SALLY DESKINS Reviews
SPRUNG by Laura Madeline Wiseman
(San Francisco Bay Press, Norfolk, VA, 2012)
University of Nebraska-Lincoln English lecturer Laura Madeline Wiseman has written fierce feminist-centric poetry since her debut chapbook, “My Imaginary” (2010) humorously exploring the erotic body. Chapbooks “Ghost Girl” (2010), “Branding Girls” (2011) and “She Who Loves Her Father” (2012), also rhythmically undertook animated female journeys.
With her first full-length book, SPRUNG, Wiseman mischievously yet sincerely examines the ironies of gender, relationships and its social implications—via stunning allusion, intertextuality and her revelatory sassing language in the story of the narrator and her “imaginary cock.”
Today, women endlessly attempt to define “having it all.” A woman can now be president in this modern albeit patriarchal society—necessarily and metaphorically, SPRUNG questions: What is it like for a female to have balls?
Whether a relationship with a dildo, a playful name for her boyfriend, her ego, or a juxtaposition, the page-turner of delicate imagery, droll conversation, relatable domestic situations, sober social awareness, pop and literature references shines with fearlessly challenging lyrical knack. Humility, charm, sadness and urgency reign through the narrative in three sections.
It begins, pre-Section 1, with “Testimonials” a “collage of quotations” by ten notable writers, introducing readers to the infamous “imaginary cock.” She pulls from the prominent poets’ intertextual ideas on the cock, provocatively and thoughtfully setting the tone:
“…Love, the imaginary cock subverts, despairs, andexists only in the real world; not imaginary or unreal.The imaginary cock’s arrival means you change.Imagine how your cock likes being sucked. Imagine.”
Imagination resumes; in Section I, the relationship blossoms during marching band, as innocent love might. In “Practice,” the cock “does the talking,” “vibrates,” and “whispers promises to melt a heart.” Readers are reeled in, wondering: is this the narrator’s ego surfacing, a young boy sweet-talking, or altruistic abstraction?
“Performance” suggests her self-investigation, rhythmically listing her yearnings for the spotlight. Too, in “Strap On,” she inquires:
“My imaginary cock your charm—midnight romp, pillow talk,dreamtime. I know youharness all your charm. Will Ilearn these tricks from you?”
Rapport follows with “In the Field.” A jokey quote by Shakespeare leads: “The cock, that is the trumpet of the morn.” A long list of unreliable things (ice, rain, band director, plume on my hat…), with: “Every game I play for me alone” posing again: is this narcissism or self-assuredness, love or trickery? Many poems in Section I are playfully surreal, with the skeptical getting-acquainted vibe.
Section II amusingly and eerily presents familiar domestic settings, the relationship progressively unraveling. “Domestic Affairs” brings them grocery shopping; “Dinner for Two” shows the cock’s irritable nature; in “Bad Date” the cock is horrified at the Vagina Monologues; “My Imaginary Cock Weeps for Sybil” witnesses the cock sobbing at the classic psychological horror flick; “Chanticleer” wittily titled after a fairy tale rooster, trails the narrator cleaning house while the cock wrestles over aliases, with a telling conclusion:
“Maybe it’s better to be who you are, I say. Nope, says my cock.”
Irony reigns in “Another Princess X” after the Constantin Brancusi Salon scandal of 1920 (the artist’s phallic-resembling sculpture was deemed “inappropriate” and removed). Wiseman charmingly reviews the curious piece typically giggled over by college students in Sheldon Museum at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, as the imaginary cock meets his idealized reality;
“My imaginary cock cries Oh! At the ridges and definition.”
Alternatively, “After Reading up on Genital Cutting (or Half the Sky)” seriously refers to female genital mutilation (and the “half the sky” movement working to turn oppression into opportunity for women worldwide). Wiseman uses her lyricism and descriptive abilities with a conversation about artichokes’ resemblance to the vulva that turns from ordinary to chilling and socially charged.
“All over the world bits of the vulva are excised.The fullness of the labia majora and the tenderFronds of the minora are sliced off. In some partsThe sensitive heart is scooped out whole. My cock says,Can you imagine? my cock shudders. We live in that place.”
More bodily harm in “Cock Fights;” the narrator learns her partner is involved with illegal brawling, a significant play on words. In “Reunion” the cock joins “Humans Anonymous” as the narrator spies. Jarringly relative, the transcendent tale climaxes; will they work it out or not?
As readers observe unraveling, Section III begins with “In the New House” where “we have done nothing to improve.” Humor lightens in “After Teeth” calling to the 2007 horror flick about a teenage girl who has teeth in her vagina. Madly, the cock is so frightened he leaves, while the narrator is laughing in tears.
The situation turns bleak as the narrator mourns her partner’s absence with marijuana, booze and a “depression of my imaginary cock” in her hand. The “Dreams of Cock” I thru V reverberate Wiseman’s ability in storyline and abstraction. In “II”:
“…Men in baggie flannel shirts wade in the Hyde Park as pregnant ladies clap, Ifyou’re happy and you know it….. The white hoods of the Opera House lift withthe waves. My imaginary cock takes some popcorn. I hug my cock, but my cocktakes more popcorn…”
Poems III and IV divulge childhood toys and intimate reflection. Five is an awakened realization; “My imaginary cock has left no note.”
The suspenseful conclusion lies in the last poem, “My Imaginary Cock Goes on Crusade.” The narrator shows strength and assertion; but does the cock (or ego) remain, or leave forever?
SPRUNG is too good to spoil the ending. Wiseman’s bizarre, sometimes darkly hilarious allusions are oft relatable and quite revolutionary regarding genders’ paradox. The intertextuality with pop, news and literature passionately convey relevance-- philosophically to the ego, and socially as feminism—how much does the cock, or male, role, play in the lives of cockless creatures? Curiosity is relished as readers root for the narrator through her ups and downs in the peculiarly familiar relationship. Sadly, this exquisite book comes to an end.
Thankfully, Wiseman has more powerful female-centric narrative in store with chapbooks “Unclose the Door” (2012) and “First Wife” (2013).
Sally Deskins is a writer and artist living in Omaha; she is a regular arts contributor for the local newsweekly, The Reader. Her writing has also been included in PRAIRIE SCHOONER BLOG, HERKIND: blog by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, GENDER ACROSS BORDERS among others.