January 28, 2023

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The New York School Diaspora (Part 38): Sharon Mesmer [by Angela Ball]

I have thirteen penises

– for Drew Gardner

My first penis is a reclusive alligator
So my second penis is not a figure skater
My third penis was never declared unconstitutional
My fourth penis isn’t the winner of the coolest contest
souped-up cabin

My fifth penis doesn’t think unicorns take over
my fourth penis with lasers
My sixth penis has never had a brain tumor removed with a taser
My seventh penis isn’t the giraffe that swallowed My Little Pony
My eighth penis doesn’t use Comic Sans when it’s lonely

My ninth penis is running a background check on me
My tenth penis smacked a werewolf in the face in Kentucky
My eleventh penis wants to know why a cupcake isn’t a mineral
My twelfth penis wants to know if there are other planets besides Earth
are spherical

My thirteenth penis resembles, oddly enough, a whippoorwill.

– Sharon Mesmer

From 2003 to 2010 I was a member of the Flarf Poetry Collective: 30+ poets used Google to search the web for content, emailing the work multiple times a day through our list server and writing new poetry by taking lines from the Poems of the other interspersed Google. The group came together in response to the post-9/11 political/cultural/social absurdity. Drew Gardner, to whom the poem is dedicated, was one of the original members of the collective and I am certain that this poem was composed by inserting a line from the poem he googled that day, albeit on this one period I don’t remember what that line was. -Sharon Mesmer

Sharon Mesmer is a poet, novelist, essayist and teacher. Her most recent collection of poems, Greetings From My Girlie Leisure Place (Bloof Books), was voted Best of 2015 by Entropy Magazine. Other collections include Annoying Diabetic Bitch, The Virgin Formica, Half Angel/Half Lunch, and Vertigo Seeks Affinities (Chapbook, Belladonna Books). Four of her poems appear in Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology (Second Edition, 2013). She has also published three collections of fiction, The Empty Quarter and In Ordinary Time (both by Hanging Loose Press) and Hachette’s Ma Vie à Yonago in French translation. Her essays, reviews, and interviews have appeared in the New York Times, New York Magazine/The Cut, Paris Review, American Poetry Review, Purple, Commonweal, and the Brooklyn Rail, among others. Her awards include a Jerome Foundation Mentoring Award (scholar: Elisabeth Workman, poet) and two fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts. She teaches at New York University and The New School and lives in Brooklyn.

– Photo by Sophie Malleret

The New York School Diaspora (Part 38): Sharon Mesmer

Sharon Mesmer’s exuberant “I Have Thirteen Penises” shares some of the shock-resistant panache of Frank O’Hara’s poem “Ave Maria.” It can be seen as a more explicit version of Joy Harjo’s great “She Had Some Horses”. The alleged narrator dedicates the poem to “Drew Garner,” who could be a woman or a man or both or both — it doesn’t matter. The poem claims a special freedom for his penises. They do not belong to a specific body shape or a lover’s bag (à la In the Realm of the Senses), but to language and imagination. Anatomy doesn’t have to be destiny.

The thirteen penises are characterized by what they are (“a reclusive pet alligator”); what they are not (“a figure skater”); what they didn’t explain (“unconstitutional” or “winner of the coolest souped-up booth”); what they don’t believe (“My fifth penis doesn’t think unicorns are taking over my fourth penis with lasers”); what they’ve “never done before”: (“remove a brain tumor with a taser”); which (again) they are not (“the giraffe that swallowed my little pony”); and what they don’t use (“Comic Sans when lonely”). The third stanza of the poem switches to proactivity, to what the penises are doing (“a background check for me”); and what they want to know (“how come a cupcake isn’t a mineral” and “if other planets besides Earth are spherical”).

The ultimate, the thirteenth penis, is notable for its form – something the poem has hitherto avoided, a challenge when it comes to discussing a body part relentlessly bound to form and through pseudo-embodiment in obelisks, products and joke noodles is parodied. This is a fitting ending for a poem that plays with expectation and surprise, constantly surprising us with boisterous free verse rhymes (similar to Doggerel, but far from insistent). his scheme, both manic and insane, goes something like this: aabb/aacc/ccbbb.

Superstitions surrounding the number thirteen obscure the ending, as does the comparison of the penis to a “whiptail,” a bird named for its ominous song which, when heard near a house, portends “death, or at least bad luck.” ” means. On the plus side, it can cure a sore back—if the sufferer does somersaults in time (Almanac.com).

The insertion of the word “strange” is humorous—especially since non-strange comparisons include a pugilist practicing on a werewolf. Almanac.com also informs us that “whiptails do their courtship after sunset” and that they are heard more often than seen due to their excellent camouflage. Sharon Mesmer’s wonderfully exhaustive “I Have Thirteen Penises” teaches that even the most familiar appendage has something new to teach; that the silence of the penis can be broken through poetry in thirteen (are you listening, Wallace Stevens?) irrepressible ways.

– Angela Ball