This is Part 2 of ACPA Managing Editor Evan Mersereau's talk with UNB Fredericton poet Eddie Dust. Click here to read Part 1.
E. Mersereau: Could you expand on that "polar" idea? I've never heard it in such terms and I'm deeply curious.
E. Dust: Before I go into this, I want to stress how happy I am that I get to think about, then write this reply down and not answer this live. Fuck up a question like this one and find yourself a fly undone.
Because holy shit, the more I thought about the term “polar", the more I found issues to contend with.
A couple of caveats: Firstly, I don’t envision this term “polar" as encompassing anyone but me. Others can use it or point out its merits or (especially) its flaws as they like. Further I want to stress how fraught the current debate over gender identity and terminology is, and all I know for absolute fucking certain is I don’t like cis at all (which is one thing more than Socrates! Fuckin’ S-M-R-T). I wrote a poem about the word cis. It’s called “cis”.
Fuck that word.
Fuck it in the ear.
Anyway, “polar" is a term I’m kinda trying on for size, let’s say. And by polar, I mean in terms of magnetic polarity, I suppose. You might describe me as fairly stereotypically masculine. While I have spent a long time in academia, I’ve also spent a lot of time working construction, security, house painting, and other low level blue collar work. I’m pretty rough around the edges. I swear like a motherfucker, as I’ve said previously. And I’m a fight more than flight, except perhaps emotionally. You could call me a Mediocre Will Hunting.
I tend to be attracted to the opposite of me, physically speaking. I’m not attracted to the traditional masculine form at all, which is why I’d call myself polar male, or perhaps polar masculine?
I dunno. The term “masculine” is a tricky one, too. If feminine and masculine didn’t carry so much baggage (consider “effeminate”, for instance) and if there was more diversity in what roles a person might play, then a man who described themselves as feminine wouldn’t get mocked, nor would a woman who described herself as masculine.
The more I think on it, the more problematic all gender terms become…
In fact I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t exactly miss gender terms. I mean, have I really clarified anything with polar or have I just added more rope to the knot? Fucked if I know, buddy. Fucked if I know. I’m starting to think gender terms are a Gordian knot that cannot be disentangled but must rather be hacked in half and cast aside.
A friend of mine came out to me as non-binary not too long ago. I was really honoured, you know? Someone whom I’d known only a short while, someone who knew who they were but was still a little unsure on whether the world would accept them was willing to risk being very vulnerable with me because they trusted me. That’s kind of humbling, and it’s also a responsibility (I believe it’s a responsibility - a fucking duty carved more deeply into the stone of my soul than a commandment - not to take advantage of another’s vulnerabilities. Well… except in cards, so to speak). Anyway, we got talking about the nuts & bolts of our own personal preferences and they put it pretty bluntly:
“I’m attracted to female genitalia.”
At first I felt a little tripped up but quickly I came to realize it’s a really simple and most importantly clear response. Not a lot of people would be comfortable giving or receiving an answer like that. But with my friend in mind, all I can say is, so far at least:
All that said, whether or not I’m attracted to a person has nothing to do with which gender pronouns (or non-gendered ones) they choose to use. I go by he/him, though I could easily be convinced to switch to “they/their” out of solidarity with those who don’t get the choice. I’ve been attracted to people who use the “they/them/their” combo as well as “she/her". A prof once asked whether we’d date someone who went by “they/them/their”. It seems almost a silly question, but there definitely are people who attach that much weight to the pronouns we use.
You could envision it as
Polar Male < > Non-Binary < > Polar Female
With all the infinite variations and waves that emerge from that magnetic bar. Look at a picture of a magnetic field around a magnetized rod - it’s looping arcs, not straight lines. I think gender and sexuality can be the same way. You could recreate the LGBTQ rainbow as magnetic waves - I think that could be an interesting image.
