Written during the advent of hormone therapy and gender transition, Chelate by Jay Besemer explores the journey towards a new embodiment, one that is immediately complicated by the difficult news of a debilitating illness. This engaging chronicle speaks powerfully and poetically to the experience of inhabiting a toxic body, and the ruptures in consciousness and language that arise when confronted by a stark imperative, and choosing to live, and to change. The book moves intermittently from exile and alienation to hopeful anticipation, played out in short bursts of imaginative dreamwork, where desires eventually give way to their realities, as the self begins mapping the permutations of its momentous shift. What begins in uncertainty and commitment ends in self-recognition, and more uncertainty, but now in a necessary space unified by will, love, action, process, and documentation.
by Jay Besemer
Pub Date: July 1, 2016
Jay Besemer’s poetry is “the membrane that makes wonder and keeps it safe.” His “hands contain tomorrow.” As trans people—as any people—it may be true that “our bodies [are] forced into matter, unprepared,” but Jay’s heart is plenty large enough for the task of living when “a fragment of certainty breaks off.” There is no higher praise I can give a book than to say it inspires me to write, which is to say it asks me to bring my attention and care to the world. I read this book and I feel as though I have been breathed into. It is “folded paper to rest the head on, again and again.” I love it. How could I not?
Besemer’s title, Chelate, invokes the properties of metals. Crafting metal into tools is such a perfect metaphor for humanity’s zeal to extend our reach and transform our lives, that the blacksmith is a legendary figure in many cultures, a role that the author takes on in order to not only “chelate [himself] into a new man” but also to forge “a baton of meaning in the relay between forms.” By sonic serendipity (one of the poet-smith’s tools), the Bessemer process is a method for mass-producing steel— not to be confused with the Besemer process, alchemical rather than metallurgic, which reintegrates materialism and metaphysics to yield a spiritually transformative reading experience or “the great flash of being, shared.”
“Besemer is frank about the grueling “work of maintaining coherence” when we are “bodies forced into matter” as “coerced by externals”; we, as subjects, are always subject to enforced ways of being – be it able-bodiedness, heterosexuality, or gender normativity. It is possible, as the enigmatic yet confessional “I” admits, to “fail” – to be matter out of place, to be askew, to be queer. Yet rather than framing such failure to be normal as negative and unproductive, this transition into both gender deviance and toxic illness marks the creative capacity of chelation – a precarious, uncertain in-betweenness, where cultural and bodily toxicities can become entirely another.”
“The writer explores the undoing and re-creation of body, and while some of that is very painful, to me this book is made of strength, autonomy and reconciliation. This is an engine of a book – every single piece leads you further and further into this form-bending holy land of self.”
“Jay Besemer writes a complicated body, a body in relation, words approaching others, ziptied with punctuation, making eyes like let me go don’t let me go.”
Interview with Waves Breaking
“In this month’s episode, Jay Besemer and I talk about his recent book, Chelate, along with other topics, including: living with chronic illness, our relationship with nature, sci-fi, poetry comics, and that old chestnut TRANS TEMPORALITY.”
Interview with The Operating System
“I mentioned before that I make poems as a way of processing the world around me. That means specifically that I use poetry as a mediating structure, but also as a mode of analysis and coming-to-understand (or at least to recognize) perceptions and experiences. In a real sense, poetry is another body. Any book of mine is therefore both of my body and an extension of (or a different version of) my body. ”
Interview with Make (No) Bones