So you want to be part of a poetry community; you know poets exist, you’ve even seen them around town, maybe you moved to be near them, and you desperately want to be a part, to be “in”. Or maybe you wanted to be part of a poetry community at one time and now you’re wondering whether this scene doesn’t have it’s limitations for you, for your work, even looking for a way out, pacing the edges, knowing there must be an outside to this circle, because you once were on the outer edge, but now you can’t find your way out of your insider status. Maybe you’re in, or on your way in, and you’re glad. The poets finally recognize you, know your name, ask you what you’re working on or that daunting question, “What are you reading?”, but you haven’t figured out yet how to play the game, how to get the readings, get the chapbooks, get the books. There seems to be a system in place , but it’s not a transparent one. You wonder if you might be cast out if you mentioned the word, “competition”. But no matter your position in regards to the circle (if a circle is really the right metaphor), you’re probably wondering, what can this community do for me, really? Can care extend beyond the publishing of work and invitations to read or perform? If it can or does, is that desirable? Would it be better if poets treated each other more as colleagues or business associates? There seems to be a lot of work these poets do besides the writing and reading of poems. So what? Why? What is this sense of responsibility that seems to hover around the heads and shoulders of poets? Do poets care about me? Do I care about them? Once you have begun to take care of yourself to recognize what self-care means for you, how then might that care extend outwards to others? How far can or does that care extend? What does care look like at a community level? Let’s talk about it.
To help think through with this question, I asked my friend, Poet, Spoken Word Artist, and Teaching Artist, D’dra White
to talk with me about community and how artistic communities care for their members. D’dra and I first met as Teaching Artists, working for a non-profit arts organization in San Francisco called Performing Arts Workshop. A grant from the Department of Education funded us to teach Spoken Word Poetry in middle school language arts classrooms in San Francisco. I had been teaching poetry for a few years but knew hardly anything about Spoken Word and came with all kinds of misconceptions about it as an art form. D’dra had been teaching and performing Spoken Word for many years at and her enthusiasm for her art form and willingness to share her knowledge transformed my understanding of Spoken Word, my teaching and my own writing as a result. Though we rarely attend the same poetry events, know only a few of the same poets, and while our work may look very different on the surface, I consider her a close poetic ally in the fight for writing and writers who exhibit true integrity. I have questions about why our particular continents in Poetry Land overlap so rarely, questions that have to do with how the invocation of aesthetics can often be a cover that Power uses to prop up and justify the values of White Supremacist, Imperialist, Capitalist Patriarchy (as Lynice Pinkard likes to say…more on her later).
Here’s D’dra White & I discussing some of the dynamics functioning in her Spoken Word & Slam scenes:
Lindsey Boldt: There has been a lot of talk about sexual violence within literary scenes lately, with a lot of writers coming forward to tell stories of abuse by members of their own artistic communities, often naming abusers publicly. How have you seen Spoken Word artists address issues of abuse or other forms of oppression either within your own local Spoken Word community or nationally?
D’dra White: There was this closed Facebook group and people were talking about these traumatic experiences that they had with poets, nationally known poets, ranked poets. I’m a survivor of childhood molestation and even with that, my attitude and mentality is a lot different than some. I think statistics say that one in four women will be sexually assaulted. That’s a troubling statistic, but in addition to it being a troubling statistic for women, it’s a troubling statistic for men as well. You know what I mean? And in addition to it being a troubling statistic for men, it’s a very telling statistic. At some point in your life you are going to love a sexual assaulter.
LB: As a woman, you will probably love a person who either assaults you or has assaulted someone else?
DW: Right, because there’s not that much wiggle room, for lack of a better word. So, because of that, I’ve always been mindful about how these conversations start. There was this dude who’s name was mentioned several times on the list and so he had been blacklisted by the poetry scene in New York. New York wasn’t really F-ing with him. He went and started his own team and got his team to Nationals. His team ended up making final stage. I don’t know if they were one of the teams that made it to final stage or were one of the teams that got selected by their peers but in either case, he made it on to final stage and he got booed and hissed at and a whole bunch of other things…and on one hand you’re like, “Yes, don’t stand for it,” but on the other hand he wasn’t on stage by himself.
LB: He was up there with his team.
DW: So, his whole team was booed and hissed and that right there was a huge debate in our community for a while because some people were like, “You knew what you were getting into when you walked on stage with him.”
LB: You’re implicated.
DW: Guilt by association type stuff. Some people even called them “casualties of war” or like, “collateral damage” and one of my poetry friends, was like, “I’m from South Central, I know what collateral damage looks like. That wasn’t collateral damage, that was some bully shit. Like, y’all got issues with him but…and his team had rookies on it. Your first experience and you make final stage and you’re hissed and booed. And then there’s the whole, no one filed official report, so it’s like you’re being “judged by a jury of your peers blah blah blah.” I feel like our community is flawed too, the national one, like we don’t know what we’re doing either in terms of dealing with people. And in terms of self-care. We definitely, as a community, rallied around the women in his situation. Some of the other situations, like within the group (Facebook group) people’s characters were being questioned, people were like, “I know for a fact that you’re this type a person and I don’t really believe you when you say something.” type of thing.
