rest, even in war

I AM TASTING MYSELF
IN THE MOUTH OF THE SUN

—June Jordan, excerpt from “Intifada Incantation: Poem #8 for b.b.L”

PANIC CAREFULLY (photographer: unknown)

Maybe what we really want is hero stories
that also reflect happiness, where joy is
contextualized during epic and courageous
suffering. This desire, a creative impulse,
a strategy to have complementary thinking
break binaries. A knowing that innocence
can be misremembered. Behind the fog, bright light.
Remember when obsessive attachment became slack
from devotion? Of course we resisted our differences,
as much as we could, starting over —
again and each time evidence repurposed itself
to the contrary. A reciprocity of loss or maybe
more simply the effect of a parallax.
From a certain distance, we are all drifting along.
Idle in mood and expansive in perpetual conflict.

polemical allusions

I exchange my life for words.

Weak, uncertain currency.

—Anna Kamienska, from “Industrious Amazement: A Notebook,” translated by Clare Cavanagh Poetry (March 1st, 2011)

Adger Cowans, Icarus, 1970. Canon pigment print.

Every day since March 13th, I have written something. Some days only a string of words, bursts of breath, or an image find their way through and out. It is my commitment to pay attention.

On March 22nd I wrote that almost 400 people had died from COVID-19, and started to track the pace of American death on April 2nd (over 5,100). I stopped consistently tracking on May 31st (105,000 dead), an arbitrary deadline because the notebook I started on March 13th ended there. I was also experiencing cognitive dissonance between my values around attention as action and my writing practice which centers curiosity. I could only integrate this morbid number on a jagged graph as an abstracted affect of weight, like the moon’s gravitational pull on Earth or the resonance of unmasked grief. I had been lying to myself that I was curious about death, in this quantified way.

Yesterday my source [google: “covid 19 us deaths”] told me 142,000+ were gone.

Risk assessments are strategic investments: four walls and one door to escape. Subtext is its own elegy. Sometimes only metaphors can help me decipher a world where death is sold as the inevitable cost of doing business, which has been conflated to mean the only way to have a life. Metaphors are a clever method to take up space and complicate our mutual knowing. How might I displace our assumed common language and still connect to you?

If I’m feeling lucky, I might be able to translate my curiosities to you beyond the distance of pencil to paper. I recognize energy lost in between contact eventually fades like a bruise found but not remembering its source. William Stafford might name this felt experience.

Long ago, I replaced god with something bigger — an awareness there’s no precision in the prescriptive phrase “let go of the past.”  For now, I reclaim there’s pleasure and possibility in waking up to an anticipatory life. Otherwise, a paranoid reading would lead us to believe that depravation is the norm or something far worse, complacency as impulse.

backwash of rumor

[Let the bears devour our enemies]. We have no obligation
To open // ourselves // for those who do us harm.

last stanza of “[SOMEWHERE IN LOS ANGELES] THIS POEM IS NEEDED” by Christopher Soto

SHOW UP, Oakland, November 2017

Recede
like waves—
a motion,
refract.

When speculation
is commercialized
what power is ceded
by paying attention?

On distracted authority,
faith becomes the plan.
Repress judgment.
Feel your immediacy.

__________
title borrowed from Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency by Olivia Laing

time bound

How quickly can one dispense with the old bargains between defense and desire, adapting to a regime whose rules provide no felt comfort?

— Lauren Berlant, “Cruel Optimism”

Helena Almeida, Sente me (1979), screenshots from Film von Sylvain Bergère

Inside this temporal state,
habitualization is the climax.
To date, public misery
is not officially worthy
of monuments or accurate measurements.
Finely stratified, your and my collective
future—active emptiness—is its own
embodied aleatory performance.
But what are we supposed to be
doing with this time?
Such insinuating can feel negative,
counterproductive as misdirected desires.
Overstimulated, I beg for revision
rather than tempt resolution.
These present hours unknowing.

fear needs attention to exist

This is a special way of being afraid — first line of third stanza in “Aubade” by Philip Levine

PLEASE DESTROY (detail), from the daily writings of William Stafford (William Stafford Archives, Estate of William Stafford)

do you feel fear ineffably?
personal, not public — self as an other

the social distance in between
hoax and binaries and stimulus

do you feel subtleties?
curated indoor skies — measuring light

efface negation
imperfect present

do you feel like you are repeating yourself?
ritual or repetition — your reputation

in situ

There was a sun once
It lit the whole damn sky
It kept everything
Everything alive

Jawbreaker — Shield Your Eyes

3 November 2017, Berlin

what gods are inside you?

have you asked them for help?
will they respond in time?

