In her foreword to Dodie Bellamy’s newest monster, Cunt Norton, Ariana Reines writes, “Not to be too pedantic, but Episode 14 of Joyce’s Ulysses should always be read alongside this book,” which is totally pedantic—of course—and I guess kind of part of the point. Otherwise referred to as “Oxen of the Sun,” Episode 14 is a reference to the Greek sun god, Helios, and his cattle. In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus (a.k.a. Ulysses) is warned by the gods not to kill any of these cattle should he come across them. Greek literature being what it is, Odysseus’s men fail to heed this warning and slaughter a number of the cattle, which brings down the wrath of Zeus. For the next six days, Odysseus and his men feed on the flesh of the oxen. On the seventh day, their ship is destroyed and Odysseus barely escapes with his life.
So what does this have to do with Joyce?—or better yet, what does this have to do with Bellamy? Joyce’s “Oxen of the Sun” begins with a birth in a maternity hospital. “The man that was to come into the house then spoke to the nursingwoman and he asked her how it fared with the woman that lay there in childbed. The nursingwoman answered him and said that the woman was in throes now full three days and that it would be a hard birth unneth to bear but that now in a little it would be. She said thereto that she had seen many births of women but never was none so hard as was that woman’s birth.” Beginning in the Latin, this episode moves seamlessly through stylistic parodies of the entire lexicon of the English language—from King James Bible to Sterne to Dickens to the jargon of then-modern Dublin street-slang. Not to be too pedantic, but this episode can be read as the slaughter—the mastery—of that which is sacred: the various permutations of language that, for better or for worse, have come to define whole periods of what we refer to as “literature.”
To bring things back to Reines’s foreword, she continues, “If there’s future in writing and you’re part of that then do exactly what this book says: ‘Tell the truth but tell it like the Earth is hatching.’”
Something of a continuation of her earlier Cunt Ups, Cunt Norton uses the table of contents from the 1975 edition of The Norton Anthology of Poetry—the mythical names assigned to innumerable and soul-crushing high school and college lit classes: Wordsworth, Emerson, Pound, Crane, Lowell, etc.—and proceeds to “cunt” their voices, to “cunt” the canon itself, and, in the process, create what can only be described as the filthiest, most blissful and blunt fuck poems yet set to verse. There are thirty-three poems in all, and my two read-throughs caused me to highlight nearly half the text in awe; I don’t even know where to start with excerpting. There is mastery here, just brilliant moment after brilliant moment, such as this bit from “Cunt Milton”:
… I cannot wait to be wisht
and threat’nd, to worm into thy asshole. I clean
the funk from the Gods that we may become as
they, pardoned of the pus from our wounds.
Or these lines from “Cunt Yeats”:
… Goaded by your quiet nature,
my nether hole is erogenous to the last wind.
Considering all the hatred driven there, I’m
waiting for you to fuck it, fuck me. Fuck me and
learn at last what it is to be self-delighting. Fuck
me forever. Your cock’s own sweet will is Heaven’s
will; fuck my windy quarter howl until your
And one more for good measure. Here’s a favorite bit from “Cunt Poe”:
… Dear Fuck Slug, I fuck
thee with no thought than to love and be loved
by thee, cranberry desire dripping out of my
kingdom by the sea.
Really, I could keep going—but for the sake of this review, I’ll cut it short. I think that’s enough to get my point across. That point being that what Bellamy has done with Cunt Norton, cunting the names and voices that literally define the patriarchy in literature, and creating poems that are filled to the brim with humor, ingenuity, and joy, is such an important book. Cunt Norton is a marvel to behold, a “savorie Fruit” to be lusted after, seduced by, and fucked gloriously by. Because sex in literature is so often about power, about control and dominance, Bellamy’s appropriation of and ultimate slaughter of “that which is sacred” is all the more needed, all the more necessary.