Aidan Forster | Wrong JunE
an excerpt & interview
from the husband machine
We found the husband machine half-buried in a fine layer of river silt on the summer banks of the Yadkin, which wove like a thick bolt of blue silk across the county and through each of our unfenced backyards. It was the logic of these things that, without warning or outcry, without the sudden leaping of a doe through a thicket or the muted twinkle of birdsong, the husband machine appeared, a mere shadow in the bindweed and feverbush and eastern bluestar rioting across the river’s edge, and we had to blink two or three times and press our lightly-haired knuckles into our eyes to confirm that what we saw was, in fact, the husband machine, not some figment of our boyish imaginations, not a mythically beautiful white stag or the ghost of James Dean, complete with tumbleweed and lasso, or our friends’ brothers’ unwashed, plaid boxer shorts, buoyed downriver by the imagined power of our desire. No, it was the husband machine, and to this day we cannot describe it as anything more than what it did it for us. At first, we eyed the husband machine with distrust, the way our mothers watched General Hospital and Dr. Phil on our boxy televisions, cigarette smoke harpooning through the air, and we imagined we watched the husband machine through a thin veil of smoke because our mothers had told us about the evils of strange men and the husband machine possessed a rocky, masculine beauty, its many sides and angles and vectors all of a gruff linearity, like state lines in a Rand McNally atlas. But there was something about the husband machine that lured us, some inexplicable desire to touch it, to hold it within our minds and our hands at once, as if then we might understand its impossible shape, the way it seemed to both capture and expel light, the strange heady odor that filled our nostrils as we approached it, sangria and Old Spice and rust. We lay our palms upon one of its sides, this one covered in an array of soft magenta feathers, and we felt an incredible rushing in our chests, as if some water-bearing vessel broke within us, and we realized there was so much and so little to know: we knew, suddenly, the exact location of every Dairy Queen in the American South, and we knew the exact intermingling of air within the lungs of white storks, and although we’d never been in love we knew that the husband machine loved us, we floated above love’s watery world, the eutrophic waters of the Yadkin (and we knew they were eutrophic, not oligotrophic or mesotrophic, because our pimpled faces did not constellate over the water but plunged right into it), and it took a while, no one could put a number on the amount of time it took, but we allowed ourselves to love the husband machine back, its surface now sleek and coarse like the great bristling teeth of a whale, its love for us had grown so large.
We loved the usage of second person in “Instructions for Suburban Boy Love” – what drew you to the under-utilized second person form? On a similar note, the surrealism in “The Husband Machine” is striking; what was your process for imagining and writing that piece?
I envision my use of the second person in “Instructions for Suburban Boy Love” as a lyric technology of doubling. Of course, the “you” operates as an obvious proxy for an “I,” but also proliferates a multitudinous shadow-cast of possible selves, a mutable host of queer boys in suburbia. I wanted to fathom and combat notions of queer suburban isolation, particularly in the South, and the paradoxical dislocation and multiplication offered by the “you” as characterological device helped me edify the experiential singularity of queer suburbia and posit the piece as a model of a phenomenon that occurs beyond upstate South Carolina, where I’m from. I also wanted to present a doubling of queer geographies. I wanted to present the physical landscape and a subaltern queer cartography of desire that includes places like the Macy’s bathroom or county park where men meet each other for sex. The piece is very invested in a consideration of what types of love certain landscapes permit.
In “The Husband Machine,” I wanted to write magical realism for the queer Carolinian. I wanted to explore the victimhood of desire, interrogate the acrobatics of queer intimate reciprocity in rural and suburban localities, and challenge notions of queer somatic infallibility, but I wanted a story brimming with magic and metamorphoses and Appalachian glitter, whale teeth and pink fur and strong Carolinian rivers, because I needed those stories as a fledging queer in a Southern Appalachian fringescape. I wanted to amplify the Gothic mysticism of upstate South Carolina and Western North Carolina (my home and my mother’s home, respectively) and to assert the presence of complex queer narratives in landscapes that often don’t receive as much narrative attention.