5 June 2018, Portland, OR

The different names for the soul, among nearly all peoples, are just so many breath variations, and onomatopoeic expressions of breathing.” — Charles Nodier (1828)

14 September 2019, Oakland, CA

my idle hands are:
structures of experience
polymorphic intentions
dimensions of interstitial time
devils playthings
listening

tender violence

Yet listen well. Not to my words,
but to the tumult that rages in
your body when you listen to yourself.

—René Daumal

Berlin, September 2014

If it is true we are floating through space
& each of us contain the stardust of a million galaxies
then the sun glittering receptive is our asylum.
Exuberant in this signification,
we propel beyond daydream nations.
Expressive attraction becomes its own tender gravity.
Change is accelerating
is feedback looping.

What do you believe in: violence or power?

It is our right as poets to be suggestive
to value a secure spirit & apply logic of affect.
We know why the grace of a curve invites.

rhyme scheme

“What is secret never has total objectivity.” — Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

screenshot from the documentary “The Sixth Side of the Pentagon” (1968)

Am I repeating lies? The Australian wildfires were started by humans and we live in a democracy or you can say no, which is a choice. I read an audacious headline and followed clicks and threads shiny as trolling lures. In the thick of seduction, I confess I may have shared images without acknowledging an artist because I wanted the frame of reference to reverb. I’ve posted songs that had no accompanying album, which means its context also wandered unattended. I have repeatedly liked things I never read, and never will. I’m exclusive, in a trapped kind of way. Eulogies for the cancelled are stored in clouds stacked miles deep. An echo wags the dog. Empty space occupies sound. We are pixelated into our own repetitive concepts of an othered likeness. Are you repeating lies? Please remind me tomorrow that non-knowing is stasis, sacred affect, and a series is a pattern is a sentence.

salvaging

“but i am running into a new year and i beg what i love and i leave to forgive me”
— Lucille Clifton, from I am Running Into a New Year

“your dream is my nightmare,” (trans. google) Berlin 25 Oct 2019

Always, an airplane in the sky. Our big, beautiful world is dying. We string colored lights in windows. This time of year requires letting go of what cannot be undone. The freeway flows forward, always. Birds sing in tune with worn out brakes of city buses. Today I will laugh. Where does the grotesque fall away and where is the real? Knees. Ribs. Pelvis. Hips a spacial reference to another’s manipulation. My body woke me in the middle of the night. I wasn’t sure if it was fair to tell you this truth. I disassociate enough to protect my sensibilities and made myself small to accommodate your vision of a world that owed you. I kept my mouth shut for fear of casting a shadow on your carefully carved out spotlight. I need new vocabulary to describe this headstrong ritual. Joy and excitement is replicable but they won’t be to scale. Yesterday I watched a woman kiss pigeons. Gently and respectfully, she kissed the bravest on their greedy beaks. In a sea of bread crumbs and feathers, she shared her love with those who surrounded her. Come back into it. My body won’t relax. I pick up the slack. Evening’s receiving light follows me home.

slow blink to xmas

Always to shine,
to shine everywhere,
to the very depth of the last days…

-Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky

Arnaldo Pomodoro, Untitled, 1984-85.

Celestially speaking, we all belong to a restrictive social class.
Cumulative in our longings, we render dependency as emergencies
[how romantic to feel each other’s interdependent commitments].
We take our love-starved coordinates and plot collective orbits.
Moving at the textured pace of gravity’s grace, time fragments.
Do not worry. This scattering happens every year. Remember?
What will you pick up and carry into tomorrow? The new year?

morning shadows

Do me a favor this morning. Draw the curtain and come
  back to bed.
Forget the coffee. We’ll pretend
we’re in a foreign country, and in love.

