PRETTY KILL: JEANANN VERLEE’S OBSESSION TO ACCOUNT FOR CRIMES OF LOVE
Suggestiveness of the title to Jeanann Verlee’s book, “Prey”, and its cover, an alluring image of the bust of a beautiful woman captured as prey with red roses adorning her antlers; her face covered and dripping in honeyed-blood –
is a riveting reminder and alertness that male/female gender and sexual politics, supposes a playing ground where the dominant male, given his potential to conquer, criminally and socio-societally abuses, uses his penis to govern power, whereby tortures and undermines women. In lieu of the penis, he has collection of firearms and other weapons, which determinedly encourage his killing ability and murderous intensions, seemingly valued in Verlee’s notion of the female as prey or victim.
Carl Jung’s concept of the anima/animus, depicting male and female respective archetypes of the unconscious mind, here in Verlee’s overpowering book, recounts masculine male toxic behavior which is headline news in so many ways and as introductory accounts preceding each section within the book, quotes various men; a language so shocking and premeditated, it makes one gasp for air.
The book’s method as a telling and bludgeoning, revealing the gut-wrenching pain and torture leveled onto women in these poems is amazingly dangerous, a self-professed cult and glory for which Jeanann Verlee is known. As a poet her performances are séance-like gatherings, where her adoring fans, chant, rave and roar to each utterance of blood-curdling truth.
The trigger of the opening poem, “The Curse”, is reminiscent of the prom scene in the movie “Carrie”; the lead character dripping of blood and with psychokinesis causes havoc. Verlee, with this poem, channels the haunted female, perhaps possessed by death, examples ripped from her conscience as a woman, upended and violated.
When I arrive, fish rise belly-up
to the mouths of their tanks.
Sewer rats gather at my feet,
keel to their sides, stoic as stones.
Sparrows drop from trees in my wake,
spattering the sidewalk red.
This particular poem forecasts horror of #postshock and #postraumatic revelations throughout the book, detailing man as an animal gripped by his own inward fear which he relinquishes as torment at the hands of the most unsuspecting women. Circumstance of the curse in the poem is a haunting aura envisioned in images of animals tragically dead or dying.
The poem, “He Wants to Know Why Sometimes in the Face of Conflict I Neither Fight nor Flee, but Instead Go Disconcertedly Mute, Eyes Locked Ahead Like Some Sad Dead Thing Looking off Into the Empty of Its Own Future” begins a theme in poems of the first section of the book which portray the child, the abuse, mindset of the father, the mother and the home in which they live.
There’s a reminder that pain and silence of abuse (a child in this case) leads to the body dying “over and over again”, from its inception in childhood through to maturity; the body dying, not in its physical and deteriorating state, but as a lessening of a grip on one’s reality, the selfless flesh, emotionally scarred, marching towards what becomes of an actual death.
“Ode to My Mother’s Backhand” continues the theme of family, the actual abuse of the mother to the child. “Secret Written from inside a Snake’s Mouth” shows the trust and faith a child has in a loved one. Quite spectacularly this is a form of abuse from the child’s point of view. In this case it reveals worth of innocence and extent of love a child has for a parent (mother). As if in the warmth of a home the child is trapped.
“A Good Life” extends the metaphor of innocence, somehow turned into madness; irony of a boy become man, which sets a standard that the evolutionary process and where it starts is partly relatable to the beginning, but takes on a course of its own. Given the abuse of the boy, he gradually shapes his persona based on the act of violence done to him, “They cornered the child in the forest. Removed his clothes and loved him”. This is also Verlee’s attempt to originate the disposition of the predator and how it carries over into adulthood. “Unkind Years” builds on the murderous interior of the man, the clever and cunning depiction of his determined pathology and his victim.
The second section of the book deals with male/female gender and sexual politics. The poem, “One Winter While Unemployed” gives off the element of abuse at the work place but also a means of self-empowerment, a #MeToo moment. Declaration of authority in the female is not a means of desperation but resilience, defiance and female self-possession and feminine prowess, a means of pride and angst.
What follows are a series of poems showing vindictiveness of a white male aggressor, his pathology a (dead-inside unfeelingness), cold and premeditative.
