Genderqueer and Trans Poetics: An Interview with Trish Salah

By and | 1 August 2012

Tiresias, up close and personal

Mythology is cheap as foil for soulful at a time when it is not soul we are looking forward to. I can’t pretend to know the first thing about your age—I would never do that to a woman, having been for seven years, by what awry i find extraordinary is the fuss. I suppose there was a time before snakes, before Oedipus. I suppose knowledge used to come in a different wrapper, another hanger of the airport, perhaps devoted to an exotic, recently decolonized and southern state. Great beaches, with palm trees, your favourite colour green, and the women swanning in heels so high like they were born to…

Have you ever considered that I might have preferred to be forgotten? Think of my family, and what it is to live past everyone you’ve held dear. I could be a vein’s contingency in blue, a vanity of the television era, a lovely young girl just beginning to imagine another one’s caress. Blank depths to come.

I am tired through. I have fest fast into wound and no other to dream toward.

a poem from Lyric Sexology, forthcoming

MH: For those of us unawares, could you highlight the manner in which transpoetics utilise and diverge from queer theory and post-queer theory? And from that position, could you speak to the manner in which theory has developed in and informed your newest work, Lyric Sexology, and tell us a bit more about this project?

TS: I think that this is a huge question. Queer theory has been for some of us a gateway, at least initially, and then around a year into grad school it turns into an increasingly punishing fun house mirror. Or not – for some it stays lovely and useful. And others knew the enemy when they first saw it, and didn’t go near grad school. It is not for nothing that Susan Stryker described transgender studies as ‘queer theory’s evil twin.’ Viviane Namaste succinctly summarised the situation when she suggested that queer theory relegates transsexual and transgender people ‘to the figural dimensions and functions of discourse’ (194). Now to be aligned with the figural – with discourse’s performativity – is not without its appeal for a writer, or anyone who imagines themselves the artist of their own life … but it can pose some problems for being in the world, or even ‘being’ in queer theory.

I wrote my doctoral dissertation to undo what some queer and Foucauldian scholars were doing to trans identities in the name of queer and new historicist projects, and Lyric Sexology came from wanting to stage new encounters with the archives of trans-formative discourses I addressed in my dissertation. Lyric Sexology does affective work, and politically motivated and strategic dis-identificatory work, but it is also about allowing those archives to pose questions of this moment, these subjects we’ve become – are becoming. It is, for all that it slips regularly into lyric impersonation, also a procedural engagement with, or discourse analysis of, trans genre figure(s) within sexological, psychoanalytic, feminist, anthropological and biographical archives.

gloss/vox: grub beneath nails,

will madame take all of an i?
the few presentists ask (on the college talk radio circuit)
like a president, asks all of or before you
the two positions run:
a) if you see me coming, sexed up, is that stalking?
or, by the present question,
b) “can’t we harness rupture??”
(don’t forget to prepare for the inevitable harassing phone calls)

a poem from Lyric Sexology, forthcoming

MH: Who are some of the other theorists and poets that readers should be aware of? And, as an aside to that question, which writers have been most informative in your development as a poet?

TS: I recently had the pleasure of reading at Ancestors, a trans and queer indigenous and of colour poetry event organised by Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhrán, an extraordinary poet and curator, and Tony Valenzuela, the executive director of the Lambda Literary Foundation at AWP. There were a lot of tremendous writers in that room who were either trans, genderqueer and/or contributing to the emergence of trans and genderqueer poetic discourse – folks like Jai Arun Ravine, Ryka Oaki, Ching-in Chen. Ahimsa himself is doing very important and inspiring work, both as a poet and a community organiser. And of course there were some amazing folks who could have been in that room but were not, for one reason or another: Aiyanna Maracle, Max Wolf Valerio, Qwo-Li Driskill …

One of the most important and profoundly innovative poets ever, kari edwards, passed away a couple of years ago. kari’s books: obedience, iduna, a day in the life of p, Bharat jiva, are among the most exhilarating, difficult, and rigorous texts I’ve spent time with. There are lots of poets doing innovative work, but not a lot of critical engagement with trans poetries. There was a cluster devoted to kari’s work in Aufgabe 1, and Julian Brolaski, Erica Kaufman and E. Tracy Grinnell edited and published a very loving, very smart and inspiring festschrift entitled, No Gender: Reflections on the Life and Work of kari edwards. Brolaski xirself is a tremendous poet who writes urban pastoral through brilliantly and queerly non-standard English. Tim Peterson’s Since I Moved In thinks beautifully about trans figures articulated ironically through and against lyric voice, colonial history’s sedimentary relations. There is a growing list.

My itinerary as a writer has very much been shaped by communities I’ve had an opportunity to write in/with, cohorts of peers who’ve also been mentors in a certain way – writing groups like Ouma Seeks Ouzo and the Stern Writing Mistresses. Also folks like Rima Banerji, Sina Queyras and Rachel Zolf, to name just a few of many who’ve been key. I’ve been deeply inspired by Canadian feminist / queer /experimental writers who began writing in the last quarter of the 20th century: Gail Scott, Erin Moure, Adeena Karasick, Dionne Brand, Gerry Shikatani. My love of ghazals can be traced to Phyllis Webb in one direction, and Hafez in another. Agha Shahid Ali has been very important to me, as have Jean Genet, Ann Carson, Jacques Lacan and Frantz Fanon, Mahmoud Darwish and Alcalay …

MH: Do you have any other publications or projects planned for the coming year? And when can we expect to see Lyric Sexology available?

TS: I have critical work on Trans Poetics forthcoming in a festschrift for Barbara Godard and an upcoming anthology on trans literatures. Some of my poetry is being considered for a special issue of the Journal of the Medical Humanities, for the online journal, No More Potlucks, and for inclusion in an anthology of Transgender and Gender Queer Poetry being put together by Trace Peterson and T C Tolbert. So those are exciting possibilities. The Lyric Sexology manuscript still feels like it needs a bit of polish, but editors at a couple of presses have expressed interest. I’m hoping to send it off sometime in May, and then it will have to do with the publisher’s schedule. My other poetry manuscript, Solidarities, is at an earlier stage and will probably need another year’s work before going out.

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