It does get complicated because of course people are complicated. Can there be masculine gay men? Without question: go to the gym, join the army, train in a martial art, become a firefighter or a cop or even, yes, a lumberjack (leaping from tree to tree as they float down the mighty rivers of New Brunswick…). Would I call them polar male? I think so, yeah. Do they need to be tops? Unlikely, but who knows! It’s a developing concept and anyone who wanted to chime in with support, criticism, or their own terms would be welcome to do so. Sex is a spectrum and gender is too. And the heart wants what the heart wants.
I guess finally the trick is to create a term that is as inclusive as possible and isn't disparaging to anyone. That’s my main concern. I guess that’s why I would say “polar” male rather than “masculine”. And I suppose the more I think on it the more “polar" seems to be encompassing a lot more than sexuality, and perhaps not sexuality at all.
I’m not fully completely on it. Hell, I find I’m right fucking ambivalent. Being bipolar, that’s hardly surprising, of course.
E. Mersereau: Somewhere I remember hearing that "they" came about because it was one person declaring it as their unique identity, that others who knew a similar truth about themselves need not necessarily emulate them, and instead seek out their own. I have no idea if this memory has legs - I could easily be misremembering and conflating conversations from people much more gender-versed than I.
But to finally turn to your poetry - the stuff you read at the AAUEC - relationships figure heavily into two thirds of the material. "The Past Due" is built on an excerpt from Eliot's "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and of course there's your "Love Poem 1." To me, it seems there's something decidedly postmodern about them. And maybe that word only came to mind because you lifted from one of the definitive modernists for a glosa, but on the other hand both "Past Due" and "Love Poem 1" have that arresting honesty that good postmodernism should have (that is, not to be experimental for the sake of shock or impenetrability but to challenge the work deemed challenging (I could also be talking right out of my ass here)). I feel as though "Past Due" actually takes Prufrock to task in a way by drawing out the intensity of something so common as fucking up a meal with someone rather than spending the energy in a way which prefigures Caulfield (watch as I dance around calling Eliot and Salinger possible incels). Or, to strip away all this essay-like jargon and get to the point, "Past Due" reveals the banal facts of romance while maintaining its integrity where "Prufrock" seethes in toxic ideation.
E. Dust: "The Past Due" was an assignment I had for a course called “Food, Glorious Food”. We had to write a glosa based around food, although our reach was expanded to include recipes and food reviews in terms of the material we might draw from. I eventually settled on "Prufrock", one of my favourite poems (one of nearly everyone’s favourite poems, to be fair).
Prufrock is a sad, lonely, and hateful coward - a proto-incel as you suggest. Though he is ostensibly speaking to an other in the poem, I often think Prufrock is talking to himself. It’s more an internal monologue than a conversation, really. The repetition (“There will be time”) suggests something stream-of-consciousness, like he’s caught in an inescapable loop of his own insecurities.
When you’re mostly alone, you find ways to hate "the herd”. And unfortunately there are always and everywhere predators looking for lonely and isolated people to weaponize or con. That’s how white supremacy takes hold - you look for a “family” and a “family” finds you - a group of people who tell you that no, you’re not the asshole here, it’s everyone else, or it’s some specific race, religion, gender, political party, or sexuality that’s evil, that’s denying you your rightful X.
But no one deserves anything. You don’t get what’s coming to you, you only get what’s coming.
With my glosa, I wanted to write something from the POV of a person sharing with their partner the delicious horror of a spoiling fridge. I was simultaneously taking a course in Victorian literature and I imagine some of the language seeped into the poem. It’s all very tongue-in-cheek, of course, which "Prufrock" most assuredly isn’t. I did want to write the most sinister poem ever conceived about leftovers, and while I don’t suppose I have a lot of competition, I like to think I succeeded. I think Eliot would HATE having arguably the most important poem of the 20th century turned into an incredibly sarcastic look at leftovers. But fuck that anti-semite anyhow, genius or no. There’s a certain hubristic joy one takes in tweaking the noses of past masters.