LB: Like putting the victim on trial.
DW: Yeah, victim shaming. Just because you’ve had this experience with him doesn’t mean I’ve had the same experience. People can change or whatever, whatever. It was a women’s group so men were trying to figure out how to see the list and who was on the list and why is this list private and what were the standards for making the list, like, did you have to actually assault somebody or did you make someone feel uncomfortable? Because those are completely, totally different things. Our community tends to take care of its own by adopting a mob mentality, I guess? Mobs have the tendency sometimes to bully, so that’s kind of how that came across, but by the same token on a happier note, there’s a poet in Texas by the name of Giselle Robinson and Giselle Robinson has stage 4 cancer and the hosting committee for the National Poetry Slam was really adamant that she got to come to Nationals, because if doctors are correct, this is supposed to be her last Nationals. Watching people give money and resources to make that happen was cool to be a part of because I was part of the hosting committee.
LB: That was The Nationals in Oakland this summer?
DW: Yeah. And then, for finals there are certain performances that are given, there’s an Underground Indies Finals, a group piece finals, and crowd favorites. So, final stage is the final night of competition and Giselle wasn’t part of anybody’s competition, we just had her there but she was still a crowd favorite so she performed on final stage and the last line of her poem was, “I’ll see you next year.” and we were like, “Yes you will!” Which like, destroyed everyone in the audience. So, being able to take care of our community in that way…
LB: So, the National scene is really tight, it sounds like.
DW: It tries to be.
LB: Right, but there are systems in place that facilitate that, which relates to another question I wanted to ask about how competition creates community, because I think there are some misconceptions or attitudes about what the aspect of competition in Spoken Word does, but I’ve seen it used as a community building tool. Can you say something about that in terms of what you’ve seen in your own community?
DW: A lot of the people on the 2009 San Francisco Slam Team [that D’dra was a part of] jokingly say, “I’m not slammin’ unless I can pick my team.” Which is next to impossible in slam, just the nature of it, so, I think as with anything, there’s beautiful, beautiful aspects of competition, like I met Chas Jackson through competition, and anybody who knows me knows that he’s one of my favorite people and a huge part of my life and we met through competition, you know?
LB: When you compete, you’re meeting all kinds of people.
DW: Yeah and if you open yourself up to it, you can walk away with life-long friends. Even with that, it looks different for different people. I know that if I need Chas, I have Chas, just like Chas knows that if he needs me, he has me. I feel like care in our community can look a lot like cliques, almost, but the positive parts of cliques.
In addition to your team, your region will try to have your back. Chas and I were in Atlanta and we were listening to a poem being done by a North Carolina team that sounded eerily like a group piece by a Bay Area team and Chas was pissed, like, “They stole our poem!” We filmed it and sent it back to California. We had a conversation with the poets from North Carolina about it.
LB: So having people’s backs can look like care, but also confrontation if necessary?
DW: Right. Speaking up on behalf of people who didn’t even know they needed to be spoken up for.
LB: This all sounds very familiar. A lot of the dynamics you’re describing are the same in my scene, but in my scene, the competition isn’t transparent and that’s kind of what I’m interested in. How when competition is presented transparently, you know who’s competing against who. In my scene there’s competition, but you don’t talk about it. It’s not visible. Do you feel like there is visible competition and invisible competition or does that mostly get worked out through slams.
DW: For me, I would say that it mostly gets worked out through the slam, but I know for some people that’s not the case. For some people, slamming is just another platform and an opportunity to share work. For some people, slam is a game, it’s a performance art sport. For some people it is only a competition. So they make decisions based on what would do well in this competition. Because of that, I have friends that laugh and joke, “This is gonna be great, we’re gonna go out there and share work and some people are gonna give us scores, but you know what, it’s cool.” and then I have other friends are like, “I need to get in my zone. I can’t interact with you. It’s 2:12. At 2:13 you become the enemy cuz the show starts at 2:14.” It depends on what type of person you are, as to what it becomes. The fact that you go into slam knowing it’s a competition helps with that, but it’s all competition. Every time you perform it’s a competition. Even on an open mic or for a feature, you’re still competing with whatever else they’re gonna hear that night. Especially if you have merchandise. (laughter). If they’ve got $5 and your book is $5 and their book is $5, somebody’s book isn’t being bought. So, it’s a lot!
LB: Yes! I feel that because I’m always competing for the hearts and minds of my audience!
LB: I want to be the one they think about when they go home.
