Joan of Arkansas [Book]
Joan of Arkansas is a 2023 work mixing poetry, drama, and prose written by Milo Wippermann (working under the name Emma Wippermann when the book was released) and published by Ugly Duckling Press of Brooklyn, New York. Wippermann’s website describes the work as “a queer drama about climate catastrophe, internet fame, and political divinity.” The work received the 2023 Whiting Award in Poetry and Drama.
The book opens with a poetic rendering of the legend of Petit Jean, one that notes how the feminine form of Jean in French is Jeanne, the name of Joan of Arc (Jeanne d’Arc). Next comes the cast of characters, which includes the following: Joan, described as an “awkward teen” who “rly [really] needs to feel / God’s Hot Gaze”; Mom of Joan, a ranger at Petit Jean State Park; Father Joe, “priest and bustling / busybody of Domremy,” where the story takes place; Charles VII, “Governor (R) of Arkansas / and our potential president”; along with a reporter, campaign manager, assorted angels, and “followers.”
The action begins with Charles VII announcing his candidacy for president without mentioning “the Warmth,” the crisis facing everybody (that is, climate change). Meanwhile, Joan, who wears her brother’s old clothes, has received some “impossible-sounding / heavenly instructions” and is at a loss, as these instructions entail convincing Charles VII to adopt policies that will save them all from the Warmth. Joan is receiving instructions from the Angels, who inform her that the Petit Jean River will be flooding. In response, Joan has her mother cut her hair and films the process, posting a video that goes viral. On being confronted by Father Joe, Joan relays the message that has been given to her: “Governor Charles VII / will accept the past, / present, and ongoing / crisis of the planet and / act accordingly in regards / to the Warmth, escalating / devastation, genocidal / domestic and foreign / policies, and the Heat- / driven migration of those / whom this country has / systemically displaced.” Should he do that, she insists, Charles VII will be elected president.
Charles VII visits Domremy, and Joan comes to him drenched, having upended a bucket of water on herself, and tells him, “If you are the Lord’s candidate / you have to be against big business.” Charles VII balks, but Joan tells him that she has enough social media followers to sway the election his way if he follows God’s message. Charles VII raises the possibility that she is “a crazy / liberal cross-dressing sinner” and sends for a priest to test her. Father Joe shows up and is concerned about Joan referring to God as “They,” but after she works a miracle of granting the campaign internet access, she is made part of Charles VII’s campaign. Mom of Joan buys her daughter a new suit and shiny waistcoat for the campaigning. However, after his election, Charles VII reneges upon every promise he made Joan and has Joan detained, claiming she is mentally ill.
The next section of the work entails excerpts from the transcripts of the 1431 trial of Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc) on charges of heresy (specifically, the excerpts come from W. P. Barrett’s 1932 English translation). The story picks up in the last section, titled “The Dove,” which is rendered in prose. This part is narrated by Adrienne (like Adrienne Dumont, the “real” name of the legendary Petit Jean); she is a classmate of Joan’s at Domremy Catholic High, from which Joan has been absent for a year and is now returned. At this point, the climate crisis has worsened. She and Joan quickly become friends and lovers, but Joan tells her later that she has joined a wildfire crew with the Fire Service, and though Joan proclaims her love for Adrienne in the final line of the book, Adrienne has a vision of Joan burning in the fire.
For additional information:
Milo Wippermann. https://emmawippermann.com/ (accessed November 14, 2023).
Wippermann, Emma. Joan of Arkansas. Brooklyn, NY: Ugly Duckling Press, 2023.
Staff of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas
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