On Kathy Acker

The great great great writer, j/j hastain, alerted me on a submission call for essays on women-identified writers and I immediately thought of Kathy Acker. I’ve been a fan of her words for many years and sometimes words just fall out.

Thank you to many gendered mothers for publishing my essay on Kathy Acker.

Read it HERE!


what is the gender of your pen?

I recently spent a Saturday in a writing workshop trying to write like a woman. In the past, I have taken various classes that focus on gender or race or period of time or genre of writing. Anytime I approached a text or began a response to it, I never thought of myself as a woman reading this or a woman writing this.

I’ve called myself a queer writer. I’ve labeled myself as a gay writerI’ve called myself a poet. A performance artist. I’ve admitted to things that I used to be or formally was. But in all these years writing words down, I never took on that classification. I’d like to think that my genitals have nothing to do with what comes out of me. Though, I do not believe it is my/our genitals that classify our gender.

When we talked about where we write from and how our femaleness comes through, I said this: I do not write like a woman, nor a man. Actually, I don’t quite know what that means. If masculine writing is defined by grotesque language and overt sexuality, then how to explain the gloriousness of Kathy Acker, Lidia Yuknavitch, or Dodie Bellamy (just to name a few)?

I said: I think of a see-saw, with a man on one end and a woman on the other and I am balancing on both sides, sometimes in the middle. But I never get comfortable enough to sit down. I said that I write from inside my body, but it is a hybrid of genitalia and vocabularies (which I am still learning/gathering). I said that I honor the ones who came before me and the ones still around today, but it is the humans who took risks on the page that encouraged me to write. Humans: men, women, transgender, gender non-conforming.

We were encouraged to make a list. Of all the influences of women writers. As we went around the room, some of our names echoed and some learned of ones we’d never heard of. My rebellion wanted to name men as well, but I was trying to behave. But the thing is, I have been deeply influenced and inspired by so many male writers as well: Rumi, Pablo Neruda, Alan Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Charles Bukowski (that name might have caused a riot), Kazim Ali, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, James Baldwin…

But what I read out loud included some of these names:

Anne Sexton
Audre Lorde
Dorothy Parker
Diane di Prima
Rita Mae Brown
Dorothy Allison
Akilah Oliver
Eileen Myles
Michelle Tea
AM Homes
Kate Bornstein
Susie Bright
Gertrude Stein
Sandra Cisneros
Puma Perl
Cookie Mueller
Karen Finley
Marina Abramović
Ariel Gore
Eleanor Roosevelt
Julia Serano
Susan Sontag
Ivan Coyote
Anais Nin

The list continues and never ends kind of like an ocean. To me, it just goes on and on until you reach something else.

Yesterday I said: I think about gender everytime I breathe. This is because for so many years I didn’t. I walked around in this body, ignoring what didn’t feel right. Trying to write my way out of the clog. To write is to read. And I am continually looking for writers that teach me, introduce new words and discourses into my brain, make me uncomfortable, stretch the boundaries and implications of writing. 

Beyond gender. Because it is no longer just male or female writers. We are far too interesting and complex to remain inside those boxes forever.


a press of summer

Dear Lidia,

Let’s call this a love letter. Let’s talk about how bodies smell differently in the summetime and that I keep calling myself a hippie but body hair and dreadlocks shouldn’t be enough to title myself beatnik bohemia. Shall we pour ocean into wine glasses and get drunk on the float of seaweed and litter’d lives thrown in? Can we roll poems into literate joints and fill each cylinder with shards of Kathy Acker? We can get high off the fumes of feminist monsterisms. What is marriage like. What is it like to sleep beside a man and to mother and to scratch out your sexuality into classrooms and west coast coffee shops? Do you long for soft? Do you desire the itch of inconsistency? Lidia, as you read this, I travel alongside my soul sister on a journey upstate. We head toward a land where the sky is not scraped by metal and 9-to-5’ers. We head toward a pond and exhaled kayaks and I am hoping to dig up some poems as I spend days camping closer to Autumn’s mist. I may be in love with a man; can you still call me queer? I haven’t written a new poem in over a week; call me poet still, yes? You swam miles toward something and I wonder if you ever reached it and what were its colors and can you paint it into my forearm. Let’s talk about the pop of pills hidden beneath tongues like muscular mouth tents. Let’s address the ways in which summertime can elicit more nudity than bedrooms can and I’ve been told my stare is misleading. Keep track of your daily intake of blinks, Lidia. Otherwise, someone may try to hide their genitals beneath your ribcage and apparently prophylactics are impersonal and numbing. How about we breaststroke toward a patch of earth where there are no men or mangled memories. Can you forward me Freud’s phone number? I’d like to be his next case study.


