Sundress Reads: Review of Greyhound

Greyhound by Aeon Ginsberg (Noemi Press, 2020) was recently nominated for a Lambda Literary Award in Transgender Poetry, and from the poem’s first breaths it’s clear to see why. Walking in the footsteps of Nevada by Imogen Binnie and other self-exploration-beyond-transition transgender narratives, Greyhound follows its speaker through the bus system into somewhere new, a phenomenological reorientation where “me being a bitch is not a possibility / but a definitive fixed point.” (30)

Greyhound is, quite literally, an epic poem from the beginning of its semi-circular journey: while Ginsberg does not end up in the same place where they started, moving from the concrete notion of getting on a bus to an ending defined by its definitions of prisms, desire, and the self, they journey through the psyche and reorient themselves through new relationships to both animate and inanimate others. Much like the wheels of its titular Greyhound bus, the one poem that luxuriates through 63 pages cycles through and circles back to a few major thematic categories: travel, transition, platonic intimacy (with others and the self), dogs, and sustenance.

The cycle reveals itself through what could most aptly be called a wheel metaphor. No one concept is explored in its entirety before the poem glitters in a different direction, shifting fragments, yet no concept is fully dropped after it has been introduced. Like a spoke of a wheel, each of these major themes and concepts hold the poem together and are featured in succession: travel, and then animals, and then definitions, and then transition, and then intimacy, and then travel again. Nothing is left alone to rot.

One of the blurbs for Greyhound mentions the work’s similarity to Sara Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology, going as far as to use Ahmed’s metaphor of a desk as a way of making orientation tangible. This relationship between Greyhound and Queer Phenomenology cannot be understated: “Even my prescriptions / have my name in parentheses. / This makes sense too—that my identity / is on the periphery of a perception of it.” (8). From the beginning of their poem, Ginsberg identifies this transient relationship to space that queerness both allows and requires and dances with it. Phenomenology, particularly the queer kind discussed by Ahmed and other scholars, relates to the physical location of and relationship to objects from one to another. Through their exploration of relationships, striving to find home, and renaming (one of the most fun parts of early transition, that rebranding of the self), Ginsberg uses phenomenology to lay the asphalt of the open road ahead of them. “Why do all the words relating to my body / have to do with movement?” they ask. “Passing privilege, / transitioning. One thing, and then another thing.” (13) This movement and the way that travel has infused the trans lexicon is cleaved open in one sharp stanza.              

But Ginsberg doesn’t stop there. Rather, this troubling of travel through language also clearly shows their love for the possibility that physical travel allows. “I tell another trans person / I feel most in my skin / in Greyhound bus terminals. / Neither of us talks / about what it means to only be seen in a liminal way— / to only be seen when we are in movement, between two points.” (19) Movement is not always beautiful, though, they remind us. “…the conversation must recognize / movement that happens without our urgency— / in fact, regardless of our urgency or agency. / The movement of militarization. / The movement of police. / The movement of borders. / The movement of bodies.” (55). Not all bodies are allowed to move in the ways they need to, and the recognitions of the world’s glittering nuance becomes a call to action. It takes a certain level of freedom to be able to live alongside the wild road as Ginsberg has— something they both recognize and willingly admit within the poem itself.

Alongside the strength and depth with which they tackle the complex ideas of bodily autonomy and power, among other concepts, in this poem, Ginsberg is also hilarious. Their dry, witty humor cracks through just about every line. “When I get a car,” they state, “I will never wear pants / again and no one can stop me.” (28) Their legs are “two kissing hairless cats,” they “have 20/20 Gender Vision.” At times, their humor is self-deprecating, but what trans person, who’s felt free under the weight of systemic oppression, isn’t? The humorous moments are extraordinarily dry, but linger nevertheless. It serves as not only a reminder of their humanity among the nebulosity they present themselves as, but as a source of strength and self-protection in the face of a world that continues to try and beat us down.

