Sold Out, Gloria Kiconco’s collection of poetry zines is a spirited marriage of two complementing art forms, poetry and drawing, in fairly subtle presentation. In a poem like with restless & ungoverned rage, the most immediate role of the keys placed at the bottom of the paper is to set the tone of the sentences, most of which are answers to a question hovering above them. If the drawing is judged as not just an additive to the aesthetic of poetry but as an equally strong entity, would it succeed in telling the story of those poetic lines in their absence? And if the art is to help poetry get understood, does that make the later unconsciously dependent? There’s a likely situation when the poetry is self-sufficient and the drawings on paper desperately cry for recognition: they are left to serve as mere adornments. But maybe it’s just natural for one art form to overshadow another.
The first time I freed one of the zines from its polythene sack, I unfolded the paper to its initial size, and subsequently realised I couldn’t find the poem’s starting point. I wondered at the lines staring at me from an upside down position, and the general usage of paper was befuddlingly fascinating. It took the maker’s guidance for me to get there. However, performing a complete unfold before reading enables one acknowledge the layout of a particular poem (arrangement of lines) and the process of incising a part of the paper and the spreading of the respective illustrations.
Sold Out is generally a collection of poems on wheels. It’s characterised by movement in and out of the body, into a loss or gain of self, crawling into the heart for solace, rummaging for a relatable meaning of life, futile journeys towards dreams(guided by Aspens in Autumn), and a raged exploration of a writer’s life. The most notable voice in all the poems is a profound void. In Forget (Arua) Remember (Packwach), emptiness has influenced the need to leave the city for a while in pursuit for what Packwach might add to the traveler’s well being. It feels like the vacuum is biggest in such a poem where the poet asks you to:
Forget that your life has been capsized
and re-sized to compartments
and capsules and containers
You swallow them, they swallow you. You
are the ability
to fit one container into another.
You can save space. You
are not filling anything. You
are to be filled
The use of the words capsules and space indicates a means to try and get rid of a vacuum by letting oneself take in something – a capsule. Presumably, capsules represents all that’s fed to the body to induce betterment in spirit. But sadly, the betterment is not achieved. The swallower is only capable of, sarcastically, saving space. Space has been personified, and the presence of someone in which it can perfectly fit is satisfying. I think of this relationship as being symbiotic; the container or capsule gets a free pouch, and you – the reader, the loner, the writer, are feeling good about yourself for being the carrier of this thing, even when you know it’s nothing.
Further, the personification takes a more thoughtful approach in the poem with restless & ungoverned rage. The first stanza poses a question that could be mistaken for rhetoric.
How deep into a word
can you go?
In this case, the power is in the hands of the word and not the person who “dives into it”. Depth is a matter of surrendering. To a writer like Gloria Kiconco, depth determines the effectiveness of a creative piece of work. It also suggests a state of mental freedom (“bright lights”) supplemented by curiosity (“cannot be contained”). Maybe a word is an amorphous body of unknown substance one can “look into” and go to another world. The possibilities are infinite. To think of a word as the smallest unit of a writer’s life, you wonder if other writers apart from Gloria have ruminated on the depth question. One word can be used in many varying ways, depending on a particular writer and what they intend to achieve. However, Kiconco also warns of a danger in going too deep into a word. And this is when word becomes ambigous; it can mean emotional attachment outside a literary vocation, drug addiction, Internet or social media obsession, religious adherence, or anything else that makes one unable to “live without it”. By imparting that,
“Just as I am free,
I belong to you,”
Gloria accepts her literary responsibilities to both the word and the audience. But in doing so, she transmits the pains of being property from her own self to the demanding recipients of her wordily creations. The use of “Just” as a way of showing humility makes “belong” in the next line reverberate beyond this small publication and the reader’s prior knowledge of their position in that “love-triangle”. And it also puts readers in the same basket with word; they seem to influence the writer’s final product.
Gloria Kiconco’s poetry is charged with lucid imagery and a courage to prick at the seemingly harmless aspects of our unsteady lives. In The Commuters for example, she’s not afraid to assert that our “Hello and excuse me” are “feigned politeness”. How true is it? I had to think of times I’ve used those phrases simply because it’s what normal people do. In some cases you catch a fellow passenger looking at you and you feel like you owe them a “Hello”. It does not come from a special place. It’s self-assurance that one is not a container, even when they know they are. To most of us, these places we frequent are ladders to get us somewhere else. There’s hardly any emotional connection. While reading most of the poems, lines are strings and we, the readers, puppets. It’s a dystopian kind of environment we are incapable of running from. We have re-programmed ourselves. We are going nowhere. It’s hence out of Kiconco’s observations that I cannot blame her for suggesting that:
Don’t give them heart
cheap and violent fiction.
Congratulations. Now we are living.