Kay Gabriel shares her top ten

  • AMAZON REVIEWS BY KEVIN KILLIAN (1952–2019)

    If camp means exaggerating your adoration of the commodity into a practically religious fervor, then Killian was nothing less than camp’s fervent, magnanimous prophet. The late poet worshipped Kylie Minogue, whom he described as “a second- or third-rate talent” but also loved without qualification. He wrote exactly 2,631 only slightly less worshipful reviews of products on Amazon, enough to land him a coveted spot in the logistics giant’s Hall of Fame. Each review is a dazzling lie, and the cumulative effect is beyond spectacular. I hear a major collection of these pieces is forthcoming from Semiotext(e)—the better for all of us to experience the genius of Mackenzies smelling salts and the 2002 Holiday Celebration Barbie. On a practical level, I take these works as definitive proof that poets can make compelling interventions without writing about already dignified stuff like plants and dads.

    Kevin Killian’s Amazon review of Mackenzies smelling salts, December 31, 2013.

  • SEASONS ONE AND TWO OF GOSSIP GIRL (2007–2009)

    I haven’t touched the remake; the original is soap-operatic perfection. Kristen Bell as the show’s purring narrator delivers: “You know you love me; ecks oh ecks oh . . .” Time gobbles space as the drama’s trademark text blasts compress all meaningful human activity into a couple of penthouses, a thousand flip phones, and a high school on New York’s Upper East Side. GG’s structure of feeling is hyperbole, but what actually shakes out is pretty banal: The obscenely wealthy are unscrupulous with one another without consequence and it makes for magnificent TV. My favorite plotlines are the ones where someone from outside the program’s charmed circle attempts to scam their way into it, which is to say that Gossip Girl convincingly prophesied the arrival of gay icon Anna Delvey.

    Gossip Girl, 2007–12, still from a TV show on The CW. Season 1, episode 13, “A Thin Line Between Chuck and Nate.” Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively).

    Gossip Girl, 2007–12, still from a TV show on The CW. Season 1, episode 13, “A Thin Line Between Chuck and Nate.” Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively).

  • BERNADETTE MAYER, UTOPIA (UNITED ARTISTS BOOKS, 1984)

    In this book, written during the feverishly reactionary political moment of the early 1980s, Mayer travels to a future postrevolutionary society, one both newly abundant and still wracked by the struggle to undo remaining forms of inequality. The prisons are all empty—except for one in the South Bronx that houses, in the artist’s words, THE MOST FAMOUS OF AMERICAN HOODS: HAIG, REAGAN, COORS, KISSINGER, GOLDWATER, NIXON, ET AL.—while child care is fully socialized and general assemblies debate what to do with their former landlords. Mayer conceived Utopia in collaboration with many other poets, which is how I like to write as well. HERE’S A UTOPIA 1984, she states in the epilogue, where TOGETHER WE WILL PUT / THINGS ON PAPER THAT / ’VE NEVER BEEN THERE. She breaks her contraction that’ve across the line, as if to prove the point that making new language is possible and with it, liberatory forms of social and political life.

    Cover of Bernadette Mayer’s Utopia (United Artists Books, 1984).

    Cover of Bernadette Mayer’s Utopia (United Artists Books, 1984).

  • BEVERLY GLENN-COPELAND’S 2018 COVER OF “DEEP RIVER” (1916)

    The septuagenarian singer, lyricist, and multi-instrumentalist has lived more lives than most of us: He moved from Philly to a countercultural Montreal in 1961, became an early experimenter with analog synthesizers via his 1986 album, Keyboard Fantasies; appeared regularly on Mr. Dressup (the Canadian version of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood); transitioned during middle age; and finally encountered fame in 2015, when his records were rediscovered by a collector in Japan. In concert, Glenn-Copeland regularly performs a syncopated rendition of the Black spiritual “Deep River,” inserting a part for drum—an instrument that, as he notes, people ensnared in the transatlantic slave trade were routinely forbidden to use. Glenn-Copeland insists that “Deep River” is a coded song about liberation in this world, not the next. Asking the audience to sing with him for a performance of it at a Dutch music festival, he put that insight into collective practice, and then thanked them for singing.

     Posy Dixon, Keyboard Fantasies, 2021, 4K video, color, sound, 70 minutes 29 seconds. Beverly Glenn-Copeland.

    Posy Dixon, Keyboard Fantasies, 2021, 4K video, color, sound, 70 minutes 29 seconds. Beverly Glenn-Copeland.

  • XANTHRA PHILIPPA MCKAY AND MIRHA-SOLEIL ROSS’S GENDERTRASH FROM HELL (1993–95)

    How is it possible that trans zines from the early ’90s can sound at once totally strange and intimately familiar? Gendertrash from Hell vigorously captures pre-internet Montreal and Toronto trans punk culture during a period of both emergency and underground ferment. McKay, Ross (credited throughout the zine’s run as Jeanne B.), and their collaborators documented transsexual experiences of living with HIV/AIDS, provided advice for safe electrolysis treatments, published one another’s charmingly sincere poetry—that kind of thing. I find it both delightful and helpfully destabilizing to encounter vivid documents of trans life from this period. For anyone who might fixate solely on more recent trans history, Gendertrash is a gentle reminder of the sedimented, if sometimes forgotten, forms of communication that enable the curious shit we do; it’s also a nice demonstration of genuine trans art weirdos doing whatever the fuck they want. Culture eventually caught up with them—not that they needed to wait for it.

    Covers of Gendertrash from Hell 3 (Winter 1995) and 4 (Spring 1995). Linda Taylor. Janou.

    Covers of Gendertrash from Hell 3 (Winter 1995) and 4 (Spring 1995). Linda Taylor. Janou.

