One gets the distinct impression, when reading local writer and essayist Dodie Bellamy's new collection of surreal prose poems, Cunt-Ups, that she would be adept at talking dirty. Here's an excerpt: "Can you see me kneeling there on the floor nostalgic for our past and filled with desire fuck me with your teeth." With the notable exception of literary bad-girl Kathy Acker, few female authors have adopted the primarily male tradition of the cut-up, a writing technique most famously espoused by William Burroughs and painter Brion Gysin. For her effort, Bellamy divided pages of her text into four squares, which she then mixed and randomly spliced together with the words of other writers to create a "new Frankenstein page." Although the poems contain bits of appropriated text (including the confessions of convicted serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, science articles about sperm and ectoplasm, and John Weiner's A Poem for Benzedrine), the results are undeniably Bellamy's own.
The former director of Small Press Traffic, Bellamy currently teaches in private workshops and at San Francisco State University, where she works to challenge standard notions of gender politics and female sexuality in literature. In an article she wrote for the Village Voicelast year, she condemned the "expectations of traditional prose," suggesting a form of writing that would "collapse the boundaries between literary forms and confound the categories of sexuality." And confound she does: Defying conventional rules of syntax and logic, the "cunt-ups," like Bellamy's earlier work -- including the epistolary novel The Letters of Mina Harkerand Real, a collection of letters between Bellamy and the late author Sam D'Allesandro -- also dispense with genre. Here, letters become novels, fiction becomes nonfiction, and words become images.
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More than an exercise in creative writing or mere X-rated text, Bellamy's poems are purposely perverse and provocative; they create what Bellamy calls a "work of nonlinear, fragmented sexuality." Almost every sentence contains the words "cock," "cunt," "pussy," or "asshole," yet the prose is surprisingly unarousing: It's more like playing doctor with the boy next door than bumping uglies with him. Non sequiturs and 180-degree turns pepper the verse, jarring the reader and forestalling titillation: "I'm fucking you. Then I boil your head. We are on. My cock, I think it wants to go camping." The undeniable tension between the explicit language and the startling imagery -- lines like "The first time my cock bloomed into you I got manic" -- give Bellamy's pieces vitality and urgency. Her gift lies in her ability to make the familiar (in this case, the tired love poem) new again.