Review: Hot Teen Slut

The Reviewed: Hot Teen Slut by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz
The Reviewer: Chris Vola

***

Originally published in 2001, and recently re-released by Write Bloody Publishing, Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz’s second collection of poems, Hot Teen Slut, offers an honest and prescient glimpse of a side of the adult industry rarely seen or considered, the desk jobs behind the smut and the motley and surprising souls that fill them. It’s a young woman’s struggle to create the art that sustains her spirit and to stay true to her personal philosophy while working in a field that contradicts all of it. And, most importantly, it’s some of the funniest (read: raunchiest) poetry I’ve read since Letters to Wendy’s.

It’s often unwise to read a collection of poems as one would a piece of prose with a clearly defined narrative arc, and even more foolish to endow the poet’s biography with an equal or greater weight than the voices and content of the individual poems. Yet in this memoir-in-verse, biographical context is vital, if not necessary to gaining a three-dimensional understanding, and more importantly, enjoyment of Aptowicz’s work. So here’s the background: At what turns out to be the tail end of the dot-com bubble, Cristin Aptowicz is a fresh-from-college poet living in New York City and literally starving herself in order to keep making her art. She’s also a virgin. Ironically, her financial salvation comes in the form of a job at About.com as a guide service manager of a directory of dozens of hardcore porn sites. She sardonically refers to herself as a “New Millennial Badass,” but her job basically amounts to being a full-time glorified porn junkie, something with which she is less than comfortable. “And I’m so hardcore, that I wish my lunch break / lasted all day, because I’d rather be known / as the poet girl than the porn girl,” she writes in one tongue-in-cheek stanza. The gap between what one has to do to survive and what fuels one is rarely this polarized, or weird.

As hilariously and unflinchingly as the poet details the far-from-mundane day-to-day minutiae of her job – editing creepy BDSM message boards, suggesting to an anal sex blogger that he should focus more on interracial blowjobs – Aptowicz’s most endearing strength may lie in her self-aware descriptions of, and interactions with the people who fill the most revealing moments in her life. There are the ebullient and cocksure pre-bust dot-com coworkers. The guy in charge of sports Web sites who desperately yearns for Aptowicz’s porn job, the initially haughty yet ultimately welcoming IT guys, and sullen Will, whose protruding jaw and flat forehead “reminds me of Frankenberry.” Then there’s the unnamed boyfriend in Chicago whose proverbial absence is delightfully (and sardonically) highlighted in “Long Distance Relationship,” one of the book’s most fiery poems:

It’s great!
Look at me! On the plane ride home!
I’m on the plane ride home and
I’m crying! This rocks!

These spot-on explosively emotional sketches do more than highlight the poet’s laugh-and-wince-inducing self-deprecation (The boyfriend breaks up with her, then gets famous for discovering a new dinosaur species). At their best, they serve as an angsty portal into the psyche of a spy behind the lines of an enemy whose nature is equal parts repulsive and intriguing, a young and naïve intellectual whose first foray beyond academia’s womb leaves her in a place where “Everything is beginning to look / a little strange to me now.”

As much as some of Aptowicz’s fellow Web editors would literally lunge at the opportunity to get paid to stare at porn (i.e. the sports guy, Will, and every other male employee at the company), the poet considers herself more or less a hardline feminist, an irony that is never lost on the reader. As she gets used to the unsavory aspects of her job, she becomes somewhat comfortable. Yet she is far from a porn apologist. Quite the opposite, she subverts the industry’s, ah, flavorfully misogynistic language – “In her ASS, Out her MOUTH”, “Teens LOVE Anal Deep FUCKING!” – and attempts to transform it into a weapon of female empowerment by inventing words (“Sass” for female wetness) that chip away at porn’s masculine-centric aura. She also utilizes classic poetic forms (“Orgasm Haikus”, “Ass Sex Sestina”, “Questions Boys Ask Me About My Job (A Pantoum)” ) to assert that her identity as a poet transcends her role as a purveyor of the lewd and to showcase her devotion to the technical aspects of her craft.

Porn aside, the book is also a fascinating chronicle of the peak and the decline of the once-mighty dot-com bubble. The proto-hipster geeks in their casual work attire and their smug sense of invincibility in the human-made and thus susceptible digital cocoon. But all is fleeting in this cubicle paradise of Simpsons action figures and khaki shorts. A series of layoffs sweep through the company (“Our flailing dot com / was bought out by a media empire “) and with each new unforeseen termination, it becomes clear that even powerful Smut isn’t immune to the Internet’s greatest collapse. And as far as collapses go, it’s hard as a reader in 2011 not to see the parallels in hubris with the oblivious perpetrators of the current fiscal debacle.

Though Hot Teen Slut was originally published ( by The Wordsmith Press) at a much different time in 2001, pornography, and specifically the Internet variety, possesses an equal if not greater weight as an all-pervasive and polarizing topic in the era of smartphone Web browsers and pre-teen sexting parties. Aptowicz’s book does a rare thing, in that, through honest, crisp, and occasionally fierce verse, the poet manages to humanize an industry whose greatest glory springs from the most glaring objectification. We aren’t getting the peroxide-dulled every-slut baring her silicone and her vapidity in front of the camera. What we have is a unique series of snapshots of the fingers and face behind the keyboard, the dispassionate 9-to-5er to whom porn only serves as the much needed security blanket that fuels a very different obsession. It is also a wonderful meditation  on the bizarre choices faced by today’s crop of younger artists (and anybody, really) venturing out for the first time into a “real world” that at times still seems trapped in a fantasy. Glad I caught this one the second time around.

***

Chris Vola‘s fiction, poetry, and reviews have appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, The Rumpus, Verse, Blood Lotus, Staccato Fiction, and elsewhere. He blogs and starves in Manhattan.

More reviews at Used Furniture.

Comments

  1. Sex between a man and a woman can be absolutely wonderful – provided you get between the right man and the right woman. ~Woody Allen

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