CUNT NORTON BY DODIE BELLAMY
by Jacob A. Bennett
Whitman writes that amid all the foolishness, the faithlessness, and the self-reproach of human living, the “good” of life is “that you are here–that life exists and identity, / That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” Not that Dodie Bellamy’s book Cunt Norton (Les Figues, 2013) asks or needs permission, but it makes good on the proposal. There are two things happening in this book, over and over: approximation of the styles of canonized authors, and the interjection of a polyvocality which proclaims, in so many ways, “No ideas but in juice.” (“Cunt Williams”) This is the cunt-up method. It is parody and triumph through co-option, a cutting through the opacity of romantic symbols, rendering explicitly a series of hyper-repetitive sexual fantasies. Picking from the 1975 Norton Anthology of Poetry, Bellamy includes Emily Dickinson among her revisions, but all other cunted-up authors are male. There is the obsessive, unimpeded, single-minded imposition of the cock, “dark with its blood,” which prescribes a role for and presumes control of the cunt.
There is a tone of revelry though, and never lamentation, as the lines between exploiter and exploited – painter and paintbrush, paint and canvas – grow a little soggier in every poem:
Once I had no mouth nor any paint; my canvas was unpeopled until you, my flatterer, held me inside like a Voodoo doll. “Try using your brush as a means to an end,” said your pussy, a wet one. (“Cunt Ashbery”)
Which is not to say the voices of the poems are male. They have cocks and cunts and breasts, and use them all. Even in submission they are aggressive. The voices in these poems, with their unwavering devotion to the smashing of gorged pudenda and their seepages, is an unflinching affirmation of the roles of all bodies in the grasp of (mostly masculine) privilege, as asserted by that infamous gaze. Here is a voice asserting itself, while rapturously derailing:
[in] Chinatown, pink when we come, leaving our
Some poems seem a dialog back and forth without exposition to show the shift between speakers, genders, identities – their genitalia does that for them, cock to clit and back:
My clit stands still and dances–it looks
If the pages of the book were its lovers, they would be stuck together, separable only by tearing one subjectivity from another: “Our skins together swim. What are we?” (“Cunt Frost”) Perhaps, the answer seems to be, we are nothing but juice. Juice is in the body, and juice is on the mind. Whatever the answer, it’s soaking wet. One of the great achievements of this book is that it takes the genteel circumlocution of those mostly male bards and dives right into the deep end of what their ardency means. As a kind of epilogue, after the final poem of the collection, there is just one line, italicized, a summary: “You’ve wet everything we’ve touched tonight.” There is no need or time, in the urgent world of Cunt Norton, for anything so brittle and prudish as what rolls from the tongues of an obsolescent, self-satisfied patriarchy. And, given all the friction of these poems, it’s a good thing, too.