DW: Right. I need you to want to take me home with you. I need your money. (laughter) I need to be memorable in case you need a poet for something later on.
LB: I think of performers as a community but the audience is definitely part of that community. You’re not just performing for poets. In Spoken Word, it feels like there’s a real effort to include the audience, even in direct ways like having audience members be judges or just the call and response interactive way that shows go. How does the tight knit scene of artists then interact with the larger community?
DW: An audience is important to any show, but with our shows the audience becomes extremely important, not just for judging but in terms of the energy, because performance poetry tends to be high energy and if you’re performing for a library of books it has the potential to take you out of your performance. In terms of slam, shows aren’t one-offs, they’re weekly or bi-weekly or monthly, so it’s important that you honor your audience in the choice that they make to come out to support you because you’re going to need them to do it again really, really soon.
LB: You’re building a following.
DW: Right. So, I know a host who talks to the audience on stage, or makes it a point to thank people for coming or talk to people individually, learn their names. The show that I used to host for our anniversary show, we used to give thank you gifts who went above and beyond. We had 12 shows and they’ve been at 9. We appreciate you, we notice you. Give them a hard time about missing show number 10! We do that. Our audience is like the 6th man in basketball or the 12th man for Seattle, in football. They’re important.
LB: Tell me if I’m off base, but it seems to come out of a long tradition of how you interact with the audience in Spoken Word.
DW: With Slam, it’s a long tradition. Slam was started to involve the audience and I guess that trickles over to Spoken Word that’s not slam, because again, no one wants to perform to blank faces.
LB: I need to make that distinction between Slam and Spoken Word. I keep conflating the two.
I feel like one of the ways that we define communities is through the positive, and what we have in common, but we can also define communities by what we’re not. Do you feel like there are spoken or unspoken rules or things your community will not tolerate? How does what you’re not, define what you are?
DW: Our scene…is made of people who always want to give people the benefit of the doubt. I think we’re empathetic to a fault. Yeah, this person’s been accused that they may not have done so let’s make sure they’ve done it before we pass judgement, which is an extremely wonderful way to live except for the fact that a lot of times in our effort to prove or disprove something we end up hurting the other person that it happened to. In order to prove person A was lying, you have to prove that person B was telling the truth. That has the potential to be a time consuming process in which nothing really gets done and by that I mean that person A and person B are still part of the same community; they’re both included. You don’t want to alienate person B because person A may have hurt them, but you don’t want to alienate person A because person B could have a completely different motive than wanting the truth to be told or could be not telling the truth. So, you’re so inclusive, that there’s no exclusivity like…”Everyone can be a part of it!”
When we were planning NATS, sometimes our chair would just be like, “This is the decision.” Because everyone can make a strong case for why this should be X, Y and Z. While we’re having these conversations and going round and round in circles, nothing is being decided. Our community tends towards a lot of talk, not necessarily a lot of action because you can’t undo the action and sometimes an apology is not enough…It’s too much!
LB: How else have you seen your community care for its members?
DW: As with any community, I think our community cares for people the best way it knows how. Even though it turned into a huge mess, the idea of the list came from a place of caring for people in our community.
I think there was another Giselle who had cancer, who passed away. She used to come to NATS with bunny ears. The next NATS, after she passed away, there were hella people with bunny ears and some people edited photos and put bunny ears on them, so you could change your profile pic to one with bunny ears in solidarity.
LB: My next question was going to be, “How have you seen your community heal itself after a traumatic events like a death or violence or sexual assault or incidents of racism.” That seems like a good example. After the big mess of the list, were there any attempts to try to heal some of that.
DW: There were definitely people who were having conversations and they were open to dialog and they were making it known that they were open to dialog. Trying to use affirmative language and really taking ownership of what they were saying.
LB: That’s the hard thing sometimes. How willing are you to be in dialog with people.
DW: Right, and to commit yourself to having the conversation no matter how ugly it’s going to get. Like, I’m going to tell the truth in love and establish what love looks like in terms of this conversation and what does a resolution look like and really being open to have conversations about doing things. Because there are people who are like, “I’m open to dialog!” and that’s it. Doesn’t mean I want to do shit about it, doesn’t mean I want to hear how we can change things, but we can talk about it.
LB: Is there anything going on in your community that you’re excited about right now or anything that you’re working on?
[D’dra makes an amazing face that I wish I could record — laughter]
LB: What are you working on?
DW: Every time I touch the stage in November it’ll be a new poem. I haven’t decided how many times I’m going to touch the stage in November. (laughter)
LB: Thank you, D’d!