Your stories experiment with different styles of formatting, particularly “Autobiography of a Voice” and “Revisions on a Grindr Biography.” What was your process for building this collection?
I’ve almost always struggled with temporal and narrative linearity in my work, and I’ve almost always been captivated by lexical friction in poetry, so the fragmented format of those pieces allowed me to transpose a structural poetic interest onto prose. Both pieces are a glossary of sorts—“Autobiography of a Voice” actually does follow a relatively linear trajectory, but the fragmentation allowed me to navigate and manipulate chronology, while “Revisions on a Grindr Biography” is a meditation on my bodily relationship to the lens and the various physical and verbal revisions inherent in habitation of digital intimate platforms like Grindr. These pieces in particular (and the collection as a whole) embody a seemingly oppositional interest in ecological configurations and relationships within texts and the digitization of language. My organizational politic attempted to combine my interest in the page as a bucolic imaginary and an instrument for digital errancy and alternative entanglement of language and narrative.
In your artist statement, you write about the effects of growing up queer in conservative South Carolina. How has your background affected your writing and your identity? What sources do you turn to in order to find representation?
In the South, landscape is such a force. South Carolina’s Spanish moss and derelict silos and buzzing lowland swamps are forever nascent in my language. I believe in a highly ecological relationship between place and language—the dramaturgy of South Carolina’s geography has imprinted itself of my very syntax and linguistic configuration—and for me, language is an instrument of pastoral fabulation. Much of my interest in ecoqueer poetics—the interpretation of the queer body as palimpsest of its landscape and vice versa—comes from my experience growing up in South Carolina. Language became both a topographical experience and an index of its own failure to simulate the pastoral, an ecology of desire and a failure to desire. Growing up, I internalized feelings of shame and isolation about queerness, and poetry presented itself as an antidote to that shame, a form of queer terraforming through which I could create the discursive pastoral imaginaries I desired, a way to fashion the landscapes I loved so they could love me back. To find representation, I turn to other queer Southern or rural poets—Rickey Laurentiis, Bruce Snider, D.A. Powell—as guides and effigies, as models of queer Southern ecopoeisis and the complex and beautiful entanglement of language and rich Southern landscapes.
Your prose is so lush and lyrical. How has writing poetry affected your prose and vice versa? How has your experience moving into other genres been?
When I first seriously started writing prose, it felt like such a distant nation from poetry. I didn’t think I could harness the lush and fabulous language I cultivated in my poetry and the systems of narrative (or dialogue!) that I felt prose necessitated simultaneously. However, the more time I placed poetry and prose in adjacency, the more I realized I could learn from their colloquy. Writing poetry has allowed me to disrupt my codified notions of what a story looks like and to invest in fabulosity and the fantastical in my prose—to queer and quiz and bedazzle the physiques of the stories I wanted to write. Writing prose has helped me develop an appreciation for the criticality of mechanics and interstitial space within narrative—the moments between significant actions and the (sometimes) slow emergence of a character’s psychology, moments that produce an essential and humming texture in poetry and prose alike, in which the reader ambers within language. I still struggle with the notion that I can only “seriously” write in one genre at a time, and I think a lot of that comes from my workshop experience. I studied creative writing at the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, a public arts boarding school in SC, and the curricular model divided each genre into nine weeks of study, so I’m still trying to molt and let my content decide what genre bolsters it best.
Aidan Forster is a queer writer from Greenville, South Carolina. A 2018 U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts and 2017 Tin House Poetry Fellow, his work appears in Best New Poets 2017, BOAAT, Columbia Poetry Review, Ninth Letter, and Tin House, among others. His debut chapbook of poems, Exit Pastoral, is forthcoming from YesYes Books in 2019. He studies Literary Arts and Public Health at Brown University. He was born in 2000.