MLAlien Abduction Survivor Testimonial #42069


MLA Chernoff

Gordon Hill Press

2021, 120 pp., $20.00


A few years ago, MLA Chernoff shared a screenshot of my Goodreads review of their debut chapbook, delet this, saying that whenever they felt “imposterussy”[1] or had writer’s block, they simply read the review again.

Chernoff’s writing appeals to me first and foremost in its ludic lead, its absolute refusal to relax. Here’s just what I had to say about delet this back in the day:

Verging on virtuosic! Probably not sentimental enough or relatable enough for older poetry fans, and maybe my only complaint comes from that same space, where too many of the actual feels get deferred (flarfed?) for the sake of the gags. Actual cackles at the comic sans, and lots of laughs at the general wit. I like the maximal flex and the momentum and the surprises, and what I need (like just a little bit of ‘proof’ of sincerity now and then) would probably be easier to achieve in a longer collection. I recommend this if yr under 40, have ever used the internet, or have ever been called arrogant by yr critical theory lit prof.

A few years out from it, I think that Goodreads review spoke to how I felt about my own writing. I’ve had many wild conversations with birdgeoisie poets who love birds and creeks, and conversations with other brands of solemn smartypant poets who trade in all the vogue jargon CanLit can muster. The baseline for all of these conversations is folks mad at me for “writing pointlessly,” “elliptically,” or “heartlessly,” and should I not bend the knee, it ends up baked into a bitter and disingenuous “I guess I’m just not smart enough to get it” pieshell.

The ‘ask’ in my original review, for “‘proof’ of sincerity” in Chernoff’s work in a longer volume, lingered when I read their second chapbook, Terse Thirsty, too. It lingers in the usual writerly doubts skewering my own practice, too. Having finally come to [SQUELCH PROCEDURES] a little late after its 2021 publication with Gordon Hill Press, I had to really sit down and ask where our way into the menacing question of “why poetry” lay. What is certain to me now is that MLA’s route is arteried thru the sewers, its shitting/pissing/squelching ululations.

To sell the book short by its back-cover pitch, SQUELCH is a book about “trauma, poverty, rigorously enforced gender normativity, and curbed childhoods,” and the act of ‘squelching’ is “the key to a deeply personal, but nevertheless political, idiom that emphasizes the linguistic possibilities of defense mechanisms such as projection, avoidance, and dissociation—devices symptomatic of Complex PTSD” (emphasis mine).

Are these worthy subjects? Absolutely. Are they reflective of the writing within? Errr. Mm. Sorta. But not in the didactic way that the blurb insinuates. They’re a few ingredients amidst a fanfaronadic manifest, less a cookie recipe and more a blueprint for a psychic pipe bomb. “ ... but nevertheless political” smdh, the book can prove it in its guts, why waste ink back here? B8 (bait). (because: poetry-culture, because illness and disability are only ‘real,’ only ‘srs,’ when they’re solemn; violently shitting yourself is not a ‘true’ illness but supposed immaturity).

SQUELCH is a verse from a reliable font, one that pisses out its ass in gouts of ecstasy and rage and wry torque that activates your every sense and renders the page material, so that its “pometicity” can’t be ignored (kinda like a worrisome pumpkin-spice hue on the TP swatch).

These paratextual justifications for the book are apparently some sort of necessary evil to entice the kinds of readers (usually ‘healthy,’ curious unwellness-tourists) who need that didactic transmission and proof of allegiance in advance, I think because too often they don’t take it seriously unless they feel some sort of mastery over the alien concept.[2]

That we are lucky enough to have poets like MLA making much of a net/lit/shit mulch in this generation (if that measurement is even useful at this point in the hellish Late Capital plateau we’re stranded on) is worth the bumped hydro bill to limn in a much-loaded review like this; that Chernoff is tackling dissociation and the rest in such a bombastic way is a boon, one more tactic for the toolbox of resistance, one more sledge against the homogenizing forces in vogue in poetry-at-large at-present.[3]

I'm not sure how many contemporary Canadian poets are expressive on this 'unhinged' level, at least not without ceasing to be involved in literature altogether to become a full-time meme account, and I hope this review might orient a wider readership otherwise intimidated by the so-called excesses of Chernoff's practice to this truly special and singular voice, a voice that captures a frenetic sort of keyboard-click-clack howling against “the molecular diffusion of constraint into everyday life.”[4] 

That Chernoff is tackling dissociation and the rest in such a bombastic way is a boon, one more tactic for the toolbox of resistance, one more sledge against the homogenizing forces in vogue in poetry-at-large at-present.

