A Review of Wastelands by Julia Eff

wastelandsZinester Julia Eff‘s book-length poetry chapbook Wastelands looks at depression, kink, gender, and, of all things, truck driving. In addition to Eff’s poetry, the 80-page, tri-stapled volume features about a dozen full-page black and white photographs by the author.

In their zines, Julia has talked extensively about their nonbinary (neutrois) gender status, and while it is touched on here, it’s rarely the focus of these poems. There are exceptions of course, and one of the most poignant is “*xXx*” in which Julia recounts a rough sexual encounter with a straight guy and points out their queerness is the very thing that turns this hetero guy on:

“If you weren’t aroused by the way I live
I wouldn’t be over this bathroom sink.”

The collection actually devotes a fair amount of time to the guys Julia sleeps with, and these poems are sometimes sweet, sometimes grim, and sometimes both. In “Good Advice, Unfollowed”, Julia sends a warning to themselves about the type of posing loser they shouldn’t sleep with, but do anyway:

“If he says he’s an anarcho-communist
but went to an expensive private university
and shows up to your first date
in a Gucci t-shirt,
Do Not Fuck Him”

Throughout these poems about Julia’s sex life are references to the kink they and their partner(s) have practiced, in some cases crossing lines many people would find problematic. There is more than one reference to strangulation and consensual harm, including “This Msg Will Self-Dstrct”, in which Julia exams the bruises on their throat and the tiny bruises around their eyes from the strain of one such encounter. After expressing an awareness their partner could do prison time is someone turned him in, even though the practice is consensual, they write:

“(Consent isn’t a defense when you get yr rocks off
by spitting in the face of what god & nature
& common sense intended)”

There is a great deal of romantic longing in Wastelands, a lot of puppy love and long-distance angst. Julia was a truck driver for a time, and the long miles on the road and trips away from partners was never easy. One of their opening poems, “Baptism”, takes place at an airport hotel Julia is at alone. They smell the pool chlorine from the elevator, blending with the smell of sweat,

“And suddenly I miss you
bad enough

We’re given a number of poems here about Julia’s experiences on the road as a trucker, and these yield some great images of the Midwest. When they write about the first wind farm they ever saw from the road, they describe “All these bleached-bone hypnotic behemoths” and how “They look like dying seagulls / crash landing into fading fall cornfields”.

Wastelands is a rough but honest collection of poems from a broken, strong, wounded, radical heart. If verses from a gender nonconforming, punk, Satanist former truck driver sound badass to you, check this one out.

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