12/01/2013 02:36 pm ET | Updated Jan 31, 2014

The Reading Series: Christine Kanownik's "I Want Milk"

Do you remember planking? Planking is a meme from 2011 in which people lay face-first in unusual places. In the same year, two other memes came into the picture: owling (sitting on things in an owl-like position) and cone-ing (grabbing ice-cream cones by the ice-cream, not the cone). These memes don't exist on their own, though, much like most memes don't, needing something to cling to and feed off of. Most videos of people cone-ing have this announcement: "CONE-ING IS THE NEW PLANKING!!!!!" The Washington Post published an article called "Owling: The new planking?" One picture of a woman owling has the caption: "Owling / because planking is so two months ago."

We process these memes by considering where they started. And even though planking is an older meme (indeed time on the internet moves quickly and unapologetically), it is influential enough for a newer meme to attempt to fill its spot. And then in 2012, we have milking: a meme in which people pour milk over their own heads (also, it's the new planking). Memes are copied with slight variation in order to remain relevant, even from outside of their categories; memes in 2012 are compared to a meme from 2011, and this is how they survive. It is clear that milking, owling, and cone-ing are part of a larger meme hierarchy, which began with planking.

And now we have Christine Kanownik's video poem, "I Want Milk," which examines the present in the most immediate sense: the speaker has desires, and feels the need to express them. And even through distractions, the speaker holds on to these desires: "oh! / the autumn leaves! / I like the ocean!" But then moves back to: "I want milk / I want light." In the second half of the video poem, the speaker becomes light:

when I became light, I met a man there
he said, you are light
I said, I want milk
he said, that is impossible
I said, I want milk

The speaker's desire for milk remains a constant thread in the video poem, even as the speaker expands and multiplies: "I am eight / there are eight of us / I want us to be the full force of man." (This reminds me of Whitman's line: "I am large, I contain multitudes.") The desire has now taken on a new form, but the central idea is still present, for the next line reads, "I want milk." If memes are unfulfilled desires, then we just keep going back to them, like planking.

Christine Kanownik's poetry can be found in the past or upcoming issues of: Everyday Genius, Lungfull! Magazine, Glitterpony, Shampoo, and H_NGM_N. She's been resident at the University of Chicago, The Congress Theater, and La Misíon in Baja, California. Her first chapbook, We are Now Beginning to Act Wildly, was published by Diez Press. She currently lives and works in New York.