At first I found the title of this chap-book a little off-putting. It sounded too self-consciously cool, too geek-chic in verbing its hi-tech noun, with its politically-correctly inclusive “We”, and its post-modernist gesture towards heteroglossia in the phrase “in Different Voices”.
“A true story, slightly mythologized, of internet abduction” — that’s how this sonnet cycle is described in Mike Alexander’s third-person biography entry in the poetry magazine The Barefoot Muse. I question the word “slightly”: the mythological elements are abundant, very densely woven into an intricately structured sonnet cycle which takes contemporary material straight from Jerry Springer and recasts it as a narrative transformation of the classical myth of the abduction of Kore (“maiden”), her metamorphosis into Persephone (“bringer of destruction”) by Hades (“sightless”), and her partial recovery from Tartarus, realm of the Dead, after a frantic search by her mother Demeter (“barley-mother”).1 What Alexander has attempted here is a fusion of the archetypically archaic— represented by the ancient mythic material and traditional poetic structure — with the transient contemporaneity of a sordidly media-exploited domestic family breakdown. The emplotment represents a journey from innocence to experience, well suited to a mythopoeic narrativisation, and to the cyclical structure of the sonnet corona.
How far is this fusion successful? To address that question, I’d like to consider the text as contemporary anecdote, as mythologised narrative, and as poetic structure comprising overall cycle and individual poems. These elements, though, are so tightly interlaced within the text that it’s difficult to isolate them as discrete components: and that characteristic already suggests to me that the fusion is successful.
A single Mom (no mention of Dad) has had to cope with her fourteen-year old daughter’s flight into the sleazy world of a porn-dealing older man; when the daughter is restored, she has morphed from a relatively innocent child into to a body-pierced, tattooed sexually-experienced debauchee. As contemporary anecdote, the tale is straight from Oprah, or more likely Springer (both of whom are referred to in the sonnets). I can imagine Mom and Daughter goaded into hysterically confronting each on an episode of Springer-Oprah, with the audience cat-calling and whistling while Mom rants and Daughter flaunts her tatts, defiantly poking her pierced tongue out at the world.
Alexander creates this sense of twenty-first century media-sleaze culture very skilfully, using various linguistic, poetic and fictive devices. We have a cruel “daytime talk-show audience” framing the narrative, along with Mom’s convincingly idiolectic “preachy” rants: “Look at this… Look at this” she shouts as she fulminates against “godless pedophiles” and “trash poetry” sent by some “cryptoid guy”. We can hear the wisdom of Oprah (“The daughter that you knew before has died”), the sales-pitch of sex-commodification (“A download of three hundred kilobytes / costs $19.95 to connoisseurs”), the vapid internet chat-room chat-up abbreviations (“4U, 1 naughty nite-T, C-thru sheer”), and the “trashy-poetry” subversion of Petrarchan love conventions (“Virgin, consider me your unicorn… Sweet Lady. Here’s my token, a love-gift” — which “love-gift” is, of course, a “clingy sheath dress”). Alexander has an excellent ear for our diverse speech-milieux; character, plot and setting are made verisimilar by his deft deployment of linguistic resources, and also by his rich array of sense-imagery, with the fragrances of espresso, Turkish cigarettes and Sambuca evoking the cafes of Athens in a few strokes of olfactory imagery.
So the text works for me as a fiction; what about its mythic qualities? Ovid is mentioned in the acknowledgements alongside Oprah, and certainly it’s easy enough to see how the mundane case-history of Mom and fallen Teenie-bopper are transformed through synthesis with the Demeter/Kore story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Fasti. Just to mention a few obvious appropriations: the daughter’s name is Kori; curious, she browses flower tattoo designs (asphodels, of course, although Ovid’s Kore picked violets and poppies); the chat-room seducer’s handle is Ncrypt’d (nice play on encryption code and tomb!) although his actual name is Tod (German for Death). Ncrypt’d lurks in the other-worldly light of computer glow, “as underground as anyone can go”; Kori/Lady Columbine eats the “red pulpy fruit” which is the analogue of Kore/Persephone’s pomegranate seeds, food of the Dead; Kori disappears for six months, and when she returns to Mom, as Kore returned to Demeter, she now belongs partly to Tod’s underworld, with her hair dyed “psycho-killer black” and her Kamel Reds which are “hints of suicide”.