Book Review

This Is Where I Get Off by KIRBY

great poetry, i whinge about lockdown innit

Written on the fifteenth of May

I am once again queueing up to access a retail space. This has become my preferred time to blog, as whenever I’m at home in this lockdown I’m always reading, cooking, making elaborate plans for the future, edging the inevitable massive pandemic panic attack that is waaaaay overdue or playing Super Mario Odyssey. These activities take equal weight.

Today, rather than the King Street No Frills (shoutout!) supermarket, I’m queueing for access to the neighbourhood province-owned booze shop.

I’m sure I’ve whinged about Ontario’s Scandi-style alcohol laws here before, but with the reduced hours of service and reduced store capacities necessitated by the pandemic (remember that?), the queues to the LCBO (“Liquor Control Board of Ontario” – which somehow sounds very “pioneer” (and thus suspect)) are now HUGE. And, obviously, the queue for the shop where chronic alcoholics (and cutesy functional alcoholics) buy the product they’re physically dependent on is a more fraught waiting experience than the comparatively tranquil wait for the supermarket. This is why i haven’t sequestered myself in the queue with headphones and a novel. Urgh. I-

Buying alcohol in Toronto from a specialist shop that only sells alcohol is not the elevated experience that specialist booze shops offer in the UK. This same chain of stores (shops) is for the Special Brew (or local equivalent, which I believe is called Pabst Blue Ribbon) chugging street drinker as well as for the whiney hipster looking for a mid-range bottle of cava and a week’s worth of artisanal spirits. The experience of going into the LCBO often feels a little sordid, a little desperate, and standing in an overcast car park with a mask on my face for (I estimate) forty-five minutes makes me feel a bit disappointed in myself.

I haven’t drunk until I threw up for a very very (by my standards) long time, and with the forcibly-imposed restrictions of lockdown plus the voluntarily-imposed lack of a social network of enablers, there’s no risk of drinking causing any exacerbated consequences. I have no means or methods to access indiscretions, which is long term for the best though, of course, does not help with boredom.

Self-imposed repression is the act of self harm I’ve probably most consistently enacted upon myself.

Yet again, I am living vicariously through others and through literature.

I did this a lot when I hated myself and didn’t believe that listening to myself was important. Here in this LCBO queue, I feel like I’m doing something inherently bad.

Every moment I spend queueing here for alcohol is an opportunity to go home.

I’m not being productive in lockdown, not at all. I’m reading a lot and the number of unpublished blog drafts has now comfortably passed into double figures, but I’m not making anything new or editing anything old other than the manuscript of the pleasure of regret, which already has a publisher and needs hardly any further work. Eurgh.

If I could, I would write like KIRBY.

When I saw the cover of this book in a pop-up bookstore in a Parkdale coffee shop, I was – naturally – intrigued. When I opened it to see its title, I was sold. The popup bookstore was cash only and – as I mentioned above I’m not in the party scene here so have no need of cash – but luckily I was with my sister and was able to demand that she buy me this book of poetry about – what I think would now be known as – cruising.

This Is Where I Get Off covers a long length of time, certainly multiple decades and perhaps almost half a century, and pretty much all of it is about fucking and sucking [off] men as well as the discrimination received as a result of sexuality.

The voice – or voices – chronicle a prodigious amount of sex (“In active pursuit daily for let’s just look at between the ages of 16 and 24. Let’s say I’ve averaged two sex partners a day, that’s 728 a year for eight years that’s 5824 and I would safely double that at least.” – ‘Tally’) and variety of men (many of whom insist they are straight) who solicit anonymous blow jobs.

A lot of it, of course, happens in public toilets, a setting that sex both revels in and transcends. For example, in the collection’s untitled opening piece, these hook-up locations are referred to by the narrator as “temples”, while the same narrator describes the anonymous office worker they’ve been fellating squirting jizz over the lavatory walls and not bothering to wipe it off.

There are degrees of cleanliness to public toilets, but sex is always sex: it is always physical and bodily and never is it spotlessly clean.

Let’s be honest: I think the vast majority of us have had some kind of sexual contact with someone in a public toilet in a bar or a club or in the domestic bathroom functioning as a public toilet at a house party (certainly I have numerous times, and I’m one of the most sexually repressed people I know), so – if anything – the office block toilets and library toilets and museum toilets and hall of residence toilets where the majority of these encounters happen are likely to be much much much cleaner than the grimiest places in which I’ve banged etc.

Anyway.

The poems in This Is Where I Get Off are visceral, physical, sexual, pieces of writing that explore identity and gender fluidity, that amorphously evoke experiences not only sexual, but the human and community-based interactions that come from the places a pursuit of sex takes us. There is, too, an exploration of some of the unpleasant realities of queer life, including the AIDS crisis, verbal and physical abuse, and also scum conservative opinions being spouted by family members and erstwhile close friends.

KIRBY’s writing here is blunt, emotive, engaging poetry and it’s exactly the kinda thing I love to read.

Highly recommended.

This is Where I Get Off is published by Permanent Sleep though is currently sold out on their website.

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