Kristin Sanders’ Cuntry builds upon a compelling conceit, exemplified by the pun of the book’s title. By exploring the contact-points between country music, pornography culture, and Sanders’s personal life, the work strives to create a conceptually-linked set of poems that shifts the confessional “I” between lyric poetry, sex-memoir, and intertextual response to explore the relationship between sex and media. At her strongest, Sanders’ poems deftly describe the psychological/social contradictions inherent to the pornographic frame—be they literal descriptions of and engagements with pornography itself, or examinations of the feminine “cuntry object” within country music’s half-winking striptease.
The strongest moments in this book throb with a gross and plastic fleshiness, due in large part to Sanders’ remarkable skill with the prose poem; her meaning-shifting lists and narratives of the self’s relationship with pornographic intersubjectivity spring with a brutal urgency. However, these prose poems are only about half of Cuntry; the other half consists of verse that takes specific tracks from the history of country music as its subject, featuring poems with titles like “Working 9 To 5 Sung By Dolly Parton.” These poems are much less even—sometimes they produce texts which use the mythos of a given song almost as a kind of form, while at other times producing weaker works, which use the “I” in limpid and uninspiring ways: “We tapdanced on black wooden briefcases / I was twelve / I was a good tap-dancer.”
However, embedded as it is in the worlds of pornography, country music, and their various fetishistic debasements, the work is haunted by an entity which the text passes over without comment: porn’s misogynistic and transphobic construction of the shemale, futanari, or trap, the site where the transwoman’s cock is transformed into a “cunt” by framing and context. This is not a mere ideological gripe but a thematic and structural one: the failure to address this radical endpoint of pornographic framing reduces the queer potentialities of the text into a kind of biological essentialism that a title like Cuntry has the dangerous capacity of implying. Women become the “cuntry object” of directed violences, because, indeed, of their “cunts” (even though some women don’t have “cunts” and not everyone who has a “cunt” is a woman), rather than through societal and cultural structures, through the violence of the form of pornography and the country song. This exclusion is particularly noticeable in contrast to the depths of fetish culture the text explores, from BDSM and Bukkake to urolagnia and bestiality fantasies. This is my core critique with the work— not necessarily what it includes, as much of it is quite fantastic, but what it ends up excluding, and what those exclusions mean.
Redeeming, however, is Sanders’ honesty and lyric force. It is difficult to do the lyric voice justice—even more difficult to do so while communicating one’s neurotic obsessions and failures—but Sanders does it successfully. And failure may be a key idea of this text, as the collection acknowledges near its conclusion; Cuntry is ultimately a book about failure, the failure to become a country singer, the failure to stop watching pornography, and the ultimate failure of those “cuntry” forms to communicate anything true or embodied about love and sex. Sanders’ book itself may be a kind of failure, but it is an honest and humble one. It is something I have a lot of respect for, even as the body twists and writhes beneath power’s gaze.
ava hofmann got her undergraduate degree in literature and creative writing from Miami University of Ohio. Before she died and was reborn, she was published in places like now-dead five quarterly and the also-dead metazen.ca. She is currently writing a series of poems based off of anglo-saxon metrical charms.
Cuntry is available from Trembling Pillow Press (May 2017).