This isn’t going to be a standard book review, so much as a small array of thoughts and feelings derived from partaking of its content.
Well, I guess the first part could be perceived as akin to a semi-standard mini-review – but then the red part in the middle is focused on personal divergence regarding female blood flow and clots and positive/negative creative horrific overly personal goop – and then when the font color turns black again, the two perspectives fuse together and end my review. I’ll go ahead and number them into three sections, in case some people would rather avoid the overly personal section two.
Part 1: (Mini-Review)
“There are ways to turn the orbs inside out without having to break them.”
Like most of j/j hastain’s poetry collections that I’ve read, much of the content fuses visceral imagery with the mind’s perception of mental/physical relationships, how the body responds and why. The mind and body fusion is not just focused on the outer body, but also inwardly. In “Secret Letters”, this inward focus includes positioning, the liquids inside, and different kinds of perception of (experimentation with) insemination and reproduction, both mental and physical.
“I told them to tie me to the cross that had never been forced upright.”
The liquids inside could be explored as an attempt to discover one’s own non-traditional mind/body connections and/or desires and/or spirituality - to find oneself (and/or another variation of oneself and/or a partner for oneself) on a deeper level.
“Digging in the moist meadow I unearthed a set of swan wings that had been dyed red. The wings were
somehow animate and flapping without them having a center”
Much of j/j’s work is described as having a cross-genre, trans-genre focus and while I don’t disagree with that, most of the recent content I’ve read by j/j strikes me as uniquely feminine, in which the primary genre amalgamation seems womanly and earthly – female mind and body combined with the ground, dirt, water, plants (transplants), animals, birds, and blood flow. Underground, buried down, dug up, re-birthed, renewed and open to more exploration.
Part 2: (Overly Personal Goop)
Of course not every male or female or gender-perception or genre-perception (or everyone’s viewing of gender and genre) is the same – but regarding how I view some of j/j’s content, one way in which its bodily perception feels different from mine is regarding female blood flow (or at least the way I interpret its perception of female blood flow).
Here are a few more lines from the “Secret Letters” and how they got my mind and body flowing:
“This morning I am bleeding in the meadow, trying to read my clots, to perform translations by way of them while on my knees.
I see lace ladders in the red. I want these lace ladders to be edible to you”
My perception of such lines could differ depending on my state of mind when I read it, but when I read it the other day (and various other parts of the “Secret Letters” too), I initially had a hard time with it, not because of its writing style, but because its body based content seemed female blood flow positive to the point of desiring to explore one’s own menstrual clots like edible art and share them with “you”.
Since I personally happen to be in the midst of feeling uncomfortable with my own body (partly based on a middle aged mini mid-life crisis, no partner, not even sure what appeals to me relationship-wise or sexually anymore, and not enthralled by repeatedly exploring my own body by myself), partaking of body based exploratory content caused me to feel even more aware of/bothered by my own stomach, as if the lines were going straight into my stomach and causing it to stick out more.
Those lines got me thinking about menstrual blood and how I’ve never related on a personal level to how some people seem to perceive the menstrual cycle/ovulation/fertility as an empowering force field of womanhood, the choice to give birth, the choice to not give birth, life/death power. It’s not that I don’t understand that perspective, but I view menstrual blood as more akin to horror movie gore art.
I desire to create art, but I have never had any desire to give birth to another human being. For me personally, I don’t feel stronger (or weaker) and more life (or death) force based than usual when clots of blood are gooping out of my vagina and into the toilet bowl (or inside or outside). I feel uncomfortable, cramped, grossed out, and relieved I haven’t been impregnated by some other bodily fluid spew. I’m not against the idea of using one’s own blood as part of creating art, but if I used menstrual blood in my art, it wouldn’t have a positive flow or a spiritual perspective – it would be more like a queasy-licious horror gore abortion scene.
