The Necropastoral: Poetry, Media, Occults

University of Michigan Poets on Poetry Series, 2014.

GENRE: decadent, cross-genre ecocriticism; poetics essays

In this collection of essays, McSweeney coins the term ‘the Necropastoral’ to describe an Anthropocene ecopoetics based on such contemporary modalities as decomposition, mutancy, extinction and decay. As a literary model, the necropastoral eats away at hierarchies and national boundaries, unfurling an antibinary and deliberately anachronistic zone of strange aesthetic meetings between such diverse artists as Warhol, Cesaire, Wilfred Owen, Harryette Mullen, Chelsey Minnis and Kim Hyesoon.

Praise for the Necropastoral: 

“For The Necropastoral, the vampiric action of capital can be reclaimed through conferring centrality on the ghostly and the spectral as a foil to finitude. This interstitiality means the dead acting like the living and vice versa; it scrambles chronologies. Media, death, and art all register with equal weight in The Necropastoral as do bacteriality, parasitism and death. Where the classical pastoral insists on separation and containment (country vs. city, gods vs. men) the necropastoral posits super-saturation, leaking and counter-contamination: “Rather than maintaining its didactic or allegorical distance, the membrane separating the Pastoral from the Urban, the past from the future, the living from the dead, may and must be supersaturated, convulsed and crossed. The crossing of this membrane is Anachronism itself.”⁠
-Laura Ellen Joyce, Entropy


Dead Youth, or, the Leaks

Litmus Press, 2014

GENRE: Bladed farce; verse play.

Inaugural Winner, Leslie Scalapino Prize for Woman Performance Artists

Judges: Fiona Templeton, Caroline Bergvall, E. Tracy Grinell

A denatured Tempest set upon a leaking containership piloted by Julian Assage and packed with decomposing Dead Youth, this bladed farce poses the absurdly tragic question: what lies beyond the endtimes? What does it mean to persist in unsurvivable times?

Praise for Dead Youth:

"Like all of Joyelle McSweeney’s work, Dead Youth refuses to settle into any easy category, delivering a theater experience that’s simultaneously transgressive, classical, visionary, political, and gothic. Although built for the stage, these words still slip, skid, pop, and burrow throughout the page, creating a daisy chain of unexpected associations and indelible effects."
-Jeff Jackson

"Dead Youth, or, the Leaks, is the shocking gaze upon the most beautiful and obscene gesture that is survival itself. This work takes as truth the statement that violence is such stuff as dreams are made of, that genocide can be converted to a legible surface, that oppression can be exhalation, that knowledge can be devastation, that violence can be humanistic and natural, staggering, immersive. In other words, Dead Youth is a farce, perhaps, but built on the exploitation and death and misery that becomes charisma and complication and sacredness. Heavy, yet easy to consume for its beautiful and profound images, indigestible, yet productive and rapacious in the indigestion that it produces. This is a work like none other. Let the destruction of the world become the rhythm of your life."
-Janice Lee

"I’ve never read anything by Joyelle McSweeney that wasn’t totally exciting. She’s one of the most interesting people working now in terms of the forms she uses, and she’s extremely deft, and playful, and yet the stuff that’s going on, content-wise, is really super-smart, and has really good politics and stuff. I just find her a thrilling font of new stuff."
-Dennis Cooper for _Dazed Digital_


Percussion Grenade

Fence Books, 2012

GENRES: Noisy Poems and Verse Play

Music and drama as weapons of productive destruction. This collection by prize-winning, massively influential literary star Joyelle McSweeney explodes the twinned and dangerous notions that images are pretty, and that they land predictably.

Power struggles in all contexts and the driving ever-presence of a lexicon of puissance make this a bracing read, not for the faint of heart or mind.

McSweeney’s recent works make a fitful, voltaic motion in a deformation zone constituted by violence, genre, literary form, image, media, environmental degradation, power imbalances, mutation, possession, dispossession, disability, beauty, the mythic and the mundane, the living and the Dead, the Sublime.

Praise for Percussion Grenade:

"Percussion Grenade is also as deeply generous as it is manipulative, a book that coquettishly offers itself as a sensuous treat for the reader (“one lump or two?” McSweeney writes in “Indications”). This generosity adds to the ethos of melding, and we see, in bits and pieces, a community being pieced together in the flash and glitter of performance and show. The pieces collected here present in no uncertain terms the sharpness and rancor of language and imagination under the stresses of current political, cultural and environmental climates, yet also they also present the possibility of collectivity—McSweeney is always insisting on places where we can enter and join her, where we can help build and destroy. These poems are dynamic and multidimensional, asking the reader to inhabit and activate different voices and vernaculars. The poems in this collection both articulate and fiercely defend the notion of performance and the collaborative experience embedded in the traditions of poetry, while they carve out a space for new possibilities and inflections of meaning with every reading/performance."
-Diana Throw, the Quarterly Conversation