Raymond Carver, last stanza of “The Road”

Helen Lundeberg, Islands, 1986. Acrylic on canvas, 127 x 127 cm.

There’s an urgency when you wake up in darkness. Instinct tells you to trust that light is coming. The sky opened a hazy lilac. Morning shadows sharpen. I’ve misinterpreted the danger inherent in matter cannot be created nor destroyed. Navigating productions, stilted formations misunderstood as lyrical responses, becomes a performance. Often, soothing a distraction.

I learned early that soft touches were to be saved for moving someone to confession, then towards salvation. For all those end-of-days Sunday warnings, I am not prepared. This is a special kind of denial, an abject version of faith.

“We should have known” has signaled subtle shaming. Didn’t you hear all those rumors?

The moon is new. At the moment, there is no wind. My body remembers this fear. My sense of distance expands in the pink layered light.

I’ve kept this on the tip of my tongue, at the rim of my mouth, inside my lungs sweet like a curated secret. I tried to write around the noise but this is the silence that found me.

seven years and a day

artist: Yuko Shimizu

Police found nothing but pairs of empty shoes inside abandoned cars stopped on the freeway that carved edge lines between city and suburb. Stereos were still playing upbeat songs or blaring ads for insurance, spicy chicken sandwiches, eradicating skin rashes, and a cloud that promised to secure memories. Coffee left warm in secure cup holders.

I have my own, obvious, working hypothesis for the dispossessed.

I can feel you wanting more. More analysis, more details, more quantifiable truth. I recognize that desire. If left unchecked, it is a serial and extractive response.

Instead of getting stuck in that kind of particular production, what spiritual inclinations were you born with? Will your future prove the past?

The ending is coming. How wild is your hope?

________

title is reference to seven years and a day is often the period of trial in fairy tales (Denise Levertov, The Poet in the World, page 13)

danger & excitement can feel the same

Richard Moult – In the Heart of the Wood and What I Found There

“What is it that keeps up from drowning in moments that rise and cover the heart?”
Anne Carson, Plainwater

the plot was a repeat
   a rerun

did you see that emergency flare?
it was bright
    red

inevitable

our skies hold light
      white
then expand
  blue

debate shatters into silence

we meant to say ineffable

details spread diluted
revenge collects into thriving tragedy

what hope hunts has no reflection
survival now the most obvious commodity

danger and excitement can feel the same
our bodies keep trying to tell us this news

live as in
right
now —

we grope backwards

enquiry for a future that does not yet exist

All responsible witnessing engages a poetic experience of language. — Jacques Derrida, Sovereignties in Question

Dusting off the Male Gaze, Yuku Shimizu

It was the way you phrased the question
like scripture or that tone reserved for family
a sharpness of being open ended, interpretive.

You wanted to know about future memories
cached in bucolic 2020 time capsules.
When would we be notified of the opening ceremonies?

How would the reveal of selective imaginations cast
replicas of value and what will remain
in desire’s form? Why do we save time this way?

You wanted to know just how, exactly, would revelry
produce nostalgia. I answered in kind.
Why do men’s hands have a gravity to them?

x + y =

AN ARMY OF LOVERS SHALL NOT FAIL – title on cover of The Lesbian Tide, Apr. 1973

Road to the Ranch, 1964, Georgia O’Keeffe

this feeling of war is different from other war feelings I’ve had.
it is a conscious scan of knowing where the exits are located.
it is a wanting of quiet and stillness
inside all this (up)loaded aggression.
it is a particular kind of collaborated knowing.

bodies bend closer in fantasies without violence.
a genre of collected mundane details:
dishes in the sink
airport air thick with fancy perfume
the memory of water.

I study nothing, obviously.
I like that space
in between.
crowded spaces. public spaces.
being ignored in isolation.

strictly speaking, we think we know
what is happening
because we study history.
if we believe we are more manipulated today,
do we fulfill our own prophesies?

elaborate form

Here is what we have to offer you in its most elaborate form — confusion guided by a clear sense of purpose.  –Gordon Matta-Clark c. 1973

Personal photo from the daily writings of William Stafford, 1976. (William Stafford Archives, Estate of William Stafford)

eyes
food, religion
to the sky, to the land –
bowed in turn
that precious treasure
fire, fire
expired
or a thought, maybe, too strange for us

This found poem was created from fragments of William Stafford’s daily writings (1975-1976).

