by Danielle Pafunda on Jun.27, 2011
I wrote the following in early 2007, at the height of Pussipo’s activities, when a bunch of experimental women poets found themselves together on a highoctane Internet weirdfest known as a listserve:
Pussipo will see you in the Underworld where “poetry in [that] tradition, [has been] self-slain, murdered by its own past strength.”
Pussipo emulate that child who vomits up her own materials in order to rid herself entirely of tainted skins. Pussipo do not try to rescue or retain our own materials, but jar them loosely in fermented mare’s milk and gasoline. Pussipo do not try to rescue our own spilled materials, but send them along with the abject spinning into the Underworld, the sewer, whatevs Underground where we will later collect them and put them to good use. This is not like compost in that we do not expect to grow anything beautifully edible. It is like compost in that it shall be stank.
Pussipo rejoice in Western art and literature’s ascription of the rank corpse. In these glossy hides, Pussipo gain access to the Underworld and begin.
Pussipo will see you in the Underworld.
Pussipo do not fondle the reified detritus of the phallus encrusting the common chat. If its purse is split, pocket its jewels, but otherwise we’ve got bigger fires to tend. Pussipo proceed directly to the genital and carry its mucoid jargon to the Underworld. Pussipo place a pin in every accomplished lip.
Pussipo splice together those brief crags with our own historical organs. Thus Pussipo create gold-toothed cyborgs; part poem, part biologue. Entirely analogue.
Pussipo will see you in the Underworld where Pussipo will remake you with your own discarded fat cells, where Pussipo will poke out your faux god-eye and insert the thousand-chambered fly-eyes of the pussilarva.
Around the time I wrote this, I was reading Harold Bloom’s The Anxiety of Influence for my Ph.D. exams. I was thinking about influence, of course, but more specifically in whom influence is expected to (don’t forgive me) bloom.
This is about that basic unit of power: gender. Or it could be about that basic unit of power: genitals. Or: race. Or: desire. Or: nationality. Or: class. Or, or, or. If you’re in some way or another born into the world such that your parents/the state take a gander at you and say, poor perv, it’s the underworld for you, then you’re always already a gravedigger. Your presence is a desecration, a failure of sperm and egg to produce the finest possible copy of a copy of a copy. You’re not a pale imitation of some apocryphal original. You’re a mutation, an incorrect variation. Sometimes you’re a welcome mutant, and they invite you up out of the basement, and you earn a cookie for performing your trick, but eventually you have to go back down.
So. Maybe you feel more at ease than surface dwellers do thieving in the graveyard, and you think, whose old phalanges will I use to type today? You dig up Ginsberg, you dig up Bataille, Nabokov, Kerouac, Ferlinghetti, Paul Bowles, but Jane Bowles is in the reader, too, and even though you’re a 17-year-old cockroach, you’re not stupid. Plath left you a trail of bones, and Anais Nin’s an easy find. There’s a whole anthology of Russian poets including Marina Tsvetaeva, Anna Akhmatova, Bella Akhmadulina. It’s okay if some of these people are still alive at the time. Better, even! Take a souvenir, swipe yourself a reliquary. You’re not an idiot. You read LeRoi Jones, Jean Toomer, Gwendolyn Brooks. This is all before college, even. Then you build yourself a bone suit and hop inside, and this is how you learn to become a writer. You take apart your bone suit. You make bone soup. You deflect your nasty professor with a bone when he tells you your prose is boring. You make yourself a second spine of other writers’ bones. You wear a bone crown and jam bones in your ears when people say dismissive things about you.
You’re lucky, actually. Getting anxious about your influences is a luxury, but it isn’t a very pleasant one. Your neighbor boy is sobbing because he’ll never be James Joyce, and there you are with James Joyce’s dehydrated eyeball staring out from your orifice, because, after all, you’ve read Bataille, and you think you know how power gets transferred, and you need it fast because you know you’ve got to write twice as much in half the time. You’re only 19, but you’re already scaring off boyfriends, wearing out girlfriends. You disappoint daddies and teachers and editors. You do something they like just to see if you can and when they call you up to give you a cookie, you puke all over yourself. You’re lucky, everything you do is garbage.
You’re lucky because when it turns out that art isn’t something you do but something that does you, when it turns out that humans are strategic sites for art, when it turns out influence blooms rotten in your gut and saps all your nutrients trying to dig its way out, you know you’re going to be okay. You’re used to being occupied. You know who the brassier demon is.
Look: this is what Harold Bloom says:
The great poets of the English Renaissance are not matched by their Enlightened descendents, and the whole tradition of the post-Enlightenment, which is Romanticism, shows a further decline in its Modernist and post-Modernist heirs. The death of poetry will not be hastened by any reader’s broodings, yet it seems just to assume that poetry in our tradition, when it dies, will be self-slain, murdered by its own past strength.
Marjorie Perloff says, look: Bloom is talking about a specific lineage: Romantic poetry will be self-slain, murdered by its own past strength. Which seems to me exactly what the Romantic poets would want to see happen. Who would be happier about their poems haunting the fuck out of us? Who would rather roll around in the grave with their own poems, and then come shooting out on a gust of ectoplasm and slap a poor, unsuspecting fawn in the gut?
But, look: it doesn’t have to come from the past archaeologically (from crust to core), and it doesn’t have to come from the past genealogically (daddy, grandaddy, great big weepy-ass grandaddy). It doesn’t have to be a reclamation (grandmammy!). It doesn’t have to be familial, incestuous, kinship, property-based, gift-exchange, legacy, it doesn’t even have to be dead. When art gets into a human and comes twisting out the other side as over-oxygenated despair-o-gram, spin-the-bottle high camp tongue kitsching, whatever, it’ll infect and deform you. Some of it will even break (into) your heart.
A shaman becomes so because a shaman has battled a bad spirit and survived, has hacked out a ball of death, has seen the otherside. Or, a shaman becomes so because a shaman still has a ball of death inside, an undead baby demon disease, and lives anyhow. A shaman is a rent that allows us access to the otherside, and as Anna Tsing and others who consider the upside of abjection tell us, those abject things: shit, maggots, flies, they’re gateways. The shaman knows where it’s at.
Look: everyone who came before you was also ordinary and small and subject to the limits of the human machine. I did that thing where I stayed up past 5 am writing the other night, and then I tried to sleep it off, and by noon I was up again drinking coffee yelling “how am I supposed to fit all this stuff in my body?” and “why do I have to operate within the confines of space and time?!” and “what kind of coffee is this anyway, huh?!”
At readings, events, things, people ask me who my influences are, and I want to say, well, everyone, duh. But I know what people mean when they say influence. They mean what work are you aping? What work can’t you resist regurgitating? What work won’t leave you alone? What work finds you a fetching squat? What work sticks like a burr in the brain, like a subcutaneous oil slick, like it’s coding into your cells right this very minute?
My daughter keeps asking me what a crush is. What does it mean to have a crush? Somewhere Jonathan Lethem talks about loving a Talking Heads album (Fear of Music?) so much that he wanted to take off his head and replace it with the album and that, my friends, is influence. The trick is to keep your head. In a bag. Or tucked under your arm. Or in a pumpkin shell. The trick is to become hydra-headed. The trick is to do it well.