Jayson Keery is a writer and arts coordinator based in Western Massachusetts. They are the author of the chapbook Astroturf, published by o•blēk editions, edited by Peter Gizzi. Their recent work has appeared in Overheard, The New Guard, Metatron Press, b l u s h, and Peach Mag among others. They’ve been anthologized in Nightboat Books' We Want It All: An Anthology of Radical Trans Poetics and Pilot Press London’s A Queer Anthology of Rage.
Who are you?
I am Jayson. When people ask me what I “do,” I tell them I live in Massachusetts. When asked if I’ve lived in Massachusetts my whole life, I tell them, “not yet.” In Massachusetts, I organize (gay) events and (sometimes straight) readings, I work with older queer folk, I semi-professionally watch people’s dogs, and I craft things that involve light, including upcycled fringe lamps and (gay) pornographic lighters/ lightswitch plates.
I also, of course, spend most of my time writing! I am the author of a chapbook, Astroturf, published by o•blēk editions, edited by Peter Gizzi, available at blush-lit.com (where you can also find recent work from fellow shorlister Stevie Belchak!) I’m anthologized in Nightboat Books' We Want It All: An Anthology of Radical Trans Poetics and Pilot Press London’s A Queer Anthology of Rage. One could find out more about my publications and ~awards~ at JaysonKeery.com.
What is your book about?
The Choice is Real is a collection of poems that engage the concept of choice in queerness. In queerness, our lack of choice operates as a source of empowerment—or, more aptly, a shield against doubts. To insist on having no choice is to ask the hegemon for a form of parental protection. Innocent. I was born this way. The matter of choice is especially pressing for those of us who trudge the gaslit swamps of the molestation to queer pipeline. My poems don’t bother denying the premise of this pipeline because the concept of choice exhausts them. Above all, they don’t want the parental protection.
Born this way. Society expects transsexuals to perform a linear narrative to substantiate their claim. For transmasculine people, this means: I knew I was a boy from a young age. I want to have heterosexual sex with women. Now, I am a man. This demand for a linear narrative has not gone uncontested. “I love being a girl. So delicate.” I cite Lou Sullivan in my epigraph. While this quote from Lou’s childhood diary (published by Nightboat Books) doesn’t reflect Lou’s adult feelings as a trans man (I was being naughty by plucking this), Lou did resist the required trans narrative by railing against his rejection from the Stanford Gender Dysphoria Program— a rejection rooted in the belief that transsexuals cannot also be homosexuals. So I take spirit from Lou to ask: Can I, a transmasculine person, love being a girl? I treasure my girlhood, and yet I chose to transition. I was raised with few examples of healthy femininity, yet I chose to embrace my own.
With these interrogations in mind, the poems journey through foreboding landscapes of mother-death, young memory, and childhood programming— referring to both conditioning and media. Though the terrain is dark, the poems chose to skip, laugh, and stumble through. The poems chose to be light and human.
Could you tell us a bit about the process of writing this book?
Well, I’ll be honest and say, I wrote this while in the MFA program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where I had the ~pleasure~ of working with Peter Gizzi, Ocean Vuong, Cameron Awkward-Rich, and CAConrad. I was in a bratty phase of my MFA where I decided to start writing from the perspective of a (boring) cis woman to see if anyone would notice (shameless cry for help). I was bitter about some of the unconstructive feedback I was getting, specifically around the brashness of my queer content, and I was being asked to find a more universal I— which I read to mean not trans.
I remember handing the packet of new poems to Peter, and after a careful look, he asked, “Huh. Don’t you think these are a bit reductive— of women?”
“But I love women!” I cried defensively, snatching my poems back and flailing home. Okay, it wasn’t this dramatic. I was actually pretty jazzed by this moment— a turning point where I realized I could tap into a “deeper I” that is rooted in a place of feeling, not defense, while still maintaining my trans lens (integrity). And much of this feeling was, in fact, rooted in my love and grief around womanhood. I’d just lost both of my grandmothers within a year, and while writing this work, I saw my stepmother through hospice and, ultimately, her death. Reduction had just been a means of compartmentalization.
I can not overemphasize how vital routine, repetition, and ritual were in the process of moving emotion from my body and cathecting into the poem. CAConrad helped me design somatic rituals to do this. I performed rituals around child space, VHS tapes, sensation play, and poop.
What are some books you’ve read and enjoyed lately and/or books that influenced the writing in your submitted work?
