Bloodmuck: a Preview
Spencer Williams: First, the numbered sections of the book are significant. In the first section, the body is rendered as culled terrain, constantly worked at, both physically & mentally—in some instances, even carved into! Whereas the second section encompasses oppressive institutions—from systematic policing and surveillance, to Buck v. Bell and the Supreme Court. But even within these guiding sections, each poem speaks to every other poem in some way. In bringing the poems in this collection together, what was your ordering process like? And when or how did you know that these poems had become the larger BLOODMUCK?
Linette Reeman: The process of creating BLOODMUCK actually happened accidentally. In summer 2017 I was arrested for allegedly defacing a Trump Golf Course and spent the night in jail, and as I’m typing this response, my charges for that are still open and the court system is dragging its feet. I was also subsequently suspended from Rowan University, where I was most of the way through completing a BA in history. The past year has been, in the least melodramatic way possible, awful. I was stalked and harassed by cops and self-identified fascists, was interrogated by the FBI, had my bike stolen and my car tires slashed, and regularly received anonymous death threats. At the darkest point of this past year, I was having debilitating panic attacks every time someone knocked on my door and was unable to be alone while awake or fall sleep without a heavy dose of intoxicants. During this time, I got fed up and angry with the systems that, while I’d never had faith in, I’d always trusted to tire themselves out. I wrote extensively and graphically about the abuses cops had perpetrated against me and my comrades, and spoke constantly of the PTSD and paranoia that people often don’t realize I have. A couple months before I was arrested I had top surgery (the gender-affirming double-mastectomy kind) and I’d planned to compile a manuscript of poems written before and after the surgery, since the process of getting approved for surgery was arduous and required me to prove over and over that I was mentally capable of consenting to the surgery itself. And then in the middle of editing that manuscript to send out to potential publishers, I got arrested, and my life took an almost complete 180, and I thought, “well dang, guess I’ve got to write about this now.” So the BLOODMUCK manuscript that eventually emerged is not about surgery or arrest, but rather deals with both very real experiences in parallel abstracts; the running themes of this book are blood, genetics, grief, trauma, the gutting and reconstructing of emotion, oppression as it exists systematically and secretly, etc. In formatting the manuscript itself for publication with T.A.R., I imagined the book this way: it is my body and everything that happened to me this year, and for the first time in my life, I have complete control over how my body is seen/used/experienced, and so I asked myself, in what way do I present my body? In which order do I talk about the experiences it has endured? And through that the order of the poems came very naturally and cohesively.
SW: Despite the heavy & bruising nature of these poems, I was struck by the many triumphs that end them! I’m thinking specifically of the poem titled “After My History Class Debates Whether the Snake in the Garden of Eden Is Male or Female.” I was absolutely devastated reading this poem, in the best of ways. The driving force is infinitely relatable to me as a trans person. It’s so frustrating when a cis majority decides to project gendered binaries onto things that wouldn’t otherwise fit, or have a reason to fit those constraints. But your re-telling of the creation story so effectively genderfucks that entire conversation into oblivion. The traditional creation story becomes a self-creation story. The de-capitalization of god in that poem is so brilliant—since the speaker has created themselves, there’s no one to seek permission or guidance from! There’s no higher power than the power we give ourselves to be ourselves completely. What a fucking incredible triumph to end on!
The entire manuscript is riddled with these pocks of intense light at the end of poems. Did you think a lot about ending poems at the top of the lighthouse, or did each piece find their way there instinctively? And specifically, for the poem I mentioned above, were you trying to reframe that obnoxious cis-lead conversation, a conversation that excludes our presence, our bodies in the room, into a source of inclusion? What might that say about present-day academia, where we have to make room for ourselves in these types of conversations because no one else is thinking to make room for us?
LR: First of all, thanks so much for saying such nice shit about that poem. When I was writing it I was worried it wouldn’t be well received because it’s definitely got a lot of layers and I thought that would be distracting, but I’m really glad that even if people don’t know or care about the Adam and Eve creation myth, they can relate to the narrative of self-liberation despite dysphoria.
Actually, someone recently pointed out to me that even though my work has shifted in the past year towards more serious topics (like dismantling the prison industrial system), the themes of love and friendship that have been absent in my work in the past are now at the forefront. I think that’s because this past year of legal mishegoss has truly shown me the communities and people who will support me and hold me even in my most desolate state. But honestly, it’s not that I go into poems looking for the light; it’s that I go into poems determined to scrape off the gunk of the feeling contained within the poem. The light that emerges from my work is a result of feeling safer and more comforted by the people I am surrounding myself with than I ever have before. I also think it’s important for writers and artists to acknowledge this: when I am writing poems about dysphoria, it is because I am in a bad emotional space with regards to dysphoria, and no amount of academic analysis can reframe that; and when I am writing poems about how much I love my friends, it is because I am lucky enough to have friends that are worthy of love poems. In short, my work directly portrays my thoughts and feelings, and the thoughts and feelings of those around me, and I refuse to be shamed into having to downplay the importance of primal emotion within art.
