Elizabeth Treadwell's Populace

by Yedda Morrison


Populace, Elizabeth Treadwell
(Avec Books, 1999)

"In the daylight let her stumble, allow her to speak."
                      "Syrup" (p. 62)

In Populace, Elizabeth Treadwell’s latest book of "prose poems, stories and poems," Native American traditions of story telling meet suburban East Bay living, "high" culture meets "low" culture and we find "Judy Blume fastened to Emily Bronte." (p.56)

In the hands of a less skilled writer the speed and chaos, the tumble of characters, histories, locations, versions and language might lose its clarity and focus but in Populace the multitude shines. Treadwell has the ability to create a non-hierarchical page teeming with pasts and presents without compromising her characteristic sharpness of wit and depth of insight. Treadwell’s writing creates an unusually democratic space within which all her materials are equally exploited, adored, tried on, subverted and ultimately employed toward a fresh, reinvigorated feminist methodology that for all its volume is no less feisty, no less active, just better armed.

Populace unfolds with charming frankness and agility. In "The Anglican Church at Port Louise," Treadwell skates fluidly through a two page piece which includes, watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom on the floor with dad, the story of a Brit. challenging an African custom and losing his mind in the process, sitting in a sexy dress, listening to her boyfriend rehearse and reflecting on Americans, an account of Black Elk and Buffalo Bill, an encounter with a snotty movie star who hasn’t heard of "Bay Watch", and a story of Baboons invading a picnic, finishing up with "why the hell don’t I just shut the fuck up." (p.44-46)

Like many of us, much of the acute, unrelenting language of Populace is locked into a perpetual adolescence, filled with bravado, insecurity and horror "on the stylized school stoop, forever…" (p. 67). In Populace, this is an adolescence which refuses nostalgia or self-pity but reveals a keen awareness, an urgent self-loathing that keeps both text and reader edgy, alert.

At a time when many emergent experimental writers are creating, for lack of a better label, a post-post-structuralist writing that challenges conventional modes of narration but does not reject narrative all together, Treadwell’s work appeals to those who consider themselves within the lineage of language writing and those who prefer the New Narrative of such innovators as Bob Gluck and Dodie Bellamy. Without changing hats Treadwell writes "prose poetry, poetry and stories," and in so doing maximizes the various formal aspects of her writing as they operate within the diminishing specificity of each genre.

In Populace there exists an awareness of narrative as both a violence and a mechanism for survival. The peopled local histories reveal familiar names and faces, buildings and geographies, simultaneously creating an intimacy and an exclusion. For Treadwell, a garbled narrative is more than an attempt to mirror the lived experience of childhood trauma in a time when fragmented subjectivity is often taken for granted. Her narrative impulse becomes not so much an attempt to re-build or invent a stable self per se, but rather a desire to create a feminine/feminist text that is viable, multi-dimensional, accessible and publicly private.

Whoever/whatever she/it/the text is (riot girl grown up? Professor Hello Kitty in combat boots?), it seizes the hard won insights of earlier feminist cultural and literary production, grapples with the consumer capitalist America within which it resides and creates an intelligent, complex, and active agent. The political potential of Treadwell’s work is that she continues to express, both in terms of style and content, some of the core contemporary contradictions of female subjectivity.

"In the daylight let her stumble, allow her to speak."
            "Syrup" (p. 62)

BIO: Yedda Morrison lives in San Francisco where she co-edits Tripwire, a Journal of Poetics. Her chapbook, The Marriage of the Well-Built, Head is available in its second printing from Double Lucy Books. A new chapbook, Apostasy is forthcoming from Melodeon Poetry Systems. Recent or forthcoming work can be found in Mirage, Outlet, Lyric&, the Object Anthology, Torque, Kenning and Primary Writing.


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