Elizabeth R. McClellan
is a lawyer and Rhysling-nominated poet. In addition to The Legendary, her poetry has appeared in Apex Magazine and Goblin Fruit. Her favorite cheese is Brie, her favorite meal is brunch, and her favorite bloodthirsty mythical girl gang are the Bacchae. Depending on how well she likes you, she may, in fact, give you some sass.
For Chris Martin, who defends rivers with the same fervor as defendants.
Ten days after another snowless Christmas
when all they’re seeing is all the zeros
As serendipity would have it, the morning Katie Moore asked me to write The Legendary's review of Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz's Hot Teen Slut, I had actually brought the book up to the drowsy Sunday morning remnants of a Saturday night birthday party. While we ate cake for breakfast and chatted, I told them how I brought the book to one of my law school classes when I showed up early, not even thinking about the content. When my class partner asked what I was reading and I answered her, she gave the most precious "Oh?!"—the kind of heartfelt exclamation for which the interrobang was invented—whereupon I had to tell her the whole idea behind the collection so she didn't get any strange ideas. Two hours after telling that story, Katie asked me to review the book. When you are a poet who talks to lots of poets, strange and excellent things tend to happen in your life. True facts.
How do I love this book? Let me count the ways. My first read was hurried, gulping, excited—the way falling in love with a poetry collection usually is. My read for this review was more slow, thoughtful, sensual. My love affair with this book is going quite nicely. I should have listened to my friends when they told me this book was right for me, giggling when I said "sass," telling me to hurry up and just read it.
The Listing, the collection's first poem, appears at first glance to be a totally standard doesn't-tell-you-shit-about-the-job advertisement. I cringed a little, wondering how a book Katie Moore insisted I must read could start with a "look I made prose a poem" piece. A valuable lesson in first impressions—Aptowicz changed one word, and I started falling in love. She rattles off the broad outlines the book will fill in, like you do when you've first started seeing someone: her company tells her in her job interview she is working in the porn section of this company's web portals. She has no real experience with porn except as something "boys like." She's a virgin.
I love I'd Like to Thank the Academy, her poem about getting the job, because my own graduate program is full of where am I going to get a job oh my God and has been since first semester. The stanza where she (tearfully, I imagine, given the title—I hear the whole thing in the voice of the classic Sally Field acceptance speech) thanks her NYU job placement officer for the honor of getting the job rang true to me. As a law student, I got what a particular giggle out of this:
[America's ] laws prevent employers/
Hey, seeing as this is a job in porn,
The poems follow Aptowicz through her first day, the always surreal nature of job training writ large in her setting ("It's important to remember there should be porn/on your screen. So don't be embarrassed at all"), the people she meets at work, in quick succession: Jamie (who "has a ton of kids" and is happy to be passing over the responsibility of checking porn sites on the weekends to someone who doesn't); Jordan; Will; and The Guy In Charge of Sports, the unnamed dude who gets the longest poem in this short series of introductions because he applied for her job, but wanted it a little too much.
On first read, this was when I realized that I was reading a poetry collection that was also a unified narrative. If this were a romantic comedy, this is where everything would go into slow motion and the telltale music would start. My temptation is to tell you why I loved each and every one of these poems, but I want you to get the chance to read them for yourself, to fall in love in your own way.
Aptowicz turns the faintly ridiculous language of porn ads into poems, mixed with others about her boyfriend, her struggle to pay rent, her co-workers laughing at her because when you're the porn girl you cannot ask the office "why is my desk wet?" without inspiring general hilarity. There are poems that meld the faintly ridiculous and monotonous dialogue of porn with the monotony of office life until you will want to snort your midmorning coffee out of your nose, wondering how and why you're still slightly horny.
No love affair is complete without a few moments where you realize that however much you love the other, the two of you differ on some things. For instance, I don't believe the first woman to consent to a titty-fuck "was an idiot," and I don't think people who don't fuck to pounding bass are "pussy." But New Millenial Badass made me forget those moments of discord. While I've never worked as the porn girl, I understand being the "resident troublemaker" and badass. The poem re-empowered me, the way a good partner should, reminding me that, like Aptowicz, every paycheck I deposit from my day job buys me a little time to write "[p]oetry so hardcore," even while I share her blues in Back to The Basics that the language I write in for money all day tends to infect my creative work.
No lovers have the same experiences—but Hot Teen Slut makes me want to listen to Aptowicz's stories even after hearing them before: going into the office to work just so she doesn't have to watch porn for work when her long-distance boyfriend is at her place for a visit; the real reason for the cum shot; the sass revolution; her thesis as to why more people should read Nietzsche; the time her mom made her explain her job to her aunt at Christmas; the vibrator race-off across the conference table at the office; how after he broke up with her, her long-distance boyfriend discovered and got to name a new dinosaur. (I'd be pissed about that too; her "pissed" comes out in Cristinisabitterbitchosaurus Rex, a poem that's better than any dusty dino foot ever chipped out of the ground by a guy who dumped you); the gay porn videos she had to deal with at work the next day that, by some small miracle, contained a bottom with the same name as the ex.
Aptowicz sprinkles the collection with a few classic poetic forms, like a present you'd never think to buy yourself but your partner would pick knowing it's perfect: a pantoum of questions boys ask her about her job; found orgasm haiku; Ass-Sex Sestina, another found poem derived entirely from pop-up ads (the same pop-up ads she frantically got her IT guys to make less pornographic for her mom's weekend visit). Just as suddenly, she launches into a pages-long, thought-provoking poem in paragraph form in I Could Make Money Off Those Tits, a piece that pulls together all the questions of porn, exploitation and feminism that the collection hadn't thus far addressed. After sharing the heartening information that her time as the porn girl hasn't destroyed her desire to make out, this chapter of Aptowicz's life closes with a scene fit for an indie film: before she was laid off her job, her boss collected enough cash from her co-workers to convince her to perform her porn poetry for them, triumphantly declaiming from the top of her desk, like a remake of Dead Poet's Society directed by John Waters.
As you can perhaps tell by this point, you should buy Hot Teen Slut, and read it, and think about the questions it raises, and laugh a whole lot, and love it, and find out why sass makes Katie Moore, John Hancock and I laugh so hard when anyone uses the word (and we live in the South, y'all, we hear that word a lot). Just do it. Yeah. You know you wanna.
I like babies and little kids, more than some people but goddamn, children's laughter out of nowhere (in the night, when you're not expecting it) is creepy. I don't like slugs smeared like nightmare goo on my summer-bare feet, I could do without them in my cat food and roses. Slugs will eat almost any vegetation; if I knew their metaphor for plant perfection, I could cultivate it, broker a treaty maybe, bargain with rampion like Rapunzel in reverse but I don't speak slug, so I squeal, and wear sandals when it rains. Lately I have been thinking about context, the background, the presumptions and near-silence on which we build a world. Children laugh at inappropriate times and don't understand why they shouldn't tell jokes about Beethoven decomposing during a funeral visitation, or how the sound of their giggles echoing in enclosed spaces at ten minutes til midnight is off-putting. For that matter, the slugs probably don't enjoy dying on my carport in puddles of rain, without ever reaching the earthly delights of kibble, the rosebush that only gets enough sun on the right side. I justify this because I don't enjoy it either; I justify my spine-tingling tension at youthful voices because my older sister used to make me watch movies she was scared of, which in retrospect I don't regret, but hasn't helped my paranoia of things out of context: topiary animals, stray balloons, mismatched architectural details, frogs out of water. I'm sorry I stepped on you, I'm sorry I hated you for laughing. Table of Contents