There is Balm for These Wounds

Nothing Personal, Marina Blitshteyn
Bone Bouquet, 2015
Available on the Bone Bouquet website.

I have been feeling alone, a lot lately. My community, this little pocket of opinionated and viciously smart writers I only just lucked into, is eating itself for breakfast. Meanwhile, we’re all just chatting about the weather—and ignoring the drips of blood hanging from our friends’ incisors. I feel eaten. I feel some predatory thing hunched over my chest, in my chest.

Some days, I find someone to talk to, and I know I am not alone. Sometimes all it takes is a comment. Fuck, a tweet even, like this one by Shaindel Beers: “All those eggshells we’ve been walking on are comprised of male egos.” Multiply the comfort in that tweet by the length of a chapbook: my succor, from the moment Nothing Personal by Marina Blitshteyn arrived in my mailbox through till today. Here in my hands, in my purse, on my nightstand: a tidy and tight, bleeding and beautiful, remorseless and remorseful mouth bleeding flowers and chewing up those shell-like cis-male egos.

It should come as no surprise that a chapbook about men and their assholery is balm for my specific brand of loneliness. Even better, Nothing Personal calls out the men of our literary world who pretend (sincerely believe?) they’re different, enlightened even. I read at least half of these poems out loud, in delight and awe, to my husband—a man himself, but one who told me just last night he doesn’t hang out with many men because most of them are full of [long expletive-laden string of disgust adjectives] bullshit.

To be clear: Blitshteyn’s poems go after men as a generalized and largely homogeneous demographic. There are very few individual men in Nothing Personal, except as those individuals embody the worst traits of their brethren. The book is a necessary corrective against this man’s world we live in, a world where desperate men flail to hang onto every last bit of privilege they can. Blitshteyn holds nothing back in her condemnation of this world—and especially its men—but, you know, it’s “nothing personal.” It’s my husband but it’s not my husband. “Oh, not you honey,” she seems to say to the guys she knows. But of course it’s absolutely those guys, too.

For anyone who has ever been in a creative community with a man, “someone else’s penis” will ring a bell or two: “someone else’s penis decides to be a 6-foot long affair/it scans into foot-long units and arranges/into building-block components on the wall.” Leave it to a penis to decide it should be six-feet long and not your standard iambic five. Notice, too, this penis is “someone else’s”—it’s that guy, over there, with the penis that “spreads its seed/until its audience only sees penis.” It’s not you, kindly literary man—you know better. Again, the observation is nothing personal.

Or perhaps you’re familiar with this scene, in “Club”:

They’d invite you in but it’s really kind of a mess in there
Maybe next time you could to go to Atlantic City

They all get a hotel room together
But it’s really not homosocial

I just mean they stick together
In case there are too many of us here.

As in much of Nothing Personal, Blitshteyn’s humor is understated, her language plain, the generalizations brutal. Those generalizations may strike some as going too far—too far because #notallmen. But, as the title warns, those people are taking it wrong. And how delicious is flipping that defense on its head?

“i am the internet, on the literary situation” may be the best poem I’ve read in months. I want to live inside this poem. It digs into the ugly world of internet fighting, illuminating the internal mechanics of those fights without making prescriptions. Also, I’m jealous I didn’t think of it myself. The poem personifies the internet, as a woman. Because of course the internet is a woman:

if i am the internet will i still bleed if you cut me?
once a month like a woman?
will there be another article about me in all the papers?
and my doomed lifestyle, and my age or my looks?
is the internet pretty or just another dirty ho?
where does he get the right to abuse me?
why is this article talking about me like i’m inanimate?

And this internet? She knows our men—whose words have been swirling around in the War of the Patriarchy, wreaking excess havoc: “you got that kind of sympathetic masculinity/they teach to literary men/who know the right language to use/but have no idea what i’m talking about.”

The chapbook’s final two poems, “representations” and the long poem “Alice/fiction” deepen it, moving the collection from a delightful screed with a limited life span (how long can we sustain our misandrist glee?) toward a complicated vision of our shared world. In “representations,” the poet takes apart the social justice warriors by listing their self-definitions: “i’m especially interested in rape/the mechanics of it/the power structures/i’m especially interested in the personal/as opposed to the public sector/i’m especially interested in my own relationship/i’m especially interested in the sex i like.” In the poem, our—my—well-meaning interests and crusades become our “public persona/the brand i have of strength.” I am named and implicated. But I can think of many who are far more brazen than I am. Which is both comforting and further indicting: I am, like the implied audience of “someone else’s penis,” bad but not that bad.

And in “Alice/fiction,” we spend a few days tagging along behind Alice, who, in a meta bit of framing, is inspired by her professor who would “write these weekend blog posts in lists of 3rd person vignettes” to write her own narrative in third-person. Alice herself is immediately recognizable: “she has at least 10 tabs open at a given time. she apple-t’s for gmail, facebook, and the spare yahoo account she keeps around for online shopping and dating. if anyone’s on to chat she chats them, though lately she’s been hiding out.” She also loves porn when she’s ovulating and sleeps to the glow of her computer screen. Alice is any number of women I know—she is flawed and she is struggling. She longs to connect with herself, with her writing, with a man. But in the end, “in no uncertain terms he said this is the first time he feels like he’s making a life for himself and it’s nothing personal.” She wants to belong to this world and knows this world is a shit deal.

And so the speaker of Nothing Personal perpetuates the patriarchy right alongside the men she fingers. It’s “nothing personal” when Alice is dumped yet again. It’s “nothing personal” that our own self-representations are branding as much as they are earnest concern. We’re all the product of a culture that stretches and flattens us into demographics. Which is not to say women are equally responsible for the patriarchy or that men don’t deserve every bit of blistering they take in this collection—though I certainly feel bad for all of us who are trapped between wanting to belong to the world and blowing that world the fuck up. This is to say that Blitshteyn tells it like it is, threading tendrils of blame among us all.

But it will take more bleeding mouths than just hers to articulate our problems. And before we can correct these imbalances, we have to acknowledge them, see ourselves for what we are. If we can do this, then maybe I’ll finally toss the beast from my chest and feel like I belong with my community again.


Sarah B. Boyle is a poet, mother and essayist. Find her online at impolitelines.com.