In the Futurity Lounge/ An Asylum for Indeterminacy

In the Futurity Lounge/ An Asylum for Indeterminacy

Marjorie Welish
Coffee House Press, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-56689-212-4 

Welish's Unusual Fruit

Andrew Najberg

Much of ancient Greece forbade consuming pomegranates because eating them affronted Demeter, the goddess of fertility.  After all, pomegranates are an unusual fruit; with most fruits, one eats the pulp and discards the seeds, whereas, with pomegranates, one consumes seeds and discards pulp.  Though a slow, sometimes frustrating process, by the end, one feels refreshingly satisfied.  One might say pomegranates redefine eating a fruit, and, therefore, the ancient Greeks viewed pomegranates with apprehension because it disrupted their conceptualizations.   Similarly, Marjorie Welish’s dual collection In the Futurity Lounge/ An Asylum for Indeterminacy might jar readers.  However, an open reader may find themselves redefining objects and ideas that people their mental lives, reconsidering their notion of how poetry works, and growing refreshingly satisfied exploring an astute exposure of place and identity in a technological world.

Initially, readers may mire in the often difficult and sometimes alienating density of Welish’s poetic expressions, unusual syntax, complex vocabulary, Dadaist interjections, and frequent allusions.   Welish assumes broad familiarity from readers concerning thinkers, literary theory, historical events, and locations, including but not limited to Brecht, Dada, Lewis Carroll, architects Dr. Hans Poelzig and John Roebling (a civil engineer who’s wire rope suspension bridge design is the basis for the Brooklyn Bridge and others), the conflict between China and Tibet, Oppen and Zukofsky (two core Objectivist poets); there is insufficient room to show properly the breadth of Welish’s references. 

However, simple familiarity with the references is also often insufficient.  The reader must possess a solid understanding of their ideas and projects.  To the collection’s credit, Welish ventures beyond shallow allusions and into the realm of deep intellectual investments.  For example, a reader unfamiliar with Bertolt Brecht’s plays and poems may struggle to penetrate “For best results, try…,” and those unfamilar with Brechtian theatre and the defamiliarization effect might end up adrift in selections such as “Consecutive Studios” and “To be Cont.” “This Against Which” astutely illustrates the defamiliarization effect when Welish writes, “the object was himself although he did not know it,” culminating an exploration of identity by observing that all examinations of an object truly examine one’s self, a theme repeated extensively throughout the collection.  

As a whole, it is tough to describe the collection without names like Derrida, Deleuze, Baudrillard, and Lyotard springing to one’s lips.  Poems such as “Spacing” and “Dextrous” achieve a stauncher depth with a grasp of retrocausality.  “Advert” describes causality in the terms of open-source code and echoes quantum theories of parallel timelines diverging at moments of choice.   Simultaneously, Welish uses the repeated metaphor of thirst in this poem as both an example of the simplest and most fundamental cause and effect we take for granted, while also using the “open-source” language to render thirst as an estranged urge.  Throughout, the verse rings with theoretical schools ranging from postmodernism to cubism and from objectivism to Brazilian concretism (through Welish’s use of visual constructs such as extensive capitalization and spacing).  While this may discourage casual readers by demanding knowledge and research, one must only read the front cover to realize this book is not for the faint of academe.

This is not to say the entire collection is impenetrable without extensive supplementation.  “To Be Cont.” stands out as both accessible and imaginatively engaging through vivid imagery.  As Welish writes, “interleaved with overgrowth, a concrete walk that ramifies/ now and then in spots and at edges to allow for plants to remain interleaved with/ pedestrian path even as transplanted locales and some trees create flanking borders the length of the line…,” she renders a rich and complex description of a path running through a garden, an image simultaneously plumbed to explore our conceptualization of boundary-blurring constructs.  As Welish implies, parks/gardens create an experience of the natural, but the paths and rails intended to preserve the natural accent the fact that they aren’t natural at all.  Instead, we’re left with a deconstruction of an apt illustration of Baudrillard’s hyperreal – a concept that Welish, through metanarrative elements heavily infused throughout her text, applies to poetry itself as one of her core themes.

While some of the collection such as “Consecutive Studios,” “To be Cont.,” “Pavilion for Cross Traffic” do join together to piece together an observational narrative that offers us slivers of a speaker’s experience, more often than not, self-referential material concerning writing, language, grammar, typewriters, and computer screens firmly grounds the speaker at a computer seat.   Indeed, the titles of both parts of the collection, In the Futurity Lounge and An Asylum for Indeterminacy, easily describe the twenty-first century, work-play-socialization station that is the modern computer and it’s Internet IV.  The real depth and narrative framework comes from an understanding that the disparate and barraging references reflect the nature of knowledge and experience in the New Millennium, and that the screen and transmitted language are both our medium for reaching out into the world and for protecting ourselves from it.  

As a result, the nature of self and objects falls into question as we are now separated from reality by the ‘screens’ and ‘walls’ to which Welish frequently refers.  This sense is strongest in poems such as “Signal to Noise” and the titular “In the Futurity Lounge” as we see phrases such as “you intercepted, a chair types/ and paper swollen with amphitheater’s engorged shadow/ in the vicinity of an idea.”  The oeuvre of modern experience Welish characterizes is one of physical stasis and mental motion, and therefore, we better understand how poems such as “Dextrous” can describe our identity as if it is origami, instructing us to “Insert double fold whose deed it is/ To JOIN THEM and their signature/ to a set of written interstices a set of edges.”  It is this way that Welish’s creations most strikingly achieve the Brechtian goal:  rather than calling for its reader to connect emotionally with the piece, it presents defamiliarized images and ideas in the hopes of instilling a sense in the readers of the need to connect with themselves by exposing the fabric from which their mental lives are woven.  While Welish by no means presents the depth of her work on a platter like halves of a pomegranate waiting to be eaten, she offers a complex lattice of delicious seeds, inviting her reader to consume deftly, knowing the real goal of hunger is to rebuild the self. 

Andrew Najberg

Andrew Najberg teaches creative writing and other classes for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and he is the author of Easy to Lose.  His work has appeared in North American Review, Louisville Review, Artful Dodge, Yemassee, Nashville Review, Bat City Review, and other publications.  He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and is a winner of an AWP Intro Award.