– Post Punk Poet
Mark Baker National Poetry Day here in the UK. So, spare us some poetic licence and we are going to talk about Kathy Acker, born in the US yes, but she spent some of the most important years in London.
Born into a middle-class Jewish family in New York’s Upper East Side, Acker set the tone for her later life by spending most of her teens in downtown Manhattan learning the ropes of sub culture and the Avant Garde.
Graduating from the University of California in 1968, Acker moved back to NY where she studied Classics but distracted by life she never completed her graduation. She spent her time experimenting with writing and earning an income doing whatever came her way including spells as a stripper and porn performer.
The early 1970’s was the place to be and Acker found herself part of the embryonic punk scene. Identifying as postmodernist and drawing influence from William S Burroughs Acker was at the right place at the right time. Her first publication was The Childlike Life of the Black Tarantula: Some Lives of the Murderesses and this was followed in 1978 by Blood and Guts
in the High School. It told a tale of sexual addiction, prostitution, slavery and violence in enough detail to have it banned in Germany, being considered pornographic. The novel contains poetry inserted, collage style, the cut-up style clearly influenced by Burroughs.
Acker moved to London in the eighties as the city and the UK revelled in its role as the capital of sub culture. Here she was a post punk poet, novelist (10 to her name), essayist, postmodernist playwright. She revelled in body building, tattooing, motorbikes, philosophy, mysticism and BDSM and drew reference and inspiration from them writing from the perspective of a strong-willed sex positive feminist. Her style was distinctive with violence and sexuality peppering her works and a with fluidity of gender and identity changing characters that was ahead of its time.
Suffering from breast cancer and undergoing a double mastectomy in 1996. Acker become a proponent of alternative treatments but lost the struggle in 1997.
A few months before her passing Acker had been selected to interview the Spice Girls. At the height of their fame it was a strange choice of interviewer to be commissioned by the Guardian Newspaper. Acker who regularly included Girl gangs in her writings probably never imagined the Spice Girls as any of those characters but during the interview she clearly warms to them, admiring their subversion and natural energy that defied the “manufactured girl group” label. Her summing up of the interview was as a good epilogue to her life story:
“The Spice Girls, and girls like them, and the girls who like them, resemble their American counterparts in two ways: they are sexually curious, certainly pro-sex, and they do not feel that they are stupid or that they should not be heard because they did not attend the right universities.
If any of this speculation is valid, then it is up to feminism to grow, to take on what the Spice Girls, and women like them, are saying, and to do what feminism has always done in England, to keep on transforming society as society is best transformed, with lightness and in joy.”
Go check out her life and works