Arielle Greenberg & Joy Katz discuss (guns & butter) at APR

Arielle Greenberg: “Startling complications” is also an apt way to describe Montana Ray’s (guns & butter).

There’s a narrative in her book, but it’s a brutally, beautifully complex one. The speaker is pregnant in “spikeheels”; she is in love with her partner, but he’s violent and abusive; she acknowledges the privilege of her class and her appearance but she’s a disenfranchised single mom; she’s a responsible, loving mother who takes her toddler to a bar and lusts after the waiter;  she swears like a sailor and includes actual recipes for banana bread and cocktails. It’s a riveting, unusual depiction of womanhood.

Joy Katz: These are concrete poems in the shape of guns. It’s tough to write about guns, let alone make concrete gun poems, without playing off predictable anger about our American gun obsession.

AG: What is more potentially cheesy and treacherous than a concrete poem in this day and age, right? And beyond the concrete shapes, there are so many layers of formal invention—the unusual use of texting conventions and emoji, and parentheticals—that could be gimmicky.

JK: Yes, especially Ray’s parentheticals. Amazingly, they are not fussy. The little encapsulated phrases are like bullets. The poems are actually loaded.

Yet Ray points the menacing-yet-erotic gun cliché straight at a reader’s face: “(u’re driving) (how kind) (would you like a blowjob)”. Is she getting off on this? It’s uncomfortable to read. Is it funny or serious? What’s the power relationship in the car? The poems succeed because there aren’t clear answers to those kind of questions. The speaker rides along, “(thinking of Stokely’s cool / kids campaigning) (in the pitch of night).” She’s pregnant, “(my body is an insane cornucopia)” — isn’t that a fantastic image? — and the poem lands on what may be the most critical complication of the book:


to standup for the Brother)

(who holds my head down)

AG: I wanted to talk about the same exact passage. So much going on here—personally, politically, culturally, historically—at the intersection of oppressions. And the question asked goes unanswered, which is the only honest option, as far as I can see.

American Poetry Review vol 44 no 3