T, Laurel Uziell
London: Materials, 2020 £5.00 (including shipping)
The publisher’s website says ‘T’ is ‘a long poem in multiple parts’. It quotes the author’s ‘Afterword’, referring to the dispute between TERFs and transgender rights protesters in Hyde Park in 2017 which led to a ‘scuffle’ and subsequent trial of those charged with assault. The poet, Laurel Uziell, was called as witness.
I am anxious about the extent to which I do, or don’t, understand such issues. Also I know it’s hard (perhaps impossible) to write about such a contested area. So I sent for the pamphlet.
Which begins with a prose piece about ‘Janice’ who insists the narrator should watch her eat several hundred tubes of Smarties, apparently as a demonstration of feminism. It reads as a mystifying parable.
Many pages of poetic fragments follow, with varying formats, interruptions and even stage directions. Some of the bursts of words are angry, some desperate, some broken. The electric energy crackles (‘Which side are you on is one way of asking / what genitals you have’) but I find it hard to work out what the sparks and flashes mean in total.
What is the author saying? Precisely where do they stand?
The central spread features an extract from a nineteenth-century dialogue from the Rebecca Riots. This makes perfect sense, though it’s not clear what it’s doing (or even what it is) without consulting the notes (the jacket design’s based on a historic depiction of the riots).
How can I explain how not understanding this pamphlet made me eventually realise that this is the point?
The ‘Afterword’ explains how, during the court hearing
witnesses from both defence and prosecution were asked to define the terms ‘trans’, ‘gender’, and ‘terf’, among others, to a baffled magistrate.
How can someone write about transgender issues when there’s no agreement on terms? How can a poem clarify a matter on which there may be a ruling, but no agreement? Or as the poem puts it:
I don’t understand how
the answer could not show the question
to be wrong
Eavan Boland identifies a ‘sensibility’ in Sylvia Plath’s poems that is ‘hostile to the official measurements and surfaces of the world’.
Laurel Uziell’s poem is indisputably hostile to official measurements — but available for discussion. As the Afterword concludes, ‘The cracks in the firmament belong to everyone.’