Books

With my PhD in English Literature at Edinburgh University about to begin, I will be reading lots of stuff this year. Do not expect weekly reviews, I do not read quickly. But I will share with you anything interesting I do read, whether it’s a novel that’s in vogue, or something from my course that I think is worth knowing that broadened my horizon. I’ll be reading a lot of things about transgender discourse, but hopefully, a lot of things which aren’t, as well.

Transgender Venezuelan Poetry: Esdras Parra

Esdras-Parra

Transgender Venezuelan Poetry: the Collected Poems of Esdras Parra (2018)

I've seen your dreams

In the foliage of your eyes

Opening in a horizon of ash

Ready for death

And the innocent flame

That leaps from branch to branch

Brings you the color of earth

Which you should get used to

Before the fog

Grows within you

(taken from the collection Este Suelo Secreto (1995) by Esdras Parra, trans. Jamie Berrout)

Neoliberal stories of transgender people are usually simple: there's an arc, from poverty to wealth, and from chaos to serenity, also by no coincidence given our patriarchal world, from humdrum male to voluptuous siren. In neoliberal society, so it goes, you can be anything if you work for it. It's a misleading narrative, of course, most trans people don't live the privileged life of a Caitlyn Jenner but neoliberal media and our own complicity – our need for a Cinderella story – seem to crave a story with the Disneyfied arc. Perhaps all of us – myself included – are always looking for the A to B, some Grail-like journey that inspires us to believe that we too can find that magic X we're all yearning for.

Perhaps it's in defiance of this common narrative, that I'm really loving the poetry of Venezuelan transgender poet Esdras Parra (1939-2004), just this month released in translated form by editor Jamie Berrout (a world class writer in her own right). To be clear, I don't usually read poetry, and Parra's words are hardly Lennon & McCartney (always my frame of reference); in a self-portrait crucially included in Berrout's edition, we learn of Parra's acceptance that there is no magic X or dare I say it, magic anything: My life has consciously revolved around this absurd, unrealizable effort . . . I'm sorry to say that there are no revelations to make. My life couldn't be more ordinary or insignificant. I don't know where I'm going or what currents push me along. Parra talks, true to the Lacanian spirit, of how she's circled unceasingly around myself searching for a non-existent center. The result is poetry using natural-world imagery to convey unconscious dreamscapes. Wordsworth's lonely clouds and rolling hills have been reformed to chthonic underworlds and apprehension, melancholy and the void, recurring and reforming across 200 poems:

How long I've waited in crystal rooms

in the vast timber of the forests

watching the dark moon

along time that runs in a straight path

watching the quiet scent

of the vacant houses

in a hiding place filled with pain and tears

and I have waited up there in remembering

between pounded stones

above a drowned tree

in the midst of arid days

I take these kinds of lines like cocaine that's been prepared by H.P. Lovecraft, like an essay by Slavoj Zizek when he really wants to express the Lacanian Real of a realm without language, grasping to make sense of what isn't there. To be transgender, in Parra's evocations, is not to find the Holy Grail, but just the Wasteland in your naked form, finding beauty where you find it in still pools and leafless trees and still breezes with cawing crows. A lifelong narrative of meaning evaporates: I concede to the wind a body without memory.

Collectively, the poems in the collection have an almost disorientating, fragmented effect, but I welcome Parra's autumnal ambience; these are not the words of cisgender appropriation or projection, no happy ending in the style of the Hollywood-friendly, Chilean movie A Fantastic Woman, to give just one example. In The Collected Poems of Esdras Parra we enter three-dimensional melancholy and remoteness, so distant from neoliberal happy scripts and so many trans narratives to remind us of where we're at on cosmic landscapes: of an existence less beginning-middle-end or striving for white-picket-fences. Rather, of increasing self-awareness, enduring for the brief time in the form that feels most naked and sincere.

Queer Two-Spirit Poetry: Fabian Romero
Gifted Transgender Writers: Jamie Berrout
 

Comments

No comments made yet. Be the first to submit a comment
Guest
Thursday, 25 April 2019

Captcha Image

What's On This Week

My Latest Posts

Girl
April 14, 2019

Girl

April 14, 2019

Girl

It's a film I watched weeks ago, uncertain that I wanted to review it, the gruesome, horrific ending overshadowing anything positive I was able to take from it. Girl (2019), a Belgian production directed by Lukas Dhont is apparently inspired by the life of contemporary dancer Nora Monsecour . It's a film I had hopes for, really wanted to like, and ...
March 09, 2019

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

in Books

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi The author, Akwaeke Emezi, calls herself trans but also Ogbanje, a spirit depicted in Igbo culture as inhabiting a newborn baby soon to die, though possibly allowing it to live. These are dark conceptions already, embracing fatality and negotiating both intrusion and malevolence, and they contribute as themes to Emezi's ...
March 02, 2019

The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein

in Books

The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein This may be one of the most important books on the 21 st century state of the world, an analysis of the global socio-economics that makes sense of the chaos of post-9/11 Iraq, of the collapse of democracies of Latin America since the 1960s and 70s, and the democratic false dawns of Russia and South Africa since the...
February 17, 2019

Alita: Battle Angel

Alita: Battle Angel A week has gone since I watched Alita: Battle Angel . It's a film that left me feeling similar emotions to the cyborg-driven techno-fireworks in Ghost in the Shell (2018), the emotion of 'almost.' Visually, there's a lavish sci-fi splendour to the film, bearing the wonders you desire in a mixture of escapist sci-fi and fantasy: ...
February 03, 2019

A Brexit Feminism That Fears And Excludes

This article follows a number of events that shook me this week. First of all, the filmed harassment by two Trans-Exclusionary-Radical-Feminists (TERFs) of trans woman Sarah McBride at McBride's workplace. I watched it online and thought: that could be me, caught out, disoriented. How do you respond to the equivalent of door-stepping, as out of the...
Vice
January 26, 2019

Vice

January 26, 2019

Vice

Vice A lukewarm reaction from critic Mark Kermode and a condemnation from political writer Simon Jenkins are a strange way to start this review of the Dick Cheney biopic Vice , given that I really enjoyed it. Jenkins's is peculiar, believing it reduced the U.S. invasion of Iraq to the work of a few shady men in the U.S. administration. But wasn't i...
January 21, 2019

The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven

The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven I entered a dark, candle-lit auditorium, finding a dining table stretching the length of the floor, draped in a pristine white tablecloth, with candles and cutlery. Audience members trickled in, free to sit in the auditorium or at the table as guests of a transgender Jesus. Queer, and just a bit contro...
January 20, 2019

Queer Two-Spirit Poetry: Fabian Romero

in Books

I can't remember when I ordered Fabian Romero's chapbook*, sometime in September or October 2018. The investment made, the months went by, enthusiasm slow-cooking into defeat, guessing it had got lost in the mail. Then last week I found a soft white envelope in the post. Fabian Romero's chapbook, Mountains of a Different Kind , waiting for me. I re...
January 12, 2019

Transgender Venezuelan Poetry: Esdras Parra

in Books

Transgender Venezuelan Poetry: the Collected Poems of Esdras Parra (2018) I've seen your dreams In the foliage of your eyes Opening in a horizon of ash Ready for death And the innocent flame That leaps from branch to branch Brings you the color of earth Which you should get used to Before the fog Grows within you (taken from the collection Este Sue...