 

I woke early to catch a bus into a city so rich it begs. Finding traces of the first quarter rising moon, I watched a skyline break blue. As ocean waves disappeared into infinite replication, news of another massacre weights the expansive and empty horizon before me.

15 March 2019, Ocean Beach 

In “How the Mind Works,” Patti Smith asks Can we truly separate the how and the why? This logic is why Midwestern letters from home are factual and often lack ornate descriptions. The news relayed is a list—bills overdue, doctor visit on Tuesday, crops flooded—to extrapolate and to elaborate reason would only waste paper and time. The weight of how to get where I do not yet know forms my most elaborate creative patterns, and those lines buried between what is said are code switches. I want you to imagine what that would feel like. I assume you are real on the other side of this virtual divide.

long division

“Success is someone else’s failure. Success is the American Dream we can keep dreaming because most people in most places, including thirty million of ourselves, live wide awake in the terrible reality of poverty. No, I do not wish you success. I don’t even want to talk about it. I want to talk about failure.” — Ursula K. Le Guin, excerpt from her 1983 Mills College commencement address “A Left-Handed Commencement Address”

Shujiro Shimomura, Poster Design, 1929

Mental maps are flashbacks of intertwined stories not to be confused with flash-forward dreams like visible clouds in the night sky backlit by 24-7 traffic lights, or knowing you are looking directly at an invisible full moon. I am sorry if this specificity of darkness is dense and complicated. I have historically avoided anchors of place in my writing because it feels safer to drift unmoored. It is entirely possible I do not want you to find me.

My past has too many inconsistent waypoints to map accurately—my mother is an unreliable narrator and my father’s sense of direction was absorbed as gospel, narrow and aggressive. Gathered, these scattered memories take shape as a specific form of isolation. The truth is, wrapping myself in distance feels like home.

This dark and expansive landscape I pull from is as familiar as counting landmarks on long drives back home, de facto mile markers such as wind-sculpted trees, mirage plateaus, and the occasional 4-way stop sign scarred with casual bullet holes. My expertise in understanding subtle changes as a sense of direction was earned honestly.

As an identical twin, separation is a practice of abundance.  Do you recognize that gift in yourself?

Stars are born when clouds of gas called nebulae infinitely collapse. The center of this collapse, a result of carefully balanced external gravitational forces and internal rising temperatures, fuses into light brilliant enough to witness from Earth’s distance. In this nearly empty darkness, collapsing coordinates are not fixed either. All these simple steps broken into a discovery of self, in excellence and always in evolution.

call & response

Muir Beach Overlook, 17 November 2018

In all this drama, we repeat it’s ok. The edges of this suffocating generalization mostly true. Tops of hills beg to be seen. These words written by fire, from light reflected.

Where are our dreams going? Break into your savings and share.

Do not forget: breath is movement.

 

anticipatory grief is poiesis

Danny Lyon, From 89 Beekman Street Looking South in Fulton Street, c. 1967, from The Destruction of Lower Manhattan

“Are we witnesses or actors?” – Carolyn Kizer from “Twelve O’Clock”

From a tender age, we learn to anticipate expansive boundaries. This is how we survived.

Our inheritances can be found folded into cornered spaces where silence occupies itself. A similar appreciation to realizing how much our eyes have adjusted to darkness. We trade today’s exhaustion for speculative futures. Assassinations happen daily.

Diversions become elegant beginnings when you realize resistance has immortal roots. That’s why performing for an absent savior is a dishonest practice and violence is a loop of fractured sounds. Do you hear that echo abdicating its own existence?

The sun feels yellow today. Birds still relay their news through song. Incantations woven over and through the roar of their own destruction. A natural and honest alchemy. Such revision signals there is enough, a gathering of effort.

