Burnin’ Love: Kim Vodicka’s The Elvis Machine 

click to enlarge The Elvis Machine - BOOK COVER ART AND DESIGN BY JOEL AMAT GÜELL
  • Book cover art and design by Joel Amat Güell
  • The Elvis Machine

After a long incubation and a series of canceled and postponed pre-publication readings and panel talks (put on hold thanks to the coronavirus pandemic), Memphis poet Kim Vodicka’s The Elvis Machine (CLASH Books) is set to be released Tuesday, July 7th.


“All of Memphis is a Heartbreak Hotel,” Vodicka says to describe The Elvis Machine, which she started writing shortly after moving to Memphis from Louisiana in 2016. The collection, with its focus on the men, music, and mythology of Memphis, sparkles with the perspective of a transplant. Memphis is Vodicka’s adoptive home, and she embraces it — but she throws her heart-shaped rose-colored glasses over her shoulder first. Vodicka pulls no punches when she writes, “It’s so easy to be a groupie in this town, so hard to be a wife.”


Vodicka, author of 2018’s Psychic Privates, says that The Elvis Machine is more dangerous. “It’s a lot scarier,” Vodicka says of her new collection. “It’s a lot darker.” Her words ring true, as throughout the collection, Vodicka rages and repossesses the language of the patriarchy — or, more often, laughs gleefully as she recounts illicit encounters and risqué rendezvous.


“Because The One makes Kodak moments,” she writes. “Because rarely do us bitches make his story.” Vodicka’s seemingly casual use of patriarchist language makes clear that, in a world defined by the colonization of the male gaze, for a woman, self-love is by necessity an act of creation and destruction.

click to enlarge Kim Vodicka - KIM MCCARTHY
  • Kim McCarthy
  • Kim Vodicka

The through line, though, is the poet’s undeniable sense of humor. Vodicka bleeds on the page, but her bloodstained hieroglyphics spell out a dirty joke. She has an endless supply of memorable one liners, which she lobs at prudes and the endless parade of self-obsessed rocker guys. The Elvis Machine is like Dan Penn’s “Dark End of the Street” — but from the woman’s perspective. It’s an orgiastic exultation and an excoriation of mansplaining rock-and-roll heartthrob wannabes.


“This is the eternal return of the 1950s,” Vodicka writes in “Boy Boycott,” bemoaning a romantic partner whose … stamina leaves something to be desired. “Where insanity is going to the same sock hop, testing the same A-bomb, over and over again, and expecting something better than this.” Vodicka — or the personas she inhabits — breaks down barriers between socially acceptable feminine behavior. If she contradicts herself, it is to be expected; she contains multitudes. She’s a seductress, a valley girl, a witch, a so-called “tough woman,” a sexpot, a pop culture aficionado, and a keen observer of humanity and history. “This man is your man. This man is my man. This man was made for you. But, like, mostly just me.”

“Babylon Fantasy” is one of the most open poems in the collection. Though the author doesn’t abandon poetic license or her beguiling knack for wordplay, she speaks more plainly, the rapid-fire machine gun ratta tatta of rhyme and pun slowing enough to let Vodicka’s word bombs find a direct route to the reader’s heart. There are echoes of both ancient sacred prostitution cults and of J. Robert Oppenheimer when the poet writes, “Now I am become the county whore, destroyer of monogamy and all sanctity.”

The Elvis Machine is also available as a spoken-word EP with musical accompaniment by Memphis multi-instrumentalist Jack Alberson. The EP is available via Bandcamp, and it may serve fans as a substitute for Vodicka’s high-energy poetry tours, unfortunately placed on hold while the country struggles to combat the coronavirus. 


Kim Vodicka’s The Elvis Machine is to poetry collections what Tav Falco’s psychogeography of the Bluff City, Mondo Memphis, is to town histories. The Elvis Machine spits on pretensions and politeness as Vodicka revels in her humanity. She rages, rhymes, lusts, loves, mourns, and cackles like a mad scientist drunk on wordplay. Welcome to the machine; may your freak flag fly ever high.

The Elvis Machine is available via CLASH Books. The Elvis Machine EP is available at Bandcamp. Kim Vodicka can be found at kimvodicka.com.

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