Wednesday, June 15, 2005

sex at 31: Kristina Drake & Wanda O’Connor

Sex at 31

Enough to know
trappings and accoutrements are irrelevant,
and shed skins like worn layers,
sliding into a revelation of self:

Once is not enough, but almost,
for sleep, dead drop release
that lasts and lasts and holds until near-
dawn, desire rolls against you
already awake
and only this

At 31, sex expands
and is languid –
side by side, bare-chested in bed,
the unsaid after-tide reverberating
essential as any element, as breathing –
our bodies
achieve a hovering glide, sustained
and stripped of pretense
(all those past perfects rendered
simple present, imperative.)
Stepping out of ourselves
and into each other as from clothing into ocean,
the same unconscious motion.
At 31,
sex wears awkwardness with awakening grace,
no longer embarrassed, knowing
enough to touch.

Kristina Drake, above/ground press broadside #226

In January 2005, completely independent of each other, I was sent new poems in the (apparently still) ongoing series by Montreal poet Kristina Drake and Ottawa poet Wanda O’Connor, both of whom were influenced by the Artie Gold “Sex at Thirty-One” poem, and decided to write their own. Originally Drake had emailed wondering if she could order my sex at 31 chapbook (long out of print), admitting she was working on the same, which I requested she send along. After I had read the poem and asked a few questions, she responded with:

I’d read Artie Gold’s years ago (when 31 seemed old), and remembered it when I heard about yours. Tried to track down McKinnon’s – found some discussion about his writing on the Web, but haven’t actually read his whole piece. Went through what you had on, but I haven’t been very successful (or very thorough) with my research.
(email dated January 13, 2005)

It seems odd timing that both of these poems would arrive at roughly the same time. Liking them both, I immediately published them as broadsheets (after edits to the O’Connor poem). When Wanda O’Connor wrote her piece, she originally said, she knew only of the Gold poem, modelling hers somewhat after his. I think it interesting that she took his as a starting point at all, considering she had no idea it was a series. It was only after she had sent me hers that I was able to point out the essay I wrote on the series as a whole (Sex at Thirty-One – McKinnon, Fawcett, Gold, Stanley, etcetera) on the website, pointing out not only the original and subsequent poems by Barry McKinnon, Brian Fawcett, Pierre Coupey and Artie Gold, but further poems, by George Stanley, George Bowering and Mark Cochrane, as well as my own, prompted by McKinnon himself.

Sex at 32, or something like it

The battle is quiet, and
the flesh dies first

you are happy to have it

Wanda O’Connor, above/ground press broadside #227

Written in December 2004, a few weeks before Drake’s, O’Connor’s comes the closest to the language of the original “Sex at 31” sequence by McKinnon. When I requested she send a write-up on the origins of her poem, she quickly did, prefacing with “Ah sex. And 32, too. So much to say. I suppose the more women poets to spill their stuffings on this one, the better. For what poet wouldn’t want to know the insides of the woman’s head (assuming the male poet is paying attention).” Her text reads:

I had run into two /sex at/ pieces before I discovered it was a serial. I first came across rob mclennan’s version a few years ago, lovingly distributed around O-town [my poem “sex at thirty-three”], and in the summer of ‘04 landed on the Artie Gold (found a copy of Ken Norris’ 20 poets of the ‘80s).

What drew me to the serial was predominantly a tangible, yet ineffable, attention the works (and subject) seem to demand. I’ve since read others, such as Barry McKinnon’s vivid, eloquent portrayals at both 31 and 38 (thanks to rob’s essay tracing the serials origins).

Something catches in the throat when reading these poems – their straightforward nature, or the raw of the poet’s voice, keeps me returning to them, while their seven year installations allow the pleasure of witnessing a maturation of subject through each poet’s chosen deliberation.

After discovering the Gold piece (I still hadn’t put together that rob and Artie’s were somehow related, but rather that rob had simply written a piece after Gold), I was simply moved by the strength of it, and decided to create my own inception(s). Particularly, Artie’s piece struck me with its dynamic authenticity, such as in the lines “too many times love has occurred, reared its beautiful head” and “affords the illusion there is nothing else,” as well as “we are sick/sick of change. sick of wind change. sick of lifeguard change./sick of the tides of the heart.”

I read the Gold piece following a reading I did in September ‘04, shortly after I had discovered it. The impression it left on the crowd, as well as myself for having read it aloud, was poignant enough to encourage me to further explore a /sex at/ of my own. The first piece I composed (of which rob has chosen a section and created a broadside) impressed upon me the lack of plain good serials being written, or at least being distributed, and I found myself more tied to the idea of exploring this topic in-depth and writing more of it. However, seven years is a long time to wait for /sex/.
(email, dated January 20, 2005)

Not only interesting as the first of the series I’m aware of written by women, both poets are barely at the beginning of their game (a few years away from where McKinnon, Fawcett and Gold were, when they composed their poems), barely into the game long enough to have published more than a poem or two in little magazines and journals, but enough to start being interesting. Drake, who I know very little about, is apparently a student at Concordia University, and O’Connor worked with University of Ottawa writer-in-residence Gary Geddes, as well as poet and Professor Seymour Mayne, in his U of O creative writing class.

After I read with Barry McKinnon in Prince George in the fall of 2000, we toyed with the idea of attempting an anthology of new pieces in the “Sex at 31” series, tentatively called Collected Sex, to include a whole range of new pieces written by young folk, and the arrival of these two new poems have made us hopeful that just such an anthology might still fly (we recently received an interesting submission from B.C. poet Nancy Holmes). If anyone is interested in submitting a piece, send it either as attachment to, or hard-copy to 858 Somerset Street West, main floor, Ottawa Ontario Canada K1R 6R7.

Anyone interested in copies of these two (I have only a few left) or any other broadsheets, send me a self-addressed stamped envelope with regular postage, and I can send back four broadsheets (of your choice) by recent authors such as O’Connor and Drake, as well as Meredith Quartermain, Max Middle, Gwendolyn Guth, Clare Latremouille, Rachel Zolf, William Hawkins, Jason Dewinetz, Lori Emerson, Peter Norman, Ross Priddle, nathalie stephens, Gregory Betts and myself. For extra broadsheets, send extra postage. Check the website for other above/ground press titles and submission information. For annual subscriptions, only $30 (outside Canada, $30 US).

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