So I’ve been working on a poetry manuscript for a while now. A series of glosas riffing on the poetry of other queer femmes. Femmes get a lot done with a little, draw inspiration and strength from each other, collaborate with each other, and generally lift each other up. So I think the poetic form of the glosa – a style where you take four sequential lines of someone else’s poem and write your own four-stanza, forty-line response poem incorporating one of the lines into the same point of each ten-line stanza (usually as the last line of each stanza, but not always) – works really well, in and of itself, as a metaphor for femme solidarity and mutual inspiration. It’s also, of course, the form used in Amber Dawn’s Where the words end and my body begins, and her influence on my own writing has been pretty significant.
So, to the surprise of nobody, I’m starting this little blog series with that very same book.
Some Thoughts About This Book:
Cover of Amber Dawn’s “Where the Words End and My Body Begins” (Arsenal Pulp, 2015).
This book was the beginning of it all, even before I decided that I could write glosas as a project, as a chapbook let alone a full-length manuscript, because reading it gave me the push to try using formal poetry as a way to unlock my writer’s brain and trick myself into creating Actual Poetry (as opposed to “paragraphs with funny line breaks”, which free verse – or at least MY free verse – can stumble into). Because, in Amber Dawn’s use of the form, she’s not afraid to mess with it, to move things around a little. It felt like permission to do the same – to divvy those quatrains up into the second or sixth or eighth line of each stanza, rather than the first or last, or to stick to the form hard, and then cheat it just a little in the last stanza.
But I also chose to work with poetry from this book, rather than from, say, How Poetry Saved My Life
, because I want to incorporate something like a cascade effect into my poems: the four lines I chose from “The Revered Femme Bottom” include a line from the original Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha poem onto-which Amber Dawn built her own piece, and the title of her book echos a poem (“Summer : or, I want the rage of poets to bleed guns, speechless with words”) by femme poet Anurima Banerji. I love this book because it’s a story, told in stand-alone poems, about lineage. Lineage in Kathryn Payne’s “Whores and Bitches Who Sleep With Women” sense of the word; in the “What kind of ancestor do you want to be?” sense of the word. One more map showing where we came from, helping us chart where we go.
Which poem I chose to gloss and why:
So far, I’ve written glosas riffing on both “Dirt Bag Love Affair” and “The Revered Femme Bottom”, though the one I wrote for Dirt Bag doesn’t really count – I don’t think – because it’s not actually a response to the poem, just a poem of mine written around the bones of four lines from hers. I love that poem because it is, itself, a gloss of another femme’s poem (Chandra Mayor’s “Winter Night”, from August Witch
, iirc), and for it’s putting on and taking off of city & university layered over rural & poor, neither of those identities false or complete on their own. I love the other – and my gloss of “Femme Bottom” is a response, as a sometimes-stone femme top dreaming her way back into her body and her desires – because it speaks to learning to recognize and name desire, and for the truth of “no-one could have told you the dearest souls roll rough trade”. My dearest souls so often do. I don’t know which, if either, of the poems I wrote on these pieces will end up in the final manuscript. Solid chance I’ll write at least one more on Amber Dawn’s work. But here we are.
 You can find this essay, and Anurima Banerji’s above-mentioned poem, in Brazen Femme
(Arsenal Pulp, 2002).
 Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Bodymap
(Mawenzi House, 2015).
 As Amber L Hollibaugh and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha would both say, and have.