GUSH: Menstrual Manifestos for Our Times. Frontenac House (purchase at Amazon.ca) , and
In between an introductory battle cry (its “Call to Ovaries”) and a lyrical envoi about rushing “to the moon, full of gravity,” this collection comprises over one hundred works of contemporary poetry and prose, includes a selection of cartoons and comics, and then appends thirty pages of biographical notes about its contributors, all 114 of them. Everything about this book is substantial and generous. It is a first-rate compilation of creative and unique work, skillfully organized and paced. Only a few reprints make their way in; everything else is new. With the exception of maybe three or four poems that fall flat, each selection is breathtaking, one after another. No word of a lie.
Often experimental in form and voice, the poems and stories leap off the pages, distinctly fascinating, even as they generate thematic echoes about stained clothes, bloodied chairs, deep shame, and marked calendars. Some are hilarious, others heartbreaking. While the experience of menstruation forms the collection’s leitmotif, it also fades into the background as the editors make room for meditations on ovulation, abortion, menopause, pregnancy, and amenorrhea. Across the chapters, blood’s absence brilliantly alternates with the force of its visitation, the pages striving to contain all the ways in which bleeding and not-bleeding come to be known, survived, joked about, turned into silence, made into myth, misunderstood, resented, anticipated, and so on.
Menstrual-hygiene products frequently turn up, of course, centred in instances of mortification and forbearance. Janet Rogers describes a “bulky panty liner” worn like an “uncomfortable log of cotton stuck to my cooch.” Mary Horodyski recalls her purse full of tampons “as if i was expecting a hemorrhage / or even worse / what the teen magazines called an accident.” Images of toxic-shock warnings and stuck applicators communicate fear and anger. “I am of the fourteenth gender,” announces Shannon Maguire: “I won’t shove yr bleach and plastic up, won’t cup.”
One of the most important moments in the book occurs in Waaseyaa’sin Christine Sy’s version of an Ojibway creation story, in which Sy describes the deity Nokomis calling upon all “the womxn who bleed” and “the womxn who don’t” to heal the world. Placed in the opening chapter, Sy’s tale sets the stage for the editors’ political stance on trans rights and menstruation: that this monthly blood neither makes femininity nor unmakes masculinity, that there is nothing metaphysical about its correlation with womanhood under patriarchal systems. “When my boyfriend gets his period,” Chandra Mayor writes,
Because it’s estrogen
. . .
because the moon and the tides,
a big deal, and it’s really
none of your business.
Rules about bodies change; nature and culture entwine.
Yvette Nolan’s personal essay, “Losing My Religion,” reflects upon the ceremony of the sweat along these lines, pondering when and how it was decided that menstruation precluded participation in this ritual. “Who is the keeper of culture?” she asks. The bracketed words “(unclean unclean)” break into her sentences throughout the essay, signalling that colonial notions of pollution make their way into an Indigenous practice. Nothing arrives in the present without context and power.
This is an important book about a taboo subject, in which blood and shame often go together—with far-reaching consequences. Many of the poems and tales circulate around experiences of confusion and surprise: at the amount of blood, the shocking cramps, the misdiagnosed endometriosis, the ways in which jokes about “being on the rag” can function as such astonishing forms of oppression. A gush can happen “without warning. Like those little / green measuring worms dropping on you from God knows where”; it can make a person “red-crazed, holding to the day”; or it is “just another word for nothing left / to lose.” What this collection offers is respite from the encumbering misogyny that sticks to this bleeding, in a display of creativity that points to where the treasure is, like an X that marks the spot.