Dear Herculine

Aaron Apps. Ahsahta (SPD, dist.), $18 (104p) ISBN 978-1-934103-57-9
In this second collection of verse and lyric essays, after Compos[t] Mentis , Apps speaks to, empathizes with, and commemorates Herculine Barbin—the 19th-century memoirist given posthumous fame by Michel Foucault—as one intersex, or ambiguously gendered, person to another. The book is clear, forceful, and moving in its concerns: “I’m interested in the formation of gender. The way bodies with weird formations slip and exist below expectations. The way we form and un-form in the fluid when thrown out of the womb gush.” Apps writes about growing up with an obviously unusual—apparently an intersex—physical body, and that bodily estrangement, along with early sexual experience, lies at the root of his work, which finds “no tranquil answers in the simplicity of facts.” Sometimes sexy, though haunted by self-disgust, Apps is “a grotesque puppet,” and “a raucous sac of sex.” Apps uses Barbin’s story along with images from the animal world—slugs, octopi—to push back against the “labels tattooed into every pore of my flesh.” The results—part memoir, part analysis, part outburst—become not just memorable but pellucid and teachable: the volume might be important far outside the precincts of poetry, a classic for young people trying to figure out, and then to say, who they have been who they could be, and who they already are. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 11/17/2014
Genre: Fiction
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