Let’s get this out of the way before we get into it: Rosemary Valero-O’Connell’s new work, Golden Record, is an abstract, figurative chapbook, so it’s rich with florid poetry and often visceral introspection. If that’s not your cuppa, here’s the door.
Those of you left to hear of Valero-O’Connell’s lauded, rococo experiment in words and pictures, please follow me, and know this book is ultimately a crystal-coalesced zine of patreon updates, so the final form is more a record of moments, and perhaps not an outlined, structured album of expression. In this form, it is, as the name suggests, exhibiting some gold it’s found while recording.
But before we delve into Golden Record’s structure and themes, let me describe how I experienced this album. It is my belief that graphic experiments are more than the sum of their page count and only wholly complete when interacted with by the reader. It’s in this belief that how we read and interact with its medium does the full curvature of its experience (and design) reveal itself to us.
I read this after my partner did, who told me I had to experience this while listening to some Zoé or Señor Kino — a record to spin while I spun this record. I opted for Señor Kino’s surf punk dream pop album, Aurora Boreal, to guide me through this poem series. Really! I even chose headphones over speakers for an intimate read, because it seemed fitting. Ultimately, the combination of sound, visual, and Golden Record’s verbose prose took me on a sensory roadtrip that helped illuminate its work rather than accompany.
Golden Record clocks in at 44 pages with 8 pages for the covers/endpapers and 18 double page spreads. On our first spread, what can best be described as a table of contents helps us mentally chop these series of splashes into three cogent and thematic chapters. Personally, I found these three chapters to focus on: a) the pain we look to forget, b) the pain we hide (and not incredibly well, but that’s okay), and c) what this was all for (hint: it’s love).
For Golden Record’s runtime, Valero-O’Connell embraces a mixed media approach to her comic juxtaposition. Swirling photoimagery gasping at the last wisps of the Baroque movement, soft radial and translucent box gradients, warped lineart, complementing frames, contrast symbolism, and stanzas arranged atop, inside, through, under, and before accompanying illustration — all manners Valero-O’Connell felt compelled to arrange this manicured theatre for you, the reader.
Golden Record, much like the world outside its vacuum, asks a lot upfront with no recourse. From its repeated representation of the body (feminine) as fruit/meat to its vitriol for unrequited romantic trysts, we have to form our own interpretations of the work or wallow in its ethereal vibe. Hell, my partner didn’t enjoy the repeated biblical allusions nor the somewhat wooden Spanglish at play. I, however, thought the underlying themes/aesthetic of religion helped codify what Golden Record had to say about family, love, and body. Now, it is banal for me to sermonize that poems are meant to be interpreted, so let me communicate some consistencies my house has found (and feel free to share your own interpretations):
Golden Record wants you, the reader, to feel the pain of a pregnancy scare, an abusive relationship, not patching things up with a parent before it’s too late, grieving unconsummated promises, alcoholism, sexual assault, living entirely off spite, being married to a cultural fetishist, a never-ending list of vices, and a last gasp handful of pandemic era guilt and rejuvenation. Sure, on the surface, these are all the most triggering concepts most folks can safely conjure without inducing a backslide, but Valero-O’Connell’s prose never aims to drench us in a reminder, but rather lends a guiding hand out of that specified darkness and or directly to its throat.
Between the soft violence of severed fruit, flesh and object as corpse, and repeated use of matches (burnt and unburnt), Golden Record casts a meaningful and welcome examination on introspection that drives one to further self-motivated therapy rather than to pig out on candy-coated catharsis. In its setlist, Golden Record deftly weaves detailed conversation-starter spreads into an opulent meditation on self. What Valero-O’Connell lays to rest in this chapbook is a gilded history of feelings we are fortunate enough to be privy to — a brilliant graphic album recording thoughts as ephemeral as they are eternal. All that’s left to do is experience its shine for yourself.
Check The Beat’s review section for a new graphic novel review every Friday in 2023! And make sure to read TRADE RATING each Thursday for a review of collected material!