Percussion Grenade (Fence Books, 2012), Joyelle McSweeney’s third full-length poetry collection, begins not with an explosion, but with a warning: she intends for her poetry to be read aloud. She likens you to a Looney Tune and to a flight attendant. This is the first page.
The three that follow, however, are a waste, as are many throughout the book—blotted with Douglas Kearney’s illustrations. Kearney depicts the title images and obvious themes of the book’s sections. These depictions, however, are purely literal and lack an interesting perspective. They subtract from the otherwise extraordinarily dense block of text that is Percussion Grenade.
Like fragmentation, McSweeney’s poetry violently rips through every thought that falls within its “killzone.” This killzone, however, is not grenade-sized. Her work is an atomic bomb. The thoughts are all but neutralized.
And she’ll beat anything to death. Each poem relies on dozens, sometimes hundreds, of images. They appear, they reappear, they disappear—they are flung at the page from every direction. Consistency isn’t worthy of her writing. It speaks—or screams, rather—for itself:
Crescendo! MacCaw! I’m a magpie with a caralarm and an airplane a patented / genome a reinforced cockpit door and a poptab brain a vivisected aquifer / shunted and split ten ways between here and the San Fernando Valley and the / Rift valley and the Kusk Valley the Rhine and Tuscaloosa and South Bend and / St Marks Venice and St Marks / Opeeeeeeeeogalala! OpeeOrkneyIslanders! BushTwins! OpeeeeeeeeCree!
“Opeeeeeeeentropy!” Percussion Grenade is an unleashing of poetic chaos, literary terrorism. She warned us.
-Beau Peregoy, Poetry Editor