by Joyelle McSweeney
This verse play had its genesis in the Amnesty International report on the ongoing murder of hundreds of maquiladora workers in Juarez, which has been allowed by Mexican and US authorities to continue for decades. The deaths of these women and their children are revolting and enraging; equally enraging is the frustration of efforts by their survivors to bring visibility to the crimes and put an end to the culture of indifference and corruption that permits this tide of death to flow nearly unchallenged. That US corporations are able to profit off the local and national ‘infrustructures’ of sexism, racism, and class-contempt amplifies my outrage.
In Pierrot Le Feu, an Epithalamium, disgust, sympathy, cruelty, luridity, degradation and violence hold forth, clash, meld, and subside to create dismaying tableaux. The play harnesses techniques borrowed from an array of poets and playwrights to create a spectacle that is terrible but also unpredictable, slick and alluring. This is a spectacle for the mind’s eye, however; in the theater of the mind, the reader is forced to feel her interest, sympathies, allegiances, and disgusts piqued and dashed in turn. Against all the mayhem, the dead maquiladora workers who appear in Act Three have the sanest, most human voices, and the reader, in feeling identification with them, must internalize and search out a response to the outrage of their deaths.
The multiple status of the piece as poem, play, song, dance, film, visual event and performance is strategic. It seeks to make a troubled, unstable space in which the reader must react. The reader must be married to this subject matter; hence the epithalamium. But unlike the phantoms in the play, the reader is a real person; feeling his or her realness against these figures’ insubstantiality should prompt the reader to take real action in the real world.
Joyelle McSweeney is the author of The Red Bird and The Commandrine and Other Poems, both from Fence. She is the co-founder of Action Books, a press for poetry and translation, and Action, Yes, a web-quarterly for international writing and hybrid forms. She recently joined the MFA faculty at Notre Dame. She is currently at work on a translation of the Aeneid, the first portion of which will appear in chapbook form from Burning Chair Books this summer.