As you walk to class one lovely fall day, crunching through leaves, sun on your face, watching agile squirrels jump from branch to branch, you may not have noticed the shaved head sitting on the shoulders of a black leather coat in the midst of the picturesque fall landscape. It was the head of author Mingus Tourette, out of which much controversy has crawled into the light of a disapproving mainstream, most recently in the form of his book nunt, for which he recently toured Canada to promote. Driving in his hot pink ambulance, the tour is his to help the world realize his vision of how poetry and poets should be seen.
"I'm trying to create some excitement, and demonstrate that poetry is something that can be read in a bar. I think people have a real perception that it's homework. It's Shakespeare, it's John Donne, it's something that was forced on them in high school," says the poet.
Perhaps poetry needs to be revolutionized, forced out of the dusty halls of dreary academia, but does it need to be so violent? Judging by Mingus' work, it seems poetry needs to be shocking to be important. But Mingus doesn't see it that way.
"There's lots of great poetry out there that doesn't have violence or sex or drugs as its topic," defends Mingus. "I mean, one of the intents of this book [nunt] was to do something different. There's lots of great farm poetry, you know, writing about the prairies, the wind, and the snow blowing over the hills--it's great, and some of it I really love, but frankly I didn't want to write that."
He certainly didn't, penning poignant lines such as "encrusted fingers buried to the knuckles in her ass." But Tourette poses an intriguing question regarding the book review and the disgust levelled at the poetry he writes: why do some people focus on the sexual aspects of the book, and not the religious slander and bovine murder?
"The book has become sort of a Rorschach test, because there really is something to offend everybody or something to trigger something in everybody. So if you're easily offended about, say, your religion, like if you're Catholic, then this book might really offend you on a religious level. It's a reflection on you. You've got to ask yourself, 'Why does that offend me?'"
Are we all prudes, then? Perhaps those upset by Mingus' work just need to open their minds, but it is difficult to deny a disgusted reaction to the imagery of "blood soaked sheets like we just slaughtered a buffalo."
"It's not like I'm ripping chunks of flesh out of her back or something!" Tourette says, amused. "It's not necessarily violence. It just happens to be that there's blood all over the place afterwards and it doesn't bother you. Sure it's gonna be a mess, sure you'll be covered in blood, sure you're gonna look like you just ate out a human sacrifice, but I don't care. I'd much rather have at it and just have this great crazy fuck than turn over and go to sleep."
Nunt is full of "crazy fucks" and many compelling poems detailing the author's experiences with death, contempt for the American government, and disgust of religion. Named "nuntos", they're bound together by circumstances under which they were written during Tourette's attempt to recover from a broken marriage.
"This is, in a sense, one big poem. So part of that is to explain the journey. He went through a lot of crazy shit when he was on this journey, but this is all part of what he had to do to try and get rid of this ghost of his wife that continues to haunt him. This was like a six-seven year marriage that broke up and trying to get that taste out of the mouth is very difficult. Can you ever get rid of it? No, probably not, but you can maybe at least learn to deal with it. During this [time when the poems were written], I couldn't deal with it at all, except to drink and fuck and whatever you can do to get that out of your system."
There lies an emotional core to his work, and this context helps the reader to empathize with the shocking content. Despite the depravity in the poems, these are emotions many can relate to, most likely more than they could to say, a brief poem about anal sex. But for those who do have fond memories of that particular sexual act, Tourette has provided a profound poetic gem you can tattoo above your cock: "Relax, girl. It's just like taking a big shit. Only in reverse."
Ah, you can smell it. The poetic revolution has arrived.