This week in the PEN Poetry Series, guest editor Maggie Nelson features an excerpt from Dodie Bellamy’s 2013 book Cunt Norton. About Bellamy’s work, Nelson writes: “For my last selection as a guest editor, I wanted to pick something raucous and inventive and in keeping with PEN’s mission. I could think of no better choice than Dodie Bellamy’s Cunt Norton, which paves the way for poetry’s future while engaging slyly & deeply with its past. Bellamy’s own introduction to the book—which Les Figues Press, its esteemed publisher, has generously allowed us to reprint in full here —is far more articulate about her vision than I could ever be. So enjoy, and bon voyage.”
These Lips Which Are Not One
Cunt Norton is the big budget sequel to the indie Cunt-Ups, which I published with Tender Buttons in 2001. I’ve merged the porno-erotic source text of my original cut-ups with poems harvested from the second edition of The Norton Anthology of Poetry. In Cunt Norton, I send Cunt-Ups’ lovers to extravagant English and East Coast U.S. locales. They fuck and suck in dramatic landscapes, lightning flashing, on the earth and in bodies of water; they come spraying though rarefied air. I costume them in gowns by Edith Head, glamorize them with guest appearances by famous stars. No more Jeffrey Dahmer confessions and internet articles on the connection between sperm and ectoplasm; we’re talking Shakespeare and Lord Byron, we’re talking the big-time verse philosophers.
Published in 1975, the second edition of The Norton is the one I was exposed to as a young poet. In the anthology’s preface, the editors rehearse the additions they made to the 1970 first edition: they doubled the amount of women—they’re particularly proud of Anne Bradstreet, Emily Brontë, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning—and they added 34 additional modern poets (the youngest being Nikki Giovanni and Michael Ondaatje). They also diluted the volume’s whiteness a bit. “Four new black poets amplify the presentation of that tradition,” they write, implying that all black poetry hails from a single altern (“that”) tradition. In the back cover copy, the 1344-page (including the index) collection is heralded “a magnificent bargain, with poems a penny each”—perhaps a reference to Joyce’s Pomes Penyeach, though Joyce himself is not included in the anthology. My original plan for Cunt Norton was to focus solely on white male poets, but after reading The Norton’s preface, I was reminded that patriarchy—ditto its canon—has more moving parts than I had anticipated. Therefore, in acknowledgement of the 1975 edition’s proud tokenism, I have cunted one white female poet and one black male poet.
To tart up this introduction, I’d planned to weave in a juicy quote from “These Lips Which Are Not One,” an essay by Luce Irigaray that was really important to me as an antidote to the reverence for the literary canon I was taught at Indiana University. I discovered it in the early 80s when Irigaray’s translator, Carolyn Burke, visited Kathleen Fraser’s Feminist Poetics class at San Francisco State. When I started researching the essay online, I could find no reference to such a text, and I eventually concluded that my remembered title is an amalgamation of Irigaray’s book This Sex Which Is Not One and her 1980 essay, “When Our Lips Speak Together.” By citing a hybrid text that doesn’t exist I invite you into the tangled world of Cunt Norton, through the veins of which misappropriation flows like donated blood that’s been mistyped.
Burke’s translation of Irigaray’s “When Our Lips Speak Together” begins like this: “If we continue to speak the same language to each other, we will produce the same story.” A bit later: “If we continue to speak this sameness, if we speak to each other as men have spoken for centuries, as they taught us to speak, we will fail each other. Again. . . . Words will pass through our bodies, above our heads, disappear, make us disappear.” In Cunt Norton, I will not flee from an aesthetic designed to make me disappear; instead I take on these texts, in the spirit of the Buddhist tonglen practice, where instead of turning away from painful material, you embrace it. You breathe negativity into your body and breathe out light. This is my dream for Cunt Norton, that the text breathes out light, or something more feminist than light.
These patriarchal voices that threatened to erase me—of course I love them as well. To cunt a text is to adore it. As those bards of yore so well knew, desire—think Cupid’s arrow—arrives from elsewhere. You can feel it coming on like the flu, suddenly there’s this other—it doesn’t matter if you’ve known them for 20 years—suddenly there’s this energy and even if you say to yourself, not him, not her, you know there is no resisting, it’s inevitable, this person—even if they’re unaware of you, they take up residence in your psyche and there’s no getting rid of them. You feel destroyed before it begins, yet compelled. Desire exhausts us, dissolves us. Cunt Norton will last as long as there are quadrants of desiring text. When those are spent, the book ends. Until then it will keep fusing with poem after poem, desperate and insatiable. The irrationality of uncontainable desire consumes the tight metrics of logocentrality. As the two texts thrust against one another a new rhythm is co-created, Shakespeare Frost Stevens Byron Whitman Wordsworth Milton Poe seasoning the act with loftiness, melancholia, hubris, Romantic kinkiness, nostalgia, a range of mysticisms, mourning, religiosity, and nature, nature, nature. Libidinous voices cry out in the night. We’re never quite sure if the voices are one or two, if it/they are talking to one another—us—or it/themselves. This is as it should be.
