I had been Rauan Klassnik’s Facebook friend and Twitter follower for quite some time, so when he began promoting his second full-length collection, The Moon’s Jaw, via YouTube trailers (which look as though they’d been directed by Crispin Glover) in which he mentions boiling semen against a backdrop of butterflies, fetuses in chains, crows, strippers, and the wreckage of The Titanic, I immediately contacted him and told him I’d love to review this book. I received both Holy Land and The Moon’s Jaw, each inscribed with sadistic doodles from the poet and knew I was in for a sick surprise. Around the time of the book’s release, he began posting quite a number of pictures of cross-dressers and transsexuals to promote the new book. As I began to read, it hit me … Klassnik is the poetic equivalent of Tim Curry’s Dr. Frank N Furter from Rocky Horror Picture Show! I began to imagine him in baby-doll nighties, fishnets, and kitten heel house slippers, reading me his poems in drag through his messily lipsticked mouth. Yet, he couldn’t be too convincing. There had to be a five o’clock shadow, a beer belly cascading over the lacy underthings, or an unsightly amount of knuckle hair. The entire time I spent with Klassnik’s poetry, I imagined him in various stages of candidacy for a MTF sex change operation. I pictured him living his life as a woman in order to write these poems about being eaten out, gurgling in black lace . . .
The collection staggers the various phases of the moon throughout five sections of tiny, brutal and erotic poems. It opens with two epigraphs, the first of which, written in bold type is simply this: “—A Corpse or A Gun—Her Bra’s—Half Off Face—/–Glowing–& Frozen—Like She’s Sliced—/Her Throat–.” The next epigraph is set in regular type and likely from a male perspective in which the speaker is “like a God . . A ball of cells, seething inside its host . . . A lone source of light . . .” He begins the collection with the stereotypically violently sexualized, victimized female and vainglorious, aggressive male personas. Yet the concepts of “man” and “woman” prove less important and more interchangeable as the book wears on.
The first section, “The Shadow,” begins with a male speaker being pulled along by his cock as “the stars bend down and sniff” him. Each small poem gets increasingly unrestrained, twisted, and psychosexual. There are images of SS soldiers splattering brains on the pavement, men riding their daughter’s breast milk, piss running down the speaker’s face, “Condors Vomiting,” and women on their knees “Filthy: & moaning. Naked.” There are “Lights full of Whores,” “—Stars & Cockroaches,” and concentration camps welcome the speaker with open arms. In these shadows, galaxies lie in wait, and “—Prayers Ought—To Be Castrated.”
In following section, “A Man & A Woman,” Klassnik begins to broaden the spectra of sex, gender, and sexual orientation. The poems alternate between male and female speakers who essentially switch gender and remove that handicapping frame of reference as move into and out of one another (literally and psychically) during various sex acts. At one point, the presumably female speaker says:
—I’m On The Back—Of An Elephant—Rubbing—My Pussy
—Blooming Magic—Night After Night—Flowers—
—Birds & Sun—Whore’s Meat—Hanged—On My Soul—
—Glowing—& Moaning—A Stabbed Cosmos—Drooling—
In the “male” voiced poems, the speaker begins to talk of himself in the third person, growing increasingly detached as he watches his interactions with his female partner. He moves in and out of the moment. He is present, and yet not present. Almost stepping outside himself, the speaker briefly alienates himself from his male perspective, from both “him” and “self.” The speaker observes, “Suddenly, he pulls into a doorway: Where a woman’s undressing.” Yet, immediately following this sexual astral projection, he is back as actor, not spectator, with his female companion, a moment in which soldiers and music are “Swarmed: In our hair.”
Throughout the book, all the emboldened poems are fragmented, disjointed, employ abbreviations such as W/ for “with” and stylistic punctuation marked by a series of Ampersands, Em dashes, and the capitalization of every single word, even the articles, while each page opposite is a short, prosaic piece not set in bold type. These two styles come to represent two seemingly distinct voices, one male and one female, in dialogue with one another. Perhaps this is Klassnik’s assertion that to be woman is to exist peripherally, in snippets, “Spliced Open,” whereas to be man is to have his “Cock in Marble—Swirling Monstrous.” The poet makes these claims, but then shatters gender stereotypes using both literal and semantic role-play and switching.
