November 10, 2014

Alt Lit and Rape Culture - XXXIV - Sonnet L'Abbe

In the series Sonnet's Shakespeare, Sonnet L'Abbé undertakes an ambitious and exciting artistic project. As she describes it, the speaker is "a 21st-century person [who] claims Shakespeare's page, his/another culture's traditional territory, as newly his own. In these palimpsestic poems, he assimilates Shakespeare's original language into his own love-/hate-letter monuments to the contemporary world." I was floored when I read this poem--both its themes and its practice seek to dismantle the systems that hold rape culture in place. Read Sonnet's poem, "XXXIV," and her description of the project, "Eco-Ionizing Sonnets: Talking Over An Old Boy," below. --SBB


Why did those students hoot at uproar condemning sexual assault? Chanting diatribes that support sex without consent, adamant boys manifest, demanding unchecked freedom. Free to ravish damsels for thrills? Words like that distort, students imply. Chicks like innocent rape jokes. To let bra-burners restrict redblooded undergrads and overtake campus shenanigans is mollycoddling, fellows say; fuck chiding, feminist hysteria: bravery is in not chastening our hormonal birthright. Women’s movements cockblock ketamine seductions, although still women swallow drugs that gloating frat hazers coolly put in gin. Fresh meat, they’re called by (joking!) studs. Outside the bounds set by caretakers, teens’ disorder symptomizes harsh gender ranking enforcement. My sisters’ norm-beaten faces flirt, worried no man will quell moms’ fears of unchosen daughters alone forever. Who can speak a stuff that heals the culture’s wound, and cures not only the disgrace of normed crime, and the crying shame of psychological violence, but is also physic to misogyny and grief? The young hotheads mock, unrepentant yet; girls behave as though, ironically, it’s their loss; the offenders’ lack of sorrow doubly offends. Bullies tweet naked pictures of un-Liked ex-girlfriends. To him, that boner, wearing a shirt hardselling ass-trollness in big font (“fuck safe space”) – a dunce’s cap. Porn-bossed mouthbreathers blurt that no means yes, that tears are pearl necklaces which hot rough involuntary love sheds. Amanda, Rehtaeh, Audrie, you are remembered – by a girl of colour, who anonymously endured handsome lady-killers’ ill deeds.

Eco-lonizing Sonnets: Talking Over An Old Boy

North American contemporary poetry has seen a recent surge in poets practicing erasure poetry, an approach in the avant-garde collage tradition, where the poet takes another writer's text and "writes" by deleting words from the original until a new "edit," a new poem, remains. The most pertinent example for this project would be American poet Jen Bervin's 2004 book Nets,which she made by erasing words/letters from Shakespeare's Sonnets. 

The author in erasure practice has been compared to an editor, to the pruner of a shrub, and to one who "opens" the text to "ventilate" it. I think erasure practitioners can also be compared to censors, to deleters of authorly expression. Like-minded Canadian poets nourbeSe philip, Shane Rhodes and Jordan Abel have all used erasure (on legal documents as well as other writers' texts) to allegorize the censorial practices of colonialism.

But another strategy colonizers have used, besides attempting to eradicate extant cultures, is to reframe the stories of colonized people, to "talk over" existing voices so loudly that the cultures are, at important levels of voice, silenced. Though colonizers often nearly destroy the legibility and foregrounding of the presence of original cultures, they are never fully successful at erasing the original cultures they mean to displace. 

I am similarly successful and unsuccessful when I write, from the perspective of both colonizer and colonized, over the "traditional territory" of English literature and attempt to impose upon it my own descriptions of the world. This is a different mode of erasure, one that hides the original text in plain sight, and attempts a muted bivocality in the reading experience. The original poem exists in its entirety on the same page, but reading it requires a cultural knowledge that remembers what to look for. 

For example, the first words of Shakespeare's "Sonnet 31" are: 
Thy bosom is endeared with all hearts.
The first line of my colonized sonnet, "XXXI," is as follows: 
The academy sabotages promising energies by demonizing a real world.
I have written over forty of the 154 sonnets, and plan to write over all of them to create the complete manuscript. I trust that the "vanity plate" nature of the title makes sense given the alignment of the stars, and the context of my themes.

Have something to say? Email comments, questions, responses, and links to relevant articles and literature elsewhere to: rapeculture.and.altlit [at] gmail [dot] com. For the original call for submissions, see here. To read all the essays and poems in the series, click here

Sonnet L'Abbé, Ph.D. is a Canadian poet and literary critic.

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