Wednesday, February 27, 2013

C-Word and Fugue in the Key of Machine

I have a new chapbook coming out, Fugue in the Key of Machine. The chapbook collects the poems I wrote during and immediately after my husband's deployment to Afghanistan, while I was pregnant with our second son. The poems in it are some of the most tense, direct, and angry poems I've ever written. I read poems from the collection for the first time at The Louisville Conference last weekend, and as I was preparing for the reading I was almost overcome by nerves. This chapbook is the dumpsite of the most traumatic things that have ever happened in my life--my anxiety about my husband and my fetus' safety, my deepening estrangement with my father, and the anger I had about the unfortunate detour that my delivery of my son took when I delivered after picking my husband up from the airport in a town hundreds of miles from my supportive Ob/Gyn. I wasn't uncomfortable reading about my anxiety or trauma, as some of the best contemporary poetry is haunted with both. But I was really nervous about talking about my negative experiences as a laboring woman. This is not something anyone wants to hear about, I thought, and as coded and veiled as the poems were in order to allow me to write them (most of the poems in the chapbook are ekphrasic responses to abstract expressionist paintings) the thing that worried me the most was reading the poem where I use the words vagina, labia, and cunt.

I prefaced the reading by saying I was nervous to read these poems that used this language I hadn't entirely given myself permission to use, especially the c-word, which has a complicated feminist history.

Well, I read the most challenging poem "Improvisation 27: Garden of Love II (1912), Vassily Kandinsky"--but my willingness to talk about, and read in public, about the physical fact of my second delivery is something I still have to work through. Is unsentimental, gory labor taboo? When my college professor/poet Paul Allen published a chapbook His Longing (The Small Penis Oratorio), I happily helped proof the gallies. It didn't offend me and I wasn't particularly afraid for Paul that it would draw too much criticism. But I constantly worry that vagina, labia, and cunt when desexualized by violence, even mutilation--are too much for the audience. I feel a lot of threat in the poem, and I wonder if the tearing vagina is too grotesque, political, and confrontational to gain the acceptance that the small penis (comical, self-depreciating, unthreatening) does.

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