So, I return to the question I asked years ago: is MLA Chernoff simply babbling along clever and hollow to the funky beat of their own drum (the Anthony Kiedis of CanLit’s wretched lot?), or is there something real + auriferous inside? The highly-online, zany, maximal muchness of MLA's virtuosic testimony is sometimes so bombastic that I find myself asking, If there's an actual sincere heart in here somewhere, where is it? I think that search is fruitful and necessary to understand any poetry's political valence (a back-blurb claiming it only makes me all the more suspicious). But the load/lode is here. Buoyed along both by tactics and content.

The MLAlien mode is potent, balloon at brink of burst, a little helium backwash leak squeak to its timbre. MLA's work is like licking a battery that puts language into question and tailspin (every freshly flatfooted step asquelching audibly), a ludic brain-barrier breach for readers to help us kill our inner-cops, our shame. Whether they Chern you off or Chern you on, MLA is sustaining a truly whirring and verring machine of a great many shiny parts that is doing something, something hitherto un[squelch]ified.

The MLAlien mode is potent, balloon at brink of burst, a little helium backwash leak squeak to its timbre.

Here’s what SQUELCH tells us poetry is:

“All sadness is silly and all pomes are pissy” (74).

If Canlit is a dark warehouse full of crates of Atwood brand bear-mace + winter-ready sleeping bags, then SQUELCH is an elusive incandescent glow from the corner, “a reading lamp of one’s own, / a place to fart very loudly … / a carping pome, floating in piss, / lurching toward so many deities whose / regrets are later liquidated into / the profane thwacks / of a ball bouncing its inflation” (38).

To SQUELCH lit is to let it thrill thru yer toes, where “liquidation” is business pun come water sports.

Pick yer poison. Doodle mine.
“Later-still I dunk my comrade, my opulence— / her name is Sailor Mercury / and I dunk her into the bowl and I / drink of her; I become her,
into the bowl I go, / for a quick swirl … / It’s canon, it’s retrograde” (12).

If we need to bring in some academic anchor, we might situate SQUELCH via Sianne Ngai's scholarship on aesthetic categories, such as "the politically ambivalent" (an example of which is detailed here excellently by Billy-Ray Belcourt re: Kablusiak's irreverent art practice). But we can’t ignore the terminally online shearing sonics of the project, that SQUELCH works as a rickety aux cord to a deep-fried, bass-boosted mondegreen/egg-corn/malapropism visual and aural echo-chamber (à la Phil Spektor's Wall of Sound, not the sense of the term contemporary to internet-havers).

Take for example:

“you can have it all, / my empire of GIRTH” (22).
“Are we merely pog-pilled Jokers, lost / like jeers in rain” (91).

If this pometical chart makes no sense don’t @ me, it’s tough to be silly and exact at the same time.

Here’s another anchor, a poetic one, to vouch for the unkillable mementropy going on, from Deleuze’s essay “The Schizophrenic and Language: Surface and Depth in Lewis Carroll and Antonin Artaud,” an encysted quote of a letter from within this essay in an old post-structuralist essay collection from the late ’70s:


My my, grandMLAw, what great big pa[use/ws] you give me.
“Now, every time I sneeze, / I’m a monster by mistake, / frantically Googling parental obits, / asking Siri to dream / of those good old days when words meant their worth” (92).

Let’s unpack: “my ass, my crack, my gumption, and / my frack” (41). Probably Artaud would have cold-cocked Chernoff for being annoying, but undoubtedly SQUELCH is wetter, and riper, than anything contemporary to Jabberwocky; it’s the literalization of this bodily demand of Artaud, is its own body, hiccups, piss drips and all. “Annoying” is entangled with the etymological roots for noise, and nuisance, but also nausea. I shouldn’t need to quote Sick Woman Theory again (it comes later in this review) to qualify that no annoying howl is for attention, but is instead the political ululation[5] of unwellness and resistance, of presence. It is impulse soundly indulged, again and again and again.

If you were to grab any literary magazine at random that ran a themed illness / sickness / disability / pick-yer-poison issue, and opened to any page you so chose, you’re more likely to find a solemn breathy “my body is a flame” metaphysical thing going on than any sincere and embodied, visceral depiction of illness, than any “my body is a shit stain.” What MLA offers us is crazier, closer to that unlikely latter. Squelching is gross, it does not pretty up pukey for respectability’s sake.

