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Internet Culture As Brave, Funny Poetry
Leza Cantoral's collection Trash Panda (CLASH Books) brands itself as a bunch of "rly emo poems"—and at first glance, it's exactly that. An adorable cartoon panda head and bubbly polka-dots grace the book's cover. There are angsty, snarky, and narcissistic poems about crying, selfies, Justin Beiber, and avocado toast. But it would be a mistake to read this whole collection as an Instagram poetry stream packaged for easy, breezy print. As much as Cantoral assumes the voice of a vapid, mentally disturbed goth girl who spends way too much time online, Trash Panda is full of depth, nuance, and texture. Dismissing the narrator in Trash Panda means you fell for the trap. She's smarter and more complex than you think. She is more than her avatar. Stop reducing her to an Internet stereotype or you will miss the whole show.
The poem "Marilyn in Wonderland" exemplifies one of Trash Panda's main threads: the duality of the performer. The performer online, the performer IRL, the performer in music videos, the performer in tabloids, the performer in cinema. Just as the book's narrator has conflicting public and private personalities, Marilyn Monroe, one of Trash Panda's recurring characters, did, too. Marilyn was America's sweetheart and sexpot, the uncomplicated blonde who craved fun and attention. But below the surface, she had a voracious appetite for reading, storytelling, and artistry fueled by a dark past and great depth of feeling. Trash Panda's narrator muses that Marilyn's "body might be in the Westwood Cemetery,/But her heart is in NYC." That was where she studied at the Actors Studio and searched for happiness and intellectual stimulation. Hollywood thought they knew her—"The camera eyes that/Stripped her bare"—but, like too many women, Marilyn was oversimplified and even demonized when it was convenient. (Kennedy comes up later in the poem "Saint Jackie.") As Trash Panda's narrator points out, "You cannot X-ray/A soul."
The photos and scans of Leza's high school poetry in Trash Panda point to the narrator's multiple dimensions. This is someone who can appreciate an ancient tree in Barcelona standing up to Franco's fascism as much as she loves Selena, gin, and masturbation. Sometimes addiction—from heroin to shopping—becomes a means of coping. But that's because she has enough wisdom, if not self-control, to see past the cute emjois and YouTube ads that make up our increasingly digital world. And she has a sense of humor through it all.
Pre-order your copy of Leza Cantoral's Trash Panda on the CLASH Books website before the official April 16th release or get it after April 16th here:
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