Elegy Department Spring: Candy Sonnets I, by Kay Gabriel. BOAAT Press, May 2017. 27 pages. Digital chapbook, PDF.
Begin with the cover, apparently a cropped still from the last scene of the 1971 Warhol/Morrissey movie, Women in Revolt. The movie follows the trans Warhol superstars Jackie Curtis, Candy Darling, and Holly Woodlawn, on a romp through a parodic women’s group called PIGs (Politically Involved Girls). Candy has left it all behind to become a star in Hollywood, and is being viciously abused, first verbally, then physically, by an interviewer on the set of her film Blonde on a Bum Trip, but maintains her poise. “Wasn’t your feminism all a lie?” he asks (I’m paraphrasing), “and didn’t you sleep your way to the top?” And instantly we are in the first challenges of reading, or of reviewing, this book. The interviewer, cropped out of frame, is the mirror of our own hazard of misogyny, that we might reduce this text to its success or failure in a political project it never signed on for, or to the author’s dazzling presence, on which more later.
Image: Women in Revolt (1971)
oh, this form of female self-
possession is vacant and millennial? my attention’s now
on loan to Verso Books
I ought to say, you don’t have to be steeped in to appreciate this book. I wasn’t until I read it, the book made me want to be and now I am. The style is referential but irreverent, so there is a kind of reader who will curse it for eluding mastery, and another who will simply get interested. “Oh, who is that?” This is a book that opens worlds to you.
“Grist For Other Mills” opens,
How bad is it we use each other
to make up stories, say:
or in “Mooch New York,”
Here it’s the 70’s and degradation means something
she plays an actress with an eye to inherit, copping
glamour or actually the term is “citational”
All of this recalls the New Narrative writer Sam D’Allesandro, arriving in San Francisco and allowing a little confusion as to whether he was actually a relation of Little Joe’s. If you aren’t lying about these people you haven’t understood what the stories are there for. Whatever this moment calls for it isn’t reverence exactly, nor canons. It’s a gay strategy of self-creation, of deciding to matter, and of deciding to dazzle. It hits the mark.
So we ought to talk about the dazzle. “Body worship, the whole thing behind art,” says the artist/john in Flesh to a bored, hungry, and stoned Joe Dallesandro, as quoted in “Metonyms for Flesh.” We oughtn’t pretend. There is vicious irony in a poem called “anyone can be beautiful,” and the text is full of a kind of queen-y feminine competition, take care that these poems don’t read your half-assed look. And your poetics along with it, little daggers: “some bitches have the volta already,” or “your public oversharing diary, the pink one with the busted lock.”
Image: Flesh (1968)
As a first book (sort of) this is going to be taken by many readers as an entry to the poetic field and as an introduction to the author. This isn’t fair or right, but there’s a kind of poet who will moan about that, a kind who’s genuinely oblivious, and a kind that plays those expectations to maximal effect. An unlikely comparison here might be Eileen Myles’s A Fresh Young Voice from the Plains— Eileen was from Boston, right? A different voice but a similar canniness and ambition, similar hard eyes meeting your stare, your assumption of naïveté. My New York is made of books like this. Get over yourself and get into it.
Thel Seraphim is a semi-legible cultural voice, whispering in the ears of your favorite writers in a babble on the edge of meaning and citability. She is the author of countless zines, the novel Plastic Palace People and the chapbook Chris and Cassie, forthcoming on friendly presses, and makes trouble on twitter at @kioskmage.