Reflections on the Life & Work of kari edwards
Edited by Julian T. Brolaski, erica kaufman, and E. Tracy Grinnell
kari edwards (December 2, 1954 - December 2, 2006) received one of Small Press Traffic’s book of the year awards (2004) and New Langton Art’s Bay Area Award in literature (2002). edwards is the author of several books including having been blue for charity (BlazeVox, 2006), obedience (Factory School, 2005), and iduna (O Books, 2003). edwards’ work can also be found in Scribner’s The Best American Poetry (2004), Bay Poetics (Faux Press, 2006), Civil Disobediences: Poetics and Politics in Action (Coffee House Press, 2004), Bisexuality and Transgenderism: InterSEXions of the Others (Haworth Press, 2004), and others.
From the "Editor’s Note: kari’s mark," by Julian T. Brolaski & erica kaufman:
kari’s authorial “signature” undoes the authorial body in favor of a visible obfuscation—strikethru: kari never just signed, but rather crossed out hir name and wrote “NO GENDER.” The erasure—well no, the palimpsestic remaking of the name into a symbol for the dismantling of enforced gender codes is a profound and provocative gesture—the name is still visible behind the NO GENDER, as if behind bars.
kari’s crusade for a world where NO GENDER is an option is also an argument for the autonomy to chose whatever language suits one’s clothes. To wit, edwards’ character p. in a day in the life of p.: “p. who in some zones is referred to as sometimes, something, whatever or both.”
NO GENDER is both a grammatical and a political subversion. A crucial moment in one’s upbringing is the moment when he/she/sie/they/xe… is taught what a proper noun is—a word or phrase that merits capitalization—and how pronouns should function, the substitution of a name, themselves often gendered, with an indisputably sexed meme. From Latin pronomen, in-place-of-name, for kari a pronoun could be a straightjacket, a destructive, binding, pseudo-name:
it is the space one holds, not an essential objectification one is held in, where one is stabilized into things in space, places with borders, bodies with procedures, proper behavior by corporeal containment, compulsory reproductive management, polarizing populations, producing mythological projections, slicing every single living energetic instant into bipolar neurosis for further control of an imagined boundary.
This “imagined boundary” is the identity hinge gender hangs on—for which pronouns clarify the discursive binary. They indicate not only who is speaking to whom, but what the physical body of the written or spoken-to person looks like, and how they are gendered according to a two-party system.
That there are supposed to be only two options vexed kari. Thus hir paradoxical stance, as Paul Foster Johnson points out, “kari edwards’ insistence upon ‘no gender’ is a transparent and bold statement of poetics, but one that is ironized by the fact that edwards was a self-described gender activist.” This insistence is a functional paradox: the evacuation of gender as a means of becoming multiply or fluidly gendered—queer. Or not wanting to be labeled a “transgender poet” but speaking out about trans issues daily and prolifically.
kari’s NO GENDER is perhaps a more productive approach than Monique Wittig’s decision to use “J/e [as] the symbol of the lived, of this cutting in two which throughout literature is the exercise of a language which does not constitute m/e as subject.” It is a refusal to accept the abject, to truly take control over the social forces that class bodies in space. Wittig reminds us, “we have been compelled in our bodies and in our minds to correspond, feature by feature, with the idea of nature that has been established for us.”
But who has the right to choose what to feature? What idea can we call our own?