f*cking awesome: a review of redell olsen’s punk faun

cover art by redell olsen

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punk faun cover art by redell olsen

Olsen, Redell (2012). Punk Faun: A Bar Rock Pastel. Subpress: Oakland.

Redell Olsen’s Punk Faun: A Bar Rock Pastel fresh outta Subpress (edited by Juliana Spahr & designed by Cassandra Smith) performs an absurd post-capitalist poetic punk-rock opera on the fucking page. This is hot stuff. I am not trying to sell you anything, when I tell you that you should get a copy of this book. I don’t care how you get it. Get a copy.

The thing is, Punk Faun is fucking smart. Smart smart and smart, as in painful like that time in sixth grade when you tried to pierce your ear with an ice cube and a safety pin. A cool kind of pre-adolescent smart that may be a bit messy and difficult to explain: Yes, Grandma, it is getting infected. Thanks for noticing.

And then you wake up one morning half-goat. Puberty. A mess in your sheets. You gather a bunch of reeds and make a flute. You go cruising in the woods. Your clothes feel weird. You stop wearing clothes. You stop going to school. fuck it. fuck it all. i’m a fucking punk faun.

What happens on Olsen’s page happens fast. It’s not a poetics of The Now, but more of now and now and now. You enter into a stream. You splash around. You get wet. You notice two horns growing out of your forehead. Your beard is thicker. You weave a garland of flowers and make a tree house in the forest. fuck career. fuck success. i’m a fucking punk faun.

Let’s take a look at the text. Before we do, though, I think I should tell you that I am writing this review on a plane flying east to New York. We are over Kansas right now and the plane is shaking terribly and I am slightly nauseated. Plus, I lost two dollars in Las Vegas at the nickel slot machine in the airport. I just want to disclose the full somatic subjectivity of this so-called review.

What does it mean to perform on a page? The language interrogates itself, disrupts its own silence, enacts a deliberate poly-phonics. To show you what I mean, I’d like to look at the poem “diagrams of tubular refashioning,” specifically the second section, which begins,

wise column circled inches
over suspense by airy truss
night stubs mass sleepless
on tofu dream luv scrapes   (49)

These “diagrams” shape an ecological view outside of the false divisions of life born out of Modern taxonomic efforts to categorize living things according to superficial factors. Even genes, one could argue, are superficial indicators of roles that various cell clusters play within the larger rock-opera of Life.

This morning on my way home from the laundromat, I noticed my neighbor had hung his Halloween decorations on his front garden hedges and they’d gotten rained on in the night. He’d taken toys – barbies, small plastic animals, and creatures from fast-food chain children’s meals – and inserted them into his large front garden hedges, then swathed the hedges with cotton to give the effect that these toys had gotten caught in spider webs. The rain in the night hung mysteriously from the creatures, giving the whole scene an air of capital “b” Beauty in the autumn morning sun. A punk illustration for interconnectivity: the web of life.


In fact, part two of “diagrams” is musically gorgeous, rich, lush, and gets away with rhyme shamelessly: “inches” to “truss” to “sleepless” to “scrapes.” and internally, Olsen layers “suspense” above “stubs mass sleepless” – fucking hot shit.

Olsen’s enjambments turn gracefully in on the next line over and over again, so this is a dance, and it speaks from three (or more) registers. And then there’s the imagism of the line “sunbed fresh satyrs trance” in the fifth stanza of the second section:

against huge hype of sky
retro fringes frame calmed
secrets intimate envy stars
sunbed fresh satyrs trance  (50)

Yes, Olsen successfully transforms/reclaims the language of market (“hype”) and trendiness (“retro”) and body politics (“sunbed”) by implanting them, folding them into the campy painterly scene of “sky” and “stars” and “secrets.”

And so I want to argue that what’s happening in Punk Faun is word-drag page-performance; just as the language interrogates the politics of its formation, so too drag interrogates the politics of gender-formation. Redell Olsen’s poetry is total lang-drag. Sometimes Olsen is lip-synching, sometimes she’s vogue-ing, and sometimes she’s turning a dirty Halloween wig into Judy.

Let’s recall that a faun is a hybrid human animal – specifically goat/human. A hybrid god clearly illustrates the irrefutable fact of ecological interdependence, that humans are part of the animal body, that the social body necessarily must include everything; the social body is the earthly sphere and that must also include the safe-keeping of the so-called non-living (the moon, rocks). Fuck fracking.

and holds Go wary Poppy-Headers of settees
read pipes wax joined not in name but living
in singeing years of takings i.e. no more a
stranger to my dogs than the moon herself  (58)

Dionysus was a faun. Pan. Christ’s main competitor. The pied piper, too, perhaps. What is this darkening lure towards intoxication, animal-loving, and music?

I feel like Olsen wants me to be asking these questions. I feel like she’s sitting in the empty seat next to me (18B), coaxing me to continue to ask these questions, even as the passenger on her right persists in asking if he should purchase a Mac or PC for his daughter. We are politely answering his questions on the relative merits machines, while secretly reminiscing about the text.

lonely landfill lies licking hurry for bleak high ( 59)

This Punk Faun is butting it’s velvet horns against the language hegemony, is beautifully and persistently poking at the oppression of the capitalist lexicon, suggesting and prodding and nuzzling the language into a post-capitalist vocab of communal interdependent multiplicity.

As Donna Haraway (2008) explains in Queering the Non/Human,

Queering has the job of undoing ‘normal’ categories, and none is more critical than the human/nonhuman sorting operation. That is crucial work and play. But perhaps companion species can remind us that terran critters have never been one – or two. Tubes, membranes, orifices, organs, extensions, probes, docking sites: these are the stuff of being in material semiotic intra-action. There is no ontological starting or stopping point, neither order nor disorder, boundaries nor boundary violations. That is not a recipe for free-fall in abstract space, but for coming to know our obligations to each other in all their impossibility and necessity, across species and in communion. Companion species are about patterning, consequences, and the possibility of response. Living and dying on earth is tangled turtles all the way down (“Foreward: Companion Species, Mis-recognition, and Queer Worlding,” xxiv – xxv).

Olsen’s “punk faun” is the human psyche’s “companion species,” reminding me that species is illusion, taxonomy a parlor game, and that separation from my ecosystem is impossible. Just as Pan means “all” so, too, is any life all life. There is no survival of “the fittest,” merely “songs of woodland tryst spoils appeal to mass / locked-in darkly then subjected to loud music” (60) and “litter and sewage sludge a significant provision / to slay this age not late in competition metals” (60).

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