cover image Criteria


Sianne Ngai. O Books, $11 (80pp) ISBN 978-1-882022-33-5

Plumbing the ideological fault-lines of our media-tized world view with clipped, reduced sentences, Ngai continually outwits its insistent mirror-gazing, and offers a few of her own withering looks: ""`of course the body'/ and of course, the boredom of `the body'/ and of course, the boredom of `of course, the body'// what you cruelize/ in your allegiance to it."" : The opening poem, ""ENEMY,"" uses phrasal repetition to sketch a diminished, ""mid-level"" life ""where the individual happens to need to change the batteries or her rifle from one shoulder to the other,"" while ""chrono/paradise"" and ""FILL"" fill the white page with phrases and long black lines that stretch standard ellipsis to the breaking point, brilliantly (and literally) expanding the space of the poem. If Ngai sees politics and society as largely a splintered spectacle of clanking existential comedies, the final prose section, ""My Novel,"" with its looped, recurrent images from Wilkie Collins, is hilariously prolix where other poems were tight lipped: ""Birds flew with narcissistic horror towards the sea, which did not change despite the quantity of reflections.... Here the demand for a phantasm remained, though there was a substitute Freud hiding in the folds of the curtain."" Criteria contains all the excitement of a first utopian reading of critical theory and philosophy while maintaining a level of fun that gives it a youthful, almost pop edge. Despite walking a minefield of faux jargon and partial allusion, this debut remains remarkably poised in its restraint, its subtle tonal shifts and its devotion to a fairly extreme mode of poetry. (Nov.)