the confusing mess of selfhood: a look at fat daises

Fat Daisies by Carrie Murphy. Washington, DC: Big Lucks Books, October 2015. 82 pages. $12.00 paperback.

Carrie Murphy’s latest full-length collection rips apart the social media stage and reassembles the whole mess. Murphy examines, with honesty and cruelty, what it means to be one of many, an individual in an age of constant moral battles of identity, as in her poem “Filter”:

Everything is a stage
or at least everything is on a stage
because we carry lights with us in our pockets. 

More than surveying from a distance, Fat Daisies considers deeply and takes responsibility; as a working thought process, it has a great deal of agency. 

There are lines in this book that perfectly capture the incredible stardom and shallow individuality that social media provides its users—every one of its millions/billions of users. The last line, from “Ledge & Hammer,” might be the best one:

When they dig us up
we’ll all want to be the best kind of fossil
the most valuable bone.

Life on social media is an endless, impossible chase to be the brightest shine among millions of shines, and so is death. As Murphy shows us, it’s an epidemic—a killer of the perception of self and of self in the context of all. The very word everyone is exposed as flawed, as a faux noun. If we’re all amazing, if every single individual is amazing, how much can we/do we mean to capture with the word?

When you say everyone, meaning everyone, do you really mean
white people? Do you picture white people in your head?

Here, in “Universal,” is perhaps my favorite moment of the book, where the brutal tension between sameness and true allness. After considering for much of the book what it is to be on Instagram—being an object in that crowded, spotlight-blinded digital forest just like everyone else—we really work through that word everyone. Murphy explores the idea that she among the many-many is guilty and part of it; she and we are part of a larger problem of quiet social exclusion. She gets at this with honesty, with pretty but accessible language, and with self-sacrifice and exploration, as in “Gorgonzola”:

Here, among all the douchebags carrying salads,
I ponder my privilege.

The more physically manifested forms of privilege appear, too—namely gentrification:

The place where they’re building a highrise where all the white people
will live but the white people look askance & say
Where will the El Salvadorans go?
Other white people just don’t really give a shit
because their property values will go up
Other white people look at their watches as the bus goes by
with tons of faces peering out
The day laborers on bicycles, smiling

This passage from “I Am The King of My Own Life” I find particularly poignant not only because gentrification is outlined pretty acutely, but also “white people” as a group is split into subgroups, thereby breaking apart the identity of a whole group and giving individuals a more defined role. Now you have to choose which subgroup you belong to, if you’re white, and which attitude you will have. Of course, none of these options comes without carried (if not also perceived) guilt. And in Fat Daisies, guilt is tightly tied to identity.

Murphy wraps all of these things and more—being a woman, objectification towards men, wanting to be a mother—into the confusing mess of selfhood. Of oneness and of choosing how to see oneself among the rest of the oneselves. She hasn’t exactly given up on these fights and these issues, but she does see a grim road ahead. As we see in her poem “Unicorn,” this is a legitimately pessimistic flower patch:

I’ve been so busy licking spoons of ice cream & looking at moccasins on the internet & tweezing my nipple hairs that I forgot to cry about how much I hate modern society.

Is there a steering wheel? Is there any way to clean up a growing spill? We don’t know. But Murphy gives us brutally honest and direct poems to feed on, to swim in as we wonder. Fat Daisies, in exploring the significance of identity, hides behind no identity and shows its true colors from start to finish. This is a language we all know but are unaccustomed to hearing—at least outside of our own heads.

—C.J. Opperthauser


C.J. Opperthauser co-edits Threadcount,
a journal of hybrid prose, and blogs at He lives in Providence, Rhode Island. His chapbook Cloud the Shape of Bedroom is forthcoming from Tree Light Books in 2016.