Caleb Beckwith: I’ve always been curious about what new Timeless authors make of their publisher’s promise to publish books that are “spells for unravelling capitalism.” I read The Easy Body (forthcoming this Spring) as a text with resistance at its core. And resistant to specific political forces: capitalism and patriarchy are both named explicitly, and, as usual, white supremacy is never far from two closest companions. Yet The Easy Body is not the jargon-filled peon to solidary that some have come to expect of political writing, especially coming out of the Bay Area.
I wonder: do you consider The Easy Body a book of “political poetry?” Is that term too crowded with other dissimilar works? And regardless, how do you see The Easy Body functioning in context with other political writings: on Timeless, in the Bay Area, and abroad?
Tatiana Luboviski-Acosta: The Easy Body is absolutely a political poem. I began writing it the night I went to see Olive Blackburn read from her Timeless tract Communism is up there and we are down here but it is happening now at Amy Berkowitz’s reading series in May of 2014. I was pregnant and confused and angry, but hearing Olive read “the inevitable moment has come: pick sides or perish” set something alight within me.
I’m interested in the form of a “political poem”—actually, let’s say “text”. Nicole Archer’s work asks us to consider the garment as a text: I consider my body to be a text, and a political one at that.
I also want to guide us to the idea of writing as a physical act—think of Paul Ebenkamp’s Proclub project—and the idea of the physical act as writing. Fucking. A dance. A riot, I am always tempted to romanticize as a dance. Ivy Johnson’s forthcoming book Born Again is something I am anticipating like a response to a love letter—I’ve been obsessed with the selections she’s read from it. In one of the things that I’ve heard Ivy read lately, she describes wanting to map her body as it experiences ecstasy—yes! Her Timeless . . . let’s call it a book? literary object? As They Fall was (and continues to be) breathtaking.
The Easy Body would not have been possible without Ariana Reines’ essay “Sucking” in Action Yes Quarterly, Olive’s book or All Dads Are Bastards / Witch Dance that I saw in Los Angeles, or Ivy’s book, or the accountability call-outs of the summer of 2014, or Syd Staiti’s The Undying Present, or Wendy Trevino’s account of Santa Rita or Oki Sogumi’s Salt Wedge or Jackie Wang’s “Against Innocence or Against the Couple Form” in LIES vol. I, or Anne Lesley Selcer’s from a Book of Poems on Beauty, or the selections from Dolores Dorantes’ “Estilo/Style” that I read on Action Yes Quarterly (and her eventual book), or Elaine Kahn’s Women in Public, or Black Lavender Milk by Angel Dominguez or Oil and Candle by Gabriel Ojeda-Sague. I’m not sure if those influences are or will be apparent to readers, or even if The Easy Body will be recognized as indicative of what I view as a particular political moment.
CB: Could you say more about that particular moment—the peers you just named—and how these came together to shape the Easy Body? Most of these folks have Bay Area connections, so the placement of the accountability call-outs of 2014 at its center assumes seems significant. I can say from experience that these call outs remain at the forefront of the Bay Area scene some three years later, and I wonder if/how the social labors of that particular moment might be an organizing principle among this list of friends and influences.
Did the Easy Body grow out of those accountability call outs? What about the friendships and texts you mention? And do you see the Easy Body as playing a role in marking a collective trajectory from that turning point and towards . . . someplace else? I also want to talk about the aesthetic commonalities among this group—beginning but not ending with the question of embodied writing—but that question seems best reserved as an organic outgrowth of the social and political dynamics at hand.
TL-A: I began writing The Easy Body during that time, but hesitate to say that it grew out of the callouts, mainly because I wasn’t involved in them. I really do consider myself an outsider when it comes to the Bay Area poetry scene. I mentioned the call-outs largely because it was a piece of writing that was collectively written and distributed and lead me to make decisions around my work and with whom I work with—they directly affected me, and as you mentioned, we’re still experiencing the effects of them today.
The texts I mentioned were being cited as introductions to new forms. I’m curious about my failure to note the November 2014 Black Lives Matter / FTP protests among those things. Being in the streets & the actions I witnessed and took part in guided me to write enormous swathes of The Easy Body. And actually, the particular political moment I was referring to is the one we’re living in right now, and its potential.
CB: So much writing around poetry concerns the ways that new forms in writing might lead to new forms of political consciousness, but you seem to posit the reverse: that a lived experience of radical political formations—be they taking to the streets in BLM/FTP protests or radically reshaping one’s community through accountability callouts—can lead to new forms in writing. This seems to be the case for many the peers you mention, and it is especially the case for The Easy Body, where lovers, the streets, fire, cops, and personal tragedy all feel organically yoked in way that remains all too uncommon for poems of the era. Rather than the didacticism and self-valorization of so-called “occu-poems,” revolutionary politics appear in The Easy Body as an organic outgrowth of lived experience. We see this in passages of sweeping vision like the following:
In the morning, there were halved lovers in the streets. We found our tears had turned to bullets and we couldn’t find those we’d fallen asleep with. Our bodies adapted: we grew and split into mirrors; we blistered and replaced the meadows. Our milk became fire. My own body gradually faded into a prism, and I bled rainbows onto sidewalks as I crawled on my and knees calling for you.
