A Primer In Kink
In his debut poetry collection, original kink, Jubi Arriola-Headley looks to explore black queer male sexuality and identity against the backdrop of racial prejudice and toxic masculinity. His poetry explores the intersection of race, gender, and sexuality as they are targets of derision but also aspects of self-confidence. The collection asks the reader to see how Arriola-Headley’s own experiences can be examined when removed from the environment they were fostered in and done so with an impactful use of language and imagery.
From the very first poem in the collection, Arriola-Headley seeks to show how young boys are often criticized for veering off rigid social structures: “…perhaps the boy had lingered, longing, / lusting, fingered the fabric of some / skirt or blouse, as the man I can’t / imagine is his father brisked him / through the misses section. …” (“Peacocking,” pg. 11). The author, in many pieces throughout the collection, writes from the perspective of someone who has long since given up trying to fit into these structures and instead wants to celebrate his own personhood.
This is commonly done through the poems that assert Arriola-Headley’s sexuality, such as in “Kink: A Primer” where he writes, “I claim fuchsia / for mine. I’ll drape / my dick in it if that’ll / make you bow down” (pg. 19), or in the poem “First Time” where the author uses fragmented lines and images to paint a picture of a first sexual experience.
Arriola-Headley’s poetry looks at the result of a deep introspection that led to a certainty and a beauty toward the art, with poems that play with form and language to create a memorable collection.
But while many of the pieces in the collection show the acceptance and confidence in queer male sexuality, many of them also show the hardening and challenges that come from trying to become more assertive and comfortable in one’s skin. Selections like “Demons” show the dangers of the aforementioned toxic masculinity in home environments, where the narrator as a boy is forbidden from helping his mother cook, but also finds power in the possession of a paring knife. Others like “Hustle” assert dominance through emotionally deprived actions and mantras: “Break laws / like bones. When you shoot, aim / for the mouth on a woman & / the soul of a gangster” (pg. 22).
Arriola-Headley notes the similarities of violence against people of color and queer people, such as in a writing referencing the Pulse nightclub massacre, as well as the recurring poems entitled “FAQ: Proper Use of
Syntax in Poetry.” These pieces, which are written like questionnaires regarding syntax and language, ask how to write about black people by contrasting the dry, educational language with harsh wordplay and damning queries. They also leave the majority of the page blank, except for the phrase “[this is not] a white space.”
However, despite the difficult subject matter, Arriola-Headley’s collection shines the brightest when it celebrates the body and the soul instead of discussing how they can be broken. Some pieces, like “Cómo Amar a Tu Suegra (How to Love Your Mother-in-Law),” are about familial relationships and how to strengthen them: “Five. After dinner, offer to do the dishes. Say ‘this way you two will have some time to yourselves’” (pg. 61). The final poem in the collection, “Molasses,” is dedicated to Arriola-Headley’s nieces and seeks to empower the next generation: “Whatever you are, however molecules collide to form the fullness, the thickness of you, remember this—in each & every moment, you are / Black” (pg. 85). Even the pieces about kink are more about the mutual agreement to share in the bond and the sexual desires of one another, allowing for openness and communication between the narrator and their partner.
original kink is a collection that seeks to examine, deconstruct, and rebuild the body, allowing for a celebration of color, queers, and males unhindered by self-doubt and freed from bodily harm. While many of the pieces acknowledge the struggles to exist in one’s self, Arriola-Headley’s poetry looks at the result of a deep introspection that led to a certainty and a beauty toward the art, with poems that play with form and language to create a memorable collection.
REVIEWED BY ALEX CARRIGAN
Alex (@carriganak) is an editor, writer, and critic from Alexandria, Virginia. He has edited and proofed the anthologies CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos and Sourcebook for Creative Writing (C&R Press, 2018) and Her Plumage: An Anthology of Women’s Writings from Quail Bell Magazine (Quail Bell Press & Productions, 2019). He has had fiction, poetry, and literary reviews published in Quail Bell Magazine, Lambda Literary Review, Empty Mirror, Passionate Chic, Quarterly West, Whale Road Review, Stories About Penises (Guts Publishing, 2019), Closet Cases: Queers on What We Wear (Et Alia Press, 2020), and ImageOutWrite, Vol. 9. You can find his work at carriganak.wordpress.com.