A Greyhound: the dog, the bus, the bus as related to dog, the dog as related to speaker, the speaker as related to bus. There is no singular subject in this long, complex, gorgeous poem; rather, every permutation of speaker and self works as a spoke in the wheel, pushing the poem ahead as it lays down the road it drives upon. I, for one, hope to be along for the ride, wherever Aeon Ginsberg is taking us.

Greyhound is available at Noemi Press

Lee Anderson is a nonbinary MFA candidate at Northern Arizona University, where they are the Managing Editor of Thin Air Magazine. They have been published sporadically but with zest, with work appearing or forthcoming in The Rumpus, Columbia Journal, and Unstamatic Magazine.

Meet Our New Intern: Lee Anderson

I was one of those children who believed deeply in spells they found on the Internet. If Yahoo Answers couldn’t tell me the exact words to whisper as I rolled around in the bathtub, trying desperately to melt my legs together into a mermaid tail, what was the point of having outside resources?

My belief in magic often rolled over into gullibility. I once melted the plastic shade off my magenta desk lamp because I’d taped some tissues that held “dragon eggs” (read: rocks out of the creek by my house) to the bottom in order to incubate them. They smelled like burnt cookies by the time my mom came to scold me for almost burning the house down, but all I had was guilt for killing the growing creatures. Fantasy gave me something to believe in when nothing else felt right. Of course, these hands-on attempts at manifestation were accompanied by both ravenous reading of literally every fantasy book the public library had and writing my own stories to add to the canon; I wrote my first novella the year prior, fifty-some pages of young-girl-becomes-a-mermaid-and-has-to-try-and-find-her-way-back-to-land as inspired by a particularly cool rock. In hindsight, I’m surprised I didn’t end up becoming a geologist.

When we think about our histories as readers, writers, editors, and lovers-of-literature, I think it’s easy to fall back on these narratives of always loving books, of fumbling around to try and find that exact moment that everything clicked and knowing that this is what we were meant to do. Personally, I find just as much value in looking at who I was in the absence of literature. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, one organic chemistry course away from a degree in Neuroscience, because I was so determined in college to try and connect with people. If we cannot understand who we are from the outside, how are we to know who we are internally? My life forms concentric circles around humanity, whether I am trying to escape it via mermaid-inoculation spells (which I now recognize as feeble attempts at quieting early gender dysphoria) or to focus in on it by watching the bouncing lines of an EEG scan in a silent basement lab on a deep winter evening.

In the past two years, I’ve circled back and finally started taking myself and my writing seriously. I have learned how to love a sentence and how to share myself in slivers. Finally, I feel as though I am ready to take on the precarious, privileged position of helping authors with Sundress Publications do the same. I hope to understand a little bit more about us all, and to help the world do the same.

Lee Anderson is a nonbinary MFA student at Northern Arizona University, where they are the Managing Editor of Thin Air Magazine. They have been published sporadically but with zest, with work appearing or forthcoming in The Rumpus, Columbia Journal, and Back Patio Press.

Project Bookshelf: Lee Anderson

I once organized my aunt’s library room by color when I helped her move, sweeping ROY G BIV around black shelves and bubble-wrapped packages I was expressly warned not to touch, much to her irritation. I was young, so I didn’t quite understand how or why that might be annoying, but now that I have bookshelves of my own to place, it makes more sense. I have three wide rows of a living-room-turned-office bookshelf that I share with my girlfriend sorted by genre: notebook, cookbook, scientific nonfiction, creative nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. In a perfect world, each genre would be organized by the author’s last name, but I once forgot how many letters are in the alphabet while I was teaching, so that dream hasn’t been realized just yet. For the most part, this system works. I do love that most of the books I’ve found and adore have brightly-colored covers. They are little gems, bright pops of jewel tones nestled together like the world’s best literary supermarket.

