Marnie by Connie Scozzaro
Krupskaya, 2019. 61 pages.
Reviewed by Brendan White
Marnie is a very funny book-length poem about trauma. It’s funny in the same way that death metal can be funny, and an early all-caps set of quatrains sounds like aggro nursery rhymes: “PAIN IS MINE / AND CUT IS MINE AND MINE IS CRY / AND HARM IS MINE AND MINE IS FUCK / THE TEARS FUCK DOWN MY CHEEK”.
If you don’t like this style, the poem changes mode nearly every page, coursing out diverse forms between five half-rhyming quatrains to start and four rhyming couplets for dessert. After a formal overture about trauma and sadism, Scozzaro changes into short-lined free verse to kick off a visionary coming-of-age monster movie, starting with the big bang and encompassing in consecutive lines “the birth of cinema / Auschwitz / New Labor” among other atrocities both named and alluded to.
This flush of disasters done in different voices ranges quite a bit, but settles on Brexit and the violence of blokeish Little Englandism in general and Essex in particular. There’s also a surprisingly straightforward-if-impressionistic account of someone growing up in Essex and becoming suicidally depressed and heavily medicated before and while escaping to Cambridge and Jeremy Prynne parties and spending some time in America before eventually falling in love in Sussex and obtaining righteous class consciousness and self-understanding and a healthier relationship to drugs.
The poem names many names of drug brands along with flowers and towns in Essex and Sussex counties: “why does 4 in the morning taste like / Shoeburyness, Prittleford, Southend-on-Sea, / walking dogs in the dark, fat lip of beach blows babies in foam / travel is killing me / I count diazepams in Billericay.” Scozzaro uses rhyme, alliteration, assonance, rhythm, and nominalism for their numbing properties. When listing flowers Scozzaro soon moves to sexual aggression:
posies and roses chrysanthemums and foxgloves
and cowslips and pansies and flirting primroses
dog-rose and mistletoe and happy-to-see-you thrift
chuckling holly-bush and tickle-you myrtle
touching-copses and forcing-kiss thyme
“Et in Arcadia ego,” says the sex-pest. Scozzaro settles into a mock-pastoral mode suitable for the hateful shambles of Brexit, also name-checking Arkadiusz Jóźwik, a Polish immigrant who was attacked in Essex two days after the referendum. Every district in Essex voted to leave the European Union.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie is about a woman whose life is warped by a disastrously repressed traumatic incident and her reconciliation with her mother, which occurs after Sean Connery marries and rapes her and then forces her to relive and recount the incident at her mother’s house. The hero of the poem is not Marnie, but once hallucinated her:
by universe’s loving crush
exact and waiting
Marnie is the figure of the person trapped by their own violent history and vulnerable to further violence. And instead of forcefully repressing merely one violent past incident, Scozzaro’s hero seems to be trying to repress all of history’s horror; Auchwitz and Bosnian internment camps lead to coping with drugs and anonymous sex and M-C-M and back to violent nationalism. Reason leads to unreason, moments fly before us constantly and certain traumas leave their tether: “logos goes goo goo / makes illicit scram of now / or never again will we go to that place but.”
Thomas Carlyle wrote about Dante:
The people of Verona, when they saw him on the streets, used to say, “Eccovi l’ nom ch’ è stato all’ Inferno” (See, there is the man that was in Hell). Ah yes, he had been in Hell;—in Hell enough, in long severe sorrow and struggle; as the like of him is pretty sure to have been. Commedias that come-out divine are not accomplished otherwise. Thought, true labor of any kind, highest virtue itself, is it not the daughter of Pain? Born as out of the black whirlwind;—true effort, in fact, as of a captive struggling to free himself: that is Thought. In all ways we are “to become perfect through suffering.”
Scozzaro makes me feel like that, but for this person from Essex, such is her vision of that hellscape. Essex was disafforested in the 19th century before blooming into miserable tory New commuter-towns, a place where one can drink “England’s / albumen from a tiny quartz glass.” This drug-dependent promise of merrie englande is part of the same system that produces atrocities and history elsewhere and domestic violences in endless profusion: “the society that really denies me anything / but the most mangled beginnings of a per / sonality”: “jus fuckin publicum, son”.
Brendan White is a poet and local government employee who lives in Chicago.