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Roots & Branches Series
ISBN 978-1-941550-56-4 $15.00 122 pages
"Spastic messiah / erotic daughter"
On Petra Kuppers's PearlStitch
review by Declan Gould in Jacket 2
In PearlStitch, Petra Kuppers initiates us in ritual conversation, collective and intimate. Her embodied engagement with the political, mythical, pop cultural, feminist, historical and scientific brings poetics into the commons all the way through to the tender touch of lovers—knitting labor with Eros, “beneath your fingers, worker, is your fantasy and your redemption, meet my eyes, beloved,/turn around.” These are incantatory poems, stitching together (the purl of) factory floors, canopies, rivers, borders, sidewalks and streets. Invocations of singer Madonna, Beatrice and Sophia converge with Jung, Wittig and Audre Lorde. Kuppers contends with systemic violence as in the murder of women in Júarez, Mexico and the ravages of neoliberal capitalisms, while also bringing the sensate, individual body into presence on the page, in alchemical discovery and in pain. She traces our own proprioceptive map of chronicity, a million tiny stabbing decrepitudes, “spines protruding into the melody’s gap./Glottal rhythm hiccup and veering off downward and out.” At the same time, and throughout, she dances in solidarity with queer and disability activists toward the possibilities of relational healing.
Denise Leto and Amber DiPietra
A pearl stitch is a chain stitch, also known as the basque knot. In this garlandy chain of poems, Petra Kuppers interknits a mythology of heroines, natural wonders, marvelously slippery identities, personal struggles and exultations, but also acknowledges the violence by which text-making and life-making takes place in our world, whereby the “endless piston that drives the needle into the skin,” looping and connecting, is also the mechanism of our most elaborate cultural efflorescence. A beautiful meditation on the labor of making at all levels, PearlStitch stabs out a love letter to the love that fuels our creative surges in spite of all urges toward its perversion by capital.
What is “rendered down.” What is “scraped.” “What remains of my speciﬁc ﬂesh.” writes Petra Kuppers, deep in the writing of the body-life, its “translation transhistorical transcultural transfantasy transitory trance.” Reading, tracking really, from “desert” to “plasma,” through the many fields of this beautiful book, I was moved by Kuppers’ capacity to keep a space open between the unassimilable parts of embodied practice and the moment when what the subject is, the body itself, begins to stream. Here we find the “goddess,” or “the nervous system,” but also an “inflammatory process,” the “asymmetrical lean.” The delicacy and courage to do that, to shift the time of the body, or its space -- spaces -- is what I learned from at every stage of PearlStitch, which I want to recommend to any reader interested in hybridity, or poetry, or performance, as something that begins as a seam, not composed, but unraveling, undoing itself at every turn. This surrender or loosening is the work, too, of the “beloved” and of “breath.” In this way, Petra Kuppers’ book turns to love. And it’s love, at last, that illuminates everything that she writes and that eventually, transmitted, felt, we read.
Petra Kuppers is a disability culture activist, a community performance artist, and a Professor at the University of Michigan. She directs the Olimpias, an international disability culture performance collective. She lives in Ann Arbor with her partner and collaborator Stephanie Heit.