A part of me certainly wanted to refute Prufrock’s pathetic worldview. Prufrock both idealizes and mocks relationships: “In the room the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo”, whereas “The Past Due” is in essence a conversation with a partner in what I imagined to be a healthy, mature relationship between two equally devilish souls, like Screwtape asking his nephew what’s in the fridge for supper. Prufrock is as well in many senses speaking of dying whereas with "The Past Due" the conversation is about resurrection (or more accurately reanimation). I wanted to deny the idea that there is always time - not with leftovers, there ain’t! Prufrock is powerless except that he can delay… for awhile. "The Past Due" is all about glorious, silly power except over time. Prufrock is about indecision - the only power one has over time is to seize or deny the moment, and Prufrock inevitably chooses the latter. "The Past Due" is about action. Plus with "Prufrock" there is as you say this over-the-top rhetoric for a relatively staid life. In that at least I stuck to the script. Fuck mere overboard; I wanted to drown at the very bottom of the ocean, swallowing into my lungs water that the sun has never seen!
This glosa was the moment I really fell in love with poetry as an act rather than as a subject. The language oozes and drips with sarcastic menace, and I laughed over every line. With Prufrock’s opening four lines I found myself flung into the worlds of Dr. Moreau, Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll - all the dystopia lunatics and mad scientists of the previous century’s turn. It was an act of fuckin' joy. The image of a patient etherized on a table brought Frankenstein’s creature into focus, and from there, well… the rest kind of fell into place.
Quick aside: people have no fucking appreciation of how long it takes to write and edit a poem. They throw down the first thing their brain farts out and consider that enough. It’s like Wordsworth claiming poetry is an entirely spontaneous act - what a fucking asshole! Yeah, Wordsworth, you thought in rhyme. Douchebag. Anyway I probably put 14 hours into this fucking glosa, at least. That’s like 20 minutes per line. And each excruciating minute was still somehow bliss. If my long-winded answer on “polar male” didn’t give it away, I will excoriate myself over each and every word. Anything less and you ain’t a poet. That shit matters. It matters all the way down.
As to whether or not the poem is postmodern, I don’t really think about that. It’s up to critics to label my poems, and hopefully read a lot more good stuff into them than ever I intended. If I’m postmodern it isn’t a conscious decision. I write however the fuck I feel, which I suppose is postmodern. But am I intentionally rocking the boat or am I hoping to be recognized as some bête noire or some deconstructionist enfant terrible? No(n). I’m just Eddie Dust. I write what I like. I will say I like to combine the rough with the smooth in terms of language and delivery. I like combining the hard and the soft, the elegant and the profane, the high and the low.
"Love Poem 1" is a different beast entirely. It was my first love poem (hence the title). The one thing I knew was that I didn’t want to go and look at what others had or were doing with their love poems. I wanted my first one to be entirely me. I figured I’d start out with a typical construction, “I love you more than X loves Y”. I realized I was heading for a train wreck with that hackneyed form and so I leapt off as soon as I could and into my own thing.
"Love Poem 1" is imagined from the POV of someone who is looking at their partner in bed, thinking of all the things they wish they could say but lack the ability due to fear of embarrassment or a typical male fear of vulnerability. Coming from a pretty rough background as I do, I used to find it very difficult to express my softer feelings. I find it easier now, but only with very specific people. I’m still pretty stoical and tend to hide my emotions except for rage (which is one of the few emotions men are allowed to display). The lines “I wish I could say these things to you / straight-faced, my delivery / straight-laced, / as perfect as pointe shoes” represent how hard it can be for men raised in toxic environments to display their more vulnerable feelings. Most of the time when I would want to say something that might leave me vulnerable I would stuff a sarcastic or (hopefully) witty comment somewhere in the mix as a way of reducing the impact of what I was saying and thus reducing the potential to be hurt were I rejected. Men who come from hard backgrounds still want to think soft thoughts. But we can end up hating ourselves for such “weakness” - it’s a knee-jerk response that winds up kicking us in our own balls somehow.
