Jun 25, 2019
This poetry is of the body; of the distances between the self, the other, the world, and how sometimes they fold over and we find there is no distance between them at all. This poetry is a site of struggle. June brings you three marvellous poetry collections all by trans writers. This month's Snapshots are written by Jase Falk.
Gwen Benaway’s third collection of poetry, Holy Wild, is a daring call to preserve tenderness and sacredness amidst ongoing trauma. These are poems of the body — one that refuses to be defined by the desires of often hurtful lovers and, by extension, the colonial institutions they live under. Quill Christie-Peters, whose art appears on the book’s cover, speaks of this in her introduction as “words that weave homeland into body, ancestors into flesh”. Benaway’s poems ache and breathe. They are sensuous, sorrowful, and also sites of struggle as the body opens up, calling to “cross borders, break boundaries inside of me”. This inner breaking reformulates trauma as a space of opening, a space containing the potential for love and healing. In poems like “Dysphoria,” there are heart-aching laments for how trans women are treated as sexual objects and for how difficult it is to foster intimacy in the face of intersecting oppressions: “as if I’m a good girl to take from behind / then throw away”. Yet, there is a refusal to give up on the possibility of love, for oneself and for one’s community. There are no allusions to the pain that goes along with becoming, but moments of deep connection to the self crystallize and jump out of the page: “a girl breaks open in me”. Parallel feelings of heartbreak and healing converge into an urgent call to root the body in place, in community, and in history. There is a dance in these verses as Benaway conceptualizes her body as a site of struggle and sovereignty — a sovereignty she refuses to lose to the desires of men and colonialism.
Disintegrate / Dissociate
Arsenal Pulp Press
Disintegrate / Dissociate is the second in a suite of collections this month which are all written by trans poets. Arielle Twist’s poetics are more sparse than Benaway’s, but take up similar themes of desire, the body, histories of trauma and colonialism, and how these are all intertwined. In poems that, on the surface, could be interpreted as being about the speaker reeling from the loss of a lover, there are depths of loss which go beyond that as the body is knitted into history: “an esophagus where my / mother tongue / was spoken seldomly”. Loss and even death are positioned as spaces of grief, but also as sites of possibility with poems like “In Dying I Become,” where the body is expressed in multitudes through lack: “mourning a body / never whole / never mine”. This relinquishing of self speaks both to the violence enacted against Indigenous trans women, and to how bodies are beholden to the earth, to something bigger than ourselves. Twist’s book is a call to honour identity and to reclaim autonomy, and it recognizes the need for community with human and non-human beings: “these memories feel like they’re pulled / from pasts I absorbed through my leaves”. Like Holy Wild, this collection foregrounds the struggles of relationships and sexuality, with the writer refusing to be made object; Disintegrate / Dissociate is a radical expression of trans embodiment and self-love.
icehouse poetry (Goose Lane Editions)
Although tonally different than the first two collections, Hymnswitch also reckons with themes of intimacy, trauma (in the form of past alcoholism), and becoming. Blythe moves more slowly, circling and creeping towards the “hole at the centre / of our beings.” Divided into two sections that are separated by a page, blank but for a small constellation of asterisks, Hymnswitch ambiguously prods at the impossibility of binaries, suggesting that “fleeting isn’t the opposite / of infinite, but its perfect match.” These poems lilt between connection and disconnection; they move like a graceful falling, often suspended between contradictory emotions — an anticipation of possibility which never comes to full resolution: “to disorganize towards life.” Poems such as “Cage” explore the sensation of “my new body” — the irresolution of trans identity where one arrives at a totally unfamiliar place of embodiment and the journey of self-discovery begins anew. Other poems such as “Sad Desire Ad” speak directly to the reader, exploring similar themes of transcorporeality as in the previous two poetry collections, but in this case the relationship is specifically between the reader and the text rather than the writer and the world. “You are wearing / my skin”, Blythe states, “you are holding this book / or my breath, or the gaze.” In this brief passage, Blythe exposes his readers to the reality of their engagement with reading practices. You, as reader, have been invited into an intimate space, to wear the poet’s skin for a moment, to hold his breath as you read out the lines and are reminded of how you hold “the gaze” which, to me, suggests the inherent power relations between reader and writer. What categorical boxes have we unknowingly placed this text into? What assumptions about trans experience does the reader of this poetry hold and how does that affect their interpretation? The intimacy Blythe creates with Hymnswitch compels readers to address these questions.