Issue 9's featured poet is Gwen Aube, whose work has the bombastic breathlessness of the girl bands who taught us how to to be cool. Join us as we talk about pacing, evocation of a moment, and why the skull is truly the best bone.
Jacqueline Boucher: Rhythmically, your work is very distinct: rockwitch superstar, especially, has this percussive staccato that keeps things moving at such a propulsive clip. Can you talk about what role rhythm and speed play in your work?
Gwen Aube: I’m quite entertained you find my work ‘propulsive’, sice I tend to talk very fast and get asked to repeat myself all the time. It makes sense that would leak into my poetry. Often while writing a poem I feel as though I’m calling my best friend, like “you wont BELIEVE what just happened!!!”. In those sorts of relationships, I find sharing joyous and terrible news can become equally exciting. Regardless of what’s going on, there’s this sense of overwhelming relief at the prospect of exit into the other. Similar to trans sisterhood, finding that space of confession in a lineage of writers is when I feel most liberated by poetry, and I guess it’s hard not to be trembling about that sometimes.
I owe a good amount of my idiosyncrasies in rhythm to years of listening to and learning from rappers. Rap verses are kinda like a puzzle -- you can veer off-kilter, but you always have to find your way back to catch the beat at the end of a bar. That ethos is a really steady building block, and riding a loopy rhythm can definitely lead you to places you might not find otherwise. Similarly, I think when you’ve lived life as a few different people (or genders), you pick up a variety of cadences from a variety of worlds. Rhythm and cadence excite me as one of these tools that can turn poetry from a static diary entry to a writhing, panting beast and the beast is your friend and you get to ride on it’s back and go on cool adventures and stuff!!
JB: I was especially drawn to “best dress i ever bought,” partly because it evokes the specificity of place and time through language and allusion. Can you walk us through the creation of that poem?
GA: Totally! So as the poem recounts, a friend and I had stopped in this vintage store and I found this beautiful tie-dye dress that I fell in love with. The store owner, bless her heart, read me as a crossdresser, so she commented on how smooth the silk was and how nice it would feel on my freshly shaved legs (y’know, real freak shit). I was hurt, of course, like, I’m just a girl trying to buy a dress, right? But there was also a bit of time travel happening there, I think: So, I came out in 2015, right at the ‘trans tipping-point’ when transgender issues went mainstream. But since about 2008 I was reading transsexual internet forums like Susan’s Place, as well as crossdressing erotica. These resources painted trans womanhood as a seedy and debaucherous romp through the underground, and for twelve year old me, being trans held the same forbidden allure as getting into black magic did. It was a little disappointing, then, that by the time I decided to come out (thanks, of course, to the breathtaking women who came before me) everything was just slightly sterilized by a maybe-well-meaning cis media cycle. This store-owner gave me a glimpse at what my life may have been like a decade or even just a few years earlier. That timewarp immediately evoked, to me, trannypunk pioneers like Genesis P-Orridge, as well as the early goth and web 1.0 references that made their way into the poem. Things that, for much of my closeted life, felt trans-analagous.
In the final two stanzas -- when we’d left the vintage store and returned to the modern world -- I close the poem with a description of some “give-fuck-less” seagulls. Interestingly, they migrated to my poem from a much older home. I was inspired to write that bit by the poet Ruan Ji, who lived in China between the Han and Three Kingdoms periods, and by his collection Poems From My Heart. Lines like “A dark stork raises it’s beak / Darting aloft, it vanishes into the sky / Never again will it be heard / It is no company for the cuckoos and the crows / that circle round the court”. It’s very sure of itself and I love that. Ruan Ji was a bit of a freak, too. When the Han dynasty fell, ambassadors for the succeeding kingdom would come to ask for his allegiance, but every time (just before they arrived) he would get wildly drunk. Everything happens at once and poetry is just weirdos all the way down.
JB: You mentioned that Lammergeier is your first publication, and we’re so honored! Can you tell us a bit about how you came to writing, and the work you’re excited to create from here?
GA: I’m truly very honoured myself! Growing up, I did write poems and lyrics and things, but to express myself I mostly just spray painted my name on stuff and broke into buildings. It turns out you're not allowed to do that as a full time job, though. Plus, my school counsellor told me that art school was a waste of time, which turned out to be worthwhile advice. Eventually, like many teenagers, I read books like On The Road and The Bell Jar and learned that you could just write about your friends and fears and god, and that there was a whole culture based around that mode of living, which seemed maybe even cooler to me than breaking the law. I started writing and reading for people and that was that. About four years ago I wrote a novel, but I think that’s going to stay tucked away in my google docs.
Currently I’m working on a series of poems called ‘Missed Connections With Tall Girls’, cataloging basically every trans woman I’ve ever had a fleeting interaction with, as well as a larger collection of general poems. My friend Nevada Jane Arlow and I are also slowly working on collaborative poems as ‘the Transsexual Mythographers Union’. I’m definitely enamoured with poetry right now, but I’m also sorta hiding out in poem-world until I’m less scared to write prose again, I think. Prose is terrifying stuff.
JB: What are you reading right now that excites you?
GA: A few months back I read Torrey Peters’ ‘Detransition, Baby’, and I’m still finding bits of myself and my friends in that book. Torrey has always been astounding at capturing the seedy underbelly of the trans experience, as well as our unconditional care for one another, but this book had so much more love and heart than I was expecting. I doubt I’d be working on those Missed Connections with Tall Girls poems without that book.
Right now I’m reading Ann Beattie’s short story collection ‘What Was Mine’. She has a great way of wringing humor out of her characters while also writing them with a lot of empathy, and I admire that.
As for poetry, I have a grab-bag of old favourites and new discoveries I’m reading or re-reading from: Diane Di Prima, Eileen Myles, Amiri Baraka, J Jennifer Espinoza, Cat Fitzpatrick, Bhanu Kapil, Melanie Janisse Barlow. I’m waiting on a copy of Cesar Vallejo’s poetry right now, which I’m very eager to read.
Also, if I can toss out some music that's exciting me right now: Your Arms Are My Cocoon, JB Beverley & The Wayward Drifters, Roc Marciano, BKTheRula, blackwinterwells, Reaching Quiet.
JB: What’s your favorite bone?
GA: Around christmas I suffered a mild-to-moderate concussion. I’m doing well now, but recovery was rough and the jury’s still out on the return of my prior sleep patterns. So 100% without a doubt, even with all its gnarly rep, the skull is an impossibly underrated bone structure. Shoutouts to the temporal bone specifically.