Salamandrine: 8 Gothics

Tarpaulin Sky,  2013

GENRES: Gothics; Prose and Verse Play

Masquerading as a collection of short stories, Salamandrine is a channeled text, moonchild, unholy offspring of poetry and Loser Occult. Refracting the dread and isolation of contemporary life through a series of formal/generic lenses, producing a distorted, attenuated, spasmatic experience of time, as accompanies

motherhood, Salamandrine renders impossible any thinking in terms of conventional temporalities or even causalities, let alone their narrative effects. Salamandrine is the high magick of art so low it crawls. Like a toddler at a poetry reading. With a taste for achilles heels. Hell-bent on bringing literature itself to its knees.

Praise for Salamandrine:

"The stream of consciousness of an unhinged mother…. McSweeney’s breakneck prose harnesses the throbbing pulse of language itself."
-Publishers Weekly

"Biological, morbid, fanatic, surreal, McSweeney’s impulses are to go to the rhetoric of the maternity mythos by evoking the spooky, sinuous syntaxes of the gothic and the cleverly constructed political allegory. Salamandrine can be earnest and apocalyptic, playful and arch, but at its core is the proposition that writing the mother-body is a viscid cage match with language and politics in a declining age…. [T]his collection is the sexy teleological apocrypha of motherhood literature, a siren song for those mothers “with no soul to photograph.”
-Carmen Giménez Smith, The Brooklyn Rail

"This is very much a book about motherhood, and writes against capitalism’s attempt to mechanize motherhood, to turn her labor into labor, a factory-womb producing workers-of-the-state. The mothers in Salamandrine are gangrenous, abhuman creatures: a vampire, a cannibalistic zombie who eats her own brain and entrails and cradles her rat, a mother who vomits gold cloth and suspects her daughter of having an affair with her lover. Pregnancy explodes into an impossible pageantry—a mother dresses up her daughter in a dusk costume or as deodorized death, a mother who wears a hat adorned with dead birds and dresses her daughter in coffin clothes with high-button boots….

McSweeney writes like a synesthete sculpting sound, her sentences cross-wiring and corrupting our senses. It’s as if McSweeney wrote these sinful and sinewy stories with the knife of mad scientist, slicing and resuturing syntax, as prose unexpectedly breaking into verse. This is a book full of choral keenings, the echo in your ultrasound, a “lunguage.” These words ring and richochet like tinnitus in your ears."
-Tasha Matsumoto, Quarterly West


Nylund, the Sarcographer

Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2007

GENRES: lyric novel; baroque noir

Nylund, the Sarcographer is a baroque noir. Its eponymous protagonist is a loner who tries to comprehend everything from the outside, like a sarcophagus, and with analogously ornate results. The method by which the book was written, and by which Nylund experiences the world, is thus called sarcography. Sarcography is like negative capability on steroids; this ultra-susceptibility entangles Nylund in both a murder plot and a plot regarding his missing sister, Daisy. As the murder plot places Nylund in increasing physical danger, his sensuous memories become more present than the present itself.

Praise for Nylund, the Sarcographer:

"Flights of campy-cum-lyrical post-Ashberyan prose. . . . Language dissolves into stream-of-consanguinity post-surrealism and then resolvesinto a plot again. . . . recommended."
-Stephen Burt, Harriet

"Nylund, the Sarcographer is like interesting on steroids. Caution: if you are looking for a typical, straight forward, good old fashioned yarn, you’d do best to look elsewhere; but if you want to experience something fresh, daring, creepy, and significant, this is the one for you. It is the opposite of boring, an ominous conflagration devouring the bland terrain of conventional realism, the kind of work that tickles your inner ear, gives you the shivers, and tricks your left brain into thinking that your right brain has staged a coup d’état. . . . Other than the incomparable Ben Marcus, I’m not sure anyone in contemporary letters can compete with the voracity of ingenuity, complexity, and beauty of McSweeney’s usage. Each sentence is carefully crafted to upend your expectations in such a way as to make you giddy with anticipation. Call me strange, but I seriously felt a rush of adrenaline from the sheer excitement over what might come next. Seriously, I did. I’m not kidding."
-Christopher Higgs, Bookslut

"McSweeney does not marry poetic and prosaic language – rather, she brings them together in a collision of semi-fabulist writing. [She] has not only created a unique concept – that of sarcography – she has illustrated it memorably with a masterful redefinition of what constitutes prose, and created a character who is the very embodiment of writing, reminding us of how flexible the narrative form can be."
-Cynthia Reeser, New Pages

"If Vladimir Nabokov wanted to seduce Nancy Drew, he’d read her Nylund one dark afternoon over teacups of whiskey. Welcome to fiction’s new femme fatale, Joyelle McSweeney."
-Kate Bernheimer