Forgiveness Forgiveness by Shane McCrae (Factory Hollow Press) is a stunning book of poems that employs revisitings and revisions of a childhood storybook’s portrayal of a Black boy, Little Brown Koko. It then juxtaposes the author of this storybook’s violence to that of McCrae’s white grandparents who raised him— particularly his grandfather's racial, physical, and sexual violence. As the title infers, the work masterfully handles the nuance of forgiveness around these acts of violence. This book has the visceral feeling of a body recollecting itself and moving through trauma. I highly recommend reading this!
And sure, I’ll embarrass myself by bringing up CAConrad again. Book of Frank (Wave Books) so thoroughly fucks with what’s expected of a queer author by centering the morose narrative of an ostensibly straight man. I don’t even want to call this explicitly defiant because that would imply that CA is centering their motives around what the dominant culture perceives. I can relate to this general zone of fuckery.
How would you describe your book using emojis only?
Anything else you'd like to share?
I’ve most likely shared too much, but thank you.
THE CHOICE IS REAL
What whispers have you? Circle secrets. Candle to the chin.
Woman-shaped shadows walk the lawn. They call it gossip,
what we do. Windchime warnings, as they haunt the
parameters of our picket fence. Our picket, performing the
chore of protection. Our fence, a slight string of sighs,
insinuations. A flutter of freckled moths form a mosaic against
our window, shield us from their gaze, carry whispers to the
wind, searching for other fences and flames with which to kill
ourselves, over and covert again. Bitch hunt. They call it
complaint. We become the trouble by invoking its name. They
tell us we are poison and therefore vaccine. Drain milk from
our bodies. Dig graves in our lawn. They call it lies. Hysteria.
Throw dirt on the herstory, Freud’s flaccid exposure, we were
all just touched by Daddy after all. Funny, how they want to
hear the names we whisper, never those we shout. Our fence,
the whites of averted eyes. The mosaic is a picture of our tits.
Have it your way
Let’s say I’m turned on by the ball pit. At Burger King,
we call it Play Palace. This the type of memory that shivers
tinsel when touched. I am encased, in a glistening globe of
soft-boiled plastic. Dewed sweat dripping like flies. Behind me,
the nervous twitch of netting. Before me, a slide. The pit. The
children shrieking at the balls. The parents.
It is perhaps pertinent to note here, I too am a child.
I am safe in my perch. Poised for a sensual descent. I must
permit myself this pleasure. I’ve had a hard day being a child.
The pit. The parents. I watch them watching. Children from
the waste up. There is something to this. A strategy, yes. For all
I know, their genitals are plastic, smooth like baby doll. Like
the balls glittered in spit. Bleach-fume oblivion, a hot breath
out the mouth of the slide, beckoning. I take a last look
through the porthole. The chaos of children who snuck fries
into the pit. Greased pagans slinging spheres of primary color.
Creation. Now is a good time to tell you, it’s Christmas Eve. In
my mind, all of the children are some sort of Jew-ish. To me,
Jew-ish means me, means something uninteresting and
elsewhere. Who else would be here, on this day, in this
shimmer of moment, between things. The palace. The parents
are the christians and their crotches. Curious that there is
something rather than nothing. That all of these children were
made for what. For their upper halves. Their mouths. For what
goes in them. In. Are they really having it their way. These are
the sites in which we are taught choice. I slide. Friction tickles
out a suggestion of body hair. Pursuing my fullest pleasure, I
lick the plastic interior. My tongue crackles, bubble wrap. I’m
safe. Swallowed. For a moment I forget form. The words I’m
held to. Then. A rush of panic. The prismatic light growing.
An arachnid forcefield spindling into my groin. I land. The
sticky pit slow, infuse me into its sugar-sweat and oils. Pleasure
when I feel nothing. I want to slip a ball into my panties. So I
do. Have it my way. The smooth fupa of a Ken doll. Or fuck
it, why not Barbie, if I push in. Pop. Pleasure. My momentary
shiver cut short by shouts. Children, alarmed, drop their fries.
But it is not them. It’s me. The parents. I am told to split,
meaning, to go elsewhere. To get out. Out.
The choice is real
I wake up most mornings
to do what.
Dress my genitals for
occasion. What odd
twat cravat. A
Hanes their way.
Fruit of the looming
Will I bite.
I wake up
to find I am
asked to stand. Like
brothers and sisters.
The scroll of psychic
pinpointed my ambiguous
organs. I’m a match. Struck
and drafted into a
Keep it boxed and brief,
boring means boring into
the Man. We’ve got work to do
being normal and all, given
birth with no receipt,
this way. This certain way.
As if we had no choice.
As if we had no bodies to
move from. As if children
had no bodies. To move
from dream to cloud to
the rain somehow real
against my window.
I can stand it, the thought
of her here with me. Baby,
I know she wants to show.
Something of a tender
thong song drifting