I don’t really oppose any literary treatments of illness, given the pervasive taboos that suppress the sense that you’re even allowed[6] to be sick most of the time. I simply take Chernoff’s text as seriously as I can on its own terms, to squelch along the grain instead of against it. I do this in the spirit of how Selah Saterstrom details “Stephen Moore’s concept of ‘responding in kind’ … rather than bringing an analytical jackhammer to a parabolic text / event that we instead respond in kind. To me, this means participating (reading and writing) from within the membranous precincts between our multiple bodies in the larger rhizomes field of resonances, where much is sounding and is also unsounded.”[7] How to read this book and not come away with a meme or two in the mind’s eye, to not hear some beloved song shrieked slant? To not open your mouth and drool a little squelchy lobotomirror onto the Chiclet keys of your 15” 2012 Macbook Pro?

Does this treatment not squelch truer (I hardly know her) to the material at hand than the jargon-jockeying, Jabberwock’d head-hung hands-wrung back-blurb?

[SQUELCH PROCEDURES] deserves squelching readers, and those aforesquelched p r o c e d u r e s—this book literally requires we develop strategies to engage with its muchnesses, procedures we carry forward here—offer new vehicles with which to travel thru the clogged main artery of Canadian literature; the procedures grease the lanes between such ‘membranous precincts,’ SQUELCH an ‘open sesame’ to IBS-chapped sphincters and portcullised psychic strongholds alike. This is pometry(hard) that reworks what we are allowed to call poetry, an squeraser to surer borders.[8]

SQUELCH offers bathos+ and pathos plenty. It leaves me Squelchin, after midnight, searching for eww. It brings me close to the white hot heat of the defiled toilet bowl, risquélch and never welching on its promise of gut rot and bon mots; it is inheritor of the 420 leaves of grass WhitManic, barrel rolling into greened-out panic attacks. It is the further pisstillation of Chernoff’s “pometics” in Terse Thirsty, a book which teaches us something about Chernoff’s incessant spade-lug poetics while chewing up all the surf and poeturf. Specifically the sonics: the deep-fried bass-boosted shit-poest echo-chamber allusion isn’t JUST mondegreen/egg-corn/whatever, but is applying those same slippery sorts of meaning-procedures to ideas, where “every time I use the word ‘I’ [the pome] speeds up until you, / the reader, are born again.” This speed-up replay sentiment is borrowed from the meme logic often applied to Smash Mouth’s “All Star,”[9] which lives as an aurallusion at the beginning of the same poem: “Somebody once HOLD me the world is gonna HOLD me— / please hold me” (n.p,).[10] Too, the echo-chamber sidewinder-ing manifests in the immersed/invested/but floundering world of para-sub-ish-acadummy poisoning half-heard+half-read life, where “we’re too bad, bored, and hungry to do the thrust of the reading but / also have already done some of it, maybe, like, five years ago” (n.p.).

It is the a/piss/pot/heosis of the premise of “‘Pometics,’” which is “another name for naming, another name for caring, / another name for the decision of the decision: the syncretism of / wearing the shambles of a moment, yet ANOTHER praxis-to- / CUM” (n.p., Terse Thirsty). In SQUELCH, to be squelched is to be left blank or to be blanked from usefulness (97); the SQUELCH is the self (“Me, My[Squelch], & I”) (81); it is the polyphony of speakers and those who hear them, but is also kinda just a ref to a beloved band’s name (“Guided by [Squelch]es”) (76); it’s the meme-speak and mondegreen aural distortion that is writing a Kaddish[11] under the banner of “Goo Goo is Free, Sweaty (Squelched Kaddish)” (26); it’s time dilating from “when histories of herstories become theirstories / and my bones cake apart my bones, accordingly” (52); “squelching genealogy” (95) in favour to the tune of the therapist’s insistence “the stars in the night sky are my true family” (47); it’s sharing (58).

In SQUELCH, to be squelched is to be left blank or to be blanked from usefulness; the SQUELCH is the self; it is the polyphony of speakers and those who hear them, but is also kinda just a ref to a beloved band’s name.