On FaceBook I asked friends if there were any poets in particular they would like to see cunted. Pazit said Shakespeare; Juan chose Gerald Manley Hopkins. Dorothy Trujillio Lusk wrote, “ooooh! do ME!…but I’m not there…do me anyways! oxox…” To “do” someone is to fuck them. I’d love to do you, Dorothy. Writing is a sexual act. Cunting forefronts that. Cunting is so exhilarating I have the fantasy of marketing Cunt-Ups Kits—a packet of pretorn porno-erotic quadrants and instructions. Here’s how you do it:
Do not study the original Cunt-Ups before beginning this process. Each instance of cunting is a new encounter, not a reinscription. Each person who cunts will impart her unique DNA. (All persons who cunt are female, regardless of the gender they present in ordinary reality.)
Choose a poet and decide which poem(s) of his you want to “do.” Find text(s) online and copy it/them into an MS Word document. Remove line breaks so you create a solid block of text. Format in 12-point Palatino font, line-spacing set for 1.5 lines, left-justified. Set document margins at 1-inch, top and both sides, 1.6-inch on the bottom. This should give you 30 lines of text per page; you need exactly 30 lines of text per cunt-up. If your source poem does not yield 30 lines of text, add more poems to it until you get enough text.
Print out prose block. Fold in half, top to bottom, so you have 15 lines on each half. Rip in two (ripping against a ruler expedites the process and results in a nice, clean edge). Fold these two pieces in half, left to right, rip again. You should end up with four quadrants of equally distributed text. Choose two quadrants for your cunt-up. Randomly choose two quadrants of porno-erotic source text. For the top half of your page, combine a quadrant of poem with a quadrant of porno-erotic text so they line up perfectly, then tape them together. Left or right positioning is up to you. Repeat for bottom half of page. Then tape together top and bottom halves of page. You should end up a prose block the same size and shape as your original prose block. Retype and rework until something interesting emerges.
Burroughs’ instructions for cut-ups are so vague they’re hard to follow. You can tell this guy never baked a cake from a recipe. Here’s some non-Burroughsian fine points:
If a word is cut in half, you may finish it any way you like. E.g., “wo” expands to woman, worry, word, wonder, etc.
Words may be deleted; tenses and grammatical categories may switch. E.g., “because” (subordinating conjunction) becomes “becauses” (noun). Pronouns are totally up for grabs. Word order may not change; “hair beautiful” cannot become “beautiful hair.” Though the practice is discouraged, extra words may be inserted, cautiously and sparingly, mostly for rhythmic purposes.
Irigaray: “Kiss me. Two lips kiss two lips, and openness is ours again. Our ‘world.’ Between us, the movement from inside to outside, from outside to inside, knows no limits […] Between us, the house has no walls, the clearing no enclosure, language no circularity. You kiss me, and the world enlarges until the horizon vanishes.”
When you cunt a text, both texts are devoured, both are spit back up stunned by their new undulations, their hybridity an act of endurance and of disappearance, meanings evaporating behind them like a trail of smoke. Monstrous, unashamed, the new text mobius-strips itself, sprouts long silvery corkscrews of hair, walks barefoot over gravel, gold lunula glinting about its throat. Its lips they are not one.
So have I blis, of oo thing God hath sente me—thee. So generous, really. Is it okay that I touche thy face? Thou art so scarlet reed aboute thy clit, still burning away al that maketh the ozone dien. Thou art siker as I holde thee and want thee for womman is mannes joye and his font. My cock, it groweth beanshoot harde against thy softe side that I may on thee ride til sonne rise morning harde. It is exciting, allas—I am so ful of joye and of solas, hot for thee in thy rental car. Oon word, and I wol fleigh down fro the beem onto thy ravenous wet pussy. It straineth whan I have to “chuk,” to calle for thee this way. I’m thinking of thee, namore aferd: I fether thee and fuck thee: thinking of thee, it is prime. Thou lookest as if it were a grim. I’m thyn, thinking of knowing thy down. I deine to sette my foote to that—mo than anything, I’ve wanted this ever since thee I have yfounde. To thee I renne, my clit so sensitive I doe nat like any oothers, and after wol I telle this aventure: whan it’s changing thy cock turneth to oon side. Whan God first maked man I was born—it was a good orgasm—it lasted thritty days and two; seven times all was ytouched inside of me, this huge saturation. I’m going to kiss thyn yën to the brighte sonne. In the signe of the knife I wol go down on thee, oon and somwhat mo, and thou shalt know by kinde the noises I make on thy cock, and thou shalt crew with blisful stevene to the sonne. I wol make sounds in thyn ears, oon and more, ywis. Madame, I repeat, thise sounds ben blisful briddes, how they singen thy pussy like a waterfall. Ful I wol push thyn herte of revel and solas. But sodeinly I flick oon nipple as I lick the oother. I’m going for joye—God woot that worldly joye is sliding in between thy lips. Thou in a cronicle saufly mighte it write, so as nat to blow out the fire on the tip of thy tongue. Herkne me: this storye is also trewe: the day I’m kissing you feeleth longe as a lake. Womman, I holde thee in ful greet reverence until we bothe haven the same breath. I’m a colfox ful of sly iniquitee, a grove cock moving in and out of thy mouth, by imaginacion forncast. The same night thurghout my tongue moveth back and forth along thy Chauntecleer the faire. I wol nat stop, I keep licking, and thou touchest me stille. We lien together til it is passed undren. Topsoil under my last breath, I’m licking, I’m falling, as gladly doone thise homicides alle.
