ARTPORN by Jacob Brooks
Citizen of the World, 2016
Citizen of the World
There aren’t enough punk poets. I’m not even really sure what I mean by “punk poets”; that’s how few punk poets there are. I guess what I mean is, I want more poets who can capture the freedom and openness as well as the angst and distaste for authoritative social structures that such a label entails. But that’s only part of it. I want poets I can get excited about. Poets whose poetry doesn’t feel snobby, elitist, academic, and dead. I guess what I mean is, I want more poets like Jacob Brooks. Not only is ARTPORN very punk and very alive, but it is also very queer and fits into punk subculture’s narrative of progress and inclusion with poems that challenge traditional, worn-out, normative sensibilities.
Maybe I’m just a nosy reader, but I love when I can gather a really clear portrait of a poet—who they are, what they do with their friends, what kind of sex they have, etc.—just from reading their book. CAConrad says “poetry is a blueprint of who are at the time of writing it… You can’t NOT be in your poem.” Through all the lyrical brilliance and unapologetic sexual reclamation of ARTPORN, comes a very clear portrait of Jacob Brooks as someone comfortably situated somewhere within the broad expanse of punk culture. He deftly references Titus Andronicus (the band, not the play), skateboarding, one-hitters, “kushsmoke,” Cold Cave, dangling earlobes, Cannibal Corpse, and Sailor Jerry, in a way that feels neither forced nor distracting. Someone with zero knowledge of the complex and multiplistic punk scenes should fare just fine in reading ARTPORN, hopefully learning a thing or two along the way.
That being said, the poems feel very much like punk rock songs and borrow the unflinching aggression and rapid rhythm associated with that genre. I read “split grassblade blowing grass-musk / up like gasoline grassblade blood / on a Westchester sweatervest,” followed by, “Let me bite / your neck o ivy f*gg*t,” and I think power chords at 150 bpm. Weird spacing and indentations proliferate within the poems, further complicating the rhythms with multidimensionality. Words cascade down the page. Each line propels you into the next. Moments of respite are rare but always fulfilling.
ARTPORN isn’t just a collection of queer poems with a punk feel, but it does a fantastic job actually melding queer and punk aesthetics. This is a notable feat considering punk’s complicated history as a genre that, while challenging the mainstream and the normative, has in some cases also perpetuated hypermasculinity, violence, and racism—I’m picturing Sid Vicious decked out in swastikas. By employing queer content in these poems, Brooks creates a punk aesthetic that more closely resembles its foundational anti-establishment ideology and rejects those problematic diversions in the subculture’s past.
The melding of queer and punk aesthetics is most apparent in Brooks’ descriptions of sex and his stylistic tendency to subvert—or perhaps supplement—moments of tenderness with moments of the raw, real, and pornographic. This has a dual effect: it prevents his more romantic descriptions from ever sounding mawkish, while simultaneously capturing an indelible part of the queer experience—that our sexualities are absent from normative understandings of romance. In “RVNNT,” the lyricism of “Moonlight / mediating space, space/ mediating / our snuggles, our snuggles / mediating the livingroom / lamplight” eventually becomes, “It’s 3 in the morning / and I’m jerking off passionately / in my waffle chair.” In “Hee-Haw I’m a Big Gay Donkey,” the lines, “I touch your elbow and we make out on the hillside, the wind in trees signaling material security for everyone in sight,” are followed by, “I like the stink of people. I like your greases and to smear them on my face.”
Heterocentric American culture rarely reveres queer sex as anything other than vulgar, comedic, or awkward, and Brooks channels this reality into his poems. In “dirty Honey,” he writes: “the smell of river water wringing / out of a boy’s briefs onto the planks, and the trace / of summer day wear / subdued by river is what this poem smells like.” His poems are a ‘fuck you’ to straight love poems, to the hetero establishment in general; they show that you can’t separate the crude, stinking, raunchy explorations of sexuality from the delicate lyricism of love.
By its very definition, queerness is non-normative and therefore exists in spaces removed or reserved for ‘the outsider.’ In “Dick Jr. Calls Me a Faggot,” Brooks writes “I’m telling you this story from the standpoint of oblivion.” I read this as a space separated from time, mediating the boundary between reality and nothingness, a position from which his poems become more than simple retellings of childhood trauma. The pain is real, felt, overcome, and inevitably harnessed: “I am in charge here, / rewinding and playing my drunk uncle dick / like a little faggot does.” Although the word “oblivion” appears only once in the collection, it is an accurate label for the types of queer spaces ARTPORN is interested in constructing. Night is a perfect example. Queerness exists naturally and historically at night, in the safety of darkness free of the heterosexist gaze. Woven into these poems are images of moonlit masturbation, street lights illuminating lovers, bodies entering and exiting each other in the dark. Night is a space where we can reclaim our bodies from the ghosts and traumas that haunt us.
Queerness also exists in loneliness—another kind of oblivion. In “Bangover,” Brooks writes, “I think of my self… / and imagine / we’re kissing as I piss in the weeds.” Here the situation is very clear: the speaker is alone, but throughout the rest of ARTPORN it’s often difficult to gage which sexual interactions are taking place in reality, and which exist only in the speaker’s imagination or memory. A straight person may interpret this as general horniness; not having a partner leads to wanting a partner leads to imagining a partner, etc. But queer loneliness is fundamentally different from straight loneliness. In a world where sex is inevitably a political act, queer loneliness equates to powerlessness against oppression. It strips us of our ability to celebrate, reclaim, and overcome. It places us within a black hole “tunnel / between two mirrors.”
ARTPORN relishes every moment spent in these black holes, these oblivions—not out of self-hate, but out of raw, honest necessity. I have an urge to claim that Brooks is queering the punk scene with this text, but that’s not quite right. Punk ideology has been queer since its inception: the dismantling of power structures, alienation from the mainstream, rejection of outdated moral codes. It all makes sense. ARTPORN is more than the articulation of identity and space, body and environment; it is the realization of a beautiful inevitability, the seamless hybridization of queer and punk aesthetics.
Joe Rupprecht attends Hamilton College, where he co-edits the campus literary magazine, Red Weather. He writes poetry and other things. He tweets @heterofobe