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Daniel Beauregard on Dodie Bellamy

Cunt Norton by Dodie Bellamy

Les Figues Press, Nov 2013

 

In Cunt Norton, Dodie Bellamy slides her words in and out—weaving her vociferous cunt-ups through the literary canon, exploding out the other side with something completely new. Bellamy takes every inch of the text—at times playful, others violent or somber—and makes it her own.  

 

Using Brion Gysin’s famous “cut-up” technique as a template, Bellamy allows the reader to enter into a conversation—explicit at times but no less important—that addresses voice, gender, and the place held by 33 poets in the 1975 Norton Anthology of Poetry.

 

In “Cunt Spenser” Bellamy writes: “Thy long loose yellow locks lyke gold spell F-U-C-K-M-E; open the temple gates and fuck my cock; thye paps lyke lyllies budded, I yearne to suck them til my brains doe frye.” It is obvious at times to see where the poem ends and the cunt-ups begin. In other poems it is much more subtle, as in “Cunt Ginsberg,” which begins, “In vast sordid movies we shift, dreaming the center of an island where we stand there smiling, we who picked ourselves up out of basements hung into the earth & fuck our cunts in Third Avenue iron dreams & stumble to unfuck again.”

 

Bellamy succeeds in blending gender, genres of poetry, and her own voice in the text, making the poems stand alone as one voice, or two—male and female—trading off occasionally. One thing that makes this book unique is the reader’s familiarity with the poem Bellamy has cunted-up; how, at times, it can inform and occasionally detract from her overall message.

 

Many readers will be familiar with Edgar Allan Poe’s famous work “Annabel Lee,” which Bellamy pulls from in “Cunt Poe”:

 

“I fuck thee with no thought than to love and be loved by thee, cranberry desire dripping out of my kingdom by the sea…Heaven envies thee, the way I’m doing this to thee all day in thy kingdom by the sea, pleasure dripping like writing from its side, enough pleasure to kill me, my Annabel Lee.”

 

Doubtless, a smooth, well-written poem emulating Poe’s cuntish voice, but the music of Poe’s famous poem is too inescapable for Bellamy’s work to be effective in this case. She succeeds in “Cunt Whitman,” however: “You lie gently down and cut through my skin; you shower me with mica on the side of small rivers, you knife me like a father does until the day is astonished.” This stanza appears to have been written yesterday, by Whitman, and the readers’ familiarity with his oeuvre makes it all the more exacting and worthwhile.   

 

There is power in Bellamy’s work; it goes far beyond mere shock value. The word “cunt” can be jarring. It will make some uncomfortable. Throughout Cunt Norton, Bellamy is asking the reader why words such as “cunt,” “cock,” “tits,” “come,” and “pussy” make us uncomfortable, and what that means in a larger context. When a man talks about sex—even in graphic detail—we aren’t as shocked as when a women says she wants to “mount thee and take hold of thy salamander’s skull and all the veins surrounding…sip with nymphs, thy elemental cock moving in my mouth, a gnome in search of mischief” (from “Cunt Pope”). Why? Why is there this standard? Sex is for everyone and should be enjoyed by everyone; in this day and age we should all feel comfortable discussing sexual exploits, however explicit—it is empowering for both a man and a woman. Bellamy is addressing this throughout the text.

 

Women are largely underrepresented in the contemporary literary canon, as they have been throughout history. Organizations such as VIDA, which advocates for gender equality in major literary publications and book reviews, have shown how great the disparity is. Since 2009, VIDA has tracked hundreds of literary journals to illustrate the need for change. In 2013, magazines such as Harper’s and The New Yorker still illustrated large gender disparities (approx. ¾ of the overall magazine featuring writing by men or reviews of work by men). However, according to VIDA, in recent years journals such as Poetry and The Paris Review have shown marked improvement. This directly relates to the conversation Bellamy is having with the reader, and the canon in which she experiments with in Cunt Norton.

 

Bellamy is one of a few shepherds in the landscape of contemporary American poetry who can successfully take the language of our dusty, poetic forebears, and fuck new meaning into it, which she does time and again throughout Cunt Norton. Behind these wet, wet poems in this book lies an important message from Bellamy: it’s time for a change; time to “cease doubting and wipe my cunt on thy chin” (“Cunt Byron”).

 

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