Kiki is featured in Top 10 list by All Lit Up.
From Kiki by Amanda Earl (Chaudiere Books)
Amanda Earl’s collection of poetry stars roaring twenties’ self-made star Kiki de Montparnasse; performer and artist, felon and fetish item. Her delicious collection indicts you in Kiki’s revelry, making you a willing participant before you even realize it. From All Lit Up’s Top 10 – a literary list of ten things we’re thinking about right now.
Ottawa Poetry Newsletter review of Kiki by Ryan Pratt
The brave new world in Amanda Earl’s first trade book, Kiki, happened almost one hundred years ago. In the bohemian villages of Paris and between the wars, when surrealism, modernism and hedonism were surging, the belief in true art seemed impervious to irony, self-doubt or marketplace considerations. If that go-for-broke artistic freedom feels a tad futuristic, it’s because most utopias are. And although nostalgia plays its part in waxing the contours of a seemingly flawless community (see: Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris), Earl channels the era’s inventiveness by testing character studies of Alice Ernestine Prin, better known to history as Kiki, and Paris itself against the erosions of excess.
Earl expounds on each historical narrative in that order (the “Alice” sequence comes before “Tales of Montparnasse”) without trying to extricate the micro from the macro, or vice versa. That is, Kiki and Paris are interdependent, with neither capable of instilling the liberal freedoms of 1920s France without the other, and Earl’s commitment to that incidental partnership makes a titan of Kiki. It helps that Alice Prin was already an enormously brave and complex personality, asserting the independence of women well ahead of her time. But the “Alice” sequence makes a bid to explain that individuality, mapping a trajectory of honesty into empowerment that parallels Kiki’s unapologetic appetite for artistic and sexual expression alongside the creative approach taken up by modernist friends like Hemingway – in essence, a reaction to the traditionalism of previous generations in order to innovate (or, as Ezra Pound incited, “make it new”.) As a result, “Alice” captivates not because the title character is otherworldly, but because she is relatable, humanized. These are the men between the wars that come to Paris and expect to find… what? Life? This is too big a word. I sit in their laps and they feed me, give me pearls. Shiny pure white pearls. I devour these men and their brilliance. White pearls. An Egyptian black cat. Stroke me. In these arms, salvation. I’ll rock you to sleep, bebe. Mama will cradle you. I tell all the boys: Tzara, Soupault, Aragon, Breton. They’re nattering again to Man. (“Alice”, pg. 24)
The above anecdote illustrates the ground rules for Kiki’s empowerment: that the pleasures of men should never come at the expense of her own. I shouldn’t feel compelled to explain that, nor pontificate on just how progressive such a mentality was, practiced openly in the 1920s, but alas, there is a fraction of men in the world — I will not venture how big or small that fraction is — that would no doubt share vitriol and condemnation based on the above passage. Some men remain intimidated by an empowered, sexualized femininity and it’s because of that population, often visible and yet anonymous in the comments section of articles about gender equality, rape culture or issues pertaining to the female body, that Kiki is a timely work of poetry.
Beyond my own surface commentary, however, the above excerpt also hints at the strain of Kiki’s stature among mostly male artistes. She’s intelligent and passionate about Dadaist developments in her midst but often relegated to the role of Man Ray’s accessory — a cheerleader out of bounds. This is Alice. This is fucked up. Cowboys and Indians square off on the walls of le Jockey. Men with wild west dreams spoil for a brawl. The tables are nailed down. Dark suits rub against dancehall floozies while I belt out “Les Filles de Camaret se disent toutes vierges.” Pimps and goons hunch over banquettes, chatting up wallflowers, their future whores. I pass hookers on cobblestones beneath streetlamp. In Man’s bed he wants to know why I’m always so hungry. (“Alice”, pg. 32) With Ray’s oblivious remark, the male gaze again flits into view, shrugging off a dimension to Kiki that Earl commits great attention to: the realities of being poor and perpetually in character. Chronicling a day-to-day survivor, “Alice”’s diary avoids the steady arc of a biography (burdened as those often are by hindsight) and instead swings between the subconscious perspectives of Kiki and Alice. Her duality is abridged in the opening sentences of many entries — “This is Alice. This is fucked up.” — with Kiki’s agency contrasting Alice’s passive bewilderment. In a glance, one could see these alternating personalities as a convenient turn of cheek, letting vivacious desire overrun a soft-spoken moral center. But with so many entries mired in the hardships of poverty — whether that’s having her tightly wound corset stuffed with cotton in order to sell more shallots, or numbing herself with cocaine in order to make money for her ailing mother — the dual synergy