It makes sense to begin on the ceiling. To begin pressed against the limits of the room, whether in solitude, asylum, or restraint, beyond which spread the injunctions of the world. I envision a body shot up to the ceiling suddenly imbued with a split perspective: that of the body on the ceiling and that of the body on the ground. Isn’t there always one left? The perspective of mutual confrontation, each body bound to the tension between, the distance, a cube, like a fractured embrace — though maybe the room itself is an invention, walls crumbled, out of bounds. That is where Yanara Friedland begins. She walked, for example — among other borders, traces and ruins, natural and artificially enforced — the former East-West division through Germany. It was summer. The exigencies of life, of survival, and the forces that hang them in the shadows of violence, have inflected the gravity of so many bodies that maybe gravity has reversed, and that people who have been pushed beyond their extent, are the ennoblements of the living, looking back. To look (back) at one’s body from a limit, a place of exile; to attempt to re-member oneself with an imagination forged, by necessity, out of that distance; to look at one’s bodies, held in a fractured embrace, despite, or because of, the collapse of the world. The space between may be the price of existence.

Brandon Shimoda

When you think of a woman consumed by fury, what do you think of? Is it the classical Greco-Roman representation of a woman scorned: Medea, Electra, and Medusa – tales of anger and revenge; or is it the modern-day stories of hard-bodied feminism and black widows – North Country (2005), If These Walls Could Talk (1996), Gone Girl (2014), or A Woman Scorned (2000)? It seems, historically, that if a man is furious, it is righteous fury, or biblical fury. Its violence is synonymous with justice and honesty, and if not at all times justifiable, it is always forgivable. The story of the angry man is not one of destruction, but one of rebirth. Women’s anger bears an entirely different image: the picture of the screaming woman, her anger neither acceptable nor forgivable. It is not a story of redemption, but a story of self-destruction; a story of women who choose a darker path, and never recover themselves. They, in a way, become less stories about angry women than they do about women stricken by madness – so unspeakable to society was the idea that women could be angry that they found it more acceptable that women simply sink into depression or insanity, such as the stories of Calypso and Ophelia. Today, society’s acceptance of women’s anger is slowly growing, but it is an agonizingly slow process. The image of the Victorian woman is a hard one to break free of, it seems – the soft woman sitting at home, accepting of what is given to her and taken from her, pliable and subservient. This is not a question of individual choice, but of social freedom. Even when accepted by popular society, it is an even smaller margin that accepts ugly female anger – the kind that cannot be fixed by a gentle word, or a man’s touch, the kind of emotion that almost transcends anger and moves to rage, a scream that refuses to be quieted. When we read of anger like this, we find it ugly and unpalatable – which bears the question: why do we accept it out of men, and not out of women? A passage by Ana Božičević, from her poem “Casual Elegy for Luka Skračić,” puts this in clearer words than I ever could with only two lines:

“I want to be the kind of monster you
don’t want to fuck — ”

Isaak Frank
Anger in Female Literature

Horror writers just write about what they’re afraid of! I have a moderately debilitating chronic illness and a long standing, deeply ingrained fear of diseases like cancer and the such inborn from the usual childhood experiences with relatives who die quickly and traumatically from things usually portrayed in the media as slow moving. It’s difficult for me to conceive of any story concept without a healthy dollop of body horror and this particular flavour of powerlessness creeps into most of my writing. I also — as someone who studied modern war history in their academic life — have put a lot of thought into the issue of hierarchical violence. I’m not interested in revenge fantasies, but I am just as interested in the psychological effect of committing violence as I am in how it feels to experience it. Because, you know, I am a very small woman and I am sometimes terrified of violence and inhabiting its skin makes for powerful, honest writing I’ve found.

I’m interested in the stories of “powers” as a burden, or something monstrous, absent of all the asinine (and often belittling to real life marginalized groups) trappings of “people with powers as an oppressed minority”, and I’m interested in how transformation and transgression affect people who are more like me. In other words, every tortured white male anti-hero would be much better as someone who actually experience systemic oppression and violence. Privileged versions of these narratives tend to focus on re-affirming lofty virtues, social structure and responsibility and there are very good versions of that narrative, but I’m more interested in what these stories look like from the bottom, and what they do to characters on an intimate, psychological and philosophical level. No moralizing: just fragile, messy human emotions.

Jennifer Giesbrecht
Interviewed by Andrea Johnson
Apex Magazine 6tth July 2016

not the salvation

April 2, 2019

The orgasm focuses. I lust to write. The coming of the orgasm is not the salvation but, more, the birth of my ego. I cannot write until I find my ego. The only kind of writer I could be is the kind who exposes himself.. . .To write is to spend oneself, to gamble oneself. But up to now I have not even liked the sound of my own name. To write, I must love my name. The writer is in love with himself. . .and makes his books out of that meeting and that violence.

