Thirteen Ways of Looking at Can Lit

Rachel Rose
Thirteen Ways of Looking at Can Lit
                                                                                   for the pack
Let’s say it, then. Let’s make it explicit. Let’s lick the clit of it. Let’s fornicate it.
The way you fuck and the way you write are exactly the same. Isn’t it a relief to have it out in the air? Not a metaphor, but a critical difference, a preference, not a simile but a simulation, a seduction of the ideal reader with a piece about some pieces.
and some of us fake it
and get away with it
and some of us are very quiet
and regret it
and most of us are insecure about it
and some of us do it in public
and some of us are very private
and some of like to experiment
and most of us do it the same way over and over
and some of us like it rough
and some like to blog about it
and for some it’s just a way to pay the bills
and most of us would rather do it
than write about those that do it,
would rather read it than read about those who’ve read it.
Some of us make love and some of us get screwed
and some of us praise too highly the body of the beloved
overlooking the flaws, because they wish to so be praised,
they wish when their time comes, to be sung into the great book.

Let us presume that she can,
that she is capable of strapping it on
and giving as good as she gets
planting her steel-toed boots
taking her place with the Classicists, the Greeks,
the Romantics, the Beats
in any circle jerk. But there’s the rub:
she doesn’t want to.

I caught this poem like a cold, a virus from a computer, it brewed and festered for a decade, then burst its blister.

Let us presume that we have named the problem, that the bitch pack has been brought to heel. Hounds will now speak like humans. Speak!

When you broke my book in public, don’t tell me it didn’t titillate. You wouldn’t meet my eye first time we met, the night before your review came out. I held out my hand and you looked at it like a dead bird. Let me refresh: “lesbian love poems/ gushy/ unsubtle/indulges in heavy-petting/forced effusion/lacking adrenalin/sex seeming forced/ crude/overreacting/oversweet/vanity rather than negligence/I myself would rather see a little less gorging on emotion and a little more chaste, unself-centred and memorable artistry.”

Admit it. You gorged. You effused. What a flood of adrenalin! It made you hot to write. I carried that shrapnel for years, under the skin. Never mind. It worked its way out tonight.

But to say you want it chaste is a lie.

To say it didn’t turn you on, slipping it to me like that, twisting the text to suit your fantasy, is a lie. I confess, I’m aroused now, warmed by our exchange, though the only transgression I’ve performed is to repeat your words back to you.

No critic in the great white north has ever told a male writer to stop indulging in verbal heavy-petting.

O my enemy. Do I nullify? Do I gush? Do you wish me sanitized? What chaste verse will you canonize, Patron Saint of Lost Causes? O my frenemy. Do I invaginate? It’s me, Hound, come to sniff your private cracks again.

What kind of Pussy Riot is this? Let’s not skirt the issue any more. Let’s not beat around the bush.

But the question must be asked, the essential question: how, when we published first books only a year apart, when you came out swinging, did you know that you would be gatekeeper?

And why did I choose the gauze of silence?

Honestly, I couldn’t be fucked.

What kind of answer is that?

I was never so cocksure.

I didn’t call myself an expert.

I wanted to be kind.
That position doesn’t stimulate.

And there was the baby, that turning in and in, that birth the year my book came out, that push into motherhood, which is another name for silence. Suddenly I was dragging the meat home, scruffing the cubs, hackles always rising, always on alert, never looking up from the den.

I can do it if I plug my nose and swallow because it’s good for me. I can do it if I lie on my back and think of tenure.

I can do it as a means to an end, but would always rather not.

Are you feeling chased now? By the pack? O fuck.

What do you believe, lover? What sensibility do you bring to the Canadian bed? So grow some stones already. Grow a pair of scruples.

Not the teeth of your tool, but the depths of your soul. The exchange of thoughts in pursuit of mutual pleasure; a critical reading that allows one door to open to another, where both are changed by the dance. Let’s have a juxtaposition of ideas, where metaphor asks so much of you that you are shattered making the leap. Like chastity belt and wolf pelt. Like apples and truth, honeycomb and song, the spine of a wave and the bones of a building where a coyote hunts city rats. Like pack and promise. Because chaste makes waste in the end. Because a kill by any other name still smells like meat.
“The dogs lick their way up the ditch” howling daintily. The dogs lick their way up the devious crotch. The dogs struggle their way up the critic’s uncomfortable haunch.

She gushed her maddened lust over the lettuce.

Do I have to chew this meat for you, too? Stroke my throat, I’ll cough it into your mouth, pre-digested so you can grow up big and strong and wise.

I took my pet lesbian to Lake Wobegone so she could rest in the rarefied air. Because once you’ve fucked every gender, you never judge a person by her member. Because those who have something to prove make lousy lovers.

Sir! There’s a trick with my sheath I’ve been learning to do. I can peel a banana, flip a coin: heads you lose, tails I win. There’s a trick with a hook I’ve been meaning to prove. Lend me your eye, citizen!

Methinks the Lady doth gush too much. Is she chaste? Does she protest?

Be still, my twat.

Listen, I’m serene; some of my best fucks are women.

“Drink piss,” dyke. “Citric bitch is dripping gism.”

What do you believe? Do you write crit to show how thick? Can you make a mistake and admit it? And if you fumble in bed or on the page, do you punch the wall, do you deny the girl, do you rage?

Try, perhaps, being vulnerable.

Do I dare step into the breach?

I hear the critics howling
each to each. I do not think that they
will sleep with me.

In short, I was afraid. That is not what I meant, at all.

