Pictured is a page of text which has been spatially arranged, with visual elements connecting different sections of text in a nonlinear way. Linkages between passages and images will be indicated.
Ava Hofmann, 2020
Trap Poetics: Another bad art theory for f—[the rest of the word here has been scribbled out].
Cis people: call it “t-poetics” or else I’ll get mad at you.
In a chapter of Susan Howe’s The Birth-mark, Howe wrote the following about Emily Dickinson: “I think she may have chose to enter the space of silence, a space where power is no longer an issue, gender is no longer an issue, voice is no longer an issue, where the idea of a printed book appears as a trap.” (Page 170)
The word “silence” connects to the following footnote: “And I think this silence is something we should question. Silence is positioned in opposition to the ‘printed book’; silence is refuge. Is it really, though? There is value in the space-outside that poetry can give us access to—but it cannot do that for us all equally. For trans people writing now, a silence wherein gender is not an issue is not possible without erasing our identities.” This footnote is crossed out, but is still legible.
The phrase “gender is no longer an issue” also has a note: “for whom?”
This “for whom?” note is itself part of a longer passage: “To be sequestered away in a freeing poetic space. The eternal fantasy… for whom? Isn’t a retreat into the silence of gender a kind of surrender? How can silences be deployed in the service of trans art and expression? Silence not as refuge, but as a weapon.” The phrase “How can silences be deployed in the service of trans art and expression?” is crossed out, but is still legible.
The word “trap” in the preceding Howe quote is bolded and circled. An arrow points to a starred passage with an exclamation mark next to it. This passage says: “I love [Howe’s] quote because of how I can willfully misinterpret that word, ‘trap’, and thereby start to conceptualize a trap poetics, a negative space for transness with poetry.
The word “trap” in the previous passage has an arrow pointing to the word “covert”. The word “covert” has an arrow pointing back to “Silence not as refuge… but as a weapon.”
The phrase “negative space” in the previous is underlined and as an arrow pointing from it to the word “expand.”
The previous passage continues onto a new paragraph: “If you didn’t already know, trap (heart icon) is a transphobic slur. Its meanings coalesced in mid-2000’s internet/anime culture. A “trap” refers to the idea of a “man” dressing as a “woman” in order to trick or trap heterosexual men into “gay sex.” Like many slurs for trans women, it lives within the conflation of gay men and trans women, within the conflation between crossdressing and transness, and within the illusion that any of these things are in the service of the desire of bigoted straight men.”
The final sentence of that paragraph is annotated with the word “LOL.”
The phrase “internet/anime” has an arrow pointing from it to another passage: “A detailed accounting of the origins of “trap” as a slur is beyond the scope of this project. I recommend ‘Traps Don’t Exist and Here’s Why’ by The Pedantic Romantic for further info.”
The passage also has a footnote at the end of it which links to another note: “There is, also, of course, the more direct meaning of ‘trap’ (which the slur indexes): that of something sprung on someone, of containment. It is this dual meaning which ‘trap poetics’ fluxes between: the imagined violence of transness by cis people, and the genuine violence & entrapped embodiment that trans people experience.”
The previous passage reading “SILENCE not as refuge… but as a weapon.” also links to this note.
The passage that begins “If you didn’t already know, trap (heart icon)…” also has a bracket around it. This bracket points to another passage: “Howe didn’t intend any of this meaning, of course. But in the mismeaning there is a interpretive truth: inside the printed book, its private publics, there is space to create literary ‘traps’ and, indeed, for both book and author to be trap.”
This passage also has a footnote that links to the note that begins: “There is also, of course, the more direct meaning of ‘trap’ (which the slur indexes)…”
This passage, as well as the passage that reads “SILENCE not as a refuge… but as a weapon,” both have arrows which point to another passage, which has a more official appearance. It reads: “But OK, here’s the thesis or whatever of my “Trap Poetics” posturing: “trap poetics is the death defying beauty of putting on an unconvincing show. It’s the weaponizing of failure and of underperformances in order to implicate the reader into their position as audience; but also it’s the recognition that this weaponizing is itself always a failure, and that this failing is also always a weaponizing. It distinguishes itself from the performances of the neoliberal lyric through the ways in which, in the crush of this loop, trans writers stake out negative spaces of ailing to fail at performances, spaces where in the cis audience’s attempts at (voyeuristic, selfish) understanding are forced to encounter new forms of dis-understanding.”
An arrow points from the word “posturing” in the previous passage to a final note: “And it is posturing, and pretty risky posturing at that. To use a slur like “trap” this way means I must find a lot of value in deploying this slur. And I do.”
There is a circle around an appearance of the word “weaponizing” in the previous passage. An arrow points from this circle to another passage: “Against who? Both the reader and the writer.”
An arrow points from this final question and answer to a final note: “Expand in conclusion.”
Originally from Oxford, Ohio, Ava Hofmann is a trans writer currently living and working in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She has poems published in or forthcoming from Black Warrior Review, Fence, Anomaly, Best American Experimental Writing 2020, The Fanzine, Datableed, Peachmag, Always Crashing, Foglifter, and Petrichor. Her poetry deals with trans/queer identity, Marxism, and the frustrated desire inherent to encounters with the archive. Her chapbook, THE WOMAN FACTORY is forthcoming from The Operating System. Her website is www.nothnx.com and her twitter is @st_somatic