On Ariana Reines's Sex Appeal (and Poetry as Perversion)

My whole body writes.

My whole body writes.
               –Ariana Reines, “In the Most Holy Place Shalt Thou Eat It”

Today’s Reading: Ariana Reines, The Cow

I’ll go ahead and say it: Ariana Reines might be the sexiest poet alive. Not just because she herself is physically very attractive. And not just because her poetry is full of feverishly horny lines like “If I don’t fuck today I’ll die.” Not even because, in blogging out her recent trip to Haiti, she’s established herself as an heir to the late, similarly sexy Kathy Acker.

No, Ariana Reines—in her writing and in the persona that swirls like a pheromone-laden postcoital funk around it—is sexy in scary, counterintuitive ways. Sexy in the way that knife play might be, for some people: through the careful handling of keen edges and the threat at any moment of splitting the surface and drawing blood. Or like erotic asphyxiation: through the impairment of normal brain function under a looming shadow of death only slightly less terrifying than the display of trust the entire act implies.

In other words, her poetry (like all good poetry?) is a perversion, not only of the normal (“normal”) use of language, but of normal relations to the body and the world, of normal boundaries between public and private or between fearlessness and submission (like all good perversion?). I first really read her work in the Gurlesque anthology, but that label seems completely inadequate to these poems: there’s not much about them I’d call girlish, and absolutely nothing -esque. Instead, they’re intensely feminist and female without ever being doctrinaire or exclusionary. They depict the itchy, refractory experience of embodiment in ways that play rough with the politics of modern gender, yes, but can also powerfully resonate with anyone who’s ever suffered from a body of any sex:
Imagine a gut for the writing to go around. The dark can be a place. The gut. Imagine it. The mental city means it’s built of menial jobs that make it become itself. The mind. Uncensored thirties. A hovel to live in. The best way to go is the endlessest. I will not train myself to love this shit.
                                       –“Dear Marguerite”
Not to mention that, as seen above, she can drop those vision-blurring, spine-tingling, top-of-the-head-removing lines of the sort I usually associate with personal icons like Dickinson, Yeats, or Plath. Like Anne Boyer or Tao Lin, Reines seems to suffer from a special, prophetic kind of crazy, and the rest of us are just lucky that whatever existential dis-ease plagues her also drives her to bring those struggles to light in such startling and raw ways.

All of which is just to say that she’s a really fucking good poet. Not much sexier than that.