A Review of Kate Durbin’s Hoarders
By Emmalea Russo
༼ つ ◕_◕ ༽つ


I’m Marlena, the worst hoarder on planet Pink Sands Yankee Candle

My house is like a bomb went off at Walmart 

Begins Kate Durbin’s Hoarders (Wave Books, 2021), a book which assembles dynamic freeze-frames in the form of strange, disquieting, and tender glimpses into the lives of sixteen people who have appeared on the reality television show Hoarders: Marlena, Chuck, Linda, Shelley, Craig, Cathy, Noah and Allie, Jim, Alice, Dorothy, Hannah, Ronnie, Gary, Greg, and Maggie. Whereas each episode of Hoarders takes the form of a sixty-minute dramatized intervention into the lives of individual hoarders, Durbin’s Hoarders delinks the people from TV and places them in curious chorus. The frame widens.

According to the internet, hoarding is a medical condition marked by excessive accumulation of things, regardless of actual value due to a perceived or obsessive need to save them. To hoard is to collect and often hide away a supply of something. Kate Durbin’s book glimmers and stirs the mind-body quietly at first. Rather than telling us how to read the show or the book, Durbin’s fifteen portraits seep out from their pages and leave the reader to wonder how hoarding works on the whole weird world. Who or what decides a thing’s actual value? How does the market regulate our relationships with objects and each other?

Hoarders is timely. The top one percent own most things in the US; there are more empty houses and hotel rooms than there are homeless people; the beginnings of the COVID-19 pandemic saw people panic-hoarding mass amounts of toilet paper.

Hoarders, a reality TV show that originally aired on A&E in 2009, is filled with close-shots of accumulation which incite shock and squirmy feelings as we witness one sliver of the hoarding process: the hoarder surrounded by what their objects.  The episodes also offer the help of some kind of psychologist and/or cleaning specialist, decluttering experts who will apparently heal the hoarders.

The camera in Hoarders doesn’t roll back to reveal processes of accretion that the hoarders may have undergone or the factories and conditions under which these objects were produced so that the show itself doesn’t become a critique of capitalism.In contrast, Durbin’s book spills light onto certain televisual moments resulting in an exciting testament to what poetry can do in the era of the hyperreal. Away from the show’s close-shots and dramatic music which emotionally distance the viewer from the hoarder, Durbin’s tender translations invite us into the scenes. Here’s Linda from Washington D.C.:

My husband was an abusive sociopath fossilized rat

It was like living with Jim Jones dirty unmarked bottles of black liquids.

Durbin’s poems set up zones wherein we might sit with Linda, Gary, Ronnie, Greg, et al. and read, sense, see. Specific objects serve as windows into larger narratives as Durbin dismantles the show using its own tools. A main ideology of consumer capitalism is the use of brands  and products as identity markers. Durbin offers us insight into this reality without didacticism.

How can a poem and a reality TV meet each other, their conversation creating a third curious thing? How does a list of objects work? How do we relate to our stuff, to our lists of stuff, to other people’s stuff? How to navigate the seas of information, clutter, options, mass production of…everything? The final entry in Dorothy’s section begins:

I guess I’m afraid of not seeing The Walking Dead (2010-present), Downton Abbey (2010-2015), Chopped (2007-present), Breaking Bad (2008-2013)

The list continues for eighty-five more television shows and their lifespans. Dorothy’s voice arrives again at the end:

I couldn’t possibly watch them all if I sat down today and started

The list of television shows and their timelines is literally framed by Dorothy’s fear of not seeing them and knowledge that she couldn’t possibly watch them all. Durbin’s Hoarders is filled with quietly acute moments where lack, fear, emptiness, and profound sadness bump up against objects. The objects and the voices act on each other as the voice of the hoarder comes through in italics next to various material and spectral presences.  The objects Durbin chooses to list provide insight into the environmental, social, and psychological impacts of hoarding as a collective phenomenon. Simultaneously, Durbin makes surprising, musical, and strange poetic assemblages from Hoarders:

This is how I deal crushed Red Bulls


Last couple of years we’ve had a problem with Barbie Dream House with a pink plastic roof


I want desperately to change Marlena digging in neighborhood
trash bins, a flashlight strapped to her head; she pulls out Chase

credit card statements, Styrofoam food containers, Starbucks

reusable plastic cups

The show supposes that the hoarders need some decluttering and therapy, perpetuating what Mark Fisher has called the “privatization of stress” which “has aimed at an almost total destruction of the concept of the public—the very thing upon which psychic well-being fundamentally depends. What we urgently need is a new politics of mental health organized around the problem of public space.” Durbin’s Hoarders gestures towards this much-needed public space, for where the show deracinates these individual lives from context, Durbin’s book undoes the spectacle and gathers many moments together in order to weave a wider portrait.

Hoarders deftly lifts moments from the commodified medium of reality TV and assembles them into a poetics which resists commodification or happy endings, as the objects don’t get swept away, decluttered, or judged. Durbin names them, places them in a context, and offers space on the page for lingering. The final entry in the book, in the voice of Maggie, reads:

There’s definitely war on earth between good and evil dust billowing up from the ground; a shadow moving in the window

Emmalea Russo is a writer. Her work has appeared in many venues, including Artforum, BOMB, and Granta. Her books of poetry include G (2018), Wave Archive (2019), and Confetti (forthcoming from Hyperidean in 2022). She edits the multidisciplinary journal Asphalte Magazine.

Instagram: @emmalea.russo  

Kate Durbin is a Los Angeles-based writer and artist. Her books of poetry include Hoarders (Wave), E! Entertainment, The Ravenous Audience, and the iOs app ABRA, which won the 2017 international Turn On Literature Prize. Durbin was the Arts Queensland Poet-in-Residence in Brisbane, Australia in 2015 and 2020. Her art and writing have been featured in the New York Times, Art in America, Artforum, The Believer, BOMB,, The Atlantic, NPR, and elsewhere. She has shown her artwork nationally and internationally at the PULSE Art Fair in Miami, MOCA Los Angeles, the SPRING/BREAK Art Show in Los Angeles, peer to space in Berlin, and more. 

Instagram: @kate_durbin

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