Klassnik is able to use graphic kink and BDSM imagery to shift between the male and female gaze. The male and female speakers are both subject and object, both aware that gender identity exists on a wavelength. The writing becomes more maniacal, bloodthirsty, debased, and carnal, and the reader can no longer label certain traits or behaviors as “male” or “female.” As the collection progresses, gender identity, hierarchies of power become hazy. Klassnik writes of female consciousness, psyche, and body as a place where deer graze deep inside her. He goes on:
–Chirping—Chirping Gargoyles—Between Our Legs—
–I’m Two People—Me & A Woman—Abruptly—
—Then Playfully—Passionately—Adam & Eve—
–A Plucked Bone—Wreathed—And Teething—
As I read and re-read Klassnik’s poetry, I am reminded of all the psychoanalytic critical theory I’d loved as a grad student (Lacan, Mulvey, Cixous, Irigaray, etc.). Klassnik is able to re-imagine the fantasy that the male gaze projects onto the female. The male and female speakers in these poems take turns doing the objectifying and “othering.” They turn their gazes inward. The man and woman are both dead and alive in the yin and yang of a “kind of 69 position.” In their lovemaking, they are one body not just during the act itself, but in the emotional transference that takes place. The man tells the woman that she is inside him, that her breasts are his breasts. Klassnik’s writing is definitely sexually dark, yet it does not victimize the female alone. Each is user, victim, and object of desire. Each is fantasy carried out beyond its scope, beyond its possible breaking point.
The next section, “The Great Poet,” is a slasher/snuff film brand of ars poetica. This great poet doesn’t give a fuck that he suffers from dementia and melancholy—they light him up. He is endless. He is rotted sperm and milk in his cupped hands for eternity. He writes:
The great poet strides on to a headland—Red petals falling—
& hangs himself in a tree. As bright as the 4th of July: A girl’s
voice—In leaves of fire: Arced overheard: From sea—To sea.
Dribbling, down, on us all. Sunsets. & all that trash.
Yes, but the “all that trash” is really more beautiful than the sunset. Rauan Klassnik gets that. So, is he the caliber of poet with the ability to talk the president into orgasm as he claims “the great poet” is capable of doing? With macabre, decadent phrasing such as “Vultured color,” “cathedral meat,” and imagery of Torah scrolls dripping like ballerinas and guts unfurling like ripped swans, I believe Obama would find it difficult to keep his composure.
The “Suicide: The Girl” section reads as a kind of mash-up between The Black Dahlia murder files and a dreamscape of a David Lynch film. The girl in these poems is doll-like, yet bruised, has hooks peeled from her back. This girl “presses a talon against her clitoris” and “bleeds out—a carnivorous flower.” The girl in these poems Goddess and Queen, yet “tears yr heart–& touches yr face” as she tells the man to come. She has the potential to rule and to be ruled. She’s not. She is both darkness and light, victim and victimizer. Hearkening back to the aforementioned Lacanian mirror stage (which actually omits the female altogether), Klassnik holds a mirror up to a mirror of “maleness” and “femaleness” and refracts these prescribed gender stereotypes.
The final section, “In the Sky,” continues to warp the gender identity spectra—a union in which “Everything’s an Orgasm.” Yet, can gender really ever be transcended, or are we bound by biology? Klassnik ends on a male perspective, yet it is a somewhat enlightened one. He writes, “I am hard: You are wet. There’s no way out. But we don’t stop trying.” While I can’t say for sure that there isn’t a way out of our biology, I’m not so sure there’s a way out of Rauan Klassnik’s poemscapes. They will corset you, dominate you, wear your skin, invade your every last orifice, bring you to tears, and leave you shivering in the waning moonlight.