Susan Sontag
Journal entry 19th November 1959

the task of poetry

January 22, 2019

The poem is an invention that exists in spite of history…In a time of violence, the task of poetry is in some way to reconcile us to our world and to allow us a measure of tenderness and grace with which to exist…Poetry’s task is to reconcile us to the world — not to accept it at face value or to assent to things that are wrong, but to reconcile one in a larger sense, to return us in love, the province of the imagination, to the scope of our mortal lives.

Meena Alexander
What use is poetry
Address to the Yale Political Union April 23, 2013

Except this time, it is not about forgiveness.
This time, it is about how the worst part
of me fantasizes about actually physically
hurting you. I have imagined awarding you
with the prestigious title of First Person
I Have Ever Punched In The Face. I have
dreamt of kicking you, pulling out fistfuls
of your hair, as if violence is the patron saint
of healing — cause damage to heal damage.
The dirtiest of my heart enjoys picturing you
alone. Wilted. Soaking in a bathtub of nails.
Swallowing one for each grievance against me.
I wonder when I will stop writing about you.
Perhaps, when I finally accept the truth —
that you are just as powerless as I am.
You cannot undevelop the photograph.
You cannot untangle the knots.

Sierra DeMulder

Sarah Bernhardt in pensive mood

I exist here in the wrong time and place. This is more than a feeling with me: it is an absolute certainty, I belong elsewhere – “fin de siècle”  Paris, for example!

Yes, a time of ‘semiotic arousal’, and in a place considered the heart of civilisation.

Why not?

The year 1900. The newly gilded Eiffel Tower thrusting into the soft grey underbelly of the evening sky. Lights glowing along the Boulevard de Strasbourg, circles of yellow eating into the gloom. The Théâtre-Français is my destination. Here, the long-awaited premiere of Edmond Rostand’s play L’ Aiglon, staring that most popular of actresses, Sarah Bernhardt, is about to take place.

Ah, Bernhardt, her ripe fifty-five-year-old figure laced into a black satin corset before dressing in the tight uniform of the Duc de Reichstadt. How I would love to charm and seduce her. Together we could sip the best champagne from frosted crystal flutes following her stunning performance. I could unlace that confining corset, and free tiny pale breasts.

During rehearsals of the play, dear Sarah insisted in one scene on having a horse on stage. What Sarah wanted, Sarah got. A horse was duly sent for – but proved too ‘frisky’ for the great actress. A second horse was supplied, but this one, unfortunately, suffered from terrible flatulence, and the many farts erupting from its rear-end were unacceptable to all. A third horse was to be summoned, but Bernhardt had changed her mind. There would be no horse in the scene.

Where was I? Oh, yes, fondling those small but beautiful breasts, lightly kissing the rosette nipples.

Sarah was born Henriette Rosine Bernard and her legendary affairs were the talk of the town. Napoleon III and Edward, Prince of Wales had both taken their delight in Sarah’s naked flesh (not, of course, at the same time!); they were just two of a coterie of lovers attracted to the bright flame that was Sarah Bernhardt. Her body was pale and skinny like a boy’s – which may be why she played so many male parts on stage?

“It’s not that I prefer male roles, it’s that I prefer male minds,” she once commented.

Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900

The Great Exposition Universelle – Paris 1900

Leaving Sarah semi-naked in her dressing room, I exit the theatre and make my way to the Place de la Concord – here I find the brilliantly lighted, multicoloured dome that houses fifty-six ticket offices for the exposition universelle: this is the entrance, Porte Binet, to the exhibition site.

There is, on my righthand, a fifteen foot high plaster statue symbolizing Paris, with great tits and flowing robes designed by Paquin. La Parisienne, sculpted by Paul Moreau–Vauthier, modeled on non-other than Sarah Bernhardt and described by many as ‘The triumph of Prostitution’; it is typical of the use of sculpted allegory throughout the exhibition grounds. No matter where you turn, you are confronted by plump plaster breasts, curvaceous bellies or muscular male athletes, semi-nude, with huge rippling biceps.

Dear Sarah, walking here amongst all this exposed allegorical flesh, would undoubtedly feel a certain dampness in her baggy silken drawers – as, in all probability, do many visiting females. Speaking for the male of the species, I find Loie Fuller’s spectacular dancing in her own art nouveau theater, quite arousing: those whiplash curves match the flowing movements of her body and flying, illuminated veils. It all leads one, inevitably, to remain in the perpendicular throughout her performance.