As for “The Sandman”, I was coming off “The Past Due” high and I continued the horror element through into this poem. I wanted to create a kind of “In the Hall of the Mountain King” vibe, where the reader via the poem’s structure and word choice naturally finds themselves speeding up as they read. It was a challenge to memorize and perform and I figured if I could pull off “The Sandman” without fucking it up or passing out, I’d earn major props. High risk/high reward is kind of my thing. Again, I’m 43 and just starting out in a career that takes years and years to develop. I can’t afford to fight defensively.
E. Mersereau: What I really admire about these poems is how much of a nightmare you create out of the mundane - or rather, the nightmare you reveal. Even without the context of your background I think they speak to a common experience that is culturally trivialized: the deep psychological catastrophe which unfolds as insecurity.
E. Dust: A certain skewing of vision can make anything horrific. I think of the song “Sliver” by Nirvana - it’s a pile of nothing with vaguely infantile lyrics that don’t mean shit. But because of the dark and desperate tone of the song I can’t help but imagine something terrible happened to the kid while they were asleep, something unspeakable. Something that has happened before.
At the other end, you have Beck’s “Girl” which is a beach rock inspired song about a serial killer. Same with “My Valuable Hunting Knife” by Guided by Voices - a kind of fun, pop rock sounding song yet again about a serial killer.
E. Mersereau: But why exactly do you memorize your work? What would be lost if you read it from a page?
E. Dust: Look, poetry IS a performance art, as is most art. It always has been this way. I think it’s us poets who’ve forgotten that. Musicians understand this. Leonard Cohen understood this probably best of all.
It’s more important now than ever to have a performative aspect to one’s work. There’s too much fucking competition to just sit back and hope your work gets noticed amongst the skyscraper piles of other hopefuls teetering on the edges of every agent’s desk. Fish may swim in schools for protection, but an artist needs to be the fish that gets caught.
And I was pretty certain no one else would memorize their work. And no one else had. This let me peacock a little.
Now all that said, it certainly is possible I fucked up my performance and everyone walked away thinking, “Jesus, what a Dead Poet wannabe.” But I don’t think so. And even if so, who cares. After all, one day I’m going to die.
So I say: throw your life at your audience!
I mean, what the hell else am I to do, stand on a proverbial corner with my pamphlets thick and slipping from an ever-weakening grip, sneaking papers sheepishly into whatever hands are open enough to receive them, watching all that paper then fall from disinterested fingers into garbage bins, onto sidewalks, gutter gathered; or crumpled, or wiping asses, or holding notes and grocery lists in the margins, the margins the only parts getting read…
Nah, fuck that. Scream it in their faces if you must.
But there is also intellectual value in memorizing one’s poems. You become intimately aware of each and every word. You can find the rough spots more easily. You must contend with sound and rhythm more deeply than you else wise might - it’s right there gliding, grinding, stumbling, or outright falling from your face, after all.
That said, I made major changes to "Love Poem 1” the night before my recitation and re-memorizing the poem was a miserable bugger, especially when changes involved a word here or there.
E. Mersereau: Eddie to wind this down I've got a couple things on my mind and then I'll let you go. Like you, I'm always looking for something to read or hear or whatever. But I'm more looking for someone to put something in my hands and tell me bug-eyed and breathless "READ THIS." I'm getting everyone I talk with to send me out and buy something for my shelves, and I legit don't care what genre or form it is. What should I run out and grab now? (Well, not now; it's like midnight as I write this and I'm not super sold on burglary.)
E. Dust: I dunno. Lately I’ve been reading Lunch Poems by Frank O’Hara - a prof recommended him to me and I admit I like his lines and contours. The one book I return to over and over is Notes from Underground by Dostoyevsky. His monster works are a little too preachy for me, but Notes is just pure bitter delight.
But if you want to really know what it was like to be a younger me and what it’s like to be me now, read “Iron and the Soul” by Henry Rollins. Here’s a link, it’s not long. The version I linked is cleaned up a lot from the original - in the original Rollins uses profanity, along with some awful slurs that were commonly used when he was a kid, but are anathema now. Rollins has always been a staunch defender of LGBTQ rights, but the language of the 80s was repellent, especially towards LGBTQ. You don’t quote Mishima Yukio if you’re anti-LGBTQ. That said, I’m ambivalent about the cleaned up text - did Rollins rewrite it or did the website? Knowing Rollins, it’s almost assuredly the website. Is it a disservice not to point out the language Rollins grew up around?
