Love Me, Anyway
Reviewed by: P.J. Dominiski
There is, if we reduce human experience to the dictates of the body, a sort of vicious fence-staking cynicism; an individualist recoil from the irreconcilable contradictions inherent in conceptions of gender the capitalist system relies on. Minadora Macheret’s Love Me, Anyway, plunges, almost reflexively, into the hyper-individualized province of the body, effectively – if accidentally – articulating the intrinsic absurdities of gender. Macheret’s voice offers a largely biological interpretation of womanhood from a narrator who believes, in spite of herself, that she isn’t quite a real woman.
It may indeed come as a surprise then, as initially it did for me, that the narrator subscribes to many of the same conventions that place womanhood just beyond her reach. In the first stanza of “(Self) Extinction From PCOS” for instance, the narrator’s tragically deferential attitude towards the forces which call her own womanhood into question are revealed as she explains “The only things dividing are cells/ that split open, no, tear apart/ to reveal woman-memories./ This disease doesn’t stick to Y-chromosomes, after all.” Irrespective of, say, trans men who suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome, the narrator affirms a biologically reductionist, fundamentally exclusive view of gender – stoking the very same flames which threaten to immolate her own sense of identity as a woman from the inside out.
The narrator seems at times incognizant of the fact that her struggle may be shared by others who themselves feel fenced out of womanhood by the torch-bearers of philistine biological determinism. In the raw and confessional “The First Time PCOS Spoke” for example, the narrator reveals that she “watched all the other girls clutch cramps and bloating” and vulnerably, commendably admits: “I wanted that too.” As a trans woman, this reviewer felt an almost irrepressible urge to shout “Me too!” For despite my XY chromosome pairing, I have endured the pangs of feeling inauthentic in my womanhood, just as the narrator has. Once again, in “To the Bearded Lady I Am (Age 26),” the narrator expresses a shared “anxiety of hair growth strangles my days to slip into nights.” I was stunned, arrested even, by how closely the content of this line resembled my own dysphoric experiences. I must admit I felt a sense of camaraderie with the narrator in this moment, and in many similar ones through Love Me, Anyway, which I feared may not be reciprocal. However, in demarcating the boundaries which undermine the unity of all women, Macheret’s work lays bare the contradictions within our own camp which we must attempt to resolve if we are to liberate ourselves from the stranglehold of the misogynistic, imperialist, white supremacist ruling classes.
Tonally, Macheret’s work is often brutal as it recollects, with a sense of battered detachment, the incongruity between the narrator’s body and the bodies of the other women she enviously observes, as in the informal “Remembering Girlhood”:
“I am not nature I am not beauty I am other Watch the girls point/inside themselves to understand the outside of me Listen to their words mouth traitor because my pain is viscous pours out of me to/ deaden concrete school yards She can’t be a woman there is no moon inside of her to wax and wane.”
Macheret accentuates the frankness of moments like this with thoughtfully deployed formalities – the parallel use of dashes in the eighth stanza of “Grief As Memory As It Belongs to the Daughter” is highly effective:
“We were full of anger”
“Yours blossomed – treacherous.
Burrowed deep in your cells – waiting.”
Macheret metes out her narrator’s anxieties to the reader with a deft hand, and to her credit, this chapbook is wrought with a sense of immense discomfort – itself often compounded by the poet’s absurdist tendencies. The first stanza of “Even Sarah Needed God” for example, concludes with the lines “Breathe in smoke, cells expand/ your womb of bird’s nest, flourishes.” Never mind that birds’ nests are generally constructed from dead matter – the sophisticated genesis of meaning in Macheret’s poetry is a credit to her eclectic vision, itself drawing heavily on the influences of mythology and scripture (the book abounds with allusions to Demeter, Greek goddess of the harvest, as well as the Talmud’s matriarchal Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah). In the hallucinatory “Baba Yaga: Her Almost Origin Story” Macheret writes “Nothing hurts more than nothing.” – a salient punctuation of the absurdist themes throughout.
Macheret’s work in Love Me, Anyway is at times both myopic and universal, a foundational absurdity that allows the book to truly soar at some its highest moments – the line “The howl now a whimper/ simmers at the kettle whistles” from “Baba Yaga” brilliantly evokes Ginsburg and Eliot while retaining its own original character – and to regrettably plummet at some its lowest points, such as the following from “Autogenesis”: “Tell me about the room she sits in,/ its curve of pillars, those branches,/ pretend to hold the body of the living.”
Such moments are sometimes offset by overused stylistic choices. The book has a preponderance of hyphenated-compound neologisms (roughly a dozen in total throughout), which leave this reader wanting for more precise, observations from lived experience. Admittedly, these may be trickier to convey in Macheret’s compelling dealings in the absurd.
The scope of Macheret’s narrator is frequently, frustratingly limited and yet — her wanton acquiescence to status-quo gate-keeping can in itself function as an instructive device, given the proper contextualization. Love Me, Anyway promisingly showcases the intensely personal surrealism of the body as an artistic muse, and the implicit contradictions in the body’s relation to identity. Readers with an appreciation for work which interrogates the bodily mythos of womanhood will do well to keep an eye on Macheret’s poetic development – as it matures, it may truly be a force to reckon with.