"If Wallace Stevens had written a novel it might have come close to Joyelle McSweeney’s Nylund, the Sarcographer. But any imagined effort of Mr. Stevens would pale next to Nylund’s journey through the butterflied joinery of syntax, the jerry-rigged joy of this tour de joist. And you thought you knew your own language. This book hands it back to you on a platter and includes the instructional manual for its further use."
-Michael Martone



Fence Books, 2007

GENRE: lyric novel; sci-fi

Flet goes down in a spaced-out, delimited future in which all cities have been evacuated after an oft-invoked “Emergency.” As the decentralized citizenry binge on the endless, aimless filetape transmissions draining into their homes, our eponymous heroine, a quiescent-but-full-of-agency Administration flunky, is poignantly alone in her suspicion that the Emergency is a tool of sociopolitical manipulation, if not oppression. A face-off between this tentative muckraker and her icy superior is inevitable at the mandatory, nationwide Reenactment, in advance of which Flet finds herself dreaming and driving endlessly off the map. Will she find the missing cities, or will she lose herself in the flood-tide of images that wash over the Nation?

An elegant entry in the field of speculative fiction, Flet finds poet Joyelle McSweeney slowing her distinctively hyperactive imagination up to the speed of narrative.

Praise for Flet:

“McSweeney acutely imagines a locked-down world only millimeters distant from our own. Flet is an ice-blue, dystopic rubric that makes cool remarks on the government’s manipulations of mass media, then goes for a lyrical ride. Jeweled surprises await in this prose.”
Stacey Levine, author of Frances Johnson


The Commandrine and Other Poems

Fence Books, 2004

GENRES: Poems and Verse Play

The brilliance of Joyelle McSweeney’s poems is a given; what remains delightfully open to negotiation are its methodologies and its mien. Is she an earnest relator, using wit and gesture to tell the story faster? Or does she take the piss of her subjects, using perfected skills of mimicry and divination to exploit, spot on, their errant humanities? In her second book McSweeney finds her subjects in the long form; “The Commandrine” is a verse-play that in nine scenes tells the story of sailors Zest, Coast, Ivory, and Irish, and their watery run-in with the Devil. “The Cockatoos Morose” stirs Eliotic grandeur with Stevensian absurdity for a cocktail of delirious observation and rigorous leaps of the sort for which McSweeney is certain to become known. “Crusade-dream flips like a standard. The standard / narrows to a point. And points. / Then it dips like a fern.”

Praise for The Commandrine and Other Poems:

"Joyelle McSweeney’s The Commandrine and Other Poems is a necessary series of interrogations. This verse play and poems question what it means to endure knowledge in a global economy. With Yeatsian breadth, McSweeney insists not on anarchy but on an Odyssean journey, beyond the sirens, home. This inventive lassoing-in of reality as we are presently experiencing it leaves no one “clean” or in the clear."
-Claudia Rankine


The Red Bird

Fence Books, 2002

Winner of the Inaugural Fence Modern Poets Prize

Judge: Allen Grossman

GENRE: Poems

A debut collection fired by the disarming, alarming joy of waking up in the world. A poetry of hyperdiction, veery speed and lyric exuberance.

Praise for The Red Bird:

The Red Bird has more in common with a fast red car, except that it does, indeed, fly. Within its agile slips and twists, McSweeney has managed a rare insight, casting our own historical moment as the postmodern medieval, full of knights running errands, where Machu Piccu, Radio Sucre, and lawn chairs all take on Biblical proportions. Except that it’s really Darwin we’re talking about, as he careens around the globe. She deflates this and other old battles by giving us new terms: ‘O beautiful he produceth / language from everyplace / on his body. . .’ This is a stunning first book. It glows in the dark.”
-Cole Swensen

“[McSweeney’s] poems are neither reductive nor fantastic. But they are profoundly mysterious in the way any truthful account of the world must be. Joyelle McSweeney is a poet with a vocation- a calling to the world. What is given her (the vocation) is to make others see what is given her to see.”
-Allen Grossman

"In describing, in turn, a “Toy House,” “Toy Bed” “Toy Enterprise,” “Toy Election,” “Toy Maternity,” and nine separate accounts of “The Voyage of the Beagle,” one might think Joyelle McSweeney lacks high seriousness in The Red Bird, selected by Alan Grossman for Fence Books. While certainly playful and relentlessly up to date (check the “Celebrity Cribs” poem), McSweeney’s is a satirist’s sensibility, wickedly sending up, in “Avian light,” the identities and settings her speaker encounters, whether in books, “a maritime chart of the Yensai Delta” or “Afterlives”: “Forsythia opens its bright palm and the woman pushes her stroller out of it.”
-Publishers Weekly