HAVING BEEN BLUE FOR CHARITY by KARI EDWARDS (1)RON SILLIMAN Reviews
having been blue for charity by kari edwards
(BlazeVOX Books, forthcoming 2007 and downloadable HERE)
If you Google BlazeVOX Books, Geoffrey Gatza’s great little press in Buffalo, NY, the first listing will be “BlazeVOX [books] publishers of weird little books.” This may be truer than it seems, once you realize that BlazeVOX has published both Michael Magee’s Mainstream & Kent Johnson’s Epigramititus, the former being one of the first “big” books of flarf, the latter being Johnson’s latest attempt to challenge other poets to pay him heed. There are also volumes by Noah Eli Gordon, Joe Amato & others, plus a line of e-books published in PDF format. In this context, kari edwards’ forthcoming having been blue for charity is going to fit right in, something edwards never did very easily during a too-short life -- just 52 years to the day -- but which, particularly over the final decade, edwards had learned to make not just a virtue of, but indeed the center of a life’s work.
Three years ago, as I was preparing to read with kari at Philadelphia’s smoky La Tazza tavern on South Street, I wrote a review of Iduna that consciously avoided using any pronouns that suggested gender. As I suggested in the review, edwards’ lines
I am a man being a woman
I am a woman being a man
I am a homosexual being a straight woman being a homosexual man --
I am a homosexual woman being a straight man being a homosexual woman --
were more than simply playful. kari’s commitment to all sexual minorities began at home, literally. So far as I can tell, the one person who noticed was kari, who thanked me first thing for not making any presumptions, or at least not assigning any to print. To which I responded by saying something obvious like, “I thought that was the point,” to which edwards’ eyebrows punctuated a broad grin.
having been blue for charity is the first, hopefully not the last, of edwards’ posthumous works, a 120-plus page sequence divided into four parts. The titles of these sections just roll off the tongue:
(having been blue for charity)
Each contains a series of works that range from fairly direct prose poems and texts centered on the page in the manner of Michael McClure to others that are typographically so disruptive that I have no hope of reproducing them here. There are even prose paragraphs that lean to the left or right, others with narrow columns of justified type ALL IN CAPS, pages where the type is printed with a different orientation (including the diagonal). Consistently, however, what one finds, reading having been blue for charity, is a challenge to the reader not so unlike this one that occurs in the very first text:
it’s a trap and you start kissing me . . . you’re reading
this book or listening to me . . . you kiss me all over
. . . I can’t stop you or won’t. you’re my personal
vampire. I want you to suck my nipples, instead you
go down on me. your tongue is in my pussy or on
my cock (you decide). we are out of control. you’re
between my legs. I want to grab you, whisper something
. . . scream something. I feel the full-engulf
of payment. I am your road and you’re filled with
passion, aggression or ignorance. (pick one) I am
your mother, your sister, or that little boy next door.
you square time. I am breathless. heavy on the floor,
damp with sweat. this is a baker’s dozen, the hot surface
of creme brulee’. something in rapid repetition.
a loud gesture with a zealot’s thought. I think I hear
something. is there someone else? kiss me and leave
. . . you must. punish me, trample me. show me the
future in cards. paris is burning. I wait fifty or sixty
times. I’m alone in your lore. I am hungry. I didn’t
expect that. I have been driven out of the auditorium
for a minute. I didn’t expect that. I thought you
were jean genet, aleister crowley, or gertrude stein.
no, maybe virginia woolf. my breast. my wetness.
raspberry body stockings. a false penis, words and
tongues. I can no longer remember being a dog or a
possum. just words. you are my consciousness. I am
you, sitting there reading or listening, content and
The most important phrase here, at least to my reading, comes toward the end: just words. you are my consciousness. I am you…. Edwards’ gift, both as a writer and to us, is to have been perhaps the most sensitive person ever as to the borders of personhood, the confusions & transgressions that can lie there, the politics of it (presented almost always in the most practical, rather than, say, academic-philosophic, fashion). Precisely because kari varies presentation throughout this book, the reader’s sense of vertigo at being left at this precipice constantly is buffered from ever being too much. There is, as the section above suggests, a wicked sense of fun not that far from the surface, just as there is a sense of hurt, of alienation that can be overwhelming.
kari edwards is the first major writer to have died in the 21st century to have also only published books during it. That’s worth thinking about here in 2007. edwards was clearly a “late starter,” although kari had an earlier life involved in the visual arts in Philadelphia -- Gil Ott, himself a master of marginalization, was an important influence as, I take it, was a stay somewhere along the line at Naropa. But edwards arrived fully formed, albeit ever self-transforming. Try reading, for example, “good questions….”:
quick answer, no; quick answer, there is no here-to-there-there; no, quick answer, no, face-to-face, tag you’re it; quick answer, there is no answer; quick answer, stop being a body with organs; reach escape velocity; undo the gender tape on the body, put on with super glue, stapled in for good measure; can you spell escape route? quick answer, no-yes, yes-no, no-yes, yes-no; quick answer, how would you like your macmac’alike today, served your your way way, this way or that, choice (a) or (a) or (a) or (a) or (a); no; quick answer; maybe, (toto knew), home is where all objects cower in demonic mimicry; community is the now of now, of now of now; quick answer, can the tools of the master race, tongue or master master major major be anything more than have it now moments; quick answer, become unrecognizable, schizophrenic in a minor key; quick answer, no; quick answer, I am of the air waves, virtual, vital and a good fuck on channel 4; quick answer. it is always post-post historical postpost, never and can be, divergent unexpected endless curves, always post-post never-never’s or always bold holocaust road maps, one or the other guiding one through future mine fields; quick answer, the coyote and trickster; quick answer; feel the deep talons of commodity sink into flesh; quick answer; resistance is futile, you are already virtual, stuck in quantum glue...... quick answer, no, it’s already too late.
The idea of reading (or writing) as a game of tag makes total sense here, while at the same time the percussive music of the prosody drives the text, jabbing a verbal finger into the reader’s chest. It is no accident that sound here as in any text derives from breath. The text, literally, is hyperventilating.
For someone whose publishing career lasted under a decade, edwards proved remarkably successful almost immediately. We are fortunate that so many of us were ready to read edwards almost at once and that kari got to know just how important these words were proving to readers of all genders and orientations. It’s hard to imagine that anyone with kari edwards’ combination of gifts is going to stop this way again any time soon.
Ron Silliman will release two books this year: the University of California Press will publish The Age of Huts (compleat) in April and the University of Alabama Press will publish The Alphabet in 2008. Meanwhile, his Tjanting continues to be available from Salt Publishers.