This Is A Clothespin
Damaged Goods Press
Transgender poets are, arguably, the most underrepresented marginalized writers in the literary community, though, their visibility is increasing. Most of these poets address their identities through personal narrative and, often, experimental forms challenging the mainstream’s aversion to poetry with a “message” and with strong sentiment without a conventional degree of detachment. Some transgender poets, however, are gaining a reputation beyond the borders of their own communities, including, Lee Mokobe, Stephen Paden, Zach Hanlon, and Ryka Aoki. Transgender poet, Trace Peterson, recently designed and taught the first college course on transgender poets and poetry at Hunter College.
Another reason for the increased presence of chapbooks and books by transgender poets is the appearance of literary presses encouraging submissions by this sub-group of writers. Among these outlets is Damaged Goods Press, whose webpage describes its mission as “a micro-press specializing in queer/trans poetry and flash-fiction chapbooks,” celebrating the “beauty and terror of queer life.” The publisher and editor of the press, Caseyrenée Lopez*, has recently issued a book, This Is A Clothespin, by Lucas Scheelk, who describes themselves as a, “white, autistic, trans, mentally ill, queer-identified poet,” conducting research on “autistic coding in modern media”, particularly, the Sherlock Holmes stories.
Based upon an e-mail interview, Scheelk informed me that they have been writing since the age of thirteen and studied creative writing as an undergraduate. Their poems are often presented innovatively, including, the use of white spaces and, similar to a signature of Gertrude Stein’s writing, the use of repetition. For example, several of Scheelk’s pieces are titled, “This Is A Clothespin,” revealing self-consciousness about their self-presentation and their tendency to be stereotyped when in public. Suggesting that Scheelk experiences social anxiety and panic attacks, they write, “To avoid the question, ‘Are you autistic.’ in public, to avoid the answer, ‘Yes, and I can’t breathe.’” Though Scheelk’s poems are intensely personal, and, sometimes, written in a cryptic way, they speak to all readers who are reluctant to reveal themselves or who may have something to hide or who have experienced “imposter syndrome.” Another title poem reveals Scheelk’s youthful angst when they state that their writing derives from “internalization so deep I can tell you in detail each psychological wound….”
Scheelk makes it clear that music and writing are life-saving components of their practice, reporting that they return over and over to Sia’s song, “Chandelier” [“I’m gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier….”]. In several poems, Scheelk seems to speak to their former identity, addressing transformation and finding their true self. The author has a refined ability to share their inner voice, demonstrated, for example, in the poem, “Headline—the long-term effects of harmful narratives against autistic people.” Several of Scheelk’s poems are in the form of letters to anonymous recipients or, perhaps, to everyone or to a former way of being. When telling us that, “Here, on paper, time-travel is possible….”, they announce, “I deserve to live,” expressing the seeds of personal insight and self-care, self-awareness, and the will to survive their pain and “trauma” (Scheelk’s word), as well as, their self-destructive tendencies (“The artifacts of self-harm come from shame.”; “They ask if taking testosterone was causing stress; I respond that it brought me happiness.”). This Is A Clothespin is not without lightness, though, and the poem, “Polar Bear And The Lemon” is reminiscent of a fairy tale.
I feel that I would violate Scheelk’s intimate contract with their audience to reveal all of their secrets. They are worthy of respect, not observance as a spectacle, even though a number of these poems may lead some readers to feel uncomfortable. When considering the poet’s use of repetition, I felt that its purpose was, in part, to say, “I want you to understand them.” Though Scheelk trusts their readers sufficiently to take risks with the darkest details of their experiences, their writing is, like Sia’s persona, provocative and veiled. When reading Scheelk’s poems, I felt, not only, their pain and trauma, but, also, an abiding sense of loneliness; although, not knowing the author, their “voice” may not be that of an isolated writer but, less problematic, a singular and gifted artist. Whatever the case, I hope that they find or belong to a community of supportive comrades who realize that some element of their shared challenges derives from patriarchy and the rigid sexual and behavioral norms represented by its institutions and hierarchical structure. Scheelk informed me that they are currently working on a second volume of poetry, a work that will be eagerly anticipated by their current followers and appreciated by future readers.
*My heartfelt thanks to Editor Lopez for giving me the opportunity to review this book.
Clara B. Jones is a retired scientist, currently practicing poetry in Asheville, NC. As a woman of color, she writes about the “performance” of identity and power and conducts research on experimental poetry. Her poems, reviews, essays, and interviews have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous venues.