Trap Poetics | Part 2 by Ava Hofmann

Click [here] to read Part 1 of “Trap Poetics”



Accessibility Text

Pictured is another 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.

“Let’s break this down a little:”

The word “this” has been crossed out, but is still legible. Thus, another way to read this passage could be:

“Let’s break down a little:”

In the center of the page is the “thesis” passage of page 1, written out once again: “Trap poetics is the death-defying beauty of putting on an unconvincing show. It’s the weaponizing of failure and underperformance 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 failing to fail at performance, spaces wherein the cis audience’s attempts at (voyeuristic, selfish) understanding are forced to encounter new forms of dis-understanding.”

However, this passage has been annotated in a several locations, with the notes/annotations surrounding this passage in the middle. The annotations can be read in any order.

An arrow points from the word “death-defying” to the following passage: “Death (spiritual, legal, or literal) tends to be continually at stake in trans art, in large part because cis society keeps killing us. Always at the forefront of trap poetics, therefore, is this risk of death, of being socially or legally erased. The social specter of the ‘trap’ in some part arises out of the era of trans people going stealth in order to even be allowed to exist at all; trans art-making in the 20th century was an incredibly brave act, to know before you even speak out that you are in some way marking yourself for death. Even today, to make art as a trans person is still a hyper-marking act. Trap poetics is caught in and thrives on this perpetual conflicting loop of disclosure and survival.”

The phrase “hyper-marking” is circled, marking it.

An arrow points from the word “failure” to the following passage: “When I say failure, I speak of a poetic redeployment of failure—throwing cis society’s perception of trans people as failures back at them in incredible and vindictive displays of ruinous beauty. This is deeply linked with ideas about underperformance—it is the signal shot through totally by noise, it is lacunae (i.e., the entire material legacy of queer history) and obfuscation and hyper-marked deletion. It is being forced to be reminded of the material mess of language and the violence is contains. Is the (illusory, wandering) ‘trap’ of ‘trap poetics’ a kind of failure-making?—The act of self-revision to hide or obscure the greatest act of obfuscation capitalism pulls over our eyes: the enculturation of our bodies. Yes: she obscures the obscure in order to (half-)reveal.

The phrase “hyper-marked” is circled, marking it.

The word “obfuscation” has a star next to it.

An arrow points from the word “underperformance” to the following passage: “Trap poetics as a concept is interesting to me because it has the potentiality to flip cis modalities of ‘performance’ (both in poetry and identity) on their head. It is not like drag, or like artistic modalities wherein an ‘overperformance’ is trying to ‘mock’ (i.e., replicate) an entrenched set of social stereotypes. Trap oetics, instead, contends with the fact that cis culture perceives transness as a kind of continual, ontological overperformance. Instead, it trans in underperformance, strangeness, opacity, and understatement. This kind of intentional obfuscation is itself a kind of ecstatic performing; it is the pleasure of smuggling in the deadly truth, or of creating new performances entirely.”

The word “obfuscation” has a star next to it.

The word “new” is underlined.

An arrow points from the word “weaponizing” to the following passage: “In Porpentine Charity Heartscape’s ‘THE MAXIMUM SOFTNESS CAPABLE OF BEING EXERTED BY ALL MACHINERY’, the text’s sci-fi allegorization of transness is literally called a weapon—a type of killing android who has escaped one kind of battlefield (gender) for the battlefield of cis society. And certain kinds of anti-trans logic may posit that the trans body is, indeed, a weapon. Just as the fear the ‘trap’ represents is totally unfounded, just as the ‘trap’ does not ‘really’ ecist, her weaponized specter still looms: trap poetics is concerned also w/ the classic cartoon spring-loaded death mechanisms—& also also with death mechanisms of more serious kinds. What is the weapon of ‘trap poetics’ that all this art is trying to smuggle in? It is asking cis people to reckon with their cisness. It is demanding a trans future.”

An arrow points from the phrase “negative spaces” to the following passage: “The space many trans people create for themselves are generally the assembled material scraps from social and cultural milieu that would allow the littlest bit of respect for and the actualization of their identities: the gathered remains of what cis society has hollowed out with their socio-biomedical disaster vision of gender and sex. Personal mythologies and hyperdetailed worlds. Intense interests in queer-friendly fandom and counter-cultural groups. These things are not quite public spaces—they are the private dream-creations of space by people without any. Negative spaces. Inherent in these negative spaces or sequestered x-topias is the potential to imagine & create new futures, new possibilities.”

The two appearances of the word “new” are underlined.

An arrow points from the word “dis-understanding” to the following passage: “Transness (like most subaltern identity) is caught in a double bind of being known. To not be understood means facing prejudice and ignorance. But unequivocal ‘understanding’ results in functions of a prurient cis gaze: ‘what’s in your pants? What’s your deadname? Wow, look at this sad, tragic, brave tranny.” Fuck you, you don’t get total understanding in order to respect my human rights. This prurient writer-reader relationship is, in some sense, the catastrophic result of center (over-) performance in our aesthetic and identity-based conceptualizations: ‘exploit identity for the market. Exploit tragedy for the market. Speak only of what is, so to be understood, and not of what could be.’ Dis-understanding is imagining those possibilities excluded via understanding. It redirects the burden of cisness back onto the cis. ‘Understand that you do not need to understand.’”







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 ReviewFenceAnomalyBest American Experimental Writing 2020The FanzineDatableedPeachmagAlways CrashingFoglifter, 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 and her twitter is @st_somatic

August 5th, 2020|
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