When they ask how you survived this century, what will your answer be?

listen

I could have spent my whole life in that quiet.

Personal photo from the daily writings of William Stafford, 19 July 1993. (William Stafford Archives, Estate of William Stafford)

I have to start somewhere and this is a good place to begin. I want this early reflection of my time spent at the William Stafford Archives to be a conscious wandering.

I knew I couldn’t finish. There was too much. I needed a respectable and intuitive pace. I had to make quick and deliberate decisions on what to capture and what to let go — a practiced, indulgent impulse.

Personal photo from the daily writings of William Stafford, 15 June 1993. (William Stafford Archives, Estate of William Stafford)

“I would like to be known as an action philosopher.”
– Banana Yoshimoto, from the novel Kitchen 

I wrote what came to my attention and catalogued patterns — wind, mountains, snow, trees, rocks, and secrets to name the most prominent. It felt the best, and most honest, way to honor Stafford’s daily writing practice. It was what I had learned to do from You Must Revise Your Life and Writing the Australian Crawl: Views on the Writer’s Vocation.

On August 17, 1993, eleven days before he died, he asked:

“What can butterflies do if they get mad at each other? Should they express their anger? Stop and get even? Are these questions about a butterfly trivial? And about you?”

And on May 13, 1951, at the age of 37, Stafford wrote:

“How do we know our perceptions have the same feel as others’?” (emphasis in original)

Graceful inquiries such as these found their way into Stafford’s daily writings, which also included his dreams remembered in the darkest shadows of morning light. Intimate and rooted in place, Stafford recorded the present in all its creative movements.

I learned how deeply mountains listen when trees and rocks tell their ancient stories.

Stafford’s lifetime dedication to following and listening — carefully — to what wasn’t being said, or said loudly, was powerful to witness. His repetition was seductive. A rhythm visualized into meditative language that demonstrated “…all living things are afraid (20 June 1975)” and a steady truth that “your hope keeps you awake (20 May 1975).”

What comes next is unknown and that’s exactly how it is supposed to be.

we live promised lives

June 2018

And then will come my turn toward considering the poem as a set of strategies.
— William Stafford, You Must Revise Your Life

My aesthetic genealogy is borrowed from a working poetics. A magpie practice of creative slanted interruptions. One of my favorite writing habits is to post on Sundays. Years ago I discovered this practice as a way to reclaim time lost to benign neglect. It was a way to take back a day formerly dedicated to church services that framed ideal bodies as those willing to give up their souls.

Forgive this brief editorializing break. I’ve wandered to the edge of today’s subject.

It is safe to assume the forensics of great writers are investments in process.

For the last twelve and a half years, I traced the shapes of memory — collective and personal — in this wide open space. I anchored active examination into subtitled weekly posts. I curated evidence of expansion through parallel interpretations and felt for traction inside line breaks weighted by punctuation’s invitation to pause. I am aligned when tone reflects visual structure.

This time last year I was organizing myself to study Audre Lorde’s time in Berlin. Today I want to capture my emerging intention to study William Stafford this fall. The boundaries of this poetics inquiry are a promise to continue to carve out curious time. It is an extension of how conscious practice cleaves to the promise of honoring spirit. I aim to explore and investigate Stafford’s pacifist approaches — specifically conscientious objector — to writing poetry, his teaching methods of writing poetry, and his graceful rejection of competition.

Our days are urgent as parents wait for children to find them. Climate and change are conjoined into violent denials. Stafford practiced creative resistance strategies during WWII and the Vietnam War.

What might we borrow to alter our endangered lives?

requiem 

28.10.2017 Berlin

Two weeks have slid through me.

An older German man at the Audre Lorde Archives likes to greet me by singing his favorite melodies from 1960s American pop songs. Our connection is assumed to be familiar on those grounds.

Other connections have taken longer to root, to find their own casual and wandering paths. Most often I simply smile, to show submission to a foreign tongue, and repeat my English phrases so we can entwine in a hopeful vernacular.

There is a mutual desire to be understood.

Mornings are typically dark and grey, thick with clouds that never leave. There are, of course, exceptions. Some days find swirling pink clouds opening their hearts to promises of illumination. The void of this work has been filled when silence is created from conscious expression. An expression that most days outpaces language’s translation of experience.