of Kiki and Alice forms a survival instinct. Eventually, Kiki’s moments of clarity accumulate to a startling realization: I am tethered by ribbon and iron hooks. The men of Montparnasse. A not so tender trap? I am the broken fragments. I am ugly, a nightmare kaleidoscope. I am mad. I am naked. I don’t know what I am. (“Alice”, pg. 46) Although previous passages I’ve excerpted were intended to augment Earl’s character study, they are just as notable for relaying the frenetic pulse of a Parisian nightlife that will not subside into background imagery. “Tales of Montparnasse” serves to further populate the character of place that supported Kiki’s joie-de-vivre by stitching together thematically linked texts Earl has cut up and selected at random. The resulting piece, ripe with the mention of famous avant-garde artists, displays a cultural zeitgeist through cracked panes, whereby each dislocated stanza presents a scene of abstract busyness. for Tristan Tzara and Philippe Soupault. The Saturday Evening Post is serious as a death-mask. rise like angels with horses. (“Tales of Montparnasse”, pg. 53) Given Earl’s surrealist cues of construction, I trust that losing my coordinates in “Tales of Montparnasse” is at least partially by design. But without Kiki as my guide, or at least her degree of separation, I strain to uncover some hidden context here. (In a moment of panic, I even Googled unfamiliar names, hoping their art or biographies might unlock some subversive purpose to these experiments.) Ultimately a sensory re-read is more fulfilling and something Earl seems to encourage, signaling a gradual disassociation throughout the latter half of Kiki. This downward spiral is engineered by tapping into the not-so-subtle drug-use that permeated the period’s devil-may-care spirit. Beyond its role in transcending logic and embracing surrealist ideas, ‘getting high’ provides a clever lens for Earl to forge ahead on, remaining true to Kiki’s challenges while linking two of the text’s most jarring transitions – “Opium” and “In which K meets B in a dream” – in a muddy state of consciousness. Utilizing source texts of Jean Cocteau alongside Earl’s own impressions, “Opium” wrestles self-assessment — a bed-ridden process of discovery, ecstasy and muted horror — through an hallucinatory lens. I am the woman with the long black gloves. My eyes are dark. I am the statue. I am the ox with harp and globe. I am a smokestack. I am demolition. I collapse into rubble. If a storm comes, Paris, the beautiful voyeur, will rub itself all over me. I have written my name on a tree. Trees are better than marble because you can see your name grow. (“Opium”, pg. 66-67) “Opium” at first advances with the unerring slide of a bad trip: an early buzz of metamorphosis, that moment’s doubt, and then a cascade of self-destructive beliefs. Yet the tail-end, excerpted above, feels laced with resolution, at peace with the demise of identity in a way that “Alice”, with its confused and sober finale, couldn’t muster. “In which K meets B in a dream”, another cut-up experiment (this one featuring text from William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch), formulates a conversation between Kiki and Burroughs. The pairing maintains Kiki’s theme of excess by comparing various drugs and, on an unspoken level, draws out the mindset that binds outsiders: coping with and trying to find their scene, their people, amidst the constraints of a square community. These two domineering personalities play off each other as one might expect, with playful jabs and blunt opinions keeping the imaginary exchange sharp, but it would close the book as a curious diversion if not for our awareness of Earl as mediator. Throughout its four sections, Kiki’s experimental demeanour reaches further into Earl’s own subconscious. And with Kiki and Burroughs trading barbs as vapours of place and perspective, it’s the author who rises — a virtual stranger in these pages — to the station of torch-bearing innovator. Alice Prin’s life-story in Paris isn’t rewritten so much as relived through a variety of Dadaist and drug-fueled experiments. Much like the surrealist works of Dali or Ray, Kiki connects best when introducing the reader to his or her own confusion. Given the close relationship that Earl has forged with the memory of Kiki over the years — visible through her website and Twitter handle — not to mention her own reputation as a self-proclaimed “writer of smut” and “pornographer”, it’s almost a shame that this appropriation of the avant-garde mantle doesn't include Earl’s own place and perspective in Ottawa. Maybe next time.
Writer's note: My thanks to Ted Nolan, who offered editorial advice on this essay in the fall of 2015. Due to a lapse in computer software, I was stuck with the program Pages and unable to see his Microsoft Word critiques for months. The opportunity to work together passed, but I credit several small clarifications in the overall readability of this review to him.
Music to go with Kiki
Check out the Liner Notes feature from AllLitUp.ca
5. Wasted Genius – Siskiyou
Isabel: This song is psychedelic to me. A blurry, out-of-focus view of the world. Serenity in the middle of a crazy out-of-control party.