I don’t know.
Yes and no.
I don’t fucking know...
Anyway, the slurs were distracting from the intended message, which is Rollins' broad definition of what it means to be fully strong through the lens of weightlifting, yet encompassing so much more than mere physical strength. I lift myself as a form of meditation - it’s hard to think about anything else when you have to concentrate on form, speed, breath, weight, rhythm, and control. I lift to keep my brain in check. It’s made me strong but it’s also instilled a strange humility - the weights tell YOU what you can lift. Maybe today your numbers will go down because you’re tired or hungover or a little sick or what-have-you. You don’t arrogantly shove your numbers up - that’s a great way to destroy your body. You submit to the weights, submit to the whims of the day. You must approach weights with humility, or you will end up with a compacted spine, duck walking because of your fucked up knees, all your joints wrecked and aching.
Stupid and vain and childish.
Read "Iron and the Soul." It’ll give you a rough idea of who I am and how I think.
E. Mersereau: Last thing - maybe you saw this one coming. You recently underwent a name change. What's the significance in the name Eddie Dust?
E. Dust: I’ve wanted to change my name since I was in my early twenties, but I didn’t want to change my name unless I had also changed myself significantly enough that the name change was warranted. So long as I was an angry, lonely, and bitter person, there was no point. I wore the name of my dad, John Urechko (I’d call him a piece of shit but he’s much more than just a piece) because I was still despicably his kind. No, not nearly as cruel nor misogynistic, but in my way just as lost and bitter and hateful.
But I knew I wanted the change.
I thought of all sorts of names, each more pretentious and 16 year old goth than the last. Hell, I even briefly considered fucking “Damien” - that’s a name you better be born into. I had for a long time settled on the name Alun Walker - Alun Wanderer was very, very briefly tempting, remembering The Black Cauldron and Taran Wanderer. It still kinda stunk to me, of what I couldn’t quite name.
Then one night sometime past the witching hour while contemplating not contemplating suicide, the name “Edelmar Dust” popped into my head. I have no idea why or from where. I do remember giving my head a fucking shake.
“Edelmar? That can’t be a name.”
I looked it up and sure enough, it is indeed a name and it means “noble”. Immediately my mind went to my favourite play: Hamlet.
“To what base uses we may return, Horatio. Why, may not imagination trace the noble dust of Alexander till he find it stopping a bunghole?"
I knew I had my name.
Of course, I had two conflicting reasons for liking the name. On the one hand, it is a hopeful thing to imagine oneself containing some mote of the greatness of those who’ve come and gone before. After all, who can know the capricious tastes of genius and talent? It does not settle upon any specific shoulders, despite what the bigots of the world will claim. There’s no such thing as fucking midichlorians. Brilliance is not determined by melanin nor pedigree nor - despite the way many pubescent, pathetic little man-boys act - is genius gathered in the prick. It goes where it likes without concern for our concerns. We don’t have a long line of Einsteins discovering some new generation changing science. We had Albert. Genius isn’t genetic. It’s of the soul, whatever the fuck that is.
In short, I hope some of the noble dust of our species has settled in me.
And on the other hand, the host of Alexander’s proverbial spirit may be plugging the casks of literal spirits. We don’t get to say what happens to ourselves once those parts of us leave the nest. What you write will be reinterpreted according to other people’s prejudices, preferences, and plots. Who knows what will gnaw at our bones?
Maybe when I die no one will care. Maybe I’ll fade into dust entirely, unloved and unrecognized. Maybe I’ll be such a failure as an artist I’ll find myself writing plots for pornos - not that there’s anything wrong with pornography or prostitution so long as safety and consent are constantly at the forefront, but the storylines are ass… I mean, so to speak… well, I guess it depends on the genre. ANYWAY the point is that I could end up a big pile of nothing. Well… that’s actually inevitable, isn’t it?
