Possibility as an exercise of analysis: A review of Spree MacDonald’s MILKSOP CODICIL


Milksop Codicil
Spree MacDonald
Slapering Hol Press, 2017

“Milksop,” meaning cowardly or indecisive person; and “codicil,” a legal addendum which in some way modifies a will. Spree MacDonald’s chapbook, winner of the 2016 Slapering Hol Press Chapbook Contest, immediately asks a reader to consider the relationship between the interpersonal and institutional — and how that relationship, as demonstrated by MacDonald’s writing and the chapbook’s accompanying geometric artwork, might be best defined as with a language too-often eschewed for the easy logic of what MacDonald, in “Headwaters of Hurt,” calls “disaster capitalists” and “this tort culture.”

In “On the Third Distribution of Whites,” MacDonald writes:

Konkababy shrugs
her Greco-Roman shoulders
picks her grin with
a phrenologist’s calipers
she sips chronotype splosions
and fingers this razor wire rhizome
with an adumbrated gaze

Deleuze and Guattari define “rhizome” as “an anti-genealogy….made only of lines…pertain[ing] to a map that must be produced, constructed, a map that is always connectable, reversible, modifiable, and has multiple entranceways and exists and its own lines of flight.” This definition returns a reader to Milksop Codicil, set specifically in southeast Louisiana, around “the valley of the shadow / of the Industrial Canal levee,” as a means for evaluating the gentrifying presence of white bodies “moisturiz[ing] our neck tattoos.” If MacDonald’s poetry is considered political, let it not be for its obvious engagement with contemporary social realities warped, or finally unveiled as produced, by “half-massed NAFTA brats,” but for its radical urgency to create forms the likes of a rhizome, in which the question of “how do we rehabilitate?” is nestled within the broader emancipatory politic: in wake of environmental disaster is there, or was there ever, a starting point to reading this map?

Language, phrases and — by obvious extension — meaning are connected, reversed, modified, and multiplied through MacDonald’s internal homophonic translations in Milksop Codicil. From “Up Country:”

perhaps we’re doomed to cruise
these bone spurs into oblivion
perhaps up country
we’ll find a bigger raft
to stand on
who knows if the Nother World
is even parse-able

Possibility becomes an exercise of analysis. I think of Melville, “…every other human science, is but a passing fable…how may unlettered Ishmael hope to read the awful Chaldee of the Sperm Whale’s brow? I put that brow before you. Read it if you can.”

MacDonald’s poetry, where “language is the only homeland,” imagines homeland not with the logic of numeric coordinates, but as a spatial enterprise, where “cosmograms in the muck” and divinations scraped at the concrete levee recombine with the remains of an old thinking. In crisis, of course multiplicities re-present the question of whose capacity to navigate, and to where, is the direction of change or — more slippery and teleological and deftly avoided by MacDonald — “growth.” In this homeland, aware of but not trapped into un-strategic essentialism against the disasters of a moment, navigation is redefined against the idiotic history of “the ways / in which this kingdom is / our world.”

Spree MacDonald lives in South Louisiana with his wife and three daughters. His first chapbook, Milksop Codicil, won the Slapering Hol Chapbook Competition and was published in 2017. His poetry has been featured in journals such as RHINO, Warscapes, Transition Magazine, and Berkeley Poetry Review, and has been a finalist for the Anhinga Press Rick Campbell Chapbook Prize, a semi-finalist for the Philip Levine Prize in Poetry, and nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Catch a Room 220 Reading this Tuesday April 18, 7pm featuring Spree MacDonald and Tom Lowenstein at Antenna, 3718 St. Claude Ave. More here:  http://www.antenna.works/room-220-presents-spree-macdonald-and-tom-lowenstein/