Most of my favorite fiction novels have been passed down to my youngest sister, a bookworm after my own heart, but I’ve kept a few close to me—a collection of Kurt Vonnegut’s best gifted to me by my childhood best friend, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz—and am regrowing my collection as I stumble upon more. I’m always trying to find and read more creative nonfiction, and gems like Sarah Minor’s Bright Archives that play with form are what keep me going as I test out my own form-based experiments in essays. My sort-by-genre system has been falling apart the more I learn about and invest in non-traditional literature, however. Where does a hybrid chapbook go? What about an essay collection that braids pedagogy with real science? If it exists outside of formal constraints, does it have a home? I don’t have a solution for this yet, as silly as that sounds. I’ve been trying to make gradients between genres, like one big loop, where teal fits between green and blue, and it’s both working and not.

To the right of my desk, opposite the big bookshelf, are two floating shelves. My “academic bookshelf” lives on the bottom. This is where I keep books that I’m actively reading (Something That May Shock and Discredit You by Daniel Lavery) that aren’t on my bedside table (currently The Collected Schizophrenias by Esme Weijun Wang), composition and rhetoric books I’m teaching, and books that I need for my own MFA classes. Right now, most of these books are for my thesis—Queer Phenomenology, Pale Blue Dot, Assuming a Body, and more—whether I am drawing inspiration from their form, style, or simply trying to wrap my head around the theory. The “dog” plant pot and tiny hand are for keeping the books upright and me smiling, a simultaneous bookend and serotonin slot machine. The shelf above keeps my mug collection in one place, because what is an office corner if not also a coffee station? I use my mugs as decor, in teaching my freshmen about twisting genre and tone, and for their standard purpose as drink vessels. If I think about it hard enough, they become part of my bookshelf gradient, tying the corners together by wrapping up all of my loose ends.

I keep two books on my desk with my darling marble queen pothos, color-coordinated calendar, and peach rings always in reach. Despite not being a poet, the beauty of poetry is so concentrated that it is my favorite way to re-inspire myself. Mary Oliver is one of my all-time favorites, and her anthology Devotions has enough familiar and new material that opening to a random page, reading the poem(s), and sitting with the images for a few moments is enough fuel to keep me going on long nights. I’ve done this recently with torrin a. greathouse’s new release Wound from the Mouth of a Wound and Clementine von Radic’s Mouthful of Forevers, too.

If poetry can’t save my writing brain when the wiring is faulty, though, my tarot cards can. I have a deck themed after the 2013 movie Pacific Rim, each card painted by a different artist, and take a moment, shuffling them through my hands, staring up at my big bookshelf until it feels right. I draw a card, read the interpretation from Michelle Tea’s fantastic Modern Tarot, and watch how adjusting the placement of my perspective gives me the opportunity to try again.

Lee Anderson is a nonbinary MFA student at Northern Arizona University, where they are the managing editor of Thin Air Magazine. They have been published sporadically but with zest, with work appearing or forthcoming in The RumpusColumbia Journal, and Back Patio Press.

Sundress Reads: Review of That Ex

The title is set in Visby, but I think it is more apt to fondly call it an Avril Lavigne font. The cover of That Ex by Rachelle Toarmino (Big Lucks, 2020) immediately sets a loud, confident, unapologetically femme tone that I cannot disengage from. Toarmino masterfully layers dozens of clever, understated cultural references to create a cohesive and fun portrait of the life of a 20-something in 2020s America. That Ex, Toarmino explains, is titled as such because every man has a story about a “crazy ex” who, more likely than not, was human, and her poems reflect the human intimacy of sincere self-confidence others may look down upon. Toarmino­­­­’s engagement with form helps the book embody a wholly contemporary experience, immersing her audience in the emotional weight of finding love, family, and yourself while being bombarded by phone notifications and the plight of social media.

