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The works of art that I return to again and again tend to be emotional and expansive. They take time to process. The verb that comes to mind is “metabolize” because I often feel them in my body, and they frequently influence my body of work. Here’s a constellation of books I’m still metabolizing.
A Safe Girl to Love, by Casey Plett
This was the first book of trans fiction I read, and each of its short stories illuminated the messy lives of smart, sad, awkward, and hilarious trans women. It felt (and still feels) like a porthole that’s also a portal.
Dark Rides, by Derek McCormack
I don’t understand how a terse, elliptical novella about queer teen desire and shame in a small town exerts such elusive, glittery gravity. The gaps that riddle this work paradoxically hold it together, a feat that reminds me of wooden structures built without nails, screws, or glue.
Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl's Confabulous Memoir, by Kai Cheng Thom
This novel is like a dense packet of seeds that would soon bloom into Kai Cheng Thom’s varied oeuvre, from poetry and children’s books (an early version of From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea appears here) to somatics and loving justice work. It’s an exuberant, potent love letter.
No Archive Will Restore You, by Julietta Singh
This amalgam of theory and memoir includes a moment in a restaurant when Singh tries to talk a friend out of asking their server for more of her favourite chutney, “suggesting that what she was given is the limit of what she will be allowed.” Her friend replies, “Why would you not ask for more of what you love most?” This question feels like a reminder and an invitation.
Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies, by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson
I’ve read this incandescent novel three times (so far) since it was published in 2020, and it’s a work I’ll undoubtedly return to regularly. From its (untranslated) Anishinaabemowin title and sharp subtitle (“The Cure for White Ladies”) to its expansive ending, Noopiming is a productively and purposefully unsettling work that’s wily and wild.
Pacific Windows: Collected Poems, by Roy Kiyooka
I’m at a loss to distill the astonishment Roy Kiyooka’s words can evoke, so I’ll share a whiff of his work by quoting a few titles from his long poems: “of seasonable pleasures and small hindrances,” “Mutualities: A Packet of Word/s,” “All Amazed in the Runnels of His 60 Winters,” and “October’s Piebald Skies & Other Lacunae.”
Peacock Blue: the Collected Poems, by Phyllis Webb
I often turn to Phyllis Webb’s poems, particularly “Naked Poems” (1965), which are spacious, soft, and sexy, and her ghazals and anti ghazals (1984) with their brilliant associative leaps. For what it’s worth, I’ve frequently thought of Phyllis Webb as the quintessential queer minimalist poet with bill bissett as her queer maximalist counterpoint, and both Webb and bissett are prominent, unnamed influences on my first novel, Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian).
Run Towards the Danger: Confrontations with a Body of Memory, by Sarah Polley
Sarah Polley is a phenomenal filmmaker, and last year she published a brave and perceptive memoir. I was gobsmacked because it’s about art, trauma, bodies, and memory, which are the themes of Any Other City, the novel (in the form of a fictional memoir) that I’d just finished writing. Indeed, a central idea in my novel is that the present can change the past, a process Polley’s preface describes as follows: “The meaning of long-ago experiences transformed in the context of the ever-changing present.” (I’m still metabolizing her book, but I’m also including it here because – okay, I’ll just say it: I’d love for her to adapt my novel. I mean, a girl can dream, can’t she?)
Learn more about Any Other City:
By the author of Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian): the fictional memoir of a trans indie rock musician that reveals how the act of creation can heal trauma and even change the past.
Any Other City is a two-sided fictional memoir by Tracy St. Cyr, who helms the beloved indie rock band Static Saints. Side A is a snapshot of her life from 1993, when Tracy arrives in a labyrinthine city as a fledgling artist and unexpectedly falls in with a clutch of trans women, including the iconoclastic visual artist Sadie Tang.
Side B finds Tracy in 2019, now a semi-famous musician, in the same strange city, healing from a traumatic event through songwriting, queer kinship, and sexual pleasure. While writing her memoir, Tracy perceives how the past reverberates into the present, how a body is a time machine, how thereâs power in refusing to dust the past with powdered sugar, and how seedlings begin to slowly grow in empty spaces after things have been broken open.
Motifs recur like musical phrases, and traces of what used to be there peek through, like a palimpsest. Any Other City is a novel about friendship and other forms of love, travelling in a body across decades, and transmuting trauma through art making and queer sex - a love letter to trans femmes and to art itself.
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