by Jena Osman
Burning Deck, $14 (paper)
Citizens United v. FEC, the 2010 Supreme Court case declaring that corporations have the same right to political speech as individual people, was widely viewed as the latest offering in the ongoing sacrifice of American democracy on the altar of profit. Jena Osman, a poet of consistently admirable intricacy and ambition, takes up this case and others in her latest book, historicizing and lamenting the bestowal of constitutional rights on corporations. Corporate Relations reads like a fever dream, with frenzied images of lifeless substitutes for flesh-and-blood people—puppets, mannequins, painstakingly programmed machines—cutting across contemporary transcripts of appellate arguments and snapshots of constitutional history. In their strongest moments, the poems offer haunting litanies: “Descartes constructed an automaton he named Francine. During a sea voyage, Francine was discovered in a box by the ship’s captain. She was so real, the captain threw her overboard. / Wooden clockwork man with moving eyes and mouth. German, 18th century. Height: 59 cm.” Elsewhere, the serial suspension in white space of common and uncontroversial courtroom jargon (“there is no place where an ongoing chill is more dangerous,” “we couldn’t sever it based on the language,” “presumably as a poison pill”) can lend the poems an air of consternation, as though no discipline other than poetry may be permitted its own communicative conventions. For the most part, though, Osman remains sharp-eyed in her engagement with thorny ideological issues, and Corporate Relations is an undertaking worthy of attention.