One thing this interview illustrates for me is that in so many ways the edges of my community and D’dra’s community are both there and not there, incredibly porous and hard edged. We’ve been struggling with eerily similar issues regarding sexual assault, and the strategies around confrontation, conflict and dialog in our communities responses to it feel like echoes of one another. We’ve been doing this work alongside each other without knowing it. So, then what does keep us from seeing and recognizing each other? Is there something useful about defining one community as separate from another? How does this benefit us? I wonder if we might use the other to justify our own existence. By calling one community of poets “experimental” what does that say about another?
I’ve been attending a class at The Bay Area Public School called “Training Spiritual Warriros” led by Lynice Pinkard who is a radical Christian pastor, teacher and healer living in Oakland. We’ve been talking about the concept of “deep relationally”, the idea that promoting deep relationships with others is counter-cultural. If we (people who write poems and people who don’t write poems) value our communities, and want to treat them as subversive subcultures where real resistance to the dominant culture can happen, we need to start talking to each other about our own complicity in structures of Capitalism, White Supremacy, Imperialism and Patriarchy (more than we’re already doing). The edge of our ring around the rosy circle of protection does not in fact shelter us from responsibility. Being a poet does not excuse us from complicity with police brutality or bombings in Gaza. That is some of the responsibility you might see poets and people in activist scenes that inter-penetrate the poetic community attempting to shoulder.
Now that I have found a bit more of my own equilibrium, having stepped away a while to care for my own dear container, I want to know how I can come back to my community and to carry what integrity and authenticity I have found for myself into the work I do with others. to do what D’dra describes as , “Telling the truth in love.” and finding ways to support others to do the same.
Lindsey Boldt is a poet, performer, editor and educator living in Oakland. She is the author of the full-length book, “Overboard”, and the chapbooks, “Oh My, Hell Yes” and “Titties for Lindsey”. With her partner Steve Orth, she co-edits Summer BF Press and writes, directs and performs plays in the style of “Oakland Poetic Realism”. Recent productions include “Dating by Consensus” and “The Reading”. She is also an editor with The Post-Apollo Press.
Hey DB Readers,
We’re helping to spread the word for the folks over at anOther orifice. If it’s a good fit for you, please submit to help support this worthy journal.
Here’s their statement:
“there is copious work in photography, video, painting, performance, and on stage that queers the avant garde. and there have been many great authors whose work queers the hell out even the expectations of experimentalism — whether they (the authors) are “heterosexual” not really being the issue — Pound as much as Burroughs, Duchamp as much as Genet, Andrews as much as Acker, as much as Stein, as much as Cage, as much as Cahun, as much as Spicer, as much as Artaud…
but most often when a poet is marked as not straight, as not cis, as non-normative in whatever way… the work strikes an altogether normative pose. what’s that about? where is the truly queer writing and not just the 1st person predictable with low cal low carb “deviant” content?
an0ther orifice is for that shit, the unpalatable avant garde, for negativity and nihilism, for what gets you off and turns you on. poetry which queers the “form” as much as the “content” (these terms are expired).
avant garde… the words are dead — long live the words!”
With the recent arrival of our new issue, it’s time to make way for the entrance of DB 18 into the vintage lineup. And what a grand entrance it is with Ralph Kistler’s “Social Netwalks” serving as DB 18’s first throwback contribution.
“The video takes up the practice of data-gathering in a purely aesthetic context by filming a city square with a bird´s eye view where a wide number of different people stroll into town. The footage was analyzed and edited in order to organize the captured people in defined groups under specific characteristics.”
Ralph Kistler is a Munich-born freelance artist and temporary lecturer at the University of La Laguna, Spain. Though his main medium is video, his artworks often combine sculpture, video, electronics, interactivity and kinetic objects. He has been selected as an Artist in Residence at Seoul Art Space_Geumcheon in South Korea. this upcoming year. Check out Kistler’s other projects at subtours.com.
Joanna Ruocco, Dan. (Dorothy, a publishing Project. 2014) This is a book that I am reading aloud in my household.
Something is rotten in Dan, population unknowable, topography shifting, even the bakery where heroine Melba Zuzzo is employed is selling cheese Danishes with no recognizable trace of Denmark. Recognizable traits of any kind are suspect in Dan, where identity seems largely debatable, and grantable only thru a consensus of gentlemen. Men get the say in Dan, these men of authority—policemen, landlords, doctors, high school principals, husbands, fathers, these members of a secret men’s club—and they are constantly charging Melba with nonexistence, or demanding that she provide proof of her own being. In Dan, a job is grounds for existence: bakery worker. But even this requires corroboration from multiple witnesses, even while Melba is standing in the bakery, in an apron, taking hot pretzels out of an oven. A place in a family is grounds for existence: sister or mother, though daughter seems to carry the least evidentiary support, and even Melba’s mother seems doubtful of Melba’s true commitment to being. Why does everyone want Melba to believe she is not? Melba has a true and open spirit, and she approaches the world with a trust that there are things worth considering beyond Dan. Things like islands. She is sure they exist. And she tries to see everyone’s point of view about Dan in a spirit of human empathy and camaraderie. She is very good at seeing all the points of view of Dan. But even this is a threat to Dan. This outrageously hilarious book is also a warning against how others will happily use our hope, our empathy, and our imaginations against us, in the service of annihilation of any selves outside their selves, even while they are eating our hot pretzels.