When little clots of dark red goop drip out of my body, I’m not feeling proud to be a powerful woman with a monthly flow of vaginal blood. I’m leaning more towards blood bath and how maybe it looks like I’m oozing out tiny, grotesque, misshapen alien body parts which will soon be flushed down the drain – but then in a month, that mini creature will rebirth itself inside me like an ongoing mutilated suspension cord brimming with on & off cramping horror clots for more than 30 years until the egg sacs finally dry up and I lose my wet cunt sex drive. Not that I’m looking forward to losing my sex drive. I’d rather deal with clotted cramp horror movie alien life form vaginal goop for another 30 years.
But I don’t feel inclined to explore my own menstrual flow (or non-menstrual flow) and the idea of literally, physically giving birth sort of grosses me out too. If I don’t relate positively to natural reproduction, is there something unusual about my physical and mental organs? I am willing to question my mind’s contours and I am willing to try to expand them and I am willing to engage in certain kinds of body experimentation, but I am not willing to literally give birth with my body.
With my body, I tend to feel overly bothered/borderline disturbed by any parts of it that are not small and tight - overly bothered by the parts of my body that naturally get loser as I get older. Any part of my body that stands out too much, sticks out too much, is significantly increased or decreased by consumption bothers me. It doesn’t bother me much if my clothes stand out, because those can be easily removed and replaced – but not my own body parts, both the visible parts and the visceral crevasses. I don’t desire them to suddenly expand or contract beyond my control, except for during orgasm (and I think it took me longer than average to desire that, because it involves letting go of yourself – but only temporarily – and usually I don’t even like temporarily letting go of my body if it’s just a casual fuck – and who in the fuck are you supposed to trust your body with? I don’t want to give mine to someone who would take any body they could get.)
On a less than temporal level, I can analyze what’s going on inside my mind – but how am I supposed to analyze what might be going on inside my body? Since I can’t, I feel uncomfortable with bodily changes beyond my control. Perhaps I should be interested in attempting to explore my own uncontrolled body more, but I don’t usually enjoy uncontrolled exploration. It reminds me of how my stomach sticks out right after I eat. I feel like it’s either a matter of keeping my eating under control or increasing it and not caring very much about my own stomach anymore.
Granted, in “secret letters” j/j’s body-based imagery seems to involve being in control in unique, creative, chosen ways and/or experimenting with a (dear secret) someone/something, so I’m not sure why I suddenly got so focused on notions of experimentation beyond my control .
Also, stepping away from my own overly grossed out self, me saying I don’t particularly relate to a positive perspective on red clots doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate j/j’s perspective. I like the exploratory slants and I like those lines I quoted, especially the “lace ladders in the red”. Part of me also desires to be oddly and uniquely edible to someone (certainly not everyone, but someone), even the parts of myself that I view as negative and/or inedible.
I appreciate divergent possibilities, which is part of the reason I appreciate j/j’s creative work, even if some of it makes me uncomfortable. Heck, some of my OWN creative work makes me uncomfortable too, in a different way. Eliciting discomfort and thus causing one to explore and consider and re-consider and question one’s thoughts and feelings is part of the creative process – and part of the creative flow, bloody or not.
Fusion Mix Finale:
“I have been pressing additive hearts onto the middles of dark trees, forming ulterior organs out of fruit pulp”
Maybe our different approaches on body and blood flow is part of the reason why the collaborative poems that j/j and I have been working on for months involve a hemorrhaging plethora of dark red goop and paradoxical body based offerings. Positive healing fetish violence intertwines with negative stabbing fantasy/reality (sexy, queasy, girly, womanly, queer). Visceral splatter paint gets revised into different shapes and sizes and contours and body based positioning and varied divergent life forms with their own vows.
j/j certainly seems to be in honor of divergence, after all:
“mixing the old, new and imagined shapes into divergent symmetries.
Rain falling both inside and outside of the glass, I court contraries in order to learn to couple with you.”
I truly appreciate that j/j’s content provokes me in different ways, even if some of the thoughts it provokes are sometimes troubling for me.
I very much liked the never-ending, ending final lines in this collection of “secret letters”:
“a she becomes a he becomes a she
being buried re-occurringly to upkeep obscure shrines. This is a place that, when it is added to, is so
dense that it will never dry. “