BENJAMIN WINKLER Reviews
we in my Trans by j/j hastain
(JMS Books, Glen Allen, VA, 2010)
Let’s pretend for a moment that modern poetry has not reduced itself to little more than an academic parlor game. Let’s imagine, for just a second, that real issues are at stake when we engage critically with a text; that we can find in verse a balm for wounds, a salve for slights, or simply recognition of what ails us. Let’s stop now.
There is such a book, such a writer out there today who truly connects, whose veins pulse with a humanism that has been lacking in modern poesy. j/j hastain’s we in my Trans is the book and the testament we have been looking for at the bottom of every cup of cheap swill downed at readings.
This is writing born of necessity for the author, but not just the necessity of self-expression. It’s also the necessity to connect, to escape the boundaries of the leaves, binding, and spine, and to know the reader. In my conversations with j/j, we’ve often discussed our mutual desire for readers to become entangled in their own thoughts, somehow lost in the slipstream of memory: To dare to take, in j/j’s words, nude motions inwards.
There is a desire in this text that comes across as naked as the cover photograph, of the author bare-chested and leaning in a window frame. It’s a desire “to stroke to contact to name”, to “compose / something that would remain”. It’s a need we all share. As the only animal conscious of our own mortality, we all desire to leave something behind. We make art. We amass fortunes. We build towering monoliths. We procreate. j/j has ensured a spot in our memory, seared by the bare words of we in my Trans. There’s now “a place to bring time and dream together / as the alcove for a body’s continuance”. And it will remain, long after the author has returned to dust. This need, this desire will remain, long after all copies of we in my Trans have done the same.
Because this is not just a book about trans identity, but a book about human identity that even this cismale reader can grasp. For who among us has not had the idea of becoming trans, “through”, “across”, or “beyond” our limitations? We all stand at this liminal space, and j/j’s words push us through.
Benjamin Winkler lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: “I serve as the editor of Splitleaves Press, and am a member of The Philadelphia Hive, an interdisciplinary arts collective. My work has appeared in Eccolinguistics, Otoliths, The Apiary, and Raft Magazine, among other journals. You can find more of me on the internet at benjaminwinkler.com."