The Ravenous Audience
I’ve always thought that at its best, art in some way disturbs us: out of complacency, ignorance, or innocence that has become a liability. The Ravenous Audience by Kate Durbin is a deliciously disturbing collection of poems that delivers a sensory-emotional feast ripe with smells, sounds, and flavors of the sacred and the profane. I was enchanted by the visual and visceral quality of the collection and was thoroughly engaged by Durbin’s command of language.
The book is divided into four Scenes (sections), and many of the poems are inspired by the works of other artists, including films, paintings, photographs, and sculptures. One section contains a thirty-page poem originally published as a chapbook. The poems vary greatly in form and include orderly stanzaed quatrains and couplets among other, less obviously ordered free verse. Deliberate spacing and line structure provide emphasis and cadence, while some poems span several pages, making effective use of white space and the pause as the reader turns the page.
One of my favorite poems in the collection is "36 Fillette." Taking its title from Catherine Breillat’s 1988 film, the poem's lines are taken from the film's dialogue. As the page-long poem progresses, repetition increases, lines lose their punctuation and merge, and by its end the poem has picked up such speed that I was completely drawn into the cyclone of experience it creates.
The Ravenous Audience also brings to life several mythic and iconic women of the early twentieth century (Amelia Earhart, Clara Bow, and Marilyn Monroe), and Durbin gives a fresh voice to these women of troubled lives and tragic destinies. Exhaustive research informs an imagined interview with Marilyn, a listing of the worldly possessions she left behind, and a final-days journal of the wrecked, stranded, and menstruating Amelia Earhart.
Focusing on the shock factor of much of the thematic material in The Ravenous Audience would be to overlook how well this collection reflects the overall experience of being a woman and boldly embracing the messiness of corporeal life. The raw descriptions of bodily juices, incest, transgressive sex, and violent objectification punctuate a collection of poems that bears unflinching witness and plays with and annihilates boundaries. The carnality and grossness of life are not ignored, but included simply as part of the whole.