REVIEW: Vetch #2 (Spring 2016), by Zach Ozma

Vetch, the first-of-its-kind magazine of trans poetry and poetics, has just released a second issue.

From the paperback memoir onward, trans literature has a strong history of ruminating on temporality. What have we been? And who will we be? We look back for the sake of comparison, of revulsion, of nostalgia, of estrangement. In this issue, Vetch’s authors address temporality. Vetch takes a approach to the past ala utopian Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch. This work sets out to use the past to “imagine a present otherwise.”

I have printed out the magazine on the copier at work and I’m holding it in my hands on my bed. I am imagining a handful of under ripe fruit, after Thel Seraphim’s poem “Tall, Inseparably.” I have to say: I don’t know about it means to be writing trans poetry and I especially don’t know what it means to be writing about trans poetry. In what way does this literature coalesce? Around what? I mean, I know around an identity, this is, a selection of shared experiences or a production thereof. In the Editors Note, Vetch acknowledges “the commonalities and differences that mark trans relationships to temporality.” The variety of lived experiences, of aesthetic concerns, of bodily histories, of current positionalities, varies too much within the circle of “trans” to produce an obvious type of literature. While Vetch is an identity based magazine, the threads through the poems don’t necessarily come across as threads of shared identity.

When reading Vetch for the second time under a plum tree outside of work, I unexpectedly find myself noticing between the poems a certain objectyness: Hal Schrieve’s carved wooden fish. an. cinquepalmi’s apricots. Wo Chan’s basketball. Temporality here is fixed on material, rather than on events, or on the body as one might expect. In the same poem as the fruit, Seraphim writes “Material, belonging to no one,/the others take it up and begin to play.” And perhaps this is the central move of Vetch, each poet taking up the material of the past, theirs and each other’s, playing with it, turning it over in their hands. The objectyness around which the text coalesces gathers too around the small illustrations. Tomatoes. A pair of shoes. A pepper grinder. Ivy. These little drawings, seemingly unrelated to the content of the text, anchor and reinforce its grounding in material.

In “Caveat Emptor,” manuel arturo abreu writes: “Materiality provides a threshold, rather than a primary qualitative characteristic which/information must have if it is to be useful.” The materiality of the past is useful here, per se. Didactics left at the door. These works on the past go to objects, to moments. There could be a story being told here, but not a linear one. Like the past, it never arrives. And that’s not the point.

I appreciate the work that moves indirectly in its approach towards gender. The editors mostly shy away from the super-secret-diary, or call-to-action approaches to trans meaning making, but not entirely. Some poems, like “Pee Problems” by Vita E., and “Eulogy” by Joss Barton directly address larger events and issues for our community. But for me, it is the other approaches, the indirect ones, that generate the most meaning with the least use. What differentiates Vetch from other collections of trans lit is what I see as an attempt to put poetry before identity. The editors here don’t seem to be looking for politicized representation, they seem to be looking for literature. Poetry is the point.

This is not to say that trans political or identity focus literature isn’t good or important. We just have a lot of it. Vetch is a magazine of poetry by trans people for trans people who like poetry. I like to talk about poetry more than I like to talk about being trans. Vetch makes room for that, and for the strange and special poetics that we as trans people are making. It also acknowledges that we can do more than record our experiences of being otherwise gendered. Vetch makes that case that trans poetry is poetry, on the level with the cis canon, or something outside it entirely.

I am most interested in the moments where language stretches and fails. “Intermediate Starved Aster Egretta SAE” by Aristilde Kirby is one of the hits for me. How exciting to see the collapse of grammar occasioned by the collapse of body! What does it mean to be writing (about) trans lit? This little cycle of poems make me not care, and that’s good. Unfortunately, when I open a trans lit publication, I don’t necessarily expect to become lost in odd and pretty and dense language. I would love to see more like this from Vetch in the future.

While there is work in this issue that excites me, I am most excited about Vetch’s attempt. I see in the framing of this text (perhaps a little more than in the content) a real focus on the craft of poetry and poetics. As if, in a nice way, Gabriel, Ira, Lyman, and O’Brien are letting us in on a little secret, “psssssst, hey! Trans poetry doesn’t have to be a less good cis poetry! Let’s try something new!” While some of the work in Vetch feels green to me, ultimately I trust this group of editors. I want them to do what they are doing but more. I want them to commit to the poetry, and that may mean asking more of the writers at times. This type of publication is so new, so vital, it makes sense that they have not quite found their sea legs.

It is a handful of under ripe fruit, and that is good. It’s too soon to be decided about what a magazine like this should be. We are arriving but have not arrived. Are you looking for identity or are you looking for poetry? Vetch seems to be looking for both, which is a tricky proposition. Like trans lit in general, Vetch is still deciding what it wants to be. Perhaps this will coalesce with time and readership. Perhaps in future issues we will see a stronger editorial hand. I’m looking forward to issue 3. I want to see where this is going.

Zach Ozma is a poet and visual artist living in Oakland, CA. He holds a BFA from California College of the Arts, and has dog-eared most of the pages in The Selected Poems of Frank O’Hara. More at