ALU: Kiki by Amanda Earl (Chaudiere Books), about Kiki de Montparnasse, evokes the same freneticism of a crazy party.
brief summary of Asymptope reading at U of Ottawa on April 7, 2015
Marc Charron then introduced the next speaker, Amanda Earl, praised Ottawa poet and writer, editor and publisher extremely active on the local literary scene. Amanda spoke briefly about Duende, about translation and play in poetry, managing in the short intro to reference an impressive diversity of poets as/also translators and artists whose work has informed her own writing. She then read a few excerpts from Kiki, her latest collection of long poems inspired by Montparnasse between the Wars featuring Alice Ernestine Prin also known as Kiki, the Queen, poems displaying a rich array of techniques including pure invention on her part, erasure, cut ups, paraphrases, and ekphrastic poetry. [Asymptote Journal]
Broken Pencil Magazine review of Kiki by Megan Clark
Publication: Broken PencilAuthor: Clark, MeganDate published: April 1, 2015Language: EnglishPMID: 85295ISSN: 12018996Journal code: BKNP
Kiki Amanda Earl, 5ipgs, Chaudière Books, chaudierebooks.com, $20
The story of Paris in the 1920s is one of legends. When Amanda Earl went in search of one - Kiki the Queen of Montparnasse - she was seeking something deeper than the standard history. She wanted to resurrect Kiki and, as Earl says, discover "the feeling not the facts". To that end the poetry collection, Kiki, uses the wild frame of Paris between the wars to paint an even wilder picture of the life Alice Ernestine Prin - known in Paris only as Kiki.
Ernestine Prin came to Paris at age 13. By the time she was a young woman she was adept at flaunting her sexuality and living wildly and creatively in Paris' art circles. But Earl's poetry collection is not simply a raw romp through the sexual adventures of Kiki. It also paints a tender picture of a woman's struggle to be free, and this is its greatest strength. To do this, the collection is divided into three parts. The first is a stark but tender rendering of the transfiguration of Alice into Kiki, with each poem in the cycle beginning with "This is Alice. This is fucked up."
Next the cast of characters surrounding Kiki are paraded around the reader as though in a fun house mirror. All of the big names are here - Gertrude Stein, Kandinsky, Kisling, O'Keefe - and each with descriptions that trade off between the beautiful and the absurd. Of Marcel Duchamp, Earl writes: "The destiny of Marcel/ Duchamp is a musical onion."
The final section of the collection takes much of the debauchery, paranoia, and profundity head on and is aptly called "Opium." Here we face the drugs that fuelled much of the lust, heartbreak, exuberance, and danger that characterized this time period. Focusing in on the contradictions essential to a life teetering between the extremes of love and pain Earl writes, "1 am the rhythm of flowers, the speed of metal. 1 am a slow rising balloon." By Earl's pen Kiki is alive again - broken and breaking, but also complete and transcendent. (Megan Clark)
Read more: http://www.readperiodicals.com/201504/3670423311.html#ixzz3Zt9Twc7Y
review by IndieReaderGirl0329
By: Amanda Earl
Released: October 1st by Chaudiere Press
Length: 130 Pages
Rating: Four Stars
Acquired: via publisher
I am a window made of paper,
a fragile silhouette that goes up in flames
with the merest touch of light.
-untitled from “Alice”
Kiki is based on Kiki de Montparnasse, born as Alice Ernestine Prin. A woman of many talents and surrealist photographer Man Ray’s mistress, Kiki tells her life in parts. Divided up in four sections, the collection begins with “Alice” with rather short, untitled poems about Alice becoming Kiki; the marvelous nights spent drinking, dancing, performing; her sexual awakening and awareness. It is perhaps one of my favorite sections of the collection. The next part titled “Tales of Montparnasse” is one long poem about just that. Fitzgerald and Hemingway make an appearance, of course, as do many others. I didn’t find myself connecting to this one as much. The third section is entitled Opium (After Cocteau). The shortest long poem in the collection, it is by far my favorite in the entire collection. It is about opium use, but there is a beautiful juxtaposition that takes place within the poem that made me instantly fall in love with it.
I remove my mask.
I lie prone on the ground,
a flower’s stem impaled in my chest.
There is something in those two lines is slightly disturbing, but when I picture the flower’s stem, I can’t help but think about the rest of the flower. The whole poem has very strong imagery that challenges each of your senses. It’s the one section not to be missed. The most unique section, and the last, is a call and response to William S. Burroughs’s Naked Lunch with Kiki as the speaker. The most interesting section by far, I read it very quickly, compelled to keep reading. The responses were very fascinating, and passages chosen from the novel.