27.10.2017 Berlin

This poetic examination of Audre Lorde’s teaching, and by extension her methods of poetic practice, has strengthened the tender edges of my own belief of how change happens – personal, political, and everything in between. I feel marked with new annotations at the outermost areas of my known history. My knowledge is shaped into intentional practices around work, love, and living a conscious life. I have discovered purpose inside complex layers of wanting evolution. I can see, now, how those borders have always been informed by an interior landscape, whether I owned this fact or not.

This is a truth we all share.

The Audre Lorde Archive materials are predominantly audio recordings. Everyone I love is dreaming while I’m awake listening to student’s chairs scraping wood floors, birds chirping in public chorus, and occasionally a truck will rattle the open classroom windows as it barrels down the city streets. The digitized tape recordings also capture nervous laughter when Audre Lorde refuses to center whiteness – and white discomfort – in Black women’s lived experiences.

She asks the students, who are there to learn about poetry written by Black American women, “What is it you want to come from this investment?”

Because “what you want will help influence what you get.”

She names her expectations and her intentions: “What poetry will demand of you…is that you will not do it [experience Black women’s lives] comfortably. You will have to get involved or you will not get anything out of it.”

“I am here because poetry is crucial to me. It’s not merely what I do, it’s a way of living. And I believe it’s a way of living that can strengthen every person who takes part in it. I think that it is a crucial way of living for women and [inaubible]. I think that self-conscious recognition of our feelings are one of the primary ways of making the stuff we need to move through our lives. I think poetry is the visual actual recreation of this stuff in a way that can be shared and used. I’m here because I want to examine this body of literature which is very important, and I feel vital to me, in conjunction with the rest of you. … That’s why I’m here, because I’m greedy, because I’m curious and because I believe I am an endangered species, the same way each one of you is endangered.” — Audre Lorde, 1984, Black Women Poetry, Frein Universität Berlin (Audre Lorde Archives)

Establishing mutual visibility – we are all endangered species – through honoring of complexity creates an awareness, an opening, towards strengthening our respective relational capacities. I learned this personally from two wildly different yet equality vulnerable experiences this past August. What is beyond those lived experiences, and this specific poetics inquiry, is an embodied confrontation of feelings. It is a requirement of authentic participation in any relationship – from self to the project of a just society.

“…personal has become a very negative word for a lot of people…but how do you feel? Do you feel objectively? How is it possible to feel other than personally? You can feel personally about things that are very large and outside of yourself, but is it possible to feel objectively? There’s nothing wrong with the personal but I want to tell you, yes poetry is personal, it must be. It is the first place you start but it does not remain there. We [poets] take what is personal, we take what is experienced and we make a bridge, hopefully, to your experience that is different. That is the magical and wonderful quality of poetry. That it can arc across differences. It’s one of the few ways we have dealing with what is genuinely different between us. One of the key ways of making something creative out of that.” — Audre Lorde, 1984, Black Women Poetry, Frein Universität Berlin (Audre Lorde Archives)

28.10.2017 Berlin

Lorde continues:

“It is part of my work that I came to do and I don’t have 300 years any more than you have. I am interested in doing my work because it satisfies me on a lot of different levels, and part of my work is coming here saying to you – how are you doing yours? What is this work we are dealing with have to do with your work as a white woman, as a white German woman, as in who you are. … I am not an angel. I cannot descend upon you with a magic wand. I cannot transform you. I can throw out those things I know and invite you to make some connections. I invite you to use them for your life.” — Audre Lorde,  1984, Black Women Poetry, Frein Universität Berlin (Audre Lorde Archives)

The weight of that investment by way of personal invitation is strategic. Her liberation, theirs, and mine cannot be separated. Other class conversations have pivoted on global tensions of climate change, gender-based violence, and nuclear escalation. It is remarkable that our shared reality has us waking up to and living under the same violence today.

Thirty-three years have slipped through us.

What dreams, or as Lorde calls them “emotional blueprints,” must we encourage beyond political formations?