Sylvia Townsend Warner, Lolly Willowes or The Loving Huntsman, 1926. Available to us now, from NYRB. This is a book that I return to, and which I am using to write something for myself.
A perfect companion to Ruocco’s Dan, Lolly Willowes is a similar excoriation of the ways in which female identity falls victim to its own familial categories: wife, mother, sister, auntie. Lolly finds that even at a ripe age, her role as maiden Aunt Lolly is the only thing that defines her. But that is not entirely true, since she has a rich inner life, and since she is good at research, so she knows that Maiden Aunt isn’t really the only thing that defines her, but that it is the thing that confines her. As long as she can slip outside the family, a staggering notion, she might be able to simply exist in her own quiet way. So she flees to the village of Great Mop, in a beech forest, where it is possible to walk endlessly and freely, not as anyone’s aunt. But her family seeks her out, and her nephew relocates to Great Mop, and so there is nothing to be done but to summon the devil. The belief that there is something universal in Lolly’s thinking—that sometimes there is nothing to be done, or that the idea of gaining a bit of autonomy is so impossible, that one’s only option is to summon evil incarnate—this is endlessly soothing to me, no matter how many times I read this book.
More soothing, however, is the devil himself, who having lived eternally, has no real interest in life or death or souls per se, nothing against god, is an easy going master with no favorites among his servants, a man who speaks demurely, and who has the romantic perspective of knowing that even in the midst of development and advancement everything, eventually ends in a ruin. Such incredible succor! It is a book that must be frequently recited aloud as if an incantation.
Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time: Vol. 4, Sodom and Gomorrah, 1913. This is a book I have been reading with a reading group for three years. We will complete the saga sometime in 2015.
This is the volume in which Proust begins to think about homosexuality in terms of biological metaphor. It is also the volume in which the narrator returns to the seaside grand hotel at Balbec. And it is the volume in which the narrator goes to a dinner party in which the etymology of French words, and French place names particularly, is discussed for about 150 pages.
In college, I read two volumes of Remembrance of Things Past, the Moncrieff translation. When I began Proust Group, I reread the first volume, Swan’s Way, from the Lydia Davis’ translation while working painful through the text in French. Now I am reading the D.J. Enright revised translation of Kilmartin’s revision of Moncrieff’s translation, in which the title shifts to In Search of Lost Time. Volume 4 of this novel formerly, in the Moncrieff, was called Cities of the Plains, but it shifts to Sodom and Gomorrah in the edition I am reading. I am listening to a recording of the Kilmartin translation, in which the title is still Remembrance of Things Past, but in which Volume 4 is already Sodom and Gomorrah. I often am listening to the Kilmartin, while following along in the Enright, or I am reading the Kilmartin “in the body” quietly at home, and will have reached one page in the body, but then will be in another place in the recording. Then I am listening to sections over and over again while on a treadmill, because, in a separate experiment, I am trying to figure out things about how much I actually am ‘reading’ when I am ‘listening’ but also, I am curious about how much I am able to read-through-listening while also running. In my household, I also read aloud, along with my partner, who is also in the Proust Group. We are not competitive about our reading: we wish to read together! But there are not enough hours in a week or month to complete our Proust Group assignments aloud, even though my partner reads beautiful and fluidly at a quicker pace, and with his slight British accent, but as it turns out I don’t hear beautifully and fluidly at a quicker pace, or I hear, but I do not read-through-listening.
The fact that this text can endure this amount of manipulation: amazing. But we knew that.
Lucy Corin, One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses, McSweeney’s, 2013. This is a book that I am teaching.
Apocalypses small and large. In small and large fonts. In forms which are both realist and absurdist. Situations in which horror and humor are inseparable. In the fable “Eyes of a Dog” money is a tinderbox. A purse is a body part. A mother is a witch. We can easily see quick reductive symbolic relationships, but Corin lets the fables snowball (fables and fairy tales are after all plot generating machines, everything is cause and effect) and then she lets their structures and forms rupture and hemorrhage, so that all the possibilities of a fairy tale run in one side column on the page while the body of the text deals with all the intangible non-plot generating things like emotion, confusion, and ambiguity. These exchanges cancel each other out, and there are no discrete symbolic transactions. By blurring and juxtaposing narratives (in small and large font, visually formally displaced on the page) she explodes the forms. Mouths and purses are all that mouths and purses can be, so by the end a story the horror of a mouth on another mouth is operating on so many levels, cultural-political critique of gender, of capital, of family values), light sexual innuendo is present, but so is bodily trauma—so that just the statement “mouth to its mouth”, a phrase that normally we association with resuscitation now through its reiteration is an apocalypse. If all these stories are apocalypses, the apocalyptic comes in part from this disruption of the symbolic. All forms, any form in Corin’s hands, is an apocalypse.
