Queer Author Anna Westbrook on lust and literature:
“I wrote the ‘Love Letters’ piece as a bit of fun; it’s a masturbatory Literature Geek take on the “fan fiction” genre incorporating cento poetry and playfully emulating styles of the authors whose writing I experience erotically. My PhD thesis was about “reading queerly” and how I believe you can have queer experiences with texts and – across time, space, and reality – queer experiences with authors who may already be dead.
Reading as a queer young person I would read for subtext, (Anne Shirley and her ‘bosom friend’ Diana Barry, George’s gender non-conformity in The Famous Five, etc.), and then, as a teenager, clung to and reread obsessively the books I found that were more overtly queer. ‘Love Letters’ is a paean to those tender reading memories.”
by Anna Westbrook
“In amorous languor, something keeps going away; it is as if desire were nothing but this hemorrhage. Such is amorous fatigue: a hunger not to be satisfied, a gaping love.”
– Roland Barthes
Why do I say “I love you”? Have ever three words been more exhausted? Here, take my hand, and into yours I’ll slip three raisins, three dry sticks, three old knucklebones. Cixous said metaphor is what drives language mad. And yet I return to my catalogue of lovers – Dorothy Porter, Anais Nin, Patti Smith, Audre Lorde, Djuna Barnes, Gertrude Stein, Lorca, Rimbaud, Jean Genet, Eve Sedgwick, Gloria Anzaldua, Susan Sontag – whose absence propels me into darkness seeking. I hold the three words and spit on them desire and rub numinous magic. I. Love. You.
Sappho: a thin flame runs under/ my skin…/ and I turn paler than/ dry grass./ At such times / death isn’t far from me – She kissed her at the windowsill over a shared cigarette two hours after the street outside met the dancer’s body and oh! that silky blue-eyed suck that mind-fuck she knew her shit after three bottles of red undifferentiated orality she was reading Irigaray – You are such a – when our lips speak together – fucking deep Lez. she bites her neck “I’m going to deepthroat your slut tongue” – capital L.
Queering has become a substitutive verb for challenging, transgressing or rethinking hegemonic institutions and systems of heteronormativity. The senses in which queer can signify are necessarily self-identified. To read queerly affects the body in ways that cannot be administered categorically. Rather than loosen the primary organisation of queer around sexuality, a broadening of preset meanings of what constitutes sexual practices might be more fruitful. Sexual feelings spread across myriad registers of meaning when bodies, imagined or real, touch each other, creating a queer topography and temporality, such as in a particular experience of reading, an engagement with a text. The author, long-gone but still present, letter-al rather than literal, touches the reader through the double-sided skin of the text.
I lie in bed making up stories about you – Virginia Woolf in a letter to Vita Sackville- West… You, I remember your hands. Milky, veiny, and strong from the garden, (you grew tomatoes, chilli, vexatious coriander), aristocratic but practical, rhizomic/rootstalk Vita hands your hands that could make me cum like a handkerchief trick that made my cunt bottomless. Only for a moment; but it was enough. Was there something, an acute revelation, ‘merely’ aesthetic? a tinge like a blush which one tried to check and then, as it spread, one yielded to its expansion, and rushed to the furtherest verge and there quivered and felt the world come closer, swollen with some astonishing significance, some pressure of rapture… You crouched, tender and severe, pulling out silk after silk.
Dear Miss Waters,
there is something afoot in my drawers and under my chemise, becoming aflame; some queer flicker that wants your busy fingers tugging at hooks and ribbons, some twist and shudder that needs your mouth, stirred to motion and insistence in the scullery, that wants to succumb, that wants to stiffen, that warms and grows damper, that cries out, cries softly, cries harder. I’ll wait tomorrow after tea for you, shall I?
Hey. What you up to?
Reading Jeanette Winterson in bed with my cat.
Awww. I want to be there. Are you naked? (Winky face) Would you
read to me aloud?
Maybe. I’d have to kick the cat out. And he’s been auto-erotically
… We’re kicking the cat out…
Fine. But I want you to know you’re making a powerful enemy.
Thanks for the warning. Text me the sexy bits.
Where shall I begin?
“She arches her body like a cat on a stretch. She nuzzles her cunt into
my face like a filly at the gate. She smells of the sea. She smells of
rockpools when I was a child. She keeps a starfish in there. I crouch
down to taste the salt, to run my fingers around the rim. She opens and
shuts like a sea anemone. She’s refilled each day with fresh tides of
Oh. My… Beautiful.
“As your lover describes you, so you are.”
Sylvia: there is a scintilla of blisters on my fingers and more / lines on my palms now than before / the coffee / browning her mouth’s edge she swayed against the handrail bus cramped, panting, I could still see / along King Street close pushed in the crowd close enough for that breath to shin shyly up my arm for those eyes (across the classroom) to become pendulous something sticky between us lanolin after a sheep is fleeced, with lumps when it melts and it will. I knew it then I saw it and ignored it / flattered, by that lick-lipped dilation that I was someone / who could be that vibrating horizon / for her / that I could be that student-teacher fantasy I am terrified I wanted a depthless bucket that I could dredge ragged drip drunken slip that pleated quick until / I wanted that milkskin jacaranda that / sharp scapula by this dark thing that darting rubbing night we watched some stupid velvet-curtained show and your leg against mine was an iron to a shirt / collar and I thought moveawaymoveawayyoufuckwit but/ I didn’t. / It was a funny kind of thrill my pride instead of an onion scalped, hatless, except for a sort of hinge all the things I’ve done that run to fill the space (redcoats every one). honestly I thought I loved you. I. Love. You. some months after the black rook in rainy weather chokehold of the last girl who couldn’t lie as well as you could. gobstruck, joysmacked, I was fuckridden by you laid out and / extinguished by the brazen, callow, loose-kneed whoop of you / before you held me / soft-poached in that park and said goodbye.
“Language is a skin: I rub my language against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words. My language trembles with desire.”
– Roland Barthes
Anna Westbrook is a Sydney-based writer. Her debut, Dark Fires Shall Burn (Scribe; 2016), is a literary crime novel exploring the impact of an unsolved murder of a young girl in Newtown in 1946. She is a creative writing lecturer at New York University in Sydney and holds a PhD from the University of New South Wales. She has been shortlisted for The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award and received an Australian Society of Authors’ Mentorship Award. She is on the Board of Directors at The Red Rattler Theatre in Marrickville.