the sexual harassment of poetics

My poems made you want to call the police. They made you feel the need to cover yourself in band-aids because I was ripping at you. Hard to ignore the wounds that arrived or maybe they were night lights gathering into your skin to remind you that discomfort can be illuminating (at times).

You reported me. Called my poems too political too sexy too overt and disqualified them from literary. I am listening.

You told someone you felt sexually harassed by these poetics jailed inside a book and titled and called homework. I hear you.


It was Kathy Acker that first sexually harassed me, from her book purchased at a used bookshop in Brooklyn many many years ago. And I saw the words Blood and Guts in the title. Followed by High School and I knew that I needed this. And I had been looking to be wounded. To feel extracted. And she did this.


harass |həˈras, ˈharəs|

verb [ with obj. ]

subject to aggressive pressure or intimidation /    make repeated small-scale attacks on (an enemy)


When I read Kathy Acker’s hybrid discourse, she pressed her sex into me aggressively and intimidation was only felt by the need to do it too. The desire to scratch pages with my childhood to see what shapes could emerge through words.

Many years later, I found myself sexually harassed once again by Lidia Yuknavitch. And I felt attacked in a way that woke up every crease in my body. Every shadow’d cell. Her attack did not draw blood, nor was it violent. Her attack was like a language’d lung machine, inflating my breaths.

Maybe maybe I want to sexually harass with these poems. I want to push. I want to remind. I want to take back. I want to recall and patch it over and graph it like a math whiz and I want to unzip myself out of this costume of shame and scream out all the expletives of my body.

A Human recently asked me why I feel the need to write about some of the parts of me that are so dark they could burn away the constant sun.

I said:

If I don’t write about it, then it exists only to haunt. So, I write it out and speak on it and spit it into the air and press it into microphones and I nude it and I masturbate it into the ears of anyone willing enough to listen. The moment we worry about who we are going to offend is the moment we change it. This is the moment we edit. This is the moment we ruin the why.


Dear Student in Long Island who had to close my book of poetry,

You may leave it closed. You may burn it. You may use it as a coaster. You may call it filth or disturbed or combative. All of this is ok. But I wonder if you could do something for me. Write down what arrived in you. And when you name an emotion, what birthed it out and what does it smell like. Describe the reek of your discomfort. Write outside of this ache / of this nuisance of reactors in your body. Write yourself into a poem and teach me a lesson or tell me what it means to feel so angry by words you had to refuse continuation. Describe what is ghostly to you. Write until you feel something. Write until you feel something so potent, you start to question the existence of stop signs and please and thanks yous. This is when you begin to speed inside the language seat-belted into your soul. This is when you unclick that belt and float inside the discomfort of your stories of your memory of your literary stench of your sex. This is when you let go of line breaks and rhyme and academia and the philosophical explanations you grew to believe. This is when you get lost inside the crumbs you’ve dropped around you all those times you attempted to understand the earth and your existence in/on/around  it. Pick up a crumb. Write about it. Write about what it makes you feel. Harass yourself. That is, be the subject aggressively pressured or intimidated into THINKING. Into FEELING. Into QUESTIONING what exists.

Call this an attack or title it living. Title it the art of breath distraction or extraction or the opposite of extinction.

want you to feel something from these poems. I want you to feel pushed. Tell me about the dent. Or tell it to your pages. Just tell it.