Hannah Neal Fleming Reviews Kim Vodicka
This is a coming of age book for girls
We work our way from the bottoms up
Incriminated by virtue of ever having
-Kim Vodicka, Psychic Privates
You finish reading Kim Vodicka’s Psychic Privates (White Stag Publishing 2018) on the patio of a bar you frequent—it’s difficult to remember anything before finishing Psychic Privates as your brain is now a series of sex puns—but you become aware that you’re sitting on a metal bar stool with a tight skirt, no underwear, on your period. Your cheeks flush and you feel the embarrassment of womanhood override your vascular system. There is blood pooling on the metal barstool in broad daylight and no way to get up and use the toilet without exposing the bloodbath, or bleeding on the way to the bathroom, or leaving a trail of your blood on the toilet seat for someone to gasp at later before moving on to the next stall.
Or maybe that was just me.
I read one of the poems later that night at a reading: “The Bitch of Hearts, Esq.” The title itself seemed a reference to the beloved Bob Dylan ballad “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts” and a clever way to position the “bitch” in question as an esquire, escort, a subordinate, in a sexual or performative sense. Either way: I enjoyed the morbid guessing game of Vodicka’s titles (other favorites also include sentiments of the south: “All Tomorrow’s Hoedowns,” “Post-Presley Shock Disorder”). I looked up at the crowd after I’d finished spewing the author’s one-liners such as “Goodbye, yellow brick hoe” and “Rot the fuck now” and a friend in the crowd had her hand covering her mouth as if she’d accidentally come across a video of live human birth while scrolling through her Facebook feed, or had been strapped to a chair in the front row of a Post Malone arena show.
One takeaway taste from Psychic Privates: you never know whose mind is in the gutter. Sarcasm and humor have been used for centuries to ease the burden of vaginal existence, so let’s take the collection as a hole: the lines themselves are red tick marks, weaving the visceral as a wound slowly ripens:
Paris is burning, and we shan’t be home tonight.
Sometimes you prom yourself to sleep.
The girl with two heads has also two hearts.
And all that vajiggle jaggles most beautimously.
In a riddle, Vodicka analyzes her own work better than anyone else can: “doth neurosis without petals bloom?” How this reads, to me: “Will anyone pay attention unless I tap dance naked?” or maybe “Do men feel this way? Nah.” Vodicka delivers swift justice while simultaneously lamenting and repurposing poetry itself:
And it ain’t rape
If you scream
HOLD UP, WAIT
Quoth the raven,
My dog ate my willpower.
Occasionally, the visceral nature of her work gives way to more subtle comments about her relationship with herself such as “A butterfly landed on my mouth, I picked it off like a scab.” Occasionally, she allows us to enjoy sex, and we revel in it as briefly as we climax:
My psychic privates yearn for your’n
As the foetus heart beatus…
Exes and ohs.
Dust off your did.
Play my pussy like a machine.
Some contemporary poetry favors direct, realistic accounts of events “as they happened” broken into lines. Vodicka’s goes against the grain, weaving past, present, and future sexual acts and transgressions in a way that always feels relevant. Just when you “get it together”, the next line implores you to “decompose yourself” or “build yourself a Neverland ranch with this shitlist (of hers).”
Just look at the cover. If you’re a visual learner or need to be further (un)assured: the title and author are announced in the style of an “explicit content” warning. The barbie doll’s bleeding eyes are a feast for the crows. You wonder, “Where does any of this come from?” Vodicka’s answer: from internal combustion, “from she to shining she,” “He came on my jubilance.”
Vodicka is no “sub” of a writer. She is an otherworldly dominatrix sent to planet Earth to personify herself in every sexual voice possible, all confined and questioning and driven into a frenzy by the roles she’s forced to play. In Psychic Privates, Vodicka shows readers all the ways in which power can be made into fantasy, all the ways in which being a woman is often being paralyzed with eyes wide open, searching for a clean slate, a safe space, or even a clean stall. Vodicka speaks without parole, and with “a horrifying morass of like suddenly” leaves us to second guess the predatory act of sex in every single context.
Finishing Psychic Privates was like burning before reading, getting up from the barstool anyway, and instead of dabbing at the stain with a handkerchief, taking your tongue to it.