How might you use the weapon of active examination – and poetry specifically – to not only envision what is possible but also perform your and my liberation?

politics of fantasy

In a previous post, I coupled the early essays of The Feminist Porn Book: The Politics of Producing Pleasure as “academic stimulation with real-world sensations.” The chorus of voices throughout the remainder of the book continue on that path and give more support for using an erotic economic analysis. The production of porn is about selling pleasure, consuming (queer) desire, and fucking loving yourself.

Ingrid Ryberg in Every Time We Fuck, We Win pushes you to understand watching porn is witness to intimacy. It is telling that we have to learn to repress so much to fit into assumed historic preferences. Keiko Lane’s Imag(in)ing Possibilities spreads your psyche out with respect. Experiencing “fantasies made conscious” is a particular arousal of “embodied subjectivity.” That point of view, a corporeal validation, is useful. Porn can heal us if we experience it without shame or remorse. If you want to get the deepest and quickest purpose of this book, read Constance Penley’s A Feminist Teaching Pornography? She gives you the permission to study porn as film. We are the audience to a multi-dimensional experience from performer to director to public tastes.

Presentation matters: angles and agency. Lorelei Lee demonstrates that to the fullest. “Sexual desire and sexual identity are absolutely essential  to the freely defined self.” Feminist porn performs power which is why it deserves its current patriarchal reputation. Own that what you feel from seeing is pleasurable. This feminist entertainment project is political. That’s no-fucks-given explicit from the begging to the end The Feminist Porn Book.  As is Ariane Cruz’s call to “take up a politics of perversion, a disruptive shift in black feminist studies, to critically analyze the engagements of pleasure and power through pornography consumption, performance, and production.”

All anthologies straddle numerous opinions and I agree with Nina Hartley that “porn houses our sexual dreams, which are vitally important to our happiness.” The how – worker centered – is what makes feminist porn feminist. It is what mutual satisfaction looks like – good enough to share. Tristan Aormino knows both sides of the camera. I’ll watch sex that is “presented as joyful, fun, safe, mutual, and satisfying.” Sexual expressions of joy! Who would be against such imagery?

That was a larger question that was often left out of the frame. We hear and see enough of the anti-porn position. It was a nice reprieve from that way of thinking. The Feminist Porn Book repeatedly and gently reminds you to consume critically and honor consent always. Sexual expressions are exchanged as erotic capital and culturally produced whether we agree with it or not. That’s why having more porn that thinks and fucks like me is where I’ll be putting my hard-earned feminist dollars.

 

the politics of penetration

I’m seven essays deep into The Feminist Porn Book: The Politics of Producing Pleasure. There are new terms to embrace like “pink films” (Japanese softcore porn) and breathless realizations around phrases like “the key to mutual confidence–risk.” The essays couple academic stimulation with real-world sensations. As the infamous Betsy Dodson so aptly notes, “all forms of sex were [are] an exchange of power, whether it was [is] conscious or unconscious.”

erotic visions
erotic visions

The politics around (re)production, representation, and the permeable moral high ground of porn – “feminist” or not – are chapters of a story that pivot on domination and release. Who’s on top and who is really getting what they asked for? What lies beneath most of the antiporn rhetoric (which is intimately coupled with conservative ideas about the purpose of sex; hint: it’s not pleasure) are “sexual panics” around fluid concepts of decency, normalcy, and obscenity. All of these convictions, and more, build towards a formula that reflects standardized shots designed to maximize profit.

I like Susie Bright’s pithy assessment “porn arouses to distraction” to describe what porn actually does.

In the essay “Emotional Truths and Thrilling Slide Shows,” Smith & Attwood theorize “in making arguments for free speech, its proponents often cede the ground that some forms of pornography are indeed awful, damaging, and to be abhorred, thereby confirming the basic analysis that there is something intrinsically problematic about both the cultural forms of sexual representation and those who seek them out.” This sounds similar to the soundtrack around abortion rights and reproductive freedom in general. This ceded ground leaves the usual suspects, non-wealthy, gender non-conforming, and non-white, maintaining the space of deviance. That is until there is a reason to play with that resistance.

A sexy choice to make, if you can access it.