“How Do You Spell S-Q-U-E-L-C-H” is less important than “How do you smell squelch? / You respond with a statement, / ‘Mimesis ain’t (nothing but) shit,’ / an argument which ought to beg the question: / what is mimesis and / how can a meme be cis?” (39); Jeopardy answer in the form of a question—what is: it can’t, take it from me(me). SQUELCH may as well be fantasy’s famed mimic, treasure chest in wait with teeth, always giving itself away before the adventureader is dumb enough to fiddle with the latch, giving itsquelch away in its many musical parodies, its belching/pissing/shitting; seizing upon that still valent “steenk” reminds the reader what they’re holding is m a t e r i a l, working less in the whole K. Goldsmith post-cares-about-stuff mode and more in the play-pen with Canada’s shittiest (not derogatory) author Derek McCormack’s Castle Faggot with its shit-packed + corpse-pocked mail-away playsets.

Even when SQUELCH has (often) coasted too far sideways for any reader (or probably even Chernoff) to recognize what original, meaningful exhaust might have propelled it forth, those missteps or excesses,[12] ‘oops-es,’ have “oopsed along sideways into the recital cavity of a body I’ve imagined to the point of HEADLINES” (41); the body, in all its gory, fart-factory glory, is accounted for at every possible turn, down to every bent and broken lexeme, and it’s not just front-page news, it’s NUISANCE/NEWSENSE forever and ever amen.

What starts as a name for naming groawns into a squelch for squelching, for squelch’s sake! MLA’s parab[(y)uc(k)]olic lyr-sick is ever-roaring upward beyond mere silly word-play inspiration into infamy, breaching atmosphere to blow a raspberry at the stars and maybe eventually even the sun, given that everything everywhere is ignobly “Ugh-dented and sun-pissed” (n.p., Terse Thirsty), and the best bit is that Chernoff knows they’re on this trajectory, what works in their practice and just what’s left to explore: “a thirst for terse—been there, done that; / a delet function for the baby that I am / and the comrade that I want” (66); Chernoff’s recent forays into VizPo and most recent above/ground chapbook prove that things are just getting pissier, pometicollosal, and that their bag of tricks might be bottomless.


Poetry for people who’ve been on the internet even just for a minute. For the ENGL student smarter than the poor prof who drew the short straw to teach theory that semester. For IBS-havin’ ISBN-hoarders and Memers Without Borders.


[1] This is in the before-times, before the -ussy suffixing that enriches the internussy at every turn.

[2]  See David Schurman Wallace’s “Dead Poet Anxiety: John Ashbery in the Age of Social Media,” in the drift:

“Ashbery’s … rejoinder, offered during the Vietnam War, that ‘All poetry is against war and in favor of life, or else it isn’t poetry, and it stops being poetry when it is forced into the mold of a particular program’ would be greeted skeptically if it were issued today. To not be explicit is to risk being complicit.” Further, in favour of the elliptical, closer to the conceptual argument of rendering ourselves ‘illegible’: “Ashbery’s elusiveness survives as a reminder … that there is still a certain power in opacity, in remaining unknown … The boundaries of what access we can and cannot allow, what we freely give and what we choose to keep to ourselves—these are the new stakes of poetry in the networked age.”

[3] See “An Interview with Nora Collen Fulton,” in PANK:

“ ... I feel that in the wake of the well-deserved death of Conceptual Writing there has been a reaction that has uncritically swung poetics back into the realm of naturalism and lyricism. Rather than looking ahead, poets are now looking and identifying backwards, as if searching for a way forward through older aesthetic formations and oppositions. This is not a bad thing, but it has its risks. Now you have to confront the increasingly popular idea that poetry can only be political when it says that it is political, when the new ‘communist’ poetry collection from the new ‘communist’ press has poems in it with lines like ‘Gee I sure do enjoy partaking in the global proletarian uprising, comrade,’ and the poet has a hammer and sickle in their Twitter bio. And when you’re a poet whose identity is in any way ‘marginalized’ you also have to confront the increasingly popular idea that avant-garde and experimental practice can never be as expressive of or as true to your identity and experience as writing that is affectively direct, affectively recognizable, semantically communicative, semantically didactic. I was recently invited to an event for lesbian writers (where I would have been the only trans woman present), and the organizer asked me if my poetry dealt with lesbian or trans identity, because she ‘couldn’t tell by the look of it.’ I have a poem in this book that is just a bunch of puns on Ja Rule’s name and various rule-based systems. Guess what: either that too is a lesbian poem and a trans poem (and a communist poem) because I’m trans and I’m a lesbian (and I’m a communist), or it’s just a poem because poems aren’t trans and poems aren’t lesbians (and poems aren’t communists). This is truly an open question, though, and it is one that I think should be left open because it is generative only when it is open.” [emphasis added]

[4] P.11, Theory of the Young Girl, Tiqqun.

