Michelle Marie Jacquot – Deteriorate (www.michellemariejacquot.com, 2021)
Poetry is meant to hit you. Words, hard as notes, pulsing through everyday consciousness. Impacting on the soul.
How to achieve this? Performance poetry is one direction. In America in particular performance has developed its own styles, own forms, own specific cadences. Being American, its competitive. Being competitive, it’s crowd pleasing, unpretentious, direct.
But what makes a good performance poem doesn’t a good written poem make. Powerful speech sounds trite on the page. Slogans and rallying cries sound hollow, vacant; without content.
Michelle Marie Jacquot is a poet who is out to bridge this gap.
Her new chapbook, Deteriorate, sits right between the spoken and the written. She uses the page as a canvas, laying out her words for precise visual impacts. Bursts that one can’t help but hear, despite their music being visual. It’s all still composition.
Her subject is the digital. Sure, this can sound a bit millennial at times (gen Z seems more concerned with winning arguments online than the fact our whole lives have now been mediatised), but it’s refreshing to hear these old frustrations.
The collection opens with the hope that after reading, we turn off our phones and never turn them on again. This is signed “The Irony / and Me”. The poem’s title: “THIS POEM WAS CREATED ON A COMPUTER”.
The double-bind is meaningful. Why? Well, firstly, because none of us have the option of turning off anymore. Sure you can switch off your Facebook, but that’s tantamount to switching off your distant relatives, or your meet-up-once-a-year friends.
Facebook “friends” and real-life friends have blurred. We think we can separate the meaning of those two words as if they’re different. Perhaps not.
Secondly, it’s about poetry. The will to make an impact using words, but not knowing whether these should sit potent on the page, waiting for a reader, or rush out of the mouth in search of ears that can’t turn away.
Lines like: “I’d like to rip my hair out / one by one and count them all / to have something more living / to look at in my palm”, make a powerful, if ambiguous impact on the page. Read aloud, however, with a hand miming an iphone, or maybe an actual iphone in hand, both solidifies the image and, in doing so, drains its potential depth.
And so, ultimately, it’s also about language. Do we say what we mean to say, or are we mysterious? Too much mystery is dark, muddled, confusing. Too much clarity is a bright light, fixing us in place. The linguistic arts sit between, but where between is the constant struggle.
All of us, poets writing and unwriting, experience this struggle. Humans picked up words like a tool, but now we can’t put it down, we’re a part of their machine. They seem so unreal, but if you try, you’ll find you can’t live much without them.
“This world is just a simulation that has real life consequences,” writes Jacquot. (Or does she speak it?)
She moves from irony, to despair, to anger. She can laugh at the contradictions. She can declare it all over. Jacquot is battling with the substance of things. Word and world. It’s an unwinnable battle; but its only unwinnable battles – battles where we are our own worst enemy – where real art can emerge.
Even if that real art is only a simulation.