Sara Jane Stoner, Experience in the Medium of Destruction, Portable Press @ Yo-Yo Labs, 2015

[Review Guidelines]


In 1888, Daniel Vannoram Lucas wrote, "Of all the queer animals in Australia, the duck-billed platypus is the most so." Almost 130 years later, Sara Jane Stoner—with the incisive language of a lyric naturalist—seems to nominate the platypus as a mascot of queer discourse. In "Evolutionary Pleasures," she writes to reconfigure and preserve the taxonomically estranged animal:

I wanted to talk about the platypus, the sunken projectile hybridity of its idiosyncratic head, what is the nature of its fleshy border, what is its face, the timbre of its call a kind of shuffling of air, the limpidity of its milk, the tender division of the egg by the birthing puggle, its labile form like a waxed bird smoked at the tips, the bill chock full of sensory organs, the tail a library of lifesaving fat.

This acute witnessing of its manifold morphology is familiar because it is the empathic perception we perform on the self in the mirror or shower. The platypus becomes the self as a non-contiguous reflection, a radical fraternal twin. To enable this perception, though, Stoner must first destruct the antiquated vision of the platypus, wrest it from its obscurity. The "laser-eyed blindster" of "Evolutionary Pleasures" who "[talks] a great fucking game about the platypus" is a man who, like Lucas, has old-fashioned notions of what queer means. The wresting is performed with virtuosic verve.


Stoner bemoans that the blindster "had not a single intimate idea about how to actually see a platypus, or smell a platypus, no way of really going at it nose-level, no way of getting outside of his own perceptual disfiguration of the platypus." By watching the watching of the platypus, Stoner is able to supervise the blindster's daft perception of the queer body. It becomes applied pedagogy akin to inoculation of the platypus. Needless to say, Stoner is not just talking about the platypus.



Elsewhere, in "We Are Already Guarding Future Sites of Outdated Porn," the speaker—in the guise of manifesto, a coterie of 'We' stating its demands ("sexual freedom")—scrutinizes the watcher again. It is not a simple power play for pornographic perception, but a complex disenchantment with the male gaze. She calls the porn watchers "brilliant men with complicated hearts, whose ideas we love-hate, who do not acknowledge the consequences of their capitulations to their enjoyment of outdated porn." For Stoner, who is equally comfortable talking about the body as platypus or centerfold (see "Playboy, January 1974"), the call to arms is uniform. If the 'We' can collectively side-step the laser-beam of heterosexual men who purvey images of "false health," then the 'We' successfully vows: "we shall not be a vector of this myth."

Throughout Experience In the Medium of Destruction, Stoner jukes such vectors via a regimen of de-centering, destruction, and secretion. In "Fuck Mariner," inverted syntax dizzies the reader. The center is displaced through anastrophe as iambs gallop across the page: "my lever set I reeling go, cut line knowing you fake hem deal." Stoner implements similes with caveats. Carefully crafted comparisons are followed by even more carefully crafted implosions: "Your voice is like an orchestra of possible selves, only you have shot most of the musicians." The ideal of obliqueness is also coaxed by an imperative: "Have your poet voice ready, for in its neutral striving there will never be neutrality." Stoner opens a poem with "Let me fuck the rules here." It is a calling card that reminds us of Stoner's confidence; this is not just chaos. She knows which rules she's breaking. After all, it is a transparent aesthetic (see the antimetabole: "I love to be the careful one in chaos and the chaotic one in care."). Perhaps the most apt model of off-centering, though, is the pupil, which Stoner describes as "a hole forced to dance by light."

Sometimes, destruction is called for when the only way to pioneer perceptions of sexuality is to obliterate its antecedents. In Experience, Stoner says she "[mangles] the language to protect you [the reader] from [her] knowledge of false orders." Two of my favorite instances of destructive behavior involve Stoner's treatment of cats:

  1. "kitten undertire, soft crush of bursted stuffing, bone rubber treads shred almost nearly silent"
  2. "I ocelot through meetings by grinding a hole in the underside of the conference table with the metal tip of my mechanical pencil. I chew the resulting filings between my front teeth and make a little growl that could be throat-clearing."

In a Q&A piece, Stoner responds to a plea for help with imaginary self-cannibalism: "I'VE ALWAYS WONDERED HOW DELICIOUS I'D BE IF EATEN." She extends this gesture toward consumerism equally to her writing even if the consumer is undefined. Stoner is aware that she is "writing something you'll eat" or "writing something someone else will eat later." Like a person who has prepared a delicious meal, she knows someone will eat it. The literal consumption of her writing does not end with mastication, though. There are calories to be had.

These poems are essays, and these essays are poems. Some are line-broken—stanzas sequestered on scant pockets of page, surrounded by blinding white space—while others are not. Even in prose blocks, though, comma splices purposefully abound ("we have stripped the torso to a comma"), impersonating line breaks, like the forward slashes of "A Dialogue on Overdetermination." The fluidity of forms are informed by the fluids that drip within these pieces. This is the most important side-step of all. Not oblique off-centering nor outright destruction, but the viscous liquefaction of the body. This sopping book has mucous membranes along its spine. I have an impulse to wring this book and bottle its surprising juices: the "spray vomit of promotional Vampyre Blood Vodka martinis" & "acid to cut the milk" & "sexual salad dressing" & "[apricots] in your pocket, the give firm, slick of fuzz, cervical glans" & yolk "[running" through the shatter of the shell… [a] snot… so dense and elegant… lady glue," etc.



Like Gertrude Stein, a comparison blurbed by Wayne Koestenbaum on the book's back, Stoner is a total addresser and caresser of nouns.2 As with her description of the platypus, Stoner's one-two methodology is to evade then confront, eliminate then replace, liquefy then solidify. The void from all this destruction is a crater into which she may reconstruct the most elaborate totems. The "cock eroded naturally" is displaced by:

The split wave of the cunt / with its shaggy foam. The / holiday of the body. Of the / skin of the inside meeting / the skin of the outside / at the ocean.

A parody of masculinity—a Dos Equis construction of "I haven't always been a man but when I am"—yields the capsaicin-burning urethra and desire for straight edge sluts, but this is expertly jettisoned for less comical notions of sex, personal and real:

How it the fuck can be a burn, a smear of grounds, a windy overfull, slow pull of ice. Slit, mounted callus, seam of red glisten, you grow planes and edges with what additive.

If it's true, as Stoner purports, that "good art humiliates women in a way that makes her feel in control for a minute," then this book is composed of many strung-together minutes, carefully chaotic, chaotically careful, and the action that propels it forward is best described by Stoner herself: it is "the fit of pleasure that comes with a task."

These meditations are thinly veiled (and sorely needed) lessons on gender and sexuality. One need not look any further than the subverted Q&A piece to understand that Stoner knows didacticism is futile. Instead, she instructs with flourishes of signature beauty (this is "a grief text that feels like beauty"). Like the platypus, which lacks the SRY gene that sexes mammals (humans included), Experience in the Medium of Destruction is an alternative genome, releasing the body into a lush continuum, unconfined by cisgender expectations. [LL]



1 Plate from Nodder’s Zoology, "The naturalists' miscellany, or, Coloured figures of natural objects; drawn and described immediately from nature"

2 "I completely caressed and addressed a noun," Stein said of the rose in her lecture, "Poetry and Grammar" (Lectures in America, Boston: Beacon Press, 1985, p. 231).