My lineage is dust. I don’t value either side of my family. I have a mother and a sister and they I love. That’s fuckin’ it. The rest of my so-called relatives can burn in the darkness visible for all I give a fuck. In fact for some of them I’d put in a fucking request to the Devil to give them extra special attention. Or to give me a go. Even now I could teach Old Scratch a thing about hate.
Thinking on my "family" always opens up the violent highways in me…
Anyway, Edelmar stuck around for awhile, but ultimately Eddie emerged from it. Edelmar is too pretentious even for me. Although I still consider myself an “Edelmar" Eddie and not an "Edward” Eddie.
It’s been good for me so far. I was surprised by how easy it was to get used to the new name. I suppose it’s partly because of how much I needed to discard my old self. Thankfully those I’ve met at UNB have been incredibly accepting. No one ever said to me, “Well, until your name change is official I’m going to call you by your “real” name. I said I was Eddie, they accepted me as Eddie. It’s part of the reason I respect Gen Z - at least with those I know, I am who I say I am.
Makes me think of all the bullshit over gender pronouns again. It’s not up to me to decide who YOU are. It’s up to you to tell ME who you are, and it’s up to me to ACCEPT what you tell me. Seriously, what kind of a lazy homophobe do you have to be not to ask the simple question, “Which pronouns do you prefer?” It’s such a small goddamned thing yet people act like they’re getting castrated over having to use “they” and “their”. GROW UP, fuck.
If you said to me, “You know what? I don’t think you’re an Eddie. You were born Allan, so you have to stay that way.”
You can expect to lose teeth. Metaphorically.
Ah, that violent imagery… you never escape the labyrinth of toxic masculinity, not totally. It’s a pair of old clothes you carefully fold and put away at the back of your wardrobe. But there always seems to be an occasion to pull them back out, and they always fitcha so well…
Anyway, in terms of practicality, Eddie Dust is a useful name. It’s easy as fuck to remember, especially compared to Urechko. Can you guess how to pronounce Urechko? You’re almost assuredly wrong. I once had a teacher pronounce it Urko.
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets
- TS Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
Let us go then, you and I, and
stand ambivalent before the two-faced door that
hides from eyes our slow congealing meals.
Let us raid this cold-hearted Narnia within whose
wintry barrows await the wights of countless
gluttonous nights. Let us ponder the strange terrain with
outstretched arms that weave and wend down
fragile channels, past rusted sediments of vinaigrettes,
past the snagging brambles of immortal condiments and
other illegible, foodish impediments.
When the evening is spread out against the sky
before the cold door ajar we shall frigidly linger,
running fingers across the lid of a composted
compote at whose undated Fate for a scance
we will wonder. We will wander through
the tombs of unknown soldiers and
exhume from their clear coffins a wealth of
tarnished medallions, again to solve with fresh
autopsies the fork-rent flesh as it lays cold and
glazed upon the white-wired shelves
like a patient etherized upon a table.
Beneath the touch of lingering fingers and stainless
implements only fine for this kind of cureless charcuterie
let us create new life from old as did our dear Doctor
Frankenstein, who from the limbs of severed villains
sprang forth a fresh monstrosity. We will recombine
the unraveling DNA; we will cross species. We will blur
the boundaries of recipes, obscure their purity,
merge lineages, following in the footsteps of the
Darwin-conquering Moreau and his unfettered ilk.
Let us go through certain half-deserted streets,
and kidnap from cupboard homes iron maidens to
whose thorny wombs will go condemned our gruesome
stew. We will burn these Dutch witches above or
beneath the black spiralled iron and the pure electric heat.
We will burn away their sins with hellfire, we will
flay their soles. Then at the last we will
pour free our reforged feast from the
spattered metal that failed to contain it and
gorge ourselves, renewed by the past due.
Used with permission of the author.
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