Why don’t more poets write porn? The two genres have a lot in common — for instance, deriving many of their most striking effects from recurring, recombinable figurations — and I’m sure both would gain a lot from the crossover. Dodie Bellamy’s Cunt Norton isn’t exactly porn, unfortunately, but it’s a step in the right direction, as its title might suggest. It’s a follow-up to Bellamy’s much-admired 2001 publication Cunt-Ups, which I somehow missed (maybe that had something to do with moving across the Atlantic around the time of its publication). Are the poems in the new volume pure cut-ups à la Tzara and Burroughs, or did Bellamy fiddle with aleatory procedures to improve the results? I suspect the latter but I don’t really care. All I know is that all the bits slip in and out of each other just fine. And what a relief: Despite the title, there’s just as much cock as cunt in these thirty-odd prose poems, so there’s something there for everyone. Basically, the book represents a traversal of the most famous British and American poets, in historical order from Cunt Chaucer, Cunt Spenser, and Cunt Shakespeare through Cunt Ginsberg, Cunt Ashbery, and Cunt Hughes, in chronological order — the only exception being T.S. Eliot, who is not mentioned by name, but is represented at the very beginning by the entirely italicized title poem: “At the still point of the turning world, slowly like a wave at Ocean City, at the still point where I dance and wiggle it around and it shivers, do not call it fixity where past and future really move. So I start fucking you again towards neither ascent nor decline…” A complaint: Why only one woman poet, a Cunt Dickinson but no Cunt Bishop, no Cunt Levertov, and likewise only one poet of a color — the other Cunt Hughes — but no Cunt Cullen (that should have been obvious), Cunt Baraka? Mind you, I’m only quibbling about a good thing because of wanting more of it. I think my favorite, though, may be Cunt Stevens. The “fiery poles” and “fragrant portals” of Key West have never before been quite this fiery, quite this fragrant. Unless it’s Cunt Cummings — the very name almost a porn poem in itself — which is so innocent, almost simple-minded in its erotic enthusiasm: “Girl, let’s have fun. (Here, dab my tears that float many bells down.) Spring on your hands and knees—let’s pluck and dance as woman and man, both fingered. Hey Pumpkin Fuck, what my eyes sow isn’t what they reap.” Exactly. Between the sowing and the reaping comes the naughty pleasures of misreading: soft-core but sweet.
Barry Schwabsky is art critic for The Nation and co-editor of international reviews for Artforum. His recent books include The Perpetual Guest: Art in the Unfinished Present (Verso,... More by Barry Schwabsky