On the verge of abusing a female, a man says, “Damn woman, I didn’t know your titties were pierced!” I waited. But that stupid bitch wouldn’t even slap me. There’s a means of power and submission here. Or the stereotypical seducer in the poem, “Casanova Comes to Dinner (Or, the Poet and His Hundred Wives)”, where a man is enabled to will his sexual prowess, encouraging a sexual pang in the female, “Back off, he’s mine”. Some poems deal with the subject of gang-rape, “Pack Hunt”, in which the victim cries, “Please don’t hurt my dog”.
The final poem in this section, “Secret Written from Inside a Falcon’s Mouth” introduces the aggressive female, potential of the woman to be seducer; how the rape victim expresses sexual domination.
we claim men are cursed
always with want, & so he laughs,
& so I prey, his soft
& most delicate self
in my renegade hand.
His violation, all mine.
The third section of the book explores men as threatening/women as victim (submissive). It opens with the poem, “If We Were Meat”. Here, the victim reimagines the rape, attempted murder – act of violation. The poem “Menace” is shocking. The awesome pain and joy of reading something so murderous; it requires absolute and undeniable courage from the writer. “The Most Dangerous Game” reenacts an attempted murder scene in a courtroom, need of the victim to be victimized again.
Years pass. He makes parole.
Police suggest you move away.
You brush your hair, find your best dress.
Lock up the knives.
Open each window.
Further on, reading more poems excites the mind and body with examples of venomous blood that run through relationships, the tension, restlessness, fear, love/hate. There are moments which determine why some women never know enough to leave abusive relationships, reasons for staying, perhaps waiting to become mother. Unfortunately it results in prognostication of false hopes; how presence and malicious intent of a man references the history of the men who have come before. The women grow to love the men, their pathology.
The fourth section is about victimization and vengeance.
In the poem, “Secret Written from inside a Piranha’s Mouth”, a woman surveys a man’s character by the way she honors him, knows him inside out.
He prefers winter. Prefers cabernet. Steaks. Blondes. Prefers ass.
Fake nails and glossy lips. Juicy. Stilettos. Prefers silence.
Two poems, “Dumpster Full of Dresses” and “The Feast”, depict gore of mutilation, carcasses, cannibalism. Much of this is the fierceness with which Verlee brings the reader closer to the crime scene, into minds of demented men.
Some of the poems veer from shock and read or rather bleed, beautifully.
“For the Woman Who Loved the Predator More Than His Prey” –
I would wish on you the knowing—knowing
with your own good body but I am incapable.
You are made of flesh and nerve and thought,
of heart and love and wonder and grief, as I am.
Let me wish for you this: a deep sleep, trust
in the man at your back who has promised
sanctuary, and you have sipped of the sanctuary
rolled your milk skin in it,
Other poems stress the fact of victimization, but occasionally a poem like, “The Unkindness” charges through the page in a fit of female vengeance, as schoolgirls, metaphorically depicted as birds, murder a boy.
The last section refers back to placement of both men and women in the game of dominance and submission. The poem “Almighty” lets the reader into a woman’s obsession and sensitivity to the perpetrator, a blatant and violent outburst of her obsessiveness for her predator, somehow echoing the times when both aggressor and victim engage in a hopeless feeling of prioritized love.
Conscience of the woman at times elevate to the point of fighting back. “Secret Written from inside the Hunter’s Mouth” is a vicious account of the predator’s psychology, “the ways he intended to burn my body or strip it of its skin”, and how the victim fought back.
and I practiced
swinging in the hot dark
of my empty apartment,
practiced on walls and doors
and lovers, practiced what it would be
to have his hands on me again
Jeanann Verlee’s “Prey”, is the book of poems for the moment, a call to the admission of all women who have been assaulted and abused, and the men who are now willing to admit to their crimes.
It’s a pivotal moment in history. “Prey” is a testament to the indecency and criminal intent behind what has been celebrated culturally as male predatory behavior.
While these crimes play out in court cases, read Prey for the pleasure of great writing, beauty in the female voice, Jeanann Verlee’s possession of language in its gory detail of death, obsession with love, the hurt, the pain.