In Cunt Norton, Bellamy slices the canonical texts, lifts the raw skin, and slides all kinds of exciting things into the wound. Then she sews it back up. The result is a bulging, infested boil of sex and gender. The result is dirty love poems secreting out the orifices of our favorite fathers. (And one mother: Dickinson.)
Playing off of William S. Burroughs’ “cut-up” technique, Bellamy published Cunt Ups in 2001. Now she’s back at it, “cu(n)ting” up the 1975 Norton Anthology of Poetry. She selected thirty-three poets from the anthology and has re-imagined their texts: cutting and interspersing their words with hypersexual language. Poets ranging from Shakespeare to Ashberry still sound remarkably like themselves. They are recognizable—only sloppy with desire. Dripping wet.
The multi-gendered speakers in Cunt Norton end up sounding at turns psychotic, absurd, and boring—which comes pretty close to the actuality of sexual encounters and the language we use for desire. When the speaker in “Cunt Auden” says, “You be a good girl—I’ll take care of you—lay here in my hands with their many fingers. I’ve never ever given anybody help who didn’t come” (57), I want to barf at the sad, true, cliché of it. I feel the same with “Cunt Yeats,” which begins: “Gloom is in my mind, and I have to fuck you so bad. Good girl. Good girl” (40). “Cunt Blake” finishes with a hearty, “I poke out and in thee in so many places, the Air shreds to Rags and the Heavens tear” (21) and “Cunt Tennyson” promises to “fuck thy portal until mouths, foreheads, eyelids lose all boundaries” (35), both of which are equally hilarious and scary. I am reminded of all my worst sexual experiences.
Other pieces are full of rollicking, gender-bending, free-for-alls. Take, for example, “Cunt Frost:” “My clit stands still and dances—it looks huge, the outer lips filling the abyss’ void with emptiness. It cries out for you. […] My cock is normal size, ready to throw back without regret into your cunt or your large intestine” (43). The Great Men from the Norton Anthology are marionettes in Bellamy’s hands. Their reputations are at her disposal: their genitalia grow and morph, their gigantic desires never satisfied.
But Bellamy’s book is as much a political act as it is a book of poetry.
Let me offer an example why. Recently, after I participated in a reading, a fellow (male) poet asked me why I write about the same thing (sex) all the time. And why do I use such vulgar (cock, cunt, etc.) language? He suggested that I would get more publications if I varied my subject matter and cleaned up my language a bit.
Dodie Bellamy’s Cunt Norton exists as an answer to these kinds of questions. What I mean is: Dodie Bellamy is a woman who writes about sex. Who writes with verve and risk and imagination. Who isn’t afraid of language, or of dead white men, or the reverence we are supposed to have for them. Dodie Bellamy will not be silenced or ashamed. When Ariana Reines writes in the book’s introduction that this “could be the most joyful book on Earth” and it “made me feel so good I laughed so hard I cried,” what she may be articulating is how powerful it feels to witness a woman writing exactly how she wants to write, refusing to be silenced (by the canon, the patriarchy, any other poet’s aesthetic or ethical impulse).
The same day that Bellamy’s book arrived in my mailbox, so did Alissa Nutting’s Tampa. I began reading both. Early in the book, Nutting’s protagonist was examining her vulva, in great detail, in the shower. Bellamy’s speakers are all genitalia, spewing liquids and desire off the page. Which reminds me of Ariana Reines’ work. And Jennifer Tamayo’s POEMS ARE THE ONLY REAL BODIES, the clit sparking and speaking. Tamara Faith Berger’s Maidenhead; Marie Calloway’s writing; Sophia Wallace’s art installation, Cliteracy; the Gurlesque.
The female body is speaking. The VIDAs are speaking. The literary world (okay, the indie publishing world?) seems to be taking note. Or, when Bellamy ends Cunt Norton with, “You’ve wet everything we’ve touched tonight” (72), I don’t just think of this particular book, but of a whole movement of recent writing and art by women.
Dodie Bellamy cu(n)ts up the Norton Anthology and hyper-sexualizes the canonical white male writers because they deserve it. The only question is: What took so long for this book to exist?! It’s as if we’ve been waiting forever, and we didn’t even know.
Cunt Norton is published by Les Figues Press with a soft, textured paper cover. The cover is white, which feels appropriate, almost mimicking the project itself, because this book will not stay clean. Mine has fingerprints, lipstick smudges— I am almost tempted to just kiss it all over. To sex up the book the way it sexes the reader, to claim it as my own. The pure, white cover practically forces the reader to sully, to desecrate. Which is what Bellamy does with the Norton text: she has done things to these poems that you could only imagine in your dirtiest dreams.
Kristin Sanders is the author of the chapbook “Orthorexia” from Dancing Girl Press. She is a poetry editor at the New Orleans Review. She blogs at Books I Read By Women.