Here I stand with the sense of my mouth, thinking that in this moment there is life and my teeth. Thy cunt bleeds because thou hopest—though changed, no doubt—there I will again push through my cock like a roe bounding o’er the mountain, my mouth on a good day navigating thy lips’ lonely streams. Wherever nature leads me, there I would touch thee. Thy nipples have gone I sometimes dread, seeking them, the things I so loved. Thy words tumble through my veins, reminding me of boyish days, my glad animal movements barnacled to thy clit. Thou art a blind voice—I cannot paint what then it was, sounding now precarious. I was not a pig—I was a tall rock, a mountain, deepening thy glad insides. Thou meant more to me than appetite; thou made me feel like the first rocket on the moon. Thou art like a thought supplied, unblemished since I behold no more thy body naked in all its aching joys. Thou art now smudgy like on television. I try not to mourn nor murmur—other gifts have followed, sexy ones too—but thou didst turn my whole body into abundant recompence as we pushed up against the wall growling with thoughtless youth. Hearing thy voice I oftentimes dream thou art fucking me freshly like bread—not grating, though I touch my body and pretend it’s thy hands deeply infusing my dwelling, lightly squeezing my breasts, sliding through ocean and the living air, and the blue sky, and tapestries. I love feeling thy head for its spirit impels all my thinking. All objects become thy mouth, open and dribbling, and therefore am I still a lover of thy meadows. I love it when thou art “meta,” telling of all that thou behold’st from this green earth with thy mouth. We are both more than what each half creates, this is what I perceive with thy tits on my lips. I love the language of the senses—thus anchored, I love smelling thee, especially thy asshole, the guardian of my heart and soul and all my moral being. Thy voice aroused makes me grow taut with longing for thy genial breasts, that I may come upon the banks of thy fair river, my dearest. A few minutes thinking intently upon thy voice I catch the language of my former white goo. Thou movest so fast out of all thy clothes, shooting lights from thy wild eyes. Oh! yet a little and thy clit throbbed like a fire alarm, once, my dear, dear sister, my prayer.
A complex 4-color map would not be able to separate me from your tree, my heron. I praise your long grass as I drag my tongue across your neck and ankle, my heron. I look straightly towards tomorrow when I’ll make enough slurping to raise your sheaf up. The stick of your leg will never want to hear any other music again. When you grow your wheat, my presentation understands you—I am both woman and small boy in white carrying your dissolve. I go straight down on you in a black wig, intent upon pushing your tits up towards your face, so you can lick them while I’m in your rushes. You are as far as I am animal—I skin you alive like a fucking rabbit, rows of beaters driving your game to my hut. You’re wet and I’m huffing, trying to open space in your low shrubs. I think of your neck of earth, and my hardsong rises, like we’re teenagers. I’m kissing your recovered sickle with the grass-stains still on it, I’m kneeling here between your legs with your barley. Cut me down. I am tree. I am your boy, my head moving back and forth. Your lips when in motion are the season of my river and cock. My eyes close like a blind mole. I am your hawkweed, holding you as the wind blows. You press yourself up against me like escaped civil war and marauding soldiers. My cock will be yours, my mouth will be yours, a mouthwine made of dandelions. Our new rites are casualties on every battle field. When your hand groves my flailed crops, my thighs slightly part and I clench my cunt around your head. I have to learn the simplest things to keep from going insane with frustration. My mouth is at sea—you are so slow to get your hand out and to suck me. My nipples are large, my nipples are your trade, standing estranged, sour as cranberries. My nipples need you without delay. I will not be content, my man, unless you’re unusually charged tonight, as I sit here rubbing my nature against obedience. You are late in fucking me. My nipples are very sensitive, turning hot pink for you. Making more sense than my own distances, my pussy’s all wet now. It’s your fingers’ business to nature my pussy’s wetness, to get it on without making dialogues. Why discuss ancient texts when the aroma of my pussy allows such pleasures? My known tongue is flicking in your little groove, my one man world. Like tokens my nipples harden with one touch of your hand, my man. No test can prove if “love” has been consummated as we move together, where it comes from, where it goes.
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