Monday, April 16, 2012

Speedos and Space Suits

NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW: I am here talking with author Eric Norris about his new book of short stories, poems and essays, Cock Sucking (On Mars). Eric, about that title. Cock sucking I can understand. But why choose Mars for sucking cock when you live so close to Manhattan?

ERIC: I have already sucked off everyone worth sucking off in Manhattan, I guess. And the G-Train is terrible, especially on weekends. It is easier to get to Mars than Brooklyn from where I live. In Queens. It’s time to move to another planet. Besides, I have a thing for guys in uniform—lifeguards and astronauts, mostly. I was going to call the book Speedos and Space Suits.

NYTBR: Is that all you do, think about swimming and space sex?

ERIC: No, not really. But, I must admit, I do enjoy that unbearable lightness of being. Just floating. I do have a great deal of fun with the idea of other people thinking about sex, though. The book is really an inquiry into how we do that: how we establish our identities in the minds of others. I start with a poetic device, a supposed poltergeist, the ghost of my childhood, and I move gradually forward in time, from various perspectives, until I pass my death. I use the mouth of the poet as a metaphor.

NYTBR: Like Auden says, “Poetry survives…a way of happening, a mouth.”

ERIC: Exactly. Most of the cock sucking actually occurs behind the scenes in the book, in the reader’s imagination—the only organ of pleasure an author really has access to.

NYTBR: [Tapping his forehead, remembering something.] Wordsworth. Didn
’t he say something about the connection between pleasure and poetry in his ‘Preface to the Lyrical Ballads?’ What was that line…

ERIC: I think it was more than a single line, if I know Wordsworth.

NYTBR: Let me Google it. [Tapping furiously at his iPad.] Here it is:

“Nor let this necessity of producing immediate pleasure be considered as a degradation of the Poet's art. It is far otherwise. It is an acknowledgment of the beauty of the universe, an acknowledgment the more sincere because it is not formal, but indirect; it is a task light and easy to him who looks at the world in the spirit of love: further, it is a homage paid to the native and naked dignity of man.”

--William Wordsworth, Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, 1802

ERIC: See, cock sucking. Sensitivity. A love for Man. For Art. Wordsworth is not my favorite poet, but he was certainly a major cocksucker, in my opinion. Many gay scholars believe that Dorothy, Mrs. Wordsworth, was really a guy in a gingham dress—probably Coleridge, his collaborator.

NYTBR: [Incredulous] Really?

ERIC: No. That was just a joke told by Lord Byron in one of the lost cantos of Don Juan. Still, it is kind of touching to think of Wordsworth and Coleridge holding hands.

NYTBR: You old Romantic. What you are saying is kind of disgusting, if you asked me. Wordsworth and Coleridge. [Makes a sour cherry face.] I would much rather see Keats and Shelley going at it.

ERIC: [Patiently, as if addressing a child.] Poetic tastes might have changed since Wordsworth’s day, but cock sucking hasn’t. We just use different labels to describe our lollipops in the twenty-first century. I use the concept of cock sucking for the sake of convenience, as a kind of lyrical shorthand, because I am gay. People would be very put out if I didn’t do something queer in public: blow kisses, blow jocks, dress up, go down, dance, toss beads, or something. To cut through all of the bullshit, I was thinking of calling my book Butt Fucking (On Mars). But I felt that critics would not take the analogy—pardon the pun—seriously. Cock Sucking (On Mars) is very hard work. Mars is a cold and arid world awaiting transformation. Mars is the future. Mars is poetry.

NYTBR: What is butt fucking then?

ERIC: Butt fucking is earthier. It is different. Anal sex is more like prose. All you need to do is throw on a cowboy hat and yell, “YEEEHAW!” like Slim Pickens at the end of Dr. Strangelove. I like a little of both. Prose and poetry. Poetry and prose. Back and forth. Earth and Mars. Interplanetary commerce. Yaweh and “YEEEHAW!”

NYTBR: And comedy. And tragedy. The story of your home. The tale of Takaaki. In many ways, this is also a very sad book.

ERIC: Sad? It isn’t sad. Life
isn’t sad. Life is beautiful: whatever form it takes, wherever we find it.

NYTBR: Maybe sad is the wrong word. Poignant. We see so many horizons here. And so many cages.

ERIC: Maybe I should have named the book Speedos and Space Suits, after all. Remember, every horizon is a kind of cage. Even the infinite depths of outer space. We can go nowhere unless we carry a little air with us. On our backs, or in our lungs. As poets, I think that we need to feel more comfortable living with vast horizons. And coping with cages. They are the same thing, really. We need to be able to live in both environments. In a sense, we need them both to survive.

NYTBR: How do you see yourself? In a Space Suit or a Speedo?

ERIC: [Laughing.] Do I really have to choose? Well, I am 44. To be honest, I think that I look better in a Space Suit these days. Still, it is hard to isolate one aspect of myself from any other, everything is connected: what I was once, what I am now. I am different things to different people at different times. Even to myself. When I look in the mirror, all that I see is a jumble of genetic material calling itself
“Eric Norris.”

NYTBR: Sort of like me.

ERIC: Not exactly. You are a poetic device. My poltergeist. You are my Ariel. You are free to be anything you wish. You will never live. You will never die. You walk in eternity. Not like me.

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