Insincerity is unmasked and the piece reaches its climax with “put my little lie on” where, the obsession to please the desired person through the mask we wear, prevents us from showing our real self. It is also interesting to notice that not just this poem but all the rest are always written in lowercase, which, on the one hand, gives equal weight to each word and, on the other hand, diminishes the “I” of the first person singular. One may well think there is also a literary intention to express how this person feels belittled and abused by another one who is usually the “he”.
The persona of another poem in this book is like a “torch singer holding a torch for no one/ and singing about nothing”. That independent persona rejoices in dream-like scenes and seems to be able to switch on and off Dreamland whenever they feel like, and with a cat that surely provides excellent company.
The lines “you it’s all ways you it will all ways be you…” bring us back to Lana Del Rey’s songs; in this case, “Video Games”, a deliciously creepy rewriting of that piece where Alexandra Naughton takes the original idea of excessive co-dependency (“It’s you, it’s you, it’s all for you/ Everything I do”) and transforms it poetically into a repetitive tune to express obsession to please the desired person.The image of “sitting by the pool watching light bounce” brings a different scenario than Del Rey’s “swinging in the backyard” opening line. The repetitive speech is brilliantly crafted with the wordplays of “like”, as well as the original end of the poem with “the pool filter started spitting”. Who would not spit after so much repetition and obsession?
I guess the following lines of the next poem resonate deeply in every reader’s heart because they express what each human being does as natural self-defense in life when we feel too vulnerable, that is, the intellectualisation of our emotions and feelings: “i diligently intellectualize/ everything because it’s easier than admitting/ vulnerability”.
The next two verses bring us back again to Del Rey’s “Video Games”, though transformed into the dark realisation of failure or impossibility of a relationship: “limbo is a place on earth with you”/ “listing out the things we’ll never do”, as opposed to “heaven is a place on earth with you”/ “Tell me all the things you want to do”.
The aforementioned themes of obsession, infatuation, objectification, oppression, failure and anxiety, as central topics of this book, constantly appear as in a poem that starts with the following beautifully written dark verses: “his choke stained heart drips slow, thick and/ sticky. his cold cuddymouth covered, faced/ down. my sheet tended sighs.” There are shifts back and forth from this third person “he” to a philosophical “we” and then to an imperative “you”, where the persona is addressing this “he” directly now and is strongly telling him the desire to get rid of the oppression he is causing. Such shifts of perspective give great strength to this piece. The final lines express the need for freedom and personal space.
The oneiric world is a continuous background in the different poems, often pleasing the persona as if she is a movie star in a film. Other times this world of dreams, the underworld, is rather impregnated not just with oppression, but also with emptiness and anxiety, which are also central themes in this book. The “I” of the poem becomes then a distant “she”.
It is worth noticing a recurrent verse in many poems beginning with “honey’s in the bathtub singing like she’s in a/ movie…”, or “honey’s on the floor spread out and i’m just/ saying `baby´, or “honey’s in the bathtub acting like she’s being/ watched. singing to my eyes…”.
Sometimes there is a dialogue between the “I” and the “she” as if they were the same person, like one part is talking to the other part of the self. Other times it seems the persona is with a real female friend. And then the “you” reappears. The “I”, being a woman, often feels objectified by the “he”. She is immersed in a world of appearances where she wants to be admired, to be the best. Yet she shows her difficulty to get out of it and unmask insincerity as these lines clearly express:
” hooray i’m decomposing. but i feel like/ glamour. i’m wearing a red dress and rotting/ on the inside. i like to walk around and think/ about taking a knife to my flesh, slicing off/ deli plate pieces, pass them off to nibbling/ party goers. i would never tell you that, i/ think, and put a drumstick on a paper plate/ for my friend.”
The critique of our present times and of a wrong system of society in decline is expressed through these eloquent lines: “i am the product of our current culture, our/ current political climate, our current/ apocalypse. i don’t necessarily care about it/ or care to talk about it when everything is/ about it anyway if you’re paying attention.” This is a powerful message to us all, readers: pay attention to the world around you.
The digital world with its great impact in our lives is a subtheme in this book. The following lines show how we often take refuge in the social networks when we do not know how to deal with our fears and insecurities: “…i’m not presenting a version of/ myself to the world as much as i’m trying to/ create an image for myself. putting it online/ feels like publishing a new life so i can/ believe it…”
As mentioned before, this book has a strong feministic message which reappears with great emphasis in the opening lines of this poem: “yeah, i want to be worshipped but not/ owned…”
The constant social critique that accompanies the different poems in this book becomes very explicit through these lines: “tell me i’m your national anthem. tell me i’m/ your crumbling infrastructure. tell me i’m your/ private prison system, your institutionalized/ slavery. tell me i’m your corporate fascism…”
The idea of paradise lost that gives title to the book reappears in a poem where the perception of paradise is associated with something far from real every day life, a postcard next to the persona’s bed showing “an old highway with a motel/ painted pink with fake palmtrees…”. It is also related to writing one’s own short story as well as savoring “…the last fifteen minutes of a movie you’re/ watching the first time that you don’t want/ to end so you really relish as much as you/ can…”. Thus paradise is tantamount to ephemeral moments of happiness. The paradise lost appears in a poem which, like some more along this book, begins with “my posey taste like”. Paradise lost is compared to “parasite, lost” where the reader is reminded of how love relationships are unfortunately too often abusive and obsessive. The imagery of this poem is very vibrant, so well-found, creepy and impacting that you get truly scared.
Finally, the last poem that has caught my attention by the end of the book is about the obsession of the persona for being liked by others. The use of the word “yet” in “am i cool yet, am i desirable yet. am i likeable/ yet. am i smart enough yet…” may suggest our great fears of losing physical beauty with age in a materialistic and superficial society where the older we get the less we are valued, where we, especially women, ask ourselves “am i usable yet” and where Lana Del Rey sings “will you still love me when I am no longer beautiful” in Young and Beautiful or “Will you still love me when I shine/ From words but not from beauty” in Old Money.
© October-November 2019 Marta Pombo Sallés