Overall, I really enjoyed this collection. It was very sensual, explicit with curse words in “Alice”, with imagery that both challenges the senses and brings a reality to the life of Kiki. I think she would be proud of this piece of work.
Amanda Earl's (formally) kinky Kiki by Douglas Barbour
Amanda Earl. Kiki (Chaudiere Books 2014)
Amanda Earl’s been publishing a variety of chapbooks for some years now; Kiki is her first full collection, & it is something of a roller-coaster of a ride through Montparnasse in the twenties & thirties, a place & a period that never stood still till the next war stopped it cold. In a series of sequences, made up of textual mash-ups & cut-ups, dream journals, & fictional memoirs, Earl imagines both Kiki (born Alice Ernistine Prin, &, says Earl, ‘One of the most exuberant celebrants’ of that special world) & the fantastic whirligig of artists, writers, dancers, actors, & just plain bohemians she came to know in the Montparnasse of the inter-war years.
She begins with the prose poem ‘memories’ of ‘Alice,’ a name allowing more than a few allusions to the most famous fictional figure of that name, as she stares at herself in the mirrors of memory & gossip, wondering with every iteration of her ego (‘This is Alice. This is fucked up.’ but also ‘I am Kiki. I wear pearls. I drink red wine and sing love songs to old reprobates in the boites.’) just who she, always changing, is. The sequence follows her through those changes, imagining her artistic/erotic life in that looking glass milieu, falling down various holes, stepping through mirror after mirror. At the end, as the next war approaches to destroy the artistic utopia she & the many artists (including her American lover, Man Ray) imagined they might build there, she is lost: ‘I am common glass. / I am broken fragments. / i am ugly, a nightmare kaleidoscope. / I am mad. I am naked. I don’t know what I am.’
‘Tales of Montparnasse’ presents visionary vignettes of all those who moved through that place & time, all of whom Kiki touched in one way or another, all part of the floating art world there. Earl’s mash-ups achieve a kind of surreal music of dropped names, as in ‘Kisling and O’Keefe / rise like angels with horses’ & ‘Frizzy femmes damnées / shiver with Schwitters.’ The section ‘Opium’ borrows vocabulary from Jean Cocteau’s Opium; the Diary of a Cure as well as various other texts to allow the drug to speak for itself, & it has much to say: ‘I am Helen of Troy, mixing elixirs. I am nepenthe. / I am a sunless sea and a lifeless ocean. This is alchemy.’
Finally, ‘In Which K Meets B in a Dream’ sets up a weird dialogue between Earl’s Kiki & William S Burroughs as manifested in Naked Lunch. Here the cut-up approach, obviously carefully edited, releases an anger they both feel at a world refusing to acknowledge or accept the outriders they love to be: ‘It’s cerebral as horse, / raw as Ouab. Hungry as terror. / A throbbing hero fossil scrolling / up morphine peddled screams, cornhole. // No, it’s lunch in a cocktail lounge where the spoons are chipped as a / black habit, you insect.‘
Kiki is very much the sum of all its parts, & needs to be read through. These quotations give a but a taste of the whole rich assemblage. Earl finds in Kiki & all the artists of that lost place & time a kind of ideal world where the erotic & artistic meshed beautifully & madly for a short time. Her slippery & convulsed textual play in Kiki seeks to reveal in its revel something of the experimental joy & pain of that life.
Douglas Barbour, Eclectic Ruckus
Winnipeg Free Press Review of Kiki by Jonathan Ball
Amanda Earl's Kiki (Chaudiere, 100 pages, $20) pays homage to the chaos of Montparnasse between the world wars, and its mythical status as a sex- and drug-fuelled artistic hotbed. The book and its first long poem takes its name from Alice Ernestine Prin, a.k.a. Kiki, a celebrity of the period often celebrated as either a muse or an artist herself.
Earl offers a portrait of Kiki that suggests her splendour while taking a tragic tone. A trip to New York finds her "small in the new world. I am Alice again down the hole. // I shrink. I cannot eat what says eat me. I can only drink until I am Kiki again. Until I am back through the shattered glass." Here, Earl alludes to Carroll, while elsewhere aping Burroughs. The diversity of Earl's style elevates her attractively dark imagery, for a rich and mythic tone to match its subject.
Small Press Book Review - Matthew J. Hall
Amanda Earl. Chaudiere Books, $20 paperback (130p) ISBN: 978-0-9783428-9-0
At first glance, Amanda Earl's Kiki appears to be a straightforward homage to the creative hub that was Montparnasse between the two world wars. But the poems within this book go far deeper than setting smoke-filled scenes, where Dadaists sip red wine and tap ash from non-filtered Gauloises while pontificating about their work and its muse. Earl's first full collection is as much an amalgam of tributes as it is a collection of poems. As the title suggests, Kiki, otherwise known as Alice Ernestine Prim, is the central figure, but this book has far too many layers to only be concerned with tipping its hat to the iconic muse, actor, artist, singer, writer and model that was the ‘Queen of Montparnasse’.
