long past the presence of common by j/j hastain (A Review by Gina Myers)

Say it With Stones

87 pgs/$12

In long past the present of common, j/j hastain explores a liminal space without boundaries in an attempt to establish what it means to be a “cyborgian gender.” hastain, self-identified as a trans-genre writer, here brings together fragments of lyric poetry, theoretical prose, and visual art focused on the body and moving past the limitations of the common. It’s an ambitious project, but one that hastain is certainly up for.

The various pieces collected here work together as an exploration of, or investigation into, constructions of the self. The book’s goals are laid out in a prelude and through various straightforward declarations of intent throughout the collection, frequently with the refrain I am trying to, as in “I am trying to portray a similar type of startle,” “I am trying to say that my origin is not based in or appropriately gauged by physiological history or genealogy,”and:

I am trying to show
the way that these languages are inherently

slanted

uncountable

yet worth lifetimes of attempt

These declarations work as grounding points that help orient the reader in the sometimes dense and wide-ranging writing. The emphasis on the attempt also hints at the ambitiousness of the project, as the author seems to acknowledge that there could be a disparity between what is actually communicated and what is desired to be communicated.

Ultimately, what is communicated throughout the collection is possibility. hastain creates a poetics of possibility, both through what is said and how it is said. We see an investigation into the self and the myriad possibilities of the self:

to be in love with the opened box

revealing reams of possible

Further, the language cascades across the page and constantly builds and riffs on itself, generating more and more possibilities. It’s an inclusive and loquacious poetry.

The idea of motion and movement is also central to this collection. hastain writes:

as bodies we are a poetics of movement

The body is in motion and so is the author’s sense of self. Because this is a project about possibilities and exploration, it is impossible for it to arrive at a clear conclusion. Instead, the author is more interested in yearning, shifting, and refusing to settle. There is a sense that this is a poetics and a philosophy still in development- that it’s still taking form, shape-shifting, like the body itself, which is, as hastain quotes Tatsumi Hijikata, “transform[ing] itself endlessly.” Perhaps this is what hastain means by “a poetics of movement”–a poetics that refuses to be pinned down, a poetics that is transforming itself endlessly.

This is a challenging collection, and some readers are likely to be turned off by the dense, theoretical language. However, for those who stick with the collection, the reward is great. The overall sense is that it wasn’t an easy process for hastain to reach this new place or new sense of self, but that it was necessary and liberatory- “worth lifetimes of attempt.” And so it shouldn’t be easy for the reader either, who finds his or herself following hastain and experiencing the journey vicariously.

Gina Myers is the author of A Model Year (Coconut Books 2009) and several chapbooks, including most recently False Spring (Spooky Girlfriend 2012). Her second full-length collection, Hold It Down, will be published by Coconut Books in 2013. She lives in Atlanta, GA.

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