I wake up alone here. (34)
Before I get ahead of myself, I should probably ask the event from 2014 that figures most prominently in The Easy Body. The last lines of your book read: “on Friday, June 20, 2014,/I had an abortion” (82). Coming at the very end of the book, this dramatic reveal more than doubles down on the deeply personal roots of The Easy Body’s politics. It clearly illuminates some parts (“Welcome to the City of Single Mothers”; ”abortion in the age of mechanical reproduction;//professionalized midwifery;/scheduled birth;” [42, 46]). And it also provides more context for any number of motifs: from the book’s title, to your classification of The Easy Body as a “love poem,” to possible links between violence, eroticism, and love in a text where love poems are described as:
without rhymes, unless, of course, this repetition of loss and determination to excavate or extract beauty from any of this blood enriched earth like a blackhead, with the same visceral pleasure and ease yet unrequited nausea, constitutes a rhyme (50).
To the extent that you feel comfortable, I wonder if you wouldn’t mind discussing the operative logic behind this reveal. Is it a key through which readers are meant to unlock the story behind the book, like a detective novel? Or its function more broad: illuminating some aspects, complicating others, and deepening both alike.
TL-A: I’m not sure if you’re familiar with Los Bros Hernandez or their comics, but one of my favorite characters from Love and Rockets is Penny Century. In one story, she goes on an intergalactic rampage, and wreaks total havoc here on Earth, too. One of the other Locas, Maggie, teams up with a crew of reject superheroines to figure out what the fuck is up with Penny Century, and it turns out she’s lost her daughter.
After my abortion, it seemed to me that my sadness was misplaced. It took me two years to admit that I was acting out of pain and blind rage; not because I had an abortion, but because of the conditions of the world we live in, that I had no choice but to have one. That realization sort of coincided with finishing the first draft of the manuscript, and was sort of placed there as a note for myself, like “hey, this is how you got here, this is why you wrote this, this took you to all of these places”. If I hadn’t had an abortion, I wouldn’t have wrote The Easy Body.
I think that the reveal on the last page is really meant to function more broadly, unless readers are more like Maggie and trying to figure out how they went from a stucco house in Los Angeles to Hell to a post-apocalyptic big box store and why. It can definitely operate to illuminate certain parts, such as the ones that you’ve mentioned; and it can definitely cast a veil over other parts. It’s difficult for me to discern, actually, because the book was revealed to me after the abortion.
CB: I want to home in on your use of the word “reveal.” As much as the speaker in The Easy Body clearly overlaps with your own biography, I don’t sense a 1:1 relation between you and the speaker. I imagine that part of the speaker’s expansiveness stems from the task of collective politics—both in representation and action—but The Easy Body also feels otherworldly, where most political texts tend to root themselves exclusively in the material. On more than one occasion, I’ve caught myself describing your book as a “visionary text”—as though it utilizes the spiritual realm and methods of divination for the purpose direct political action (both performed in the book, and cultivated by the book as solidarity). Does any of this make sense? If so, I’d like to hear more about how you balance your political commitment to material change with the affective, creative, and spiritual currents that make The Easy Body such an immersive reading experience.
TL-A: I’m not sure if I believe in something such as a “realm”, since I believe that heaven and earth and hell are all the same thing and all things are happening simultaneously and infinitely.
You’re right about the overlap, and you’re right about it being larger than my own experience. Every woman, femme, non-binary person I love, their hell made contributions to this text. Some of those stories of friends and family are placed throughout the text, and sometimes are incorporated. The point of view shifts a lot, a device I used to convey the slight shifting of narrative between voices. The most dominate thread, I think, is that of my mother, who has lived the most wild, fucked up, glamorous life of anyone I’ve ever heard of, but with whom I have a fragile yet fiercely devoted relationship. When I was a child, my mother would sort of space out—I now recognize it as dissociating—and, with her eyes sort of vacant, tell me what would begin as a memory of a party, a friend, a day at school; but nearly always end up knotting into a confession of searing trauma. I was once complaining to my friend Elaine Kahn that I sometimes felt uncomfortable when other women—specifically white women—would use their trauma as a means of establishing solidarity with me. I forget what her exact response was to that, but it did make me realize that we’re all walking around with thousands of fresh and scabbing cuts, leaving blood on the floor, and rubbing salt into and picking the scabs of each other’s wounds; sometimes we’re even cutting each other…there is a regenerative power to sharing our stories and experiences, it’s a sort of way of reassuring and navigating our realities.
I am still trying to figure out what my “political commitment to material change” is. I want to raise my children on the ruins of white supremacy, and I don’t believe in peaceful revolution, but have been raised by people with both visible and invisible scars from armed struggle. I wonder, actually, if I view and work with all of those currents you listed separately (creative, spiritual, political) as one. I suppose that I don’t know.
Tatiana Luboviski-Acosta is an artist, & the author of The Easy Body. They live in San Francisco, California.