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Trace Peterson Reads at Zinc Bar

I started to know Trace Peterson about two years ago when she was finishing up her PhD, but she was so busy that we hardly talked or were able to correspond or get anything done. What I wanted to do was to record her reading a poem. Well, I bid my time and waited and finally got to record her at the Zinc Bar in January. That reading follows in the Vimeo below along with Lonely Christopher’s introduction of her. Lonely curates the Segue Reading Series at Zinc, and his intros are tour de forces that are way better than any intro I could ever do. So, although I have gotten to know Trace Peterson better and have really come to enjoy this hard working writer, I am going to let Lonely Christopher introduce her (thank you, Lonely):

Trace Peterson is a very busy scholar and poet of the avant garde who for many years has been dedicated to organizing, challenging, and redefining artistic communities while showing us the intense labor and maneuvering that goes into being seen by a hegemonic order, let alone grappling for a place at the table. She founded EOAGH (that’s how I pronounce it, anyway), which as a press won the first ever Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Poetry and, as a literary journal, released the issue “Queering Language,” an important effort to reconcile a queer lineage with the predominantly heteronormative perspectives of the contemporary avant garde. The issue contained a humongous roster of queer poets operating in innovative modes and definitively showed queer experimentalists young and old that, in the words of Kevin Killian in a letter to Trace, we “no longer have to keep one foot on two ​paths and from now on will be able to walk which ever way [we] please.” This prefigured the work that Trace and TC Tolbert undertook in editing the anthology Troubling the Line for Nightboat in 2013, billed as “the first-ever collection of poetry by trans and genderqueer writers.” There is no way to overstate the importance of this book that, in Joy Ladin’s words, “permanently changed the landscape of American poetry.” Never again could the very existence of trans poetics be systemically denied. And now there was a text, a guidebook, an entrance for both cis and trans readers and writers to engage in the shapes, definitions, and concepts of trans poetry. Trace further developed her advocacy through creating the country’s first academic course in transgender poetry. For three seasons she co-hosted this very reading series, including organizing a panel called Language Poetry and the Body. She wanted to interrogate the dismissal in Language Poetry of such concepts as “self,” “experience,” and “identity” and how they were replaced “with an emphasis on language as material.” The current critique of Language Poetry, and Conceptual Poetry for that matter, is that in its supplantation of the human body by a textual body (forgoing traditional “author-centered romanticism” in the words of the great Bruce Andrews), the notion that all bodies are similar enough to be dismissible presupposes the supremacy of the white, male body and erases the existence of queer, trans, brown, and disabled bodies (to list a few categories), precluding the development of a queer consciousness in contradistinction to a suspiciously straight, white group of thinkers and writers. So Trace in her organizing work and her own writing is always “troubling the line” toward expanding modes of thought and art-making, which can take a narrow-minded or self-defensive culture and realize its fuller potential by the introduction of the outside to the inside. Stirring the pot (I originally mistyped “poet” instead of “pot”). One of the great braveries of Trace Peterson that has had a significant effect on my life is how for years she wrote on Facebook about the frequent aggressions and discriminations she experiences as a trans woman existing in a frightened and reactionary cisgender world. The insistence that those who are paying attention to her must know the struggle forced upon her by a deeply transphobic society made immediate for many cis readers social problems that we would otherwise gladly ignore because they’re outside of our direct experience. As a cis writer, appreciating and understanding a trans writer must include the acknowledgement of the proliferation of trans pain and my own complicity in this model that allows people to openly harass gender-based difference in public without self-reflection or fear of reprisal. Trace’s poetry itself is top-notch: intelligent as it is juicy, entertaining as it is emotional, and playful as it is profound. Her debut, Since I Moved In, was reissued last year in a new edition from Chax Press and her second collection, Venus, was scheduled for release by Ahsahta Press before they suddenly went defunct. Her poem “Identification” parses the anxiety of self-determination versus the gaze of jurisdictional social systems, with the violent refrain “Can I see your ID?” standing in for the constant examination and judgment that cisgender society enforces on trans bodies. To the question “Can I see your ID?” Trace answers, “Yes and No.” In an article on trans healthcare Florence Ashley writes, “Hormone replacement therapy has many nicknames among transfeminine people, including titty pills, chicklets, anticistamines, life savers, breast mints, femme&m’s, antiboyotics, and the Notorious H.R.T.” In her poem “The Valleys Are So Lush and Steep,” Trace applies a similar affirmational wit to the convoluted process of engaging with the medical industrial complex for trans-competent care, which takes her experiences switching medications due to unwanted side effects and elaborates everything to absurdist extremes that are both hilarious and affecting. The speaker must return to her doctor again and again, swinging from med to med in the search for one that works for her. She goes from the androgen blocker Spironolactone, to Progesterone, to Finasteride, to Dutasteride, eventually experimenting with more fantastical pharmaceuticals such as Penalzombion and Jaimeleecurtisol. The side effects range from the inconvenient but expected, such as tiredness and brain fog, to the ridiculous, such as a “[staring] at a Grecian Urn for days on end, transfixed by thoughts of lighting up and smoking the latest poet laureate.” Nothing seems to be working perfectly as a testosterone blocker, but she settles on a med called Pastoralwenchtrin, which seems to live up to its name in providing a bucolic sense of tranquility in the face of late capitalist madness. She’s chilling in a quiet sheep-strewn meadow and concludes, “The valleys are so lush and steep. // How to end not wanting to be myself being not quite myself.” She bitingly subverts the cisgender narrative of the medicalization of trans experience by inventing new paradigms of consciousness on the way to an authentic self. Peterson similarly expresses the drive to reject institutional authority in favor of personal actualization in her poem “Exclusively on Venus,” where she uses the format of “roses are red, violets are blue,” writing, “Roses are fed up / with our binary fetishes / I tricked my doctors / and stole all the medication to hide it in a cave and share it with other trans people.” Time and again this poet has returned the queer body and consciousness to an ideology that spent generations rejecting it, forging an experimental trans textuality that is sure to resound for generations to come. Please welcome Trace Peterson!

Since I Moved In, Trace Peterson’s first chapbook, was published by Chax Press. You can check it out here:


Troubling the Line, which was edited by TC Talbot and Trace Peterson, is the first anthology of trans and genderqueer writers anywhere. You can check out this pioneering work here:


You can read some of Trace Peterson’s work at the following links. Enjoy.

Poetry Foundation:


Academy of American Poets:


Word Pond:


Brooklyn Rail:



Trace Peterson’s E-zine, EOAGH. Check it out here:


Trace Peterson

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