The most obviously picturesque sections of the exhibition lay along the banks of the Seine. Old Paris on the Right Bank with its gables and spires and its costumed actors; on the Left Bank, overshadowing it, rests the Rue des Nations – great pavilions erected by the many foreign powers (but not the US whose modest building is wedged between Australia and Turkey, elsewhere). Richness metamorphosed into vulgarity. The plaster picturesqueness of the colonial section below the Trocadero, where Javanese nymphets vie with devil dancers from Ceylon, Chinese violins, Spanish castanets, African drums and high pitched wails of Algerian singers, mingle –

And the pretty Moroccan boys with their dark, restless eyes who offer to take your penis in their mouth for a couple of francs. Buggery is slightly more expensive, of course.

Paris moving pavements designed for the Exposition

Moving Pavements designed for the Exposition

Art and sex go hand-in-hand. For the gentleman impossibly aroused by the sights and sounds of the exposition universelle and with no desire for young boys, then beyond the exhibition grounds are the maisons closes, or “shuttered houses”; for example number 12, rue Chabanais, a prestigious bordello where you can bathe with prostitutes in a huge copper bathtub of champagne – for a price! There are other brothels offering more specialised services: dominatrix role play, for example. You can be birched by the dominatrix for five francs a stroke, ‘manual relief’ may be offered afterwards for a further five francs.

Typical Parisian brothel on a quiet day

Paris 1900 is an island of fantasy and pleasure. It is a time of sadomasochistic impulses, Oedipal desires, homosexuality, incest, violence and the irrationality that hides beneath the fragile veneer of civilisation.

Ah, but I cannot remain in this wonderful Paris – I must return to my damp, cold moor at the edge of the world; to this place, home, and my reckless liaisons. To this world where one powerful, egotistical child informs another powerful, egotistical child: ‘My button is bigger than your button!’

Who says satire is dead?

Depressing démarche!

9th August

I keep a diary: a day-to-day record of my thoughts, activities, and impressions, handwritten in my spidery script that no one can read. I’ve done so most of my life. Here my most sordid secrets are laid bare. The Sapphic loves of my partners, the intense physical and emotional relationships I have experienced over time, and even the tempestuous passion I felt for Claire P all those years ago. All this and more is recorded in a series of black, hardcovered notebooks.

My secret life. Erotic, nebulous in parts, full of clichés with great lapses into flamboyancy and ecstasies transcended. Here is recorded my first lovemaking with SAM:

12th March

“Skin honey and scarlet, blouse the colour of pale wine. She wore a front fastening brassiere and her fine, pale breasts tumbled easily free – only to be trapped by my waiting palms.

“Fire & ecstasy.

“I turned a corner in space as we sought each other’s hidden soul. She came so very quickly, unexpectedly. Later she came again when I went down on her, licking her wet, puckered sex.

“Afterwards, I escorted her home. High, full moon and wind and light rain. Waited an eternity for a 138 Northwood bus at the stop beside the photographer’s studio.

Then, returning to my tatty flat, experienced intense loneliness and a sense of terrible loss. Masturbated aggressively in bed, the scent of her hair on the pillow beside my face. Felt myself outside of time. Tiptoeing through chaos, in another, alternative dimension. I tried to persuade myself that SAM’s love would endure, but knew it wouldn’t. My head full of fire and suspended stars. I couldn’t come until I thought of Georgina – her big eyes and nutbrown skin, my favorite fantasy girl, her curvaceous young body. I moaned her name aloud, over and over, as if casting a spell of protection against SAM’s encroachment on my life. Finally came imagining Georgina acting in a most lewd and provocative manner – which in reality she never would…!”

In time SAM became my wife – my first wife. I was deeply in love with her; or rather deeply in love with who I thought she might be. Hence this two years later:

5th December

“Blank days. So much dull work. Looking forward to a short break. Walking with SAM in Claraden Road. Snow falling and whiteness spreading around. Christmas lights in all the shop windows. Snowflakes on the collar of SAM’s grey overcoat melting. We kiss and her nose is ice cold on my cheek. She is so childlike at times, so in need of protection.

“I ask the question, straight out: ‘Will you marry me?’ By its suddenness, I surprised even myself. After all, what did I really have to offer her?

“The falling snow became millions & billions of falling diamonds in the streetlight’s glow. Pure white diamonds descending in silence –

“ ‘I haven’t a ring yet,’ sez me. ‘I thought we could go to Spivack’s in the morning and you can chose one you like.’