Toarmino, Editor-in-Chief of Peach Magazine, swiftly summarizes this experience in 103 weighty pages of poetry. While the collection moves quickly, themes and emotions building between pages, each poem is worth sitting with individually. Holistically, this book reads like tending to a plant stretching up under the neon purple of a grow light—something tender, assisting natural growth and life through artificial means to supplement that which we cannot get otherwise. Individual poems read like lip gloss shimmer catching the light from below in a bar; the light that cracks through pre-installed starter apartment curtain blinds; streetlights smearing onto the wet pavement of an empty parking lot at night. Lines become enjambed and run over each other, interrupting one thought with another, fast callbacks and callouts and calls for attention to the minutiae of daily turmoil. And it is beautiful.

With references from Anne Carson to the Twitter account @SheRatesDogs (which posts anonymous screencaps of male entitlement, often in dating app screenshots or private messages on social media), from Anish Kapoor and Stuart Semple’s color privatization disputes to Marie Kondo’s concept of items sparking joy, Toarmino captures the whirlwind of constant cultural references that comes with living in the digital age. These references come in quick succession, and the reader is expected to keep up. Both of the above sets of references occur within the same line, rocketing us back and forth between flickers of the cultural imagination. Toarmino’s spry connections are not just for immersion, but to lend an anchor point for empathy: understanding the subversions, inversions, and thick vacillations between optimism and pessimism about the situations at hand often feels like staring at someone else’s life through a thick pane of glass. In “People You May Know,” the speaker calls interpersonal interactions “looking at each other / through the wrong end / of binoculars” and comments that “it is so gaudy / and gruesome.” Toarmino is right, and That Ex consolidates this experience, tracing the move from putting yourself together to falling back apart to putting yourself back together but for real this time, I promise.

That Ex uses physical forms, in all its shifts and breaks and shapes, to its advantage throughout the book. For example, “If You Love Attention Make Some Noise,” is composed only of one phrase—“I am easy to love,”—that is repeated 104 times. The final line cuts off the phrase partway through: “I am easy.” The repetition creates a perfect block of text, a rectangle easy enough to skim through like a mantra you have to tell yourself even when you don’t believe it, followed by an interjection, or perhaps an intrusion, of what you really do believe, or what others tell you that you should believe.  

“I Said Okay” is the first of two poems where single lines and stanzas stand on their own, spread across eighteen pages, a handful of words and images swimming in blank space. The last image, “okay / I said okay / I will Okay” uses capitalization for emphasis, as though we’re hearing one side of a phone conversation with a disgruntled mother. These fragments feel like reading texts pop up on someone else’s phone screen—stripped of context, yet deeply intimate and emotional. You cannot know what that context is without intruding, and Toarmino doesn’t shy away from the bombardment and interference that has become a cornerstone of young contemporary lives. Other shapes, literal images of a ravioli food truck or a computer mouse bringing the speaker’s body to the trash described as bracketed asides in “Week of Waking Thoughts No. 2” or the lightning-bolt zig-zag of alternatingly off-centered lines in “You Up?”, are emotional touchstones without ever feeling self-serving or self-sacrificing. In particular, “[visual of mouse cursor dragging my body to Trash] / mark yourself safe” from “You Up?” highlights the speaker’s feelings of catastrophe by moving herself to the electronic disposal system and, in the very next line, clarifying that she is okay by means of Facebook’s algorithm for updating family and friends after a disaster.  

“there is the first moment / when you realize // that someday you will know this person / very intimately // but it will feel like / returning to something.” That Ex brought me back to shuffling through profiles on Tinder, keeping my fingers crossed for the prospect of finding someone worth my love, and trying to convince myself that I was just as worthy of it as others. Its lyric stirrings brought that purple light overhead, returning me to an intimate corner of myself I’d nearly forgotten about, but never truly could.

That Ex is available at Big Lucks

Lee Anderson is a nonbinary MFA student at Northern Arizona University, where they are the Managing Editor of Thin Air Magazine. They have been published sporadically but with zest, with work appearing or forthcoming in The RumpusColumbia Journal, and Back Patio Press.