In order to fully appreciate what and who are being acknowledged within this collection it is worth considering the structural aspects of the work. It makes sense that the poet's chosen method for honouring a time and place of such ground-breaking art and artists would be presented in a style of writing that some consider synonymous with the surrealist movement itself. The cut up method has largely been attributed to Brion Gysin's influence on William Burroughs, but as Earl points out in her notes at the back of the book, “They say that Tzara inspired the cut up movement at a surrealist rally in the 20s when he offered to create a poem by pulling words at random out of a hat.”
Anyone can and many have cut up texts and stuck them back together in a worthlessly random fashion. Rehashing old words into a half-coherent order isn't anything particularly spectacular in itself. Whoever started this strange way of creating new context from old words is beside the point; what matters in this case is whether Earl's tribute breathes any new life into this literary tradition. Poetry is arguably the most subjective of all the art forms and its potential beauty will largely depend on its reader’s perspective. After all, it is in the magic that happens between the page and its interpreter that brings a poem to life. Having said that, there are obvious goals any forward-thinking poet should strive for: accessibility, relevance, individuality, a good sense of rhythm, honesty and so forth. By taking on the task of writing poetry about a time and place she can only know through research and study, Amanda has set herself a much more complicated goal. And it is a task she has clearly not taken lightly.
Right from the start, a strong sense of imagery is established which the author builds upon throughout. This building process is key to the overall effect of the book. One line feeds off the other and brings the work to life as one collective piece.
I am quick silvered glass, made of mercury.
I can throw you off balance in the swing of a mood.
(from “Alice” p17)
The imagery is perhaps at its strongest in the third and shortest poem, “Opium”. Rather than the obvious sensationalism we are all used to when it comes to writing about narcotics, Amanda uses a wholly restrained subtlety to ruminate on the numbing effects of opiate use.
This is opium heated on steel.
This is a lamp filled with perfumed oil.
This is a pipe covered with ivory and mother of pearl.
I am the rhythm of flowers, the speed of metal. I am a slow rising balloon.
(from “Opium” p63)
Using a combination of cut up texts and snapshots from her imagination, Earl places repetitions throughout the book which have an echoing effect as they chase each other from page to page, eventually overlapping into a surreal collage. Getting lost in this book is like falling into a cave where a dozen choirs are singing rounds, and rather than trying to decipher the words you simply soak up the sounds. Along with the aforementioned repetitions there are a plethora of reflections, some clear and obvious while others are more like shards of light bouncing off unsettled water. It is these poetic inflections that lift this collection above other similar works that simply list dates, events and names of participants. Amanda has the good sense to leave matters of fact to the historians; consequentially, Kiki is a book of poems inspired by historical events, yet not mastered by them.
Drunk Foujita inspires cures
Lipschitz' gypsy combs
are sweet as blackbirds.
Frizzy femmes damnées
shiver with Schwitters.
de Clarivaux's shadow
empties into a gallery
of straw and pine.
The Toothless Measuring Worm
is in the courtyard
with Harriet Monroe.
(from "Tales of Montparnasse” p57)
The fourth poem is a cut up from Naked Lunch presented as a conversation between Kiki and Burroughs. It is in this final poem that Earl's penchant for iniquitous word play really comes into fruition. While every page can be appreciated as a standalone poem, the four sections each containing one poem apiece work best as a whole.
Amanda presents snippets that suggest more than they state without ever straying into that grey area of obscurity where the point is lost and nothing makes sense. These poems burrowed into my subconscious and conjured up all kinds of unexpected reactions from my imagination. Isn't that what art is for? To inspire emotion and provoke reaction?
Kiki is a collection of deliberate contradictions pertaining to the artist and the muse during one of, if not the most, creative times in recorded history where the mood swings from sentimental to obscene at the cut of a line. Amanda Earl possesses a sharp turn of phrase with sensual undertones and a well honed lyrical prowess which she uses to paint one portrait of a thousand faces. She is not afraid to offend, yet never seems purposefully offensive. Her poetry is more concerned with beauty than credentials or status; it is both highbrow and a heavy blow to the highest of brows, which defiantly breathes new life into an old form. (October 2014)
Reviewer bio: Matthew J. Hall is a writer who lives in Bristol, England. His poems have been published in various literary mags and he regularly highlights new and exciting writing within the small press on his blogscreamingwithbrevity.com