Do you ever wonder what lesbians do in the bedroom? So do all lesbians, apparently. That’s why Anna Pulley, a writer and sex columnist, wrote a book of haiku about contemporary lesbian relationships. With illustrations of cats, of course! We asked her a few questions.
Haiku seems to be the only poetic form that you can create almost by accident. You might say something and your friend goes, “Wait, that’s a haiku!” Whereas you would never say something and your friend goes, “Wait, that’s a Petrarchan sonnet!” How many of the haiku in your book were happy accidents?
Surprisingly, not very many! I think after the book was done, I had more of those moments, because my mind was operating in a very haiku-ish way (and still is).
But certain scenarios definitely lent themselves to easily becoming haiku. For instance, there’s one about how a lesbian says she can’t go out with you because she’s performing long-distance reiki on a cat. And that came about because a friend of mine actually did perform long-distance reiki on a cat. So in that instance, it was just about giving the haiku a slight modification and letting ‘er fly.
I did find an old journal recently, in which I had written an accidental haiku about the origin of the word “emotion”:
“Emotion” is from
the Latin word, emovere,
meaning “to disturb.”
Accidental poetry is amazing. Do you ever read spam emails? Sometimes they are creepily brilliant. Here’s one I received:
hijack straggle normative? peek, goad solitary.
normative wrangle, its purview multipliable, pembroke goad splat wrangle
This spam gives me FEELINGS!
Have you heard of haibun? It’s like a series of haiku studded with prose narration. The haiku in your book are broken up by occasional prose—and by illustrations of cats, of course. What can you do with prose and illustrations that you can’t do with haiku?
I haven’t, but I like the concept!
I am a prose writer usually–this is the first poetry I’ve written that wasn’t, like, trying to get a woman to sleep with me. I think for that reason I had a hard time not writing at least a little prose. I do think the haiku mostly stands on its own–but in some instances, I was probably overcompensating. Like, who needs another cucumber joke?! And there just aren’t enough references to Trader Joe’s! Etcetera.
I don’t think the book would be what it is without the illustrations though. As the cliche goes, they are worth a thousand words, and in Kelsey’s case, I think it’s more like 10,000. She snuck in so many easter eggs–puns, inside jokes, homages to queer culture–and the immediacy and vivacity of the images make the words come alive in this wholly unique way. I love that.
In writing this book you’ve set yourself up as a commentator on lesbian culture in general. That sounds daunting! What’s your relationship to this nebulous-but-also-monolithic thing that your book is about? Did writing this book make you feel like a spokesperson for lesbians everywhere? Or a trickster? Or an avenging angel?
I’ve been writing advice columns for almost a decade now, and one specifically for queer women at AfterEllen.com, so I DO feel like an authority on the interior lives and existential angst of girls who like girls. Maybe not a spokesperson–because who wants that responsibility?–but I’ve definitely been around the block long enough to notice patterns and trends that are unique to queer girl culture. And living in the Gay Area doesn’t hurt either.
Curiously, I don’t feel like I really “belong”–maybe that’s because it’s, as you describe, nebulous but also monolithic. And living in Oakland, where you see queer people all the time and there are tons of queer events, it’s sort of everywhere and nowhere. If I lived in a small town, maybe I’d feel more protective of that identity or culture, but here don’t have to wave my rainbow flag too high. Which is nice. It’s a heavy flag.
What’s it like to collaborate with an illustrator who you’re dating?
Convenient! Creatively, we were very much in line with each other. I think Kelsey is a brilliant artist and was amazed at what she came up with. A few of the illustrations I was a bit wary about, like the Hitachi Magic Witch, where a cat is holding a large vibrator. I was like, WHAT MESSAGE ARE WE SENDING HERE. But it turned out to be one of my favorite images. The cat’s facial expression alone is worth the shock factor.
Also, it’s weird to be the “prude” in the process of creating a lesbian sex book.
That said, we did end up going to couples therapy to hash out some of the legal issues surrounding the book – to make the whole endeavor that much gayer. Neither of us had ever made a book before, so it was nice to have an objective third party to talk to about things.
Are there any haiku missing from this book because you took a second look at them and they “crossed the line”? What is the line, anyway? Is there a line?
There are quite a few haiku missing from the book, but only because I had to stop at some point. If we had a 1,200-page book of haiku that would kind of defeat the purpose, right?
I ended up sending 100 extra haiku to those who preordered the book, as a bonus. If Fiction Advocate readers are curious, they can sign up for my newsletter and I’ll send them over!
But in terms of not including haiku because they “crossed a line”–not so much. Though I will say that I tried to be conscious of not writing “mean” haiku because I didn’t want to alienate anyone or make them feel bad about themselves. I wanted the book to be affirming and silly and light-hearted, even as it pokes fun at certain aspects of lesbian culture.
For me, that’s the line. To stop when you’re no longer in the service of lifting people up. And when my mother tells me I’m being crass :)
Anna Pulley is a writer in Oakland, California. Her work has appeared in New York magazine and Mother Jones, on BuzzFeed, AlterNet, The Toast, and Salon, and in zines tastefully peppered with Ani DiFranco lyrics. She’s been a repeat guest on Dan Savage’s podcast, Savage Love, and is a sex and relationship columnist for the Chicago Tribune and AfterEllen.