Monster-Becoming: Lynn Melnick’s If I Should Say I Have Hope

by The Editors

Lynn Melnick’s If I Should Say I Have Hope transforms the arbitrary into the necessary, placing us at once bound to our fate and fighting against it. Melnick’s debut examines the restlessness required to disentangle from the natural and the manufactured, to see and know what “Hat on the bed, shoes on the table. We are doomed,” means for everyone. Rooting language and lyric to both the body and place, and extracting all their poetic nutrients, Melnick takes the radical step of demanding all the toxins. Following that process of awe and exhilaration are articulating forms of praise. Melnick’s debut is the manifestation of wonderful suffering, its intoxication as well as its despair. Her astute thought and well-heeled lyricism create a grand lacework whose patterns have yet to be separated from chaos. Our inability to keep pace with Melnick’s figures, characters, creates a surface tension that makes this book habitable, it is what makes us happy. Our deficiency engineers Melnick’s chilling transformations of the arbitrary into the necessary, the latent into the actual, and Melnick encourages a new mantra, “We are the catastrophe, let’s say it/ together.”

To flee is to produce the real, to create life, to find a weapon that will allow a return. In Melnick’s poems, what was fled was California and her weapon found was memory. Melnick’s immersion in temporality allows her poetry to have the freedom to recall, giving herself her own laws with which to remember California. In ‘That’s Not Funny; You Clowns Don’t Make Me Laugh’ we learn these new laws:

The woman in the grocery store on Sunset
stopped me in the produce,

her claws about my shoulders,
to warn me that I might be an angel,

to bless me on behalf of her God,
on behalf of the lady who bleached her hair

past the point hair can withstand
so each strand became a defiance of her very God

and her outsize lips could only up and down
until what we think of as prophecy

was merely opening wide to say ah.

How have I missed that crazy little thing
called conversion, when I could have called it that?

The plastic surgeons scalpel their tombstones;
it’s not that they wanted to die,

they only wished to right the wrong bodies.
Was the cause perfection? Whose isn’t. But everyone’s face

is falling, and I don’t want the circus to come to town,
whether I’m the circus or the town.

Melnick’s poems shouldn’t be read in the vein of confessionalism, however. Her poems are that distinct mix of recall and recognition. After we’ve fled, when we no longer have anywhere to hide is when no one can grasp us. We feel we are in a superior state of mental illness. In innumerable passages, Melnick recognizes that behavior is not always constant with our desires and motivations, but always in a state of flux that produces waves of intense dislike and also a terrible need to find out “Is there a California I don’t know about?” and “What haven’t I known? Who haven’t I loved all my life?” (from “Everybody In!” and “Mojave” respectively). She seeks neither poetic nor narrative resolution. 
The sense of isolated parts in orbit of each other becomes a significant theme in If I Should Say I Have Hope. Melnick writes, “I was dozens of girls back then, and some of them happy.” There is a whole mob inside of us, pursuing that same goal of representing events. The last line of ‘Yom Kippur’ gives us a sense of this divergent situation, “Such terrible dragging of lipstick across/ a smart mouth to divide it. Such greed. Such intention.”

Layers peeling back (wallpaper is mentioned wonderfully several times in this book) provide a scaffolding for Melnick to investigate the role of chance and fortune. If I Should Say I Have Hope is filled with the monstrous and the grotesque; both are very real, for it is monster-becoming not imagined monsters that prowl through Melnick’s work. For this process to occur, the perception must be “but I do not know how to die/to be where I would not see you: / just glass between us, just universe.” Negating death is the universe, the very thing which has doomed us, but that’s our luck.

In David Sylvester’s interview with Francis Bacon from 1963, Sylvester asked the artist, “Your taste for roulette doesn’t, as it were, extend to Russian roulette?” To which the Irishman responded, “No. Because to do what I want to do would mean, if possible, living.” Lynn Melnick’s If I Should Say I Have Hope confronts a similar fact: to disappear from one’s biography is impossible, so one’s best bet might be to be in tune with the roulette wheel, or as Melnick does, “devote our entirety to the glamorous void.”

Yes Yes Books 2012