Every single poem I write, as a white, disabled, trans person who has been suspended from their academic institution, works to dismantle the systems that are put in place specifically to oppress already disadvantaged people. Honestly, I love academia, and academic work, and even academic poetry, I just wish that academia were more accessible, and it is obvious that in order for that to be possible, the people who have been historically discriminated against within academia need to carve out spaces for themselves and for their comrades. It is my most sincere hope that eventually academia will be entirely the voices that were previously silenced, but until then, we need to keep entering academia and fighting for that space. So, in short, fuck yes, I intended the Garden of Eden poem to make academics and conservatives uncomfortable.
SW: How do you define community? I’m thinking of your poem titled “I, Too,” which so powerfully skews this myth of a community that has no gatekeepers, no power hierarchies, & no enemies. You write, “Show me a queer intimacy that does not end in a dawn that dreads the / bruises it will expose.” How might we, as queer people, engage with our communities unbruised? What would that look like, and what would have to change for a community to cease eating its own?
LR: To me, a community is a collective of like-minded people. I don’t believe in blanket “communities,” like “the queer community” or “the Jewish community.” In my experience, this blanket concept of community allows abusers and apologists to hide behind their “community” identities. I have so many friends who have been abused by people in the trans/queer/leftist “communities” who never see restorative justice come to fruition, or see their abusers face repercussions, because there’s this taboo in marginalized circles that we can’t hold people accountable for their abuse because of their marginalizations. That’s bullshit. I don’t believe in the construct of “communities” because I believe in individuals forming their own collectives, and their own communities, based on more than identities. I am not in the same “community” as, for example, a trans person who is also a cop. Just because we are both trans doesn’t mean we’d ever get along or respect each other. So when I talk about my community, I mean the people I have chosen to surround myself with, who have also chosen me. I wish I had an answer to unbruise hurt communities, or to build communities that are wholly safe, but I don’t. In my personal and professional life, I advocate for restorative justice, and for abusers to face repercussions, and all I can do is hope other people agree with me, and together we can make these communities safer.
SW: What is your research process like, and how does historical & scientific research inform your poetry? I’m thinking mainly of poems like “Monster By Monster, Evolution Dances,” “Carrie Buck and I Compare Surgery Scars,” and “Pedigree of Alcoholism in the Author’s Family.” In these poems, you reckon with a past, sometimes a past you weren’t even present for. How do you go about navigating these multiple timelines in your work?
LR: As a historian, centering historical narratives in my work seemed really natural and obvious to me. My research process for historical poems essentially begins when I find a narrative within history that I strongly identify with. Even though Carrie Buck and I would have never met each other, and our situations were entirely different, I remember reading an interview she gave later in her life where she lamented feeling like she’d failed as a woman because she couldn’t have children, even though it wasn’t her “fault.” That struck me deeply, as someone who also feels as though they’ve failed at womanhood. Once I had that concept, of failed womanhood, the process of researching a poem is, for me, similar to researching a paper: I had a thesis, and now I needed to find my supporting argument. Other poems, like “Pedigree…” I began writing before I had a clear idea of what narratives would be interwoven, or if they would be historical at all, and those connections were discovered as I continued to write and edit and revise the piece. Any time I am writing a poem about my own history, I am automatically interested in bringing in wider historical narratives, because that is the part of history I am passionate about: what emotions moved people to move events? What great love triggered a revolutionary into action? The research is the easy part; it’s reimagining historical figures as fluid and influential within the present that is exciting and worthwhile for me.
SW: For a person engaging with BLOODMUCK for the first time, what is something you’d want them to know about your work beforehand?
LR: Even if they don’t explicitly say it, all of my poems are about how much I hate cops.
SW: Finally, whose work do you keep coming back to? Who should we all be reading, and whose work informed BLOODMUCK?
LR: A lot of the work in this book was informed by Bill Moran’s OH GOD GET OUT GET OUT, and The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee. When reading for writing, I try to balance my consumption across nonfiction and poetry, and this manuscript definitely reflects that. Other constant influences of mine and on this book are: Anne Carson, Hanif Abdurraqib, Noor Ibn Najam, George Abraham, John F. Quiñonez, Safia Elhillo, the Shitty Horoscopes project by Amrit Brar, the album Splendor & Misery by clipping., installation artwork by Philadelphia-based artists Angelica Hue and Samantha M. Connors, and a very moving and refreshingly anti-FBI biopic about J. Edgar Hoover.
Linette Reeman (they/them) is an Aries from the Jersey Shore, so they're not sure what you mean by "speed limit." They were suspended from their university last summer for political activism, and since then, they've hosted the 2017 Texas Grand Slam final stage, been accepted into the 2017 Bettering American Poetry anthology, been a finalist for the Brett Elizabeth Jenkins Prize from Tinderbox Journal, won Sundog Lit's inaugural collaboration contest with torrin a. greathouse, and have released their chapbook BLOODMUCK through The Atlas Review; subsequently, they refuse to let their university take even peripheral credit for any of it. Linette also exists on the internet at linettereeman.net.
Spencer Williams grew up in Chula Vista, California and received a B.A. in English and a B.A. in Cinematic Arts from the University of Iowa. Her first short documentary film The Only Out: A Short Reflection on an Untidy Closet premiered at the 2017 Milwaukee LGBT Film Festival and will screen again this fall at the 2018 Fotofocus Biennial in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is the author of the chapbook Alien Pink (TAR Chapbook Series, 2017) and her poetry is forthcoming from or featured in [PANK], DREGINALD, ANMLY, Hobart, Cosmonauts Avenue, Alien Mouth, Potluck, and Fractal.