I ate a tome of silence instead. My ideal reader closed her eyes. She would rather suck at the wrong book then stare at the train wreck, the glorified gore. Yawn.
What wry friction. How small the bowl, how small your heart. No wonder she turns away, half embarrassed, half depressed at that quick sucker punch, flash of wit. Is that all she can expect?

Chaste not, wanton not. What literal heavy-petting have I caught you at? Zip it.

Do I fuckify?

I am a poor white cunt who never got more than a crust of literary recognition. I graduated in Victim Studies with a minor in Abuse Memes. My role models are
the Matchstick Girl, The Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty, all dead pale maidens. I read Our Clitics, Ourselves, Our Bodies, Our Shells, Our Poems, Your Hells.

It is all I can do to write about myself; I can’t speak for anyone else.

My role model is Snow White, who has no opinion. She’s choked by that poisoned bite. My role model is snow, that Great Canadian Hush of things not to be said. White, frigid, silent: unique only microscopically.

I see no colour or gender or difference of any kind. I am Snow Blind. Rose Dead.

O I am young & chaste & undeflowered. Empower me, please.

When I panic I gush panties O so chastely. I count genders, it soothes me, and when I’ve counted I have a nice cup of tea. Because what is chick lit to dick crit after all. Am I caustic? Am I citric? Do I shrink it?

We’ll not have any loose canon here. We’ll teach no women here. “If you want women go down the hall/What I teach is guys/Serious heterosexual guys/ I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love/Unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women.”

You only teach texts you love and those you love are exactly like you.
You love the serious heterosexual guy you’d go fishing with. Because women can’t be men and Chinese can’t be guys and homosexuals can’t be the best and you only teach the best. It’s a math proof and the answer equals you. Because it’s all about love, true love, those whom you truly, truly love.

Isn’t that unfortunate? Isn’t that serious? Because the best by any other name is still you, squared.

Shall I quantify? Shall I cuntify? O you pricked my fine finger. It seems I woke from thick slumber with a broken rosebud but still I insist on an essentially level playing field with each of my three wishes: assistant, associate, professor. Look: I fucked the beast and lost my beauty. See how brave? I could almost be mistaken for a hero. Whine.

Call me Hansel’s sister, Hetero.

Must I prove it? I followed that trail of crumbs down the hall. I opened the door of the forbidden room. I lay down in bears’ beds, I civilized beasts, I kissed the steam from porridge, I spoke the tongue of my fatherland until I gained a working knowledge, I walked on knives, I paid to have my tongue cut out, all for love.

Exactly the same, writing and loving. Which is both a relief and a source of anxiety, depending. I’m sorry I faked it. Too bad I was such a tentative lay. Sorry I didn’t swallow. Sorry this poem won’t leave me alone. Such a sticky, uncomfortable feeling, like an unexpected period, you know? Like coming in your pants in line at a book signing. Tonight I can’t sleep. I’ve had to pull over three times just to take dictation from my muse, I’m so hot and bothered by this ideology.

Exactly the same.

Hey, critic, just who are you trying to get off here?

Too bad your groping is adolescent. So sad our rage is incandescent.

Really it’s just the rock bands every writer wants to be in: The Narcissists, The Didactics, The Lazy Bastards.

“The only animal that takes off its clothes and reports to the mirror” took off its clothes and sniffed the air, pregnant with the scent of blood and snow. The only animal that writes literary criticism opened its legs. The only animal that provides its young with summer camp put down its mirror and reported to the ethics committee.

Hey, I’m just a misunderstood pundit surrounded by a pack of bitches who lick below the belt. If we could barbecue something together I’m sure we could find common ground. If you could pour a sense of humor I’d clink with you because who wants to be misquoted when all I really love is the written word and everything I do, I do for love. Let’s settle this once and for all with artisanal beer.

How do you do it, then: make love to the language? When you touch the alphabet, when you disrobe the vowels, when you arrange the letters, bend or break the line,
when you rune the incantation, tell me, what faith animates?

“The art of losing’s not too hard to master.
Though it may look like (write it!) like disaster.”

Thanks for criticizing it to make it neuter. Because what doesn’t kill it makes it stronger.

The art of fucking isn’t hard to master.

“Works of art are of an infinite solitude, and no means of approach is so useless as criticism. Only love can touch and hold them and be fair to them,” said Rilke.

Only love. So critic: be useful. Touch the body of work with sure but careful hands. If the body of work is unlike your own, be less sure and more careful.

And what if we empower old women instead? Post-menopausal, overfed, well-read, opinionated. Becoming unattractive and therefore unafraid.

What if we hold open the door and step out of the way? Mentor ourselves as we wish we’d been mentored, then pass it on? What if there’s a flowering of deep listening? What if the body of literature down the hall is so much greater than you ever imagined?

What if there’s a canon of chaste men? What if there’s a pack of fierce bitches charging under a critical moon?

Hey there, great empowerer, gentle flamethrower! Seriously, dude: try again.
As what kind of lover will I be remembered?

As what kind of lover will you be remembered?

With reference/borrowed lines from T.S. Eliot, “Prufrock,”
Franz Wright, “The Only Animal,”
Elizabeth Bishop “The Art of Losing”
Carmine Starnino, The Montreal Gazette, May 13, 2000.
Zachariah Wells “Citric Bitch’s Thinking is Shit.”
David Gillmour “On Building Strong Stomachs” Hazlitt/Random House.
Michael Ondaatje “There’s a Trick With a Knife I’m Learning to Do” and “the linguistic war between men and women.”
Margaret Atwood “You Fit Into Me.”
Plath, “Lady Lazarus.”
Stein, “A Rose By Any Other Name.”