Wednesday, November 21, 2012

6th Canadian challenge - 8th review

I managed to borrow a copy of Kimmy Beach's Fake Paul.  It is an interesting collection, full of poems about obsession -- and in particular a kind of stalking that is largely a female phenomenon.  The action in many of the poems is so far over the top that I think, even without her recent correspondence and the insights from this excellent interview, I would have said "No way" is the poet writing about things she has actually done.  Which in itself raises interesting questions of how I would have viewed In Cars had I read that immediately after Fake Paul.  I think I would have placed more distance between the poet and the narrator of the poems.  In any case, I would have to say I am relieved that Kimmy is not writing about herself, since the actions of the narrator, while starting out in the normal range, definitely head into deranged territory.

I certainly have my own experiences with obsession but I've never been that obsessed about a particular band/actor/movie/book.  I was going to expound on this a bit, but this review will already be quite long, so I'll hold off until my next post.

The collection opens with the narrator as a child, soon learning about the Beatles and Paul specifically by coming across a copy of Let It Be at her grandmother's house (left behind after a party).

There is then a short interlude where the reader encounters a female fan who apparently hooked up with Paul in Germany before the Beatles became gods.  Just as the Greek myths relate the sad fates of the females that Zeus interfered with, women interacting with modern gods usually came to bad ends as well.

Then the poems pass back to the main narrator, who is apparently in London as a relatively young woman, trying to track down Paul. I guess I should break at this point.


In "#7 Cavendish Avenue," the narrator, with help from her friend Brenda, scales the wall of McCartney's London estate.  She sees a bag of his garbage and considers going through it.  Needless to say, things don't go smoothly for our narrator (though she quite evidently doesn't take this warning seriously enough and returns in the next poem "Would you feel me?").

"the breathless debutantes hang back
whisper behind perfect white hands
virgin voyeurs
they decide not to warn us of
the policeman's arrival
he's not home, luv   the bobby calls up to me
he's in Scotland
you'd like to be arrested at his house
and him not even in it?"

In "Would you feel me?" the narrator distinguishes herself from "those / fucked-up types" though she clearly seems following in the path of girls who "shiver in rain waiting for your / car to leave or arrive."

In the next section, some time has apparently passed and the narrator has returned to the UK and is on a Beatles tour of Liverpool.  Her husband has gamely agreed to come along.  In "Ringo's Room" you do sense a bit of exasperation surfacing, given how the husband cannot compete with rock star gods.  But he gives it his best:
"as he tries to thrust from me the memory
of tiny British postwar beds
sleep with dark-haired boys
dreaming guitars"

I have considerable sympathy for the husband, as my wife has an intense crush on the members of a British New Wave group, hanging out by their hotels back in the day, and still going to their concerts.  Fortunately, she never took it quite as far as the narrator (probably in fact being about as involved/obsessed as the real life Kimmy).

Anyway, the husband simply cannot stack up, and in "Underground" the narrator leaves him a note, saying she is leaving him to try to track down Paul (shades of "She's Leaving Home" perhaps?).  The narrator ends up in a rundown Bed & Breakfast where she will be left alone to pursue her obsessions.

By the end of the book, the narrator has stolen some silverware from Paul McCartney's boyhood home, broken a window to steal one of his old jackets from an exhibit, cut off the head of a wax dummy of Paul, and then apparently sets the whole thing alight and perhaps lays down in the fire (a bit like an Indian widow on a funeral pyre).  Then there is a parallel set of poems (an entire section on "The Fake") where the narrator meets the fake Paul in a Beatles tribute band and first helps him out, then frightens him away to the point where he calls the bouncers to take care of her.

I have to say I do find it a little odd that someone who has gone so far in obsessing over the real Paul would then also be obsessed over "fake Paul."  I could understand the fascination for someone who didn't go to the effort of tracking down traces of the original, but once you have gone over to Liverpool would a pale imitation really be worth the effort?  Especially one reduced to singing "Michelle" to "a frumpy woman with grease / in her hair."  But the narrator finds herself jealous even of the attention fake Paul pays to this apparently disinterested (but oh so loathsome) woman.

Of course, this is all about obsession, and I have to admit I don't really understand obsession over cultural figures.  It tends to be a gendered kind of obsession (women stalking musicians or actors, often with the hope of becoming their girlfriend and/or mother of their child), though certainly there are some men that stalk female celebrities.  Still, men who stalk tend to prefer the power dynamic to run the other way and stalk women they know (& that don't really have the resources to sic the cops or lawyers on them).  Again, gross generalizations.

There are a few other poems in the collection that hint at why so many females do long after and occasionally chase after male artists -- sometimes they do succeed in becoming groupies.  Kimmy imagines a woman who does become Paul's girlfriend, apparently in Germany before their breakthrough, and who then follows the Beatles to the U.S. and dies in a crush of female fans ("Bass Guitar Frenzy").  Indeed, it is truly rare for a musician or actor to not take advantage of all the female attention he received, so it isn't entirely illogical for women to throw themselves at these men.  The crazed narrator links herself into this "tradition" in one of the final poems: "She's Yours Too."  The narrator has apparently convinced herself that she is pregnant from the wax figure, and she is clearly thinking of real Paul, not fake Paul, when she thinks:
"she'll be better off with you anyways
all those horses, dogs, fancy cars
she will grow up in your big house"

This fragile mental state fractures in the next poem "You'll Burn For Me" (next to last in the collection) where the imaginary baby meets the wax father:
"bite off your left ear    suck it into me ...
swallow you   take you inside me
you and our baby both inside me now
your own voice from the television"

(The programme on television may be a repeat of the famous Beatles visit to the Ed Sullivan show.)

Frustration erupts (perhaps as a tiny bit of reality intrudes and the woman realizes the fairly pathetic figure she has become).  In trying to regain the upper hand, the woman brings her universe crashing down around her, setting the wax figure on fire -- and quite possibly the entire bedroom and maybe even the house:
"you'll burn for me
cotton and wax and hair
burn for me, lover"

It is not clear whether she survives, and the next and final poem "Coda" is written from an outside perspective (the old (un)reliable omniscient narrator rather than a personalized narrator).  In "Coda," the Beatles tribute band goes on about their business, clearly unconcerned about the crazy woman whose path briefly crossed theirs.  I'm not sure the poet was explicitly referencing Auden's "Musee des Beaux Arts" where the plowman keeps on, unaware of Icarus's fall into the sea, but it seems an apt linkage to me.  This Auden poem -- with some analysis -- can be found here.  In the Acknowledgements section, Kimmy reveals that she did in fact know the fake Paul in a Beatles tribute band but clearly kept her admiration within bounds, just as she says in the interview.  This will surely come as a relief to some readers.

Fake Paul is definitely an unsettling collection, and so much of it is so far over the top that I have trouble relating to any of it, but especially the second half -- basically marked by the poem "Underground" -- is where the obsession turns too dark and overwhelming for me to really enjoy reading the rest of the book.  However, people that enjoy watching reality TV shows (and you know who you are) might get a kick out of it.

1 comment:

  1. Once again, you do me a great honour, Eric. Thank you so much!

    All best,

    Kimmy Beach