Saturday, April 6, 2013

Book Review: The Virgin Journals by Travis Laurence Naught

Review of The Virgin Journals by Travis Laurence Naught

Travis Laurence Naught first caught my attention because he submitted poetry to Empirical. His work has appeared in the November 2012 issue, the January 2013 issue, which are also available in the Best of Empirical 2012. We are pleased to be publishing more of his poetry later in 2013.

In the Introduction, Travis explains to us that he has spinal muscular atrophy and has never taken a step on his own, that he has only been kissed twice, and that he is a virgin. He explicitly cautions, "Do not read this as an autobiography of an unheard of handicapped individual! ... I'm hedging my bets that all types of readers will be able to relate to a number of the ideas presented and see that having a soul is a human condition that crosses all boundaries." Yes, this work crosses boundaries, sometimes too uncomfortably, sometimes deliciously so. I came away from this first work feeling as if I had made a friend.

The Virgin Journals is just what it claims to be: a journal that's divided into three parts: "Life," "Love," and "World." "Life" is especially journal-like, which he gives his readers ample warning about in the beginning. In his Introduction, he says, "...even I do not know what I wrote for fun and what was written seriously." He says it was written in his twenties, and "It felt important for me to let you know this in order to judge the material from a more mature point of view." His writing does seem a bit less mature in the beginning, with stream of consciousness poetic prose describing his outlook on life. But I kept laughing and nearly crying and turning the pages. He shows us how he creates through speech-recognition software--we are inside his room with him during his creation process, but closer to him than that. We are inside his mind as he speaks and as his mind wanders. We are poignantly aware of what it is like to be utterly dependent on others:

After being a part of someone's daily plans for years and years, it is possible that after a matter of time I will simply be forgotten. Not my life, just some activity in my life. In bed the night before a vacation that we are all excited about and in the melee of packing and leaving someone says "where is Travis?" and I am simply left at home in bed! Try living with that fear for a while... no, don't do that because I don't wish it on anyone.

His best poetry is about his sexual desire and excruciating frustration of never being a sexual contender. One of my favorites is "Illicit Unreality" when his penis is on the hunt, craving touch from someone "Willing enough to put up with the rest of me." "Anonymous Thank-you" highlights an event that gets closer than others:

Then you came along
Smiling and so giving in your mind
Acknowledging me as a man in need
Yet refusing to provide my true desire
Placing your hands on my neck
Your lips on my check
And exaggerating the smacking sound
Making it more phony and than real

There are too many other wonderful lines to point out here. You'll have to buy the book. I scrawled giant checkmarks on several poems, underlined passages and thumbed through his work multiple times. I am especially fond of his poems on coffee. We watch Travis struggle, play, and then ultimately achieve discipline, clarity, beauty. This book is an extremely intimate seat at the window into what the world (and love and life) looks like through a quadriplegic's eyes. He worries sometimes on the page (and apologizes to his relatives at the end) for being too intimate. I didn't care. I was grateful to get to know him, to be a voyeur into his life and thought processes, to feel vindicated in having my own similar thoughts and feelings about myself, my craft, and my friends and family.

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