Friday, February 27, 2009

Celeb-Psycho-Stalker Apocalyprose-poem-letters

It’s a rare set poems that makes me ask – really, really ask:
What kind of sick-fuck wrote these things?

What kind of sick-fuck am I, for reading them?

and, most of all,

What kind of sick-fuck world do I live in?
Take all that and throw in genuinely frightening moments and, yes indeed, a few good laughs, and you have, I submit, a pretty special and very disturbing book: I No Longer Believe In The Sun – Love Letters to Katie Couric.

Here’s the set-up: poet Derek Fenner assumes a persona – a guy by the name of Derek – who writes a series of letters to a TV celebrity who happens to have the name Katie Couric (and one letter to one Matt Lauer). The letters show that Derek “loves” TV-Katie. “Loves” as in a sicko-stalker believed-via-delusion to be reciprocal sex-love, an all-consuming obsession (thus the book’s title: for Derek, Katie has replaced the sun). Derek’s also dangerously whacked in other ways, including idiosyncratic apocalyptic religious views, odd parents, and a plan to deliver terrifying mass destruction first to Cincinnati and then the world, with Katie and him (after the obligatory TV interview) taking refuge on an ark along with the liquid nitrogen-preserved semen and eggs of animals.

A disclaimer at the front of the book – which is called a “graphic novel” (more than half its 200 pages are taken up by black-and-white photos and drawings that reflect and extend the obsession displayed in the letters) – explicitly states that everything in the book is fictional, all people and events imaginary, and all resemblances coincidental. Such disclaimers are fairly standard, but the difference here is that the salient point – that the letters aren’t real – is repeated about six times over.

In emphasizing so strongly that the letters are fake, I think Fenner is both joking around and – by purposefully protesting his point too much – raising a possibility, however slight, in the reader’s mind that his letters in fact are real. At the same time though, the repeated insistence that the letters are entirely imagined was a smart move.

You see, most of the letters are convincing enough that if actually sent to – or presumed to be intended for – the “real” Katie Couric, they would EASILY justify a civil restraining order against harassment, or maybe even prosecution for criminal threats. Here are a couple sentences from one of the concluding letters of the sequence:
God, I want to fuck you so bad. [ . . . ] [¶] [. . .] Katie, save yourself by not ignoring me. Remember there is a time to live and a time to die and that all good things must come to an end.
The rear cover of the book, in fact, is given over almost entirely to a faux “Protection From Abuse” court order seemingly obtained by Couric against Fenner (click on image to enlarge in new window):

As stated above, parts of some letters are very funny. Of course, they shouldn’t be – stalking and threats ain’t funny at all – and breaking that taboo is part of the humor. So too are a few crazed closings to letters. Instead of ending with, for example, “Sincerely yours,” one of the letters closes, “Serve me with celery sticks.” And there are recurring comic moments involving a red thong, which Derek insists was sent to him by Katie. But the funniest moments in the letters are the ones I can’t explain, except maybe to suggest that outrageous paratactic psycho-leaps (with echoes of John Cage and Blaise Cendrars thrown in for good measure) can sometimes bring on rip-snorting belly laughs:
Christ got up on Easter Sunday – we all have to get up sometime. I could be fucking a micro-waved cantaloupe, but I choose celibacy which is a terrifying manifestation of the truth. Sometimes I feel like I have nothing to say; I often want to communicate this. And that ringing in my ears is the bell of existence. My desire for apples is the taste of God.
What stays with me most from Love Letters – and what was truly terrifying to read in them – are those parts of certain letters, mostly near the end of the sequence, in which Derek matter-of-factly tells Katie about the destruction he will wreak, or which he foresees. There are micro-organisms in water supplies, infectious diseases insinuated into malls and shopping centers, and specific advice about what do to when the atom bomb drops.

In the most alarming and chilling of the letters, Derek without preamble describes for Katie, one after another, how about a dozen people will die or first recognize that something is most definitely not right. While some of the scenarios are quieter than others, all terrify. Here’s the salutation, the first three paragraphs, and a section from near the end of that letter:
Dear Katie,

A short Filipino man in his early fifties, wearing a ‘Mike Tyson Bites’ t-shirt, in the Lawn and Garden section of Wal-Mart, has a runny nose, feels tightness in his chest, and is beginning to drool. His vision is blurring, and he begins muttering to his wife that something is wrong.

A broad-shouldered white male, 21 years old, is arriving at his job as a data analyst for Proctor and Gamble – he’s nauseous but blaming it on the sixteen Molson Ice he drank last night. He’s sweating profusely and has muscle cramps. He feels as if he may lose control of his bowels at any moment.
A 33 year old stay-at-home Soccer Mom is lying in bed with the shivers. She can’t control her jerks and twitches. She is fading in and out of consciousness. She feels as if she is going to suffocate. Her son is too young to come to her aid. He’s stuck in his crib, crying for his morning feed. Her husband is away on business for a foreign textile company. Her cell-phone battery died sometime in the night.
[ . . .]

A homeless man and his buddies have ignored their own fevers and mistaken abdominal pain for hunger. But it was the tiny red spots that appeared all over their bodies that got them bitching . . . . [ . . . ] The spots turned to blisters in a day and those blisters enlarged, filling with an opalescent pus, and when the eruption of those blisters split horizontally, it tore away from the underlayers. To make matters worse, the pustules became hard, bloated sacs the size of chickpeas, encasing their bodies in pus, making their skin resemble cobbled stone streets . . . .
In the middle of this letter, as the disturbing vignettes are relayed, Derek writes to Katie:
It’ll start off slow like that. Isolated incidents will gradually grow until it rocks the central nervous system of the city, county, world, and then humanity. Have you ever had a moment of complete fear?
I felt pretty close to such a moment, reading these imagined apocalyprose-poem letters of a psycho celeb-stalker. These letters – even with the plays for laughs – are very convincing, convincing enough that the fictional doomsday scenarios seem, I’m sorry, quite possible and even inevitable. Read Derek Fenner’s Love Letters and weep, perhaps. Read ‘em and get creeped, most definitely.

Taken as a whole, the letter-poems reflect an id-egoic male tight-twisted sex-religion-TV-celebrity-fetish-terror-apocalypse is clarity-fantasy, amen. Well, maybe not amen: more like, “so help me God.” Hamlet advised the players (III.ii.1-44) “to hold, as ‘twere, the mirror up to nature.” Maybe Fenner has done just that, but does so by using a deranged fun-house mirror that in its distortions nevertheless still reflects what is actually there, or, even more, can because of its distortions show a twisted part of reality that normally is not seen.

End note on nomenclature: I consider the letters in I No Longer Believe In The Sun prose poems, even though they appear in a “graphic novel” explicitly stated to be a work of fiction. I think it’s fair to do so. I seem to recall that when they first appeared on the web four or five years ago, the letters were referred to as poems (but I admit I can’t find the dang things on to verify this). Also, I recently heard them recited by Fenner at a poetry reading, and at least one other person who heard him read the letters recently has called them poems (click here). By the way, when I saw Fenner read the letters at the Books and Bookshelves store in San Francisco, he in part became the Derek of the poem-letters by donning a well-used baseball/trucker’s cap that across its front had the name of Evel Knievel , the now-dead stunt dare-devil.

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