  • SIDNEY LUMET’S DOG DAY AFTERNOON (1975)

    I have a theory that Lumet’s film and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) are, respectively, left- and right-wing representations of New York City in the ’70s. Whereas Robert De Niro’s character in the latter delivers vigilante punishment in a dilapidated metropolis, in the former, Al Pacino’s Sonny Wortzik sticks up a Brooklyn bank without cash, then briefly becomes a folk hero for talking back to the cops who try to stop him. (Dog Day Afternoon is based on John Wojtowicz’s failed attempt at robbing a bank in 1972, which he undertook to pay for his girlfriend Elizabeth Eden’s vaginoplasty; Eden got her surg after all when Wojtowicz gave her the money he made from selling the rights to the film.) Lumet’s work gives you a keen sense of a dispossessed city about to explode with antagonism, organized social movements, and disorganized momentum. At one point in the film, the camera suggests that the police barricades are scarcely holding back the agitated crowd outside the bank. At another, the Wojtowicz character screams, “Attica! Attica!” in reference to the Attica prison rebellion of August 1971. Apparently Pacino ad-libbed the line.

    Sidney Lumet, Dog Day Afternoon, 1975, 35 mm, color, sound, 130 minutes. Sonny Wortzik (Al Pacino).

    Sidney Lumet, Dog Day Afternoon, 1975, 35 mm, color, sound, 130 minutes. Sonny Wortzik (Al Pacino).

  • CANDY DARLING DOLLS BY GREER LANKTON (1958–1996)

    My first collection of poems was a sonnet cycle about the actor and Andy Warhol Superstar Candy Darling, known for her appearances in the Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey films Flesh (1968) and Women in Revolt (1971). Maybe my favorite representations of Darling are by the artist Greer Lankton, who made two different doll likenesses of her. One is naked, with a head of platinum hair, an emaciated body, high-heeled sandals, and prominently displayed pre-op genitals. For the other, Lankton fashioned a bust in Darling’s image, her thoracic cavity open to view, as if mid-surgery, and crammed with cosmetics next to the swollen ventricles of her heart. In a 1985 interview with i-D magazine, Lankton described her dolls as having “bad habits,” and in fact neither doll looks at all well. Her portraits of the glamourous transsexual ingenue feel precise—Darling was both uplifted and maltreated first by Warhol and then by Tennessee Williams, only to die a short while later from leukemia in 1974, not quite thirty years old.

    Greer Lankton, Candy Darling, 1985, fabric, wire, glass, human hair, acrylic paint, matte medium, feathers, metal, 30 × 12 × 3".

    Greer Lankton, Candy Darling, 1985, fabric, wire, glass, human hair, acrylic paint, matte medium, feathers, metal, 30 × 12 × 3″.

  • SAMUEL R. DELANY, TIMES SQUARE RED, TIMES SQUARE BLUE (NEW YORK UNIVERSITY PRESS, 1999)

    Delany’s classic pair of essays about the porn theaters of Manhattan’s Times Square—before the Rudy Giuliani administration shuttered them to make way for, like, the M&M’s store—produce a compelling theory of sex and social space. Delany pays hot tribute to the multiracial, cross-class encounters the district’s theaters enabled while highlighting their limitations frankly and honestly (the author mentions that he wants space for casual sexual contact to be widely available for women as well). Yet Delany isn’t nostalgic for some eclipsed era of New York: He asks us to consider how particular sites make certain forms of relationship possible and insists on pleasure as a meaningful goal of political movements, rather than a distraction along the way.

  • SHIV KOTECHA, THE SWITCH (WONDER, 2018)

    Like Killian, Kotecha doesn’t have to write poems about an already dignified experience such as love. Kotecha does talk about love in this book, but mainly to argue for an understanding of it as a mode of attention that, when sublimated away from its proper object, actually becomes capacious, which would allow poetry to say something worthwhile instead of being both more repetitious and less fun than music or porn. Kotecha calls this effect “getting blimped,” and he finds it at play in Viktor Shklovsky’s wayward epistolary novel Zoo, or Letters Not About Love (1923). For Kotecha as well, writing letters addressed but never delivered to the object of desire is an exercise that makes other, more interesting thoughts possible. I think that’s a helpful insight for reflecting on the permissions offered by the genre of the letter and its particular fictions.

    Cover of Shiv Kotecha’s The Switch (Wonder, 2018).

    Cover of Shiv Kotecha’s The Switch (Wonder, 2018).

  • BRYN KELLY AS “THE HUSSY” (2011–14)

    Bar none, Bryn Kelly (1980–2016) was the gossip columnist of the early to mid-2010s, with a small but devoted fan base of extremely online transsexuals eager for her latest, supremely justified dig at the cringey dominant queer aesthetics of the moment (Original Plumbing, fascinators, giant polka dots, bow ties, glitter ’staches, and the widespread use of the aforementioned to disavow chauvinism). Kelly started writing as the Hussy for PrettyQueer.com (which can now be accessed only through the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine) but eventually reconfigured her project into a too-hot-for-prime-time blog: dearhussy.tumblr.com. Across both platforms, she left gashes in the side of a dreary, abominably tender, somehow identikit, and in fact profoundly anti-trans queer culture. In an interview with the writer Andrea Lawlor on her blog, Kelly wrote that she depicted trans and queer women “at our worst. At our ugliest, most selfish, most narcissistic, most histrionic, most competitive, most needy,” as her objective was to capture “the grittiness of a feminine emotional and intimate life.” I grew up fast in a transsexual world by learning from Kelly’s precise satire. She never missed, not once.

    Bryn Kelly, New York, 2012. Photo: Julian Talamantez Brolaski.

    Bryn Kelly, New York, 2012. Photo: Julian Talamantez Brolaski.

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