Escape from a World Which Brings Harm
A Review by Brian Burmeister
Alyse Knorr, “Mega-City Redux”
Green Mountains Review
2016, 62 pages, softcover, $15.00
We all want understanding. Compassion. Safety. We want an escape from beliefs and actions which bring us daily harm.
Over 600 years ago, Christine de Pizan attempted to bring such relief to women. In her most famous work, “The Book of the City of Ladies,” Pizan explored men’s motives and fought to dispel commonly accepted myths about women. With the assistance of the virtues of Reason, Rectitude, and Justice, Pizan hoped to elevate women’s sense of worth and place in society. She shared stories of some of the great women of history to build a foundation for an allegorical city, free from misunderstanding, repression, and the dangers of sexism and misogyny. “Mega-City Redux” reimagines and updates that premise. In its pages, poet Alyse Knorr creates a world in which such a city is not just a rhetorical device, but a real place. Knorr’s narrator embarks on a road trip to find that sacred, welcoming city along with her friends, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xena Warrior Princess, and “The X-Files’” Dana Scully.
At only 62 pages, “Mega-City Redux” is a surprisingly powerful work. Ambitious. Inventive. Playful. Knorr explores big issues, fuses together classic literature and pop-culture, and utilizes each poem to create a compelling narrative.
Each of the main characters’ travels and memories paint a thoughtful, nuanced, and never-preachy examination of the male gaze, societal constructs of gender, and the effects on women. Knorr delivers absolutely poignant moments—“Our foremothers must look down at us, confused as we are about the lines between self-esteem and profitable shame”—and acknowledges the role television has played in shaping desire and identity—“Yes, I fell in love with a woman in a screen/An image of a woman.”
At its core, “Mega-City Redux” is spell-binding narrative poetry. While often told in block and prose styles, these poems maintain an incredible energy and rhythm. Knorr has a real ear for language, and the magic she is capable of can be found on almost every page. Her use of alliteration and rhyme is constantly, carefully woven into her storytelling, often to quite humorous effect: “A Glock! A cock-sure aimed and cocked clock to the head, sure to rock someone’s world, or at least rock their socks ‘til heaven knocks.”
Knorr’s narrative voice is playful, witty—a tone she maintains even in moments of profound reflection: “Once upon a time all women loved only women and this was called the 1970s. There was hunger, but it was an immortal hunger, not a hunger for knowledge. Well the police got involved, then religion, and as you can imagine everything went to shit pretty fast.”
Knorr’s playfulness extends to the structure as well. She experiments with form, alternating between a prose style and rapid-fire lists of items and events or dialogue exchanges written as if they appear in a play, the urgency of the words sometimes stronger than end punctuation:
I: How did you know
Dr. Noisewater: One never knows for sure, despite what they say
Dr. N: Those optimists in love, I suppose
I: No How did you know why I came here
The cumulative effect of Knorr’s style and subject matter makes for an entertaining, insightful, and fast-paced read. “Mega-City Redux” blurs the lines between poetry and prose so much that the text—never really detouring from its overarching narrative—feels like a novella. This is poetry for those who might not yet know they like poetry. Accessible, but brilliant. The trip to Mega-City is a journey worth taking.
Brian Burmeister teaches communication at Iowa State University. He is a regular contributor at Cleaver Magazine and his writing has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. He can be followed on Twitter: @bdburmeister.