[5] “No me is neutral. / No language is me” (24). With a follow-up: “There was Dionne Brand reference in there / somewhere. You should probably just / read her / instead.” Brand’s own iconic title is borrowed from Derek Walcott, we’re thr33-d33p in the allusions now. If any ready-made, parodyable and already-done language was available for Chernoff, one imagines they would have used it. Much like the term SQUELCH is proxy, pun, verb, eraser, web-calque +  yeasty psychic starter, Chernoff’s “me” is proxy to language; we might sum those two lines “No me is me,” but let’s pivot away from Brand altogether for a second. What are we left with? “me / me” (meme). Of course, no me is neutral, and no language act short of Chernoff’s own funambulpisst bit could ever hope to embody Chernoff’s particular un-neutral political stakes (but by g-d I’m giving it my best go in this fukn migraine review). Self-deprecation to defer to Brand is fine, I guess. If you want to tackle the difficult, academy-poisoned writing of either Brand or Chernoff, you’re best off if you’ve got a degree or two of reading under your belt already (given the demographic that invariably writes / reads poetry, this is probably not worth a disclaimer in the first place), but maybe give Chernoff a go first, be brave and read the difficult one that’s so difficult and intertextually super-saturated you can’t just hit it with “wow, brave! & beautiful” on your Goodreads if you don’t get it.

[6] See Johanna Hedva’s recently revised “Sick Woman Theory,” from Tropical Cream: “What is so destructive about this conception of wellness as the default, as the standard mode of existence, is that it invents illness as temporary. When being sick is an abhorrence to the norm, it allows us to conceive of care and support in the same way.”

[7] Pg. xvii-xviii, Ideal Suggestions.

[8] Those bashed-in borders make for strange bedfollows. The Kaddish, bashert, Sailor Mercury as trans-yearning (but the magical girl transformation happens in the toilet bowl); that we don’t have vuvuzelas right next to mezuzahs, or Rosenblatt’s Sherbet Bashert here, is mind-boggling; the more readily identifiable ‘political ingredients’ of Jewish-, trans-, and ill-identity are not undone or blender-bent by the play going on here, but instead made anew, given their due + now free from the chains of Mad Libs jargon poetry that a luxury market of over-educated bored practitioners refuse to abandon as their only understanding of what poetry is / can do / how it do do (doodoo). “U and I: / the difference between sully and silly. / You and I: / jesting gestation, arms engulfing legs—a oneness so frilly” (45).

[9] See countless YouTube clips, such as this one:

[10]  This is actually the opening to SQUELCH as well, with slightly different line breaks. One of the few instances of ‘recycled’ material in a poetry culture where people clap their old chapbooks together with toothy grins to claim they sustained a book-length thought. I think given Chernoff’s supersaturation of aural distortion, and this sort of pleading, pathetic wish manifest from what might be the most memed audio-clip of all time, that the re-articulation here is quite useful, and instructs the reader for what to expect in the hundred pages that follow.

[11] Unclear if Chernoff is doing something akin to “After Ginsberg’s Kaddish” here, as Ginsberg is conspicuously absent in a way that O’Hara can’t be in “[Squelching] a Coke with Y;ou,” nor the actually named J.R. (Joe Rosenblatt) of “Squelch 2 Buzz (Blatting for Sweet Finity), “after Leonard Cohen” of “Every Little Kiss is Pleading for Kaddish,” and the “friendo-ship squelch 4 bill bissett on his 80th brethday” (31); Chernoff isn’t just pulling from the internet, but indeed there is so so much literary constellation going on, much of which I am probably missing in a way I don’t with the web mentions; my fav “after” in the book is actually “before A.M. Klein” (88). Ginsberg’s sense of poetic abandon must have some influence on the MLAlien mode, but his problematic takes are certainly a tougher sell. The omission, deliberate or incidental, simply piques my curiosity.

[12] Chernoff knows how close they come time and time again to pometic ruin: “I’m always two references away from / a wept-up storm from which / there’s no going back. I am always one Mitski song away from myself” (73).