Paul Verhaeghe, What About Me? The Struggle for Identity in a Market-Based Society. 2014, Scribe. This is a book that was recommended by a leftist editorial in The Guardian Weekly.
I am not far enough along in this book to say anything genuinely coherent about it because when I read a few pages I instantly go into a panic. The book itself, however, is not meant to be panic-inducing, but is meant to be a kind of intellectual self-help book for those of us who are feeling annihilated by marketing and consumer practice. The Guardian article promised the book would debunk the myth of meritocracy while also linking the performance anxieties caused by our belief in meritocracy to neoliberal policies. So far, it has mostly been pointing out the various kinds of identity annihilation while also reporting political and cultural atrocities that have taken place in The Netherlands, which are frankly shocking. Typically, I am distrustful of books that point out our anxieties, anxieties that I am certainly experiencing, and then point out some additional anxieties that I hadn’t yet considered.
I’m still pretending. When I was in second and third grade I had a crush on Elaine and Evan. Elaine didn’t like me. A popular kid with curled puffy hair. Our school’s adults separated the boys from the girls, keeping us socializing outside of one another. Heteronormative watchtowers. Evan, however, was available to me.
My parents would arrange play dates where we’d disappear upstairs to his bedroom and pretend we were a married couple. I’d put pairs of socks where my breasts would be and we’d remove our clothes in a kind of striptease. We’d kiss in a kind of cartoonish peck on the lips sort of way. Evan had bunk beds, but I can’t recall if he had a younger or older sibling. We would always sit on the top bunk, pretending we were space explorers, the last of our planet. One afternoon while we were playing around, I fell out of the bed, getting stuck between the wall and the mattress, my little arms holding me up.
I’m not sure why we didn’t lock the door. Maybe, we just didn’t know any better. I never got aroused, I don’t think Evan did either. Our bodies just weren’t made for that yet. We were too dumb for real fondling. I started to squirm and freak out. Evan quickly got down and tried to lift me up, then failing to pull me down. When Evan’s parents popped in, I didn’t have any pants on. I can’t recall getting yelled at, maybe I blocked it out. We never hung out again. I do remember my mother sitting in the kitchen on the long cord of a yellow rotary phone. I was never punished, it was never talked about.
I didn’t kiss another person until I was 18 years old, near the tail end of high school. Over the years, I’ve had a difficult relationship to love. I assume that most of us have. I can’t really recall what I thought it was as a kid. It seemed important; it was said all the time. I’d say it to my parents and my grandparents and my brother, but I didn’t know what it meant to say it to someone else. I wanted to though, and I remember asking my parents to pretend that Elaine was coming over on Friday nights. We would cuddle on the couch, watching old Saturday Night Live 70s reruns. There is this closeness I wanted but what it was I didn’t know. There must have been some understanding that my heartbeat wasn’t supposed to be lonely. I just wanted to sync up with people, to hold on.
And this, this has never gone away, always in my system. I’ve put a lot on the line for lovers, for something that wouldn’t just hold over as an abstraction. In some ways, love has represented a similar space to that of God for me while I was younger. A practical holdover from my Roman Catholic roots, this belief in ‘love forever after’, a Beatles track on repeat. I have waited an absurd amount of time trying to wish someone to come to me, to come back to me. I couldn’t work as a person. My desire was for something that couldn’t reasonably exist. As it grew, my paranoia would increase, that I would lose the person in question, that I would not be able to hold together the cool human I was attempting to be.
I’m just made of extremes. I go one way, pivot and go the other. Traditional monogamous love has never been a source of stability for me. I fall head over heels and then I eat at myself trying to hold on. I didn’t love or trust myself. I was never a true believer. The hand I dealt was always just a night here or there. A couple months here or there. I loved the drama for a long time. Center of attention, always playing the game. Just couldn’t get enough. In the last couple years I don’t think I’ve gone more than a few weeks without being in a new bed. Even though, I was an ardent atheist for many years and now a chaos magick practitioner, the religious blowback of my action still sat with me.
It’s not sex addiction, it’s compulsion. What I thought was an error has turned out to be just a path. I’m not a monogamous person. All those years, hating the shit out myself, being inundated by the Spectacle, and bathing in darkness didn’t turn me into a very self-loving kind of person. In some ways, I think it was the danger of the heart. Once I gave up on trying to find this all-encompassing thing, my feelings freed up. It was a very reincarnate feeling.
