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Local poet releases book exploring transness, trains and identity

Queer & There


As an English teacher, I tell my students that the setting of a story is like an invisible character that can establish the mood and tone of a piece in ways that characterization and dialogue can’t. Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County and Bukowski’s Los Angeles are more than just backdrops to a narrative, they ground the human drama in a fixed place and time. Mackenzie Boyer’s new book of poems, Sexy Train Things, uses Colorado Springs in much the same way.

Boyer has been actively involved in Colorado Springs’ performance poetry scene since joining UCCS’ Free Expression Poetry Club in 2011. Since then she has worked with Hear Here poetry, joining slam poetry teams and competing nationally. The poetry community has become a kind of family for Boyer, who came out as transgender in June of last year.

“The slam community here is made up of some of my strongest relationships and dearest friends and they were some of the first folks I came out to because they have supported me so consistently and compassionately through the years,” she says. The poetry community has provided nothing but support for Boyer as she navigated her own sense of self by participating in events like 2016’s “Gender Transcenders” poetry open mic as part of the 2016 National Poetry Slam in Decatur, Georgia.

Sexy Train Things, Boyer’s first book, is full of poems that reflect the realities of the trans experience in the Pikes Peak region, but avoids the pitfalls of so many solipsistic trans narratives whose entire focus is on the author’s gender identity.

Boyer uses her experiences as a track maintenance laborer on the Pikes Peak Cog Railway as a point of reference for much of her work. Poems like “Trainsgender” and “This Happen” are two of the more explicitly “trans” poems, and address cisgender society’s obsession with “transition” as a fixed destination or the ultimate goal of every trans person.
She uses the Cog as a metaphor for her experience — “the mountain and me / are always in transition” — framing both geological processes and transitioning as a never-ending process of growth. She also addresses the difficulties of reconciling masculinity and femininity in a society obsessed with binary options with evocative lines such as “polished nails under work gloves.”

In “This Happen,” Boyer writes, “my transness is not happening to me,” challenging the cisnormative assumption that being transgender is some kind of quiet tragedy to be endured.

However, Boyer didn’t want Sexy Train Things to be a work only for the niche audience of poetry enthusiasts who also happen to be transgender, and the other poems in the collection touch on themes such as mental health, chronic pain and relationships. “I’m queer,” she says, “so all my poetry comes through the lens of my identity in one way or another. I didn’t make an effort to write poems that included everyone, but if someone finds something in my work they identify with or relate to, whether they’re queer or not, that’s something I find rewarding as an artist.”

In “Smoke,” Boyer uses Cummings-esque enjambments to reflect on the kind of surreal existence that many trans people experience pre-transition, and the bad habits that often accompany it: “my tongue searching for menthol vapor memories / to ease the harsh tar of a burnt up childhood.” “Beepolar” viscerally describes the experience of living with mental illness: “I am buzzing. And piercing things. / Going from doing everything / To planning out my death.”

“Railroads and Skeptics” describes Boyer’s life on the railroad, and “Cardiacoustics” reflects the kind of love for language and phonetics that has popularized slam poetry as a genre.

Boyer will release Sexy Train Things, with cover art from former Rooted Studio organizer Meredith Ann, on Wednesday, Jan. 17. Anyone interested in getting a copy can connect with Boyer on Facebook.

She will also be competing at the Hear Here Women of the World Poetry Slam Qualifier on Jan. 21, and will be embarking on a tour of the U.S., with performances in Portland, Oregon, and Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can also usually find her at the Hear Here First Saturday Open Mic.

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