The Abject in the Interzones
Words (on) Pages
by Robert Anderson
July 16, 2015
this is so far from dying, so far
from fucking in some
miscellaneous motel stairwell
Such is the audacious opening lines of Domenica Martinell’s first chapbook Interzones. Raised in Montreal, now residing in Toronto, the 23 year old poet references the term interzones from military diction meaning international zone: boundaries set to separate warring fractions of countries in conflict, often the result of a treaty. Tangier is the most famous of such interzones, former home to William Burroughs who wrote a book with the same title. In Martinello’s context, interzones suggest negotiating boundaries, and often the impossibilities of doing so, in interpersonal relationships.
Interzones is about risking everything by entering into relationships. Sex is felt on a primal hurt basis. Emotional states are equated with bodily trauma, both real and imagined. I read this trauma in relation to the particularly feminist interest in the abject. Julia Kristeva’s Powers of the Horror first brought the image of abjection into the literary discourse with questions of representation and identity. Kristeva evokes the abject as a reaction to a loss of meaning produced by a breakdown between subject and object or self and other. The abject has to do with “what disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules.” (Powers of Horror 4). This is precisely the imagery that inhabits the relationships of the author, always threatening to overtake her existence.
It’s easy to see why the abject would so dominate art in the 1990’s.
The grotesque, repulsive and offensive seem especially designed for the provocateurs of the art world. Such contemporary Canadian artists as Catherine Heard excel in this world. Excrement, vomit, menstrual blood, body parts, deformity, cleanliness, dead animals, or anything that confronts conventional notions of decency or morality. In feminist terms, these qualities often confront gender and sexuality and, above all, question and challenge concepts of identity.
Returning to the poem “Time Zones,” a relationship with a boyfriend evokes images of the abject. The poet’s paintings are “canvases of dripping intestines…” and the trauma of the relationship manifests itself at their current meeting: “…the tumor at the table quietly throbbing.” There’s a certain sense of death in the end of a relationship and the final lines of the poem takes a humorous turn: “do you know how hard it is to bring an urn on a plane? It’s a lot of paperwork.”
“Sonnet on Gravel” evokes sexual longing, clandestine meetings, and emotional vulnerability (“My soles are so thin I feel every stone.”). In “Milk,” emotional boundaries and the abject conditions of identity, blurring self and other, are again explored in relationships:
was the most
The line space further emphasis the fragility of identity. The only sense of ‘self’ is through effacement, by damaging the ‘other.’ Later in the poem, the abject reappears in a more subtle imagery between lovers. According to Kristeva, the abject can be as subtle as warm milk touching ones lips. In “Mirrors,” it’s the physical appearance of a lover’s body:
My body was a belly button piercing and breasts
His body was uncommonly soft I was both covetous
In “Erasure,” the poet’s sense of repulsion leads to a physical assault on what is portrayed as the fallen body of her lover. The poet expresses a desire to devour the other to save her self.
I’ve sucked out your sockets and slurped spoonfuls
of jellied delicacies into my mouth then sheared
your beard, smeared your cheekbones jawbones supine skin
sternum ribs pelvis all rounded soft as stones
The male body is clearly emasculated and dehumanized in this tale of abject horror by the poet. Yet the corrosive relationship is imbedded in the poet’s identity: “…and have failed to erase the traces/ of your likeness left in me...”
The final section of the chapbook (“Contact Zones”) is presented with wry humour as the poet observes the differences between Montreal and her new city Toronto. Beginning with “where are all the strip clubs?” the poet complains “This city is full of baby-faced lawyers.” The abject horrors of her previous life are unsustainable in a city of metrosexual males. The antiseptic Toronto is the anti-thesis to the writer’s vision of poetry.
How can there be flesh where every
armpit smells like soap? Poetry
is not sterile. Like the tighty whities
of some baby-faced lawyer, I want to soil
its silk designer drawers.
This is a desire for the world of the abject: a return to excrement and bodily functions. A world of uncleanliness becomes favoured over a world of appearances.
In “The Waiting Room,” a lover’s damaged life is again manifested physically: “I will wheel parts of you around lovingly in a wheelchair...” A correlation is made with the post modernist mantra of ‘don’t trust language.’ Accordingly, “A startling fierceness protects how language struggles with bodies.” By the second stanza, the prose poem becomes one long sentence suggesting a sense of being out of control, slightly manic. It’s a return to the damaged, fallen body. When her lover says he loves her, “...it was sick language made physical...”
Sexual relations continue to be a trap, destroying identity and evoking the mutilation of the physical body. In “Sonnet on Hunting,”
I’m staring, unabashed, at the wideness
of your jaws; my eyes widen at the thought
of my limp body spilling out from each
corner of your mouth.
The abject consistently recalls issues of sexuality and gender. Taboo issues of sexuality, especially female sexuality, become matter-of-factly stated. From the heading of one of Martinello’s poems: “So what if I breathe through my cunt?”
It is this type of abject imagery throughout Interzones that gives Domenica Martinello’s poetry such precision and unyielding passion. Her thoughtful mediations on representation and identity challenge conventional norms of desire and repulsion. The slippery boundaries of Interzones draw the reader into Martinello’s world of relationships and uncompromising language and imagery.
Kristeva, Julie. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.