I love that sense of being filled up with positive emotion, filling up others, taking a small part in the way someone’s eyes catch mine, the pushing back and forth of one another in conversation, that little distance we all achieve out of a sense of disunity, of unity. Stay here, stay there, keep going, run, slow down.
In the encounter, I marvel that I have found someone who, by successive touches, each one successful, unfailing, completes the painting of my hallucination; I am like a gambler whose luck cannot fail, so that his hand unfailingly lands on the little piece which immediately completes the puzzle of his desire. This is gradual discovery (and a kind of verification) of affinities, complicities, and intimacies which I shall (I imagine) eternally sustain with the other, who is thereby becoming ‘my other': I am totally given over to this discovery (I tremble within it), to the point where any intense curiosity for someone encountered is more or less equivalent to love. -Roland Barthes from “A Lover’s Discourse”
I’m seeing different people in the eyes of my lovers. It’s either the sheer number, or as I keep thinking, something else, a touch of the beyond, where I can visit the past lives, the past energies and desires that seem to be impacted there. The eyes are so dense with the pressure of ghosts. As I drift into this intimate gesture, the distance fades outside of me. I wash away your knowledge of self and it washes me. I’ve left little pieces of myself with each stranger.
Being non-monogamous now, I don’t have to lie. I don’t have to be careful on how I talk about my availability. In monogamy, I was never much of a cheat, because I was so afraid to be alone, to have love vanish. And now, outside of that, being honest, showcasing who I am and what I want out of this world, it’s easier. My heart doesn’t hurt as much. It still yearns for something, some curious human that might just be down to fight in the trenches of the future.
There are trenches where I dream of us Earthlings putting our energy into caring for each other, feeding, clothing, creating a positive sexuality where there is no repercussive diseases, where we do get off the planet and explore the Universe. A space where we are not so afraid of expressing our bodies with one another. I’m not talking about some kind of crazy utopia, just a safe arena where it’s okay for us to be sexual.
It’s a hard space to imagine, being that we have so many terrible fuckers out there. In a lot ways, I think what I’m calling for is a new minority: less shitty white dudes. I am a white dude, but when it comes to the identification rounds, I don’t think of myself as straight or gay or bi or any such thing. I like the mystery of whomever is right in front of me. I don’t like being anything I am really. It’s just capital, the way the Spectacle careened in and bought us all out for another generation, like the one before. It’s just a fucking mess, where I wish I didn’t have a face, where my face is wrought with misunderstanding.
I just want to sleep with everyone. Being open to all the pleasures of the body frees up a terabyte of storage space and functional control. Once I knock back the biological subroutines I realize how badly I just want to join up the intimacy of everyone. Every person that I see I imagine hearing them release in my ear, in my mouth, on my face. I think of that glistening bit of emotion when the strings snap off. As a kid I would imagine millions of hands sliding delicately across my body, rough hands, cold, hot, wet, along that thin layer of skin. I would imagine cuddling with all of my classmates. I still want it all, this strange intersecting of the two. I want to be so close with everyone, to hold their hands when the days are good or when the bottom drops out. I think often of the heat that travels hot down my throat when you cum. I look at your shoulder blades and all the work they do holding you up when your elbows are pressed into the bed. I worry that I’m not present because of all these ideas running through me, this orgasm, this love, this trick of the Earth.
We have these little buttons that do any/everything. If I want everyone shouldn’t you too? Shouldn’t everyone experience all of us? I want names and tics.What have you found on your sexual journey? What circumstances transfered into your grace? Is this impossible? Has the spectacle broken our autonomy to a point where we can’t fuck anymore? And then I think of death in relation to this, and how this real intimate moment keeps me alive. It allows me to be beyond living, it’s the breakneck of an afterlife. Intimacy is the key to revolutionary action. Once we conquer the Spectacle, once we free ourselves to some kind of spiritual autonomy, some kind of new consciousness, it’ll be our intimacy that gives us the path.
I look at the sigil and how it fights to break our subconscious biology. The beauty of it, the way it snaps along the mind in that moment of death, extinction, an orgasm, pulling down the centuries of the body along the curve of the spine. Deep behind that tissue there is a long line of sight that spools itself. The sharp knife along the hairs of your arms. I’m so slow that when I think of the pressure in my gut, the rise of air in my lungs and my heart burning until it exits my throat in speech of flame.
I’m 32. I’ve got maybe 30 years left, if, of course, we all don’t fucking drown here in New York City. So, what do you do? I dream of a better place, a better situation for my friends. I dream of a world where we can be anything we want. I dream of that in between space of gender, where I’m not a man or a woman or anything. I’m not trans. I don’t want to speak for people for whom I’m only an ally, but I often think of how refreshing our lives could be if we weren’t so stuck with our default gender.
