“The Body in Late Stage Capitalism: Poems” by Karin Spitfire; The Illuminated Sea Press, Belfast, Maine, 2021; 136 pages, paperback, no price given.

If you should pick up a copy of Belfast performance artist Karin Spitfire’s recent collection of poems, “The Body in Late Stage Capitalism,” you’re going to want to brace yourself before you start reading. The central emotions are rage and grief, and they come reeling off most of the pages like fireballs.

“Rancor / laces the edges of her world”, begins “Climate Change” on page six, and the poem then wends its way through how completely inescapable is the coming destruction of ecosystems—“the caustic / cry of dying plankton … too much heat and bitter water.” The feeling of this reality is a “derangement of bile / clanging with every breath.”

There are a number of poignant poems about a brother’s death, mainly grief-stricken but also angry as his illness appears to have been related to poisonous pesticides and chemicals (“i want to / start a war / bomb things … eye for an eye / irrational”). Among other poems expressing a range of different kinds of pain about family, “Eulogy for My Mother” wanders often tenderly over memories of the speaker’s mother’s life. But even in this poem, the concluding stanza begins, “In the end, / Well, it is too gruesome to talk about,” then proceeds to talk about it, if briefly, with words like “scorched,” “wounds,” “poisoned” and “carnage.”

There is a lot about the body in “The Body in Late Stage Capitalism,” but not really a lot about capitalism, except as a generalized, abstract metaphor for what’s going wrong. In one of several poems about life in Spitfire’s hometown, “Be Belfastian: Wild Caught” runs playfully through some local history associated with a group of the town’s “Wild women” who push back at whatever’s pushing at them (such as a proposed salmon farm):

 

Now we’re talking this Belfast Brand,

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the World Market telling us

that because we are not completely a stripped mauled

mono-cultured shopping opportunity

We still actually have culture…

old fashion hometown culture,

idiosyncratic and eccentric for its very existence.

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… a few years ago,

Wild Caught was oxymoronic

Now, it means us.

 

Capitalism here is shown to be involved in how you think about your place.

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In “The Body under Late Stage Capitalism” (whose title differs by one possibly revealing word from the book title), a detailed description of the relationship of the heart, “digestive track,” lungs and nervous system forms a loose allegory on the body functioning as a whole parallel to the human endeavor as a whole: “cells … in their unwavering, egalitarian democracy, / in their trillions, all still work together … to keep the whole alive. // The mind, once tethered by the heart, is disembodied, / wracked in this climate of isolation.” We may speculate from this that the cells could get confused when they can’t find a polling place in their biological system, just as people would have a hard time locating a poll in their economic system, but the overall message, like we say, seems clear: Working together is healthy, splinter-and-fleece capitalism is poison, and when you think about this, it feels alienating.

A number of poems lament the losses and oppressions of the Wabanaki peoples, including pastoral descriptions of efforts to recapture the feel of the land and coast as it might have been experienced before Europeans arrived to wreck it. A section titled “Gifts” offers overall gentler, more ambiguous poems based on dreams.

What seems to be the boil-over expression of the different kinds of personal, social, political and economic rage is “I Embrace Colder Than a Witch’s Tit: New Years Eve 2017”: “I am here to say … I embrace Squaw, Nasty woman, man-hater / I embrace every pejorative name for women / … I am here to say / we aren’t backing down, you can call us whatever”; and toward the end of the second page: “For any men squirming in the audience / I am over White Supremacy too”.

At least no punches are pulled, even if they are haymakers.

Karin Spitfire’s previous poetry collection is “Standing With Trees.” “The Body in Late Stage Capitalism” is available through midcoast book stores.

Off Radar takes note of poetry and books with Maine connections the first and third Fridays of each month. Dana Wilde is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Contact him at [email protected]

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