The Human Centipede and Other Horrors (Monstrous Texts and Publishing Multi- or Un- Genre Work)

This semester I am taking a class called Conjurations, taught by professor and writer Tisa Bryant. It’s a really interesting class because we don’t workshop, we produce work in a lab setting. I honestly wish we had this type of class each semester–as a requirement–because I’ve produced the work I needed to round out my thesis collection. The pieces I’ve written also bring my collection into different, deeper realms than before. We do in class writing, as well as take home assignments. Tisa even brought in a hypnotist/poet to do a hypnotism writing experiment that yielded a poem for me after some editing.

More recently though, we read Bhanu Kapil’s Incubation: A Space For Monsters, which is a beautiful, grotesque book that explores issues of identity, cyborgs, monstrosity, the body, hitchhiking, spectatorship and soooo much more. After reading this book, we were asked to create our own monstrous text, following a bit of Bhanu’s form, but with our own monster and our own idea of the monstrous. My first version of the exercise used snippets of her words, as per the assignment, but I now have a stripped version that is truly me. At first I had a hard time starting the piece. I mean, I certainly feel involved with my own dark side, but what would embody it? What would be my monster?

Then in class Tisa reiterated the hitchhiking aspect of Bhanu’s book. Ah! Psychic hitchhikers, I thought, and was immediately brought back to a little over a year ago when I first encountered the horror that is the film The Human Centipede. I will absolutely NOT go into any details of the film other than the centipede is comprised of three bodies sewn together. I have not seen the film, hearing and reading about it, and seeing some images, were enough to infect my brain in a terrible way. I couldn’t get their image out of my head that night and was only able to sleep when I was just too exhausted not to. I felt terrified, and thankful that my mom was coming to visit the next day so I wouldn’t have to sleep alone. I felt infested by the film, enraged by the filmmaker, and infected with a kind of lunacy I think might be similar to how psychotic people feel. I really felt like I was going crazy. After some days the images would flash less into my mind’s eye, but I’d still get fixated on them occasionally–at quiet moments: the shower, before sleep. I ended up going to my therapist in Santa Fe. He told me I had picked up a psychic hitchhiker, a mind virus. He helped me to rid myself of it and though I was still shaky for a while, I am now much much more at peace.

Back to Conjurations… so I had that moment where I put two and two together. I would write about the human centipede–write it as a character, as my monster. In writing it, I think I came to terms with it even more. What emerged is an autobiographically inspired *story.* And here’s where my publishing issues come into play. The piece is in numbered sections, like poems can be, but is in prose. Still, prose that sounds like me. But it’s not fiction exactly because it is somewhat *true* in the sense that maybe it is nonfiction. But it’s also surreal and imagined. I’d like to publish this piece. I sent it to 5 journals today. Since I am having trouble putting the piece into a genre, I looked for journals that are open to “experimental” or non-genre-defined work. I hope one of them will like the piece enough to publish it.

Genre pinning is never a problem for me these days. I write poems that look like poems. I submit them as poems. Pretty easy. I mean I still have to know what journals will like my approach to poetry, but at least I know that it goes in the poetry submission box. This time, even the more experimental journals generally (not always) had two categories or three to submit your piece as.

This submission conundrum brings me to this: my text successfully became what was intended by the assignment. It became a monster: unruly, dark. So in a way, even though I spent a really long time finding potential homes for it, I think the processes of realizing where it exists in terms of genre affirmed the monstrosity of my monstrous text.

And with that, I’ll leave you all for the evening, my many limbs trailing behind me.

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