Nov 28 2022
Poetry review – TITS ON THE MOON: Charles Rammelkamp reviews a selection of diverting poems by Dessa
“Occasionally during a live performance, as in life, something goes to shit,” Dessa writes in the “Intro(uble)” to this chapbook of poems. “An instrument gets knocked over and out of tune,” for instance, or “the bone-chilling cold freezes the lines to Matthew’s computer (Super Bowl Live, Minneapolis).” At these times, “it’s convenient to keep a few just-in-case poems at your feet—little diversions to tide over the crowd while your bandmates and capable compatriots put out whatever fire is burning behind you.” Tits on the Moon is a collection of twelve of these poems – like the number of songs traditionally featured on an old-time lp, six to a side, poems she’s read onstage, “often to obscure a petty emergency.”
Dessa is the stage name of Margret Wander, rapper, singer, writer, former record executive. She’s the author of two previous collections, Spiral Bound and A Pound of Steam. Dessa’s 2018 collection of creative non-fiction essays called My Own Devices: True Stories from the Road on Music, Science and Senseless Love was named by National Public Radio as a 2018 Best Read. She also hosts a podcast called Deeply Human. Mainly known as a touring performer and recording artist, with half a dozen solo albums, at bottom she has always been a writer.
The title poem begins with the arresting line, “The moon’s gravity is only one sixth of ours. My tits would be awesome there.” As in several other pieces, she goes on to consider the implications of bodies as they exist in time and space, notably, here, as bodies relax in bathwater and the “burden-bearing” ramifications of the corporeal weight we drag around. In “The Body,” Dessa spells out the implications even more explicitly. “Your body is a space suit. You are not viable outside of it,” she observes, and “Your body is a brief parole from non-existence.” In sum, “Your body is the holster for your name.”
“How Long Have I Been Alive?” continues the consideration of our physical selves in time and space. She writes:
If you are pregnant, or think you might be pregnant, you are old enough to know that love and fear travel tandem.
Some pieces, like “Wasp” and “Bot,” are more flash non-fiction/essay than poem, but they, too, serve as a pause in the stream of impatience a restless audience might be feeling. They “buy a little time for your show to get back on its rails.” In the first, Dessa considers the threat and distraction of a wasp that has invaded her apartment as she prepares to entertain a male friend, only to take the insect’s perspective and consider the woman and the man she is involved with. In the second, she rants about the “Captcha” screens you have to complete (“which of these squares has a stoplight in it?” etc.) before you can finish a transaction.
Dessa is like a stand-up comedian, which is an appropriate comparison when you consider how she is highlighting these pieces as audience placaters. She’s downright funny. Take “Retrieved from the Recycling Bin of Abraham Maslow,” the man famous for his hierarchy of needs, the five-stage motivational theory that ranks human needs as a pyramid of levels from the basics of food and shelter up to “self-actualization.” Her poem is pure Woody Allen-esque in its brainy parody.
Maslow’s Pyramid of Yearnings Maslow’s Treehouse of Demands Maslow’s Lean-to of Revenge Fantasies Light Sedation and Submission Holds— Maslow’s Guide to Actualizing Others by Force
“A Rose by Any Other Name Will Have to Rebuild Brand Awareness: Proverb Updates for This Week’s All-Staff Meeting “is another amusing brainy parody. “Where there’s a will, there’s an inheritance feud to bring out the absolute worst in you and everyone you love,” she writes, and “The enemy of my enemy is still the interim CEO.” Hi ho!
The collection fittingly ends at the edge of the performance stage with “How to Stage Dive,” as Dessa prepares to leap out into the audience, surf on the hands of her fans, her show back on the rails.
Tits on the Moon lives up to its title – witty as hell, a frisson of sex, and definitely way out there.