On SPeRMKT Essay Research Paper Harryette MullenSPeRMKT

On S*PeRM**K*T Essay, Research Paper

Harryette Mullen

[S*PeRM**K*T] is the word "supermarket" with some letters missing and

asterisks replace the missing letters. The missing letters just happen to be U-A-R-E, so

it’s like "you are what you eat." This is a book about food, you know, and

everything that’s in the supermarket. This is…Trimmings is a kind of list poem about

clothing and accessories, and each one of those poems is also about woman or the idea or

representation of woman. And "Spermkit," or "Supermarket," is sort of

like your shopping list when you go to the supermarket. So, each one of the aisles that

you would find and the things that you would find in the supermarket, that’s how this book

is organized. And it also has some nice black and white pictures that Gil Ott took himself

in his local supermarket of the meat wrapped in plastic and the baked goods in that kind

of plastic that I don’t think they even can recycle.

. . . .

The baby food poem . . . actually refers back to my childhood when you would walk down

the baby food aisle and every baby was pink and blonde and blue-eyed, as if this is what a

baby looks like all over the world, or all over this country, that’s what a baby looks

like. At least that has changed. A lot of these poems have to do with commercials that I

saw when I was a child.

From Farah Griffen, Michael Magee, and Kristen Gallagher, "A Conversation with

Harryette Mullen" (1997). Click here

for the text of the entire interview.

Harryette Mullen

[I]t’s about the lines at the supermarket and about the lines on a page and, well, the

supermarket as an environment of language. There is so much writing in a supermarket.

There are signs everywhere, labels on products, and I liked the idea of the supermarket as

a linguistic realm where there are certain genres of writing. Instructions as a genre of

writing. Every trip to the supermarket became research and a possible excursion into

language. . . .The supermarket becomes the reference point, the metonymic reservoir of

ways that we see the world and ourselves in it. We are consumers; that’s how we are

constructed as citizens. People consume more than they vote. It’s more important what you

buy than what candidates you vote for. That has overtaken our sense of ourselves as

citizens in a civic society.

. . . .

[I]t’s the woman with her shopping list in the supermarket, because women are still

constructed through advertising as the consumers who bring these objects into the

household. S*PeRM**K*T was about my recollections of jingles that have embedded

themselves in my brain. We used to have to memorize poetry, the nuns made us do that in

Catholic school, and we had to do that also for church programs. It’s harder for me to

recall some of that poetry than these ads, partly because the ads are just so quick, but

twenty-year-old jingles are embedded in my brain and I thought about the power of those

jingles, that mnemonic efficiency of poetry, of the quick line that is economical and

concise and compressed. Even more than Trimmings S*PeRM**K*T is trying to think

about the language in which we are immersed, bombarded with language that is commercial,

that is a debased language. Those jingles are based in something that is very traditional,

which is the proverb, the aphorism. Those are the models, so I try to think back through

the commercial and the advertising jingle, through the political slogan, back to the

proverb and the aphorism to that little nugget of collected wisdom, and to think about the

language that is so commercialized, debased, and I try to recycle it. The idea of

recycling is very much a part of S*PeRM**K*T, to take this detritus and to turn

it into art. I was definitely thinking about visual artists who do that, collage artists

and environmental artists, and things like the Heidelberg House in Detroit, where people

take actual trash and turn it into a work of art.

From Cynthia Hogue, "Interview with Harryette Mullen." Postmodern Culture

(1999). Click here for the text of the entire interview.

Harryette Mullen

[B]asically you could say Trimmings is objects and "Supermarket" is

food. . . . I was thinking about domestication, about the role of women, women as

consumers, women having . . . a supposed power as consumers but also being disempowered in

other ways — and also disempowered in some ways as consumers even as they’re being

appealed to — because of the limited images that are available in the marketplace. You

know, you can’t necessarily buy who you really want to be. You have to buy the available


From Farah Griffen, Michael Magee, and Kristen Gallagher, "A Conversation with

Harryette Mullen" (1997). Click here

for the text of the entire interview.



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