‘Viral’ by Suzanne Parker
Author: July Westhale
June 1, 2014
How do you sleep
when the siren
is your own exhaled cry:
–From “Only Kissing”, by Suzanne Parker
As a queer literary community, we often are tasked with the responsibility to address collective trauma: coming out, dysfunctional family dynamics, the AIDs crisis, hate crimes, suicide. The list is longer than we can imagine, and we continue to come up with new narratives, new ways of talking about silence, new ways of making personal globally accessible, reclaiming histories lost/erased/stolen/never told. Some of these narratives are legendary: Tory Dent’s HIV, Mon Amor. Mark Doty’s Tiara. Nikki Finney’s “Head Off & Split. D.A. Powell’s Chronic. And now, Suzanne Parker’s Viral.
A book dedicated to Tyler Clementi, this collection of poems delves into the collective consciousness of survival in a world hell-bent on squashing those living in the margins. Following scenarios of Clementi’s life (real or imagined), the book juxtaposes narratives of the speaker with those that have become public property (that is, the narratives of our fallen queer brethren that have been passed through oral tradition or media attention), bringing to question the concept that truth and what we tell ourselves in order to survive are one in the same. With expert deftness, Parker makes flat the concepts of good and evil, showing compassionate humanness in dark places, and unbelievable light in hardness. The reader finds themselves wondering how it is that such horrible events come to occur, while simultaneously feeling implicated in the same treacherous doings.
The poems are crisp, startling, and poignant. What’s more, they rely on media and information-consumption that is telling of the day and age we currently occupy. A poet unafraid of social media and technological change, Parker calls to question the very make up of how bigotry and discrimination bring themselves to trial and exposition on the Internet, using the Clementi case as a specific example. With such high political stakes at hand, it seems a difficult task to write poems that both make extraordinary points and also refrain from being opposing—that is, the poet is an excellent manipulator of time, space, and content in order to drive understanding and enlightenment from her reader. These very qualities in poetry—essentially, poetry that promotes thinking, as Kevin Prufer would say, distinguish exemplary writing from that which repeats the same story.
By Suzanne Parker
Alice James Books
Paperback, 97815938584015, 80 pp.