What if we could wake up as something else? I’m thinking of being able to modify your sex, giving yourself more organs, a person without gender, with a combination of male and female physiology to the point that those terms could be retired. What if we could be something that was completely different? We could design a body with different types of orgasmic features, a series of clitoris’ with a pattern of penises that run through a series of nerve endings? We could create a level and layer of gnosis that would blow the world apart, right?
When you consider transexuality, cross-dressing, cosmetic surgery, piercing and tattooing, they are all calculated impulses – a symptomatic groping towards a next phase. One of the great things about human beings is that they impulsively and intuitively express what is inevitably next in the evolution of culture and our species. It is the Other that we are destined to become. Pandrogeny is not about defining differences but about creating similarities. Not about separation but about unification and resolution. – Genesis Breyer P-Orridge
In some ways, I’m really fucking angry. All these conservative sexualities you run into. Whether it’s the friend groups that gossip, whether it’s the intensity that someone wants from you or just how hard it is to make an evening not carry repercussions. Why can’t we go home with someone and really enjoy ourselves without feeling like shit. This ‘walk of shame’, or this ‘slut’ or any of this language. I mean, it’s not like it hasn’t been said before, but I guess when I say it sounds like I’ve wanted to say it for a long time. I guess that’s what anger is, finally allowing yourself to feel a touch of that rage that says, ‘No, you can’t do this anymore.’ This fucking goddamn rape culture. Why are we so full of Neanderthals? All these years growing up with people who have had so much shit thrown at them. I can’t take a shower in the boys locker room, cause they point at my penis and throw shit at me and call me ‘faggot’. Most of them just wanted to fuck me. Growing up and being so afraid to speak.
I remember being terrified as my friend Joey pulled down his 3 year old sister’s undergarments to reveal that she did not have a penis. We were all of 7 years old. Joey laughed and laughed until his mother came in and scolded him. The sister, Samantha, cried, confused, too young to know what’s going on, but old enough to know that this was bad. I never got yelled at for that. I was scared, this terrible thing happening in front of me that didn’t totally register. It wasn’t too much earlier that my father had told me that if anyone touched me and I felt uncomfortable to tell him. I knew that’s what was happening. I started to cry and felt sick to my stomach. I don’t remember seeing him much after that. I don’t know what happened to them. Joey and Samantha. You have to start to wonder how screwed up you’ve been over all these years. Whether it’s the awful transgressions of dumb people or the ongoing church rhetoric, or capital’s heavy fucking hammer, I can’t figure out what I’d want to be.
It’s raining outside again. I live on a pretty busy street and the semis go down along the veins of the city all night long. Little blood cells pushing along the road. I dream now of going out and meeting someone on the street. Letting them take me away from this place for a few hours, somewhere they want to devour me. I want someone to give me their best dress and their best make-up and court me on Madison Avenue. I want to blow the cute homeless guy at the end of the block playing guitar at the gas station. When I get on the bus, I look at the bus driver and I wonder how long it’s been since he did anything with anyone. I look at the older people sitting with their canes and shopping bags on the train and want to kiss them and dip my head into their shoulder.
I’m always morphing into someone else. I’m haunted by people and all their touch, the super pleasure and complicated intense beams of confrontation. It’s hard to confront each other, but I want that, I want real people. I’ve slept with hundreds of real people with lives and mothers and fathers and death and sickness and heartache. I’ve slept with the most beautiful and wondrous failures and all of this like mannequin parts, switching them out. You take this an add this, remove this, rearrange this. Sometimes I delete my lovers phone numbers. This way when they contact me, I can just show up to whatever situation is there. Whoever it is, all my heart on the line again for one final push.
This is my out. I’m fucking done with your arch conservative spectacular bullshit. No longer will I love with the chains of history. I will love each person I choose as they will love me. The most abstract love I’ve ever had was with an online chat partner. We met on AIM in 1999, when you could join small chat groups via the University Network. We ended up talking on and off for the next 8 years. We never met, we never saw a picture of one another. It was just our voices, having phone sex for hours into the early morning hours. Voices that seemed in-between a self. I could never tell what they were. Sometimes they would have a cock and fuck me, sometimes a pussy, sometimes a combination of both. We’d talk about the wish for different ways to explore our intimacy. I remember imagining my body splitting into multiple segments, long stringy nerves, electricity pulsing into the ground. We’d pretend that we were slowly spilling into one another when we came, like our orgasm would cover our whole bodies.
We would pretend that we were having sex as a cloud evaporated into the sun.
– NICHOLAS DEBOER
Nicholas DeBoer is a poet, collagist, activist, and chaos magician living in NYC. He is the author of many chapbooks and broadsides, as well as a co-editor for Elderly with Jamie Townsend and Cheer + Hope Press with Geoffrey Olsen. He also is a member of the Potlatch Discordian Network, a magickal organization operating out of Ridgely, MD. Currently he is prepping “The Singes”, the first in his epic arc “The Slip”, for publication. He is also also most certainly alive.