21
May
16

A Surrealist Response to The System: On Les Kay’s The Bureau

A version of this review (and a better edited version) may appear in a future issue of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics.

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Les Kay – The BureauIn the mail a while back, I received a red file folder with “STRICTLY PRIVATE” printed in black on an angle across the top half for the front cover. In the bottom right corner is a rectangular box with the following printed words inside it: “Corp. Personnel / Research File / No. 42,” where 42 is handwritten in black ink. Opening the file revealed a few things. One is the title page on the recto side of the folder. It is bound at the top by metal spear binding clips threaded through two holes at the top of the pages and folder over to keep the pages in place. On the inner side of the front folder-cover is a sheet of paper with “The bureau loves you” printed all over the page in a deliberate design format with many variants in the typing, such as “THe Bureau Loves you,” “THE BUREAU LOVES YOU,” “The Bureau loves you..” (with two periods), and “THE BUREAU LOVES YOU>THE BUREAU IS COMING” in the last line. These lines, as well as the rest of the “book,” are printed in a typewriter typeface (complete with some letters receiving more ink than others), thus further suggesting that this is some long-lost FBI file from the 1960s, and maybe it’s a file on some subversive poet. I’m not sure what is really going on at this point. This feeling is furthered heightened by an Agfachrome film slide (like one of those film slides for the old Kodak Carousel, with a piece of film bound by cardboard), and this film slide is held to the title page by a paper clip. Holding the slide up to a light source reveals an aerial view of fields, like those square ones you might see flying over Iowa or South Dakota. There are also three linked tree rows that look like a backwards Z or half a swastika. I think I see a building, too. It must be top-secret base holding aliens and alien technology, or in the least the headquarters to a secret service organization. Who knows what’s buried below? What conspiracies and future technology? Who knows what the following pages (including the “Inspected By 23” tag between pages 17 and 18) in Les Kay’s The Bureau (Sundress Publications, 2015) will reveal about all these mysteries. I’ve never been so excited – and scared – to read a book of poems.

In the beginning, it appears the speaker is a prisoner in The Bureau, which seems to be a high-level and top-secret psychiatric ward, as well as a risky production facility for food products, “Ennui” and time, and these poems are seemingly entries in the speaker’s journal. Within The Bureau, the speaker interacts with “a collie [. . .] learning Spanish,” the inhabitants “tast[ing] infinity,” Arthur Rimbaud, Sir Isaac Newton, Smithson, Paul Valéry, Madame Curie, and The Bureau’s CFO, whose name is either “Satan,” “Stan,” or “Satin.” Amid these writings will sometimes appear text in red typeface, as if commentary from an observing psychologist, The Bureau, or another voice in the poet’s head making commentary on the poet’s observations. Eventually, we learn The Bureau, located in South Dakota, is a test facility to “test the market for surgical figurines / that can be transformed easily / into fallen soldiers, thus penetrating into / several markets with removable plastic spleens” (“Movable Parts” 11). The speaker we learn, however, is no ordinary prisoner – he’s an employee with important “impact studies to be filed” (“The Stranger” 13) and a marketer searching “for a musician / Banned from writing her songs” (“Rimbaud’s Prayer” 14). It turns out, he’s a worker within The Bureau, and he misses his lover, whose name he forgot. In other words, because of his work there, he’s forgotten what he loves.

By the time we get to the final pages, which are mostly redacted, especially the last page where everything is redacted except for “The,” “Bureau,” “loves,” and “you” (“xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx The xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx” 27), we realize this semi-surreal book is a commentary on the corporate and capitalist system in which we are conditioned to live. It’s the repressed voice of all us 9-to-5 and 9-to-6 and 9-to-7 and 9-to-8 workers, who feel unable to express or experience our true desires, writing songs or poems, and where “Rimbaud is no longer Rimbaud” (“Integration and Incense” 16). It is the voice the system represses in our trade-off for comfort and the bills that accompany those comforts. It’s the voice every worker knows but silences in order to survive, though we all know survival does not come from The Bureau loving us. The Bureau, the system, is “A strategy of victimization [that] leads to a lack of culpability” (“An Apple That Falls” 20). Les Kay’s The Bureau, however, conjures a voice for the victims in response the oppressor’s culpabilities, and it is not comfortable, as Kay’s speaker makes us aware of our working-class mechanisms to repress our desires and how and why it happens.//

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Kay, Les. The Bureau. Knoxville: Sundress Publications, 2015.

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You can download the text pages as a free PDF here: http://www.sundresspublications.com/TheBureau.pdf

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