CLAKE / Interview for, Jenna Clake
Verve Poetry Press, 2018 £7.50
Feminine and feminist senses of the absurd
Literary absurdism has historically been male dominated but Jenna Clake’s academic writing has characterised a new poetry aesthetic — ‘the New Absurd’ — that includes ‘feminine’ and ‘feminist’ dimensions. Her intriguing pamphlet includes two long, absurdist poems. CLAKE is a narrative made up of fifteen pieces of prose poetry, and Interview for is a thirteen-scene, predominantly voice-based, drama. It’s interesting to read the two poems in the context of the conceptual feminine/feminist dichotomy.
CLAKE recounts how the central character, Clake, responds to the unexplained departure of ‘Boyfriend’, including her sadness and attempts to understand the situation; and how she traps talking spiders and bakes a cake, icing on it repeatedly the word ‘SORRY’. Her dreams — and those of her cat — suggest Boyfriend may be with another woman. Notwithstanding the cake-baking, Clake’s absurdist but ultimately philosophical response is expressed in a style and tone that might be considered more feminine than feminist:
Clake turns to her cat: Do you want Boyfriend to come back? Clake’s cat twitches her ears.
Interview for has no discernible plot, only a range of characters’ voices heard in largely disconnected contexts (except for the ubiquity of bright red objects), but the central ‘woman’s voice’ encounters a man who builds, inside their house, a mesh copy of the house which the woman can only enter when naked. He sets the house alarm ‘with the woman inside’ before ‘[stapling] the windows and doors shut’.
This poem also foregrounds feminist issues like traditional gender roles (the woman works, for example, in the kitchen and with a sewing kit) and harassment (the woman explains that wearing sunglasses lessens the effect of cat-calling but is not ‘empowering’).
Overall, the situation of the unnamed woman in the more political play-poem is far less comfortable throughout than that of the Clake character. The harassed woman’s voice concludes by addressing her own expectations that the world would let her ‘have things the right way’:
You must acknowledge each thing you have lost out loud [...] You may forever think about one of those things and carry it with you.