“Still she remained silent, contemplating my proposal, its ramifications and future complexities. Then, finally, she said: ‘Yes, I’ll marry you…’

“And the whole world came alive in me. White magic prevailed. SAM was happy too – and oh so very amorous. We hurried to my flat which was as cold as the North Pole in deep winter. We had each other on the living room floor, both still partly clothed – ”

Once SAM said to me that ‘There’s not more than thirty-six ways of doing it.’ Her own technique was one of virginal innocence. A child in a world of nasty lust and unspeakable desires. It was a technique that had its attractions, and a number of other admirers beside myself. Bruce, an American service man and Jazz musician, who lodged with SAM’s parents, practiced eight of those thirty-six ways of doing it, the night before our wedding. The child was a bitch on heat who believed her knickers were ankle warmers. But I was totally blind to this at the time. None so blind as those who will not see –

18th June

“Love, art, wine. Read the Kama Sutra. Fuck T’s wife in revenge for SAM’s many betrayals over our five years of marriage. Lust is all exposed nerve endings. It permeates every fiber of my being. As if every nerve in my body is pulled taut and stimulated by an almost continuous series of short-circuits.

“T’s wife, Pam, Pamela, a name invented by the poet, Philip Sidney – perhaps from the Greek, meaning “all honey”? Certainly, she is ALL honey. I pollinate her honey pot at every opportunity. And she is intoxicated by Pan, a thing of pandemonium, with a sex urge too violent for her body to sustain.

“Tranquility is no longer a possibility for either of us.

“Instead there is anguish, spasms of hate, terrible depression for me – which I cast temporarily aside in fleshy acts of revenge on Pam’s pale body. Clawing hands. Exhaustion. I have her in shop doorways at night. In alleyways by stinking dustbins. In her husband’s bed – even once in a toilet cubicle at Debenhams. Repeated humiliations. Only ever half-gratified, we both come back for more.

“But today SAM talks of a ‘Fresh start’. Forget the other men in her life, they’re not important. Temporary aberrations. In the past. It is me she really, truly loves…

“Words, words, and more words. Mostly lies, too. Heard it all, so many times before. Our love is fucked and there’s nothing I can do about it. What she “feels” is no longer “love”. It is nothing more than attachment, the habit of having someone familiar to touch, to hold, to control. A safe option. I did everything in my power to keep her close, everything in my power so that love would not disappear, not fade away between us. But I was living in an imaginary relationship. I was a fool…

“She tells me to give up Pam but I say, ‘Perhaps, we’ll see – ’

“We visit Al and Di this evening. We go in a black cab to Ealing. I finger a supposedly repentant SAM roughly during the journey’ She will do anything to gain my forgiveness. I make her “finish” herself off in front of me. She sits on one of the pull-down seats opposite, legs spread in compliance. After she comes, I make her kneel on the floor of the cab and suck me off.

“Eros crucified.

“The hate I let lose is equivalent to all the hate in the world. Behind the hate is love. Damaged, distorted, but not finished with…

“I can only think of all those evenings spent together in mutual silence, wrapped in love, the two of us in front of the fire. Her skin smelling faintly of buttermilk and baby powder. A unique small, this, like no other woman in the world. They were times we were both happy –

“Yet that too is probably a lie. Even during the best of times Sam was seeing other men. I know that now…”

So, in the pages of my diaries, I’m able to experience again the ugly haemorraging of love from my first marriage. I can witness afresh the sins, negligences, and ignorances of my earlier life, and gain fresh inspiration from them. I can see exactly how time distorts my memory of such long ago events, too. These diaries stand as witness to everything, warts and all.

#

“It takes a woman years and years to unlearn the things she’s been taught to be sorry for.” Yes, but in unlearning these things, she may become a monster. Most men are uncomfortable with sexuality that is not made for their own consumption. And this new, superwoman will display many male traits – a propensity for violence, for example. And like most men, the ability to see things not as they are but as they think they should be –

You have been warned.

#

The one thing that really, really turns me on. The most sexy thing in the world –

Kindness!

And one of the most exquisite experiences in the world –

‘Lying in bed on a summer morning, with the window open, listening to the church bells, eating buttered toast with cunty fingers.’

#

Who the hell pays any attention to the world ending? It ends for me every single night. But it begins again next morning –

violence and excess

July 23, 2017

I want to err on the side of violence and excess, rather than underfill my moments…

Susan Sontag
Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963

a-number-of-books

The poem is an invention that exists in spite of history. Most of the forces in our ordinary lives as we live them now conspire against the making of a poem. There might be some space for the published poem, but not for its creation: no ritualized space is given where one is allowed to sit and brood, although universities can give you a modicum of that.

In a time of violence, the task of poetry is in some way to reconcile us to our world and to allow us a measure of tenderness and grace with which to exist. I believe this very deeply, and I see it as an effort to enter into the complications of the moment, even if they are violent; but through that, in some measure, poetry’s task is to reconcile us to the world—not to accept it at face value or to assent to things that are wrong, but to reconcile one in a larger sense, to return us in love, the province of the imagination, to the scope of our mortal lives.

Meena Alexander
A Defence of Poetry
Address to the Yale Political Union April 23, 2013