“The Lesbian Sex Haiku Book (With Cats!)” is secretly about lesbian culture

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AfterEllen’s The Hook Up columnist Anna Pulley is not only an expert advice giver but a masterful haiku creator, specifically about lesbian culture. If that’s not enough to entice you, her new book is not only expertly witty, punny and gay, but it is filled with illustrations of (what else?) cats.
 
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The Lesbian Sex Haiku Book (with Cats!) is Anna’s new collection of short queer poems and her partner, Kelsey Beyer‘s, accompanying illustrations. (Ever want to see a feline version of Bound? You’re in luck.) But the haikus were first inspired by a rough period she went through a few years ago, as Anna says she used words and humor to help her out of heartbreak.
 
“My fiancee dumped me, my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer, and I was told he had mere days to live—thankfully that didn’t turn out to be true and he has since recovered twice—and I was barely surviving in San Francisco, the most expensive city in the U.S.,” Anna said. “Because of all this strife, I found that I had writer’s block for the first time. Words have been the only way I’ve ever made sense of the world, so to suddenly be without that outlet was devastating, on top of everything else.”
 
But haikus were easy enough; something she could write (or tweet), and something Anna says she could “manage emotionally.”
 
“And that was how I started to claw my way out of my writer’s block and depression,” Anna said. “What also helped was that I fell in love with this woman who was married, mostly straight, and lived across the country, which goes against all the advice I give in The Hook Up, but hey, learning things the hard way is still ‘learning.’ She and I wrote hundreds of haikus back and forth to each other, and eventually I had this heap of material and was like, ‘Oh maybe I should do something with this.'”
 
Anna began posting lesbian sex haikus on The Toast, and a publisher immediately got in touch. And the timing could not have been better all-around. Not only did Anna begin dating Kelsey, an accomplished illustrator.
 
“When Kelsey and I started dating, her famous internet cat knowledge was, shall we say, lacking,” Anna said. “She didn’t know who Maru was—the cat that dives into boxes—so I made her watch a bunch of YouTube clips. At this point, we weren’t sure how the illustrations for the book would pan out. ‘Should they be people? Should they be whimsical doodles?’ We didn’t know.  Around the same time as the Maru viewing, Kelsey had been making birthday cards for her friends that happened to involve lesbian cat drawings, which is where the cat tied to the bed and the cat holding a flogger images come from. It crystallized for her that the illustrations should all be cats—not only because she found that idea hilarious, but also because of the cultural association between lesbians and cats.”
 
Anna (right) and Kelseyauthor photo
 
Ah, yes. Cultural associations are all over The Lesbian Sex Haiku Book but in the best of ways. Even if you think you’re not a poetry fan, or could care less for haikus, Anna’s inside jokes, astute observations and informed opinions on queer women and our very specific culture are all explored in accessible ways. From references to “Vita and Virginia,” to Buffy, U-Hauling and shipping wars, this book is all about us, which meant she had to explain some things to her publisher.
 
“Shipping was foreign to them. As was my obsession with including Kristen Stewart in the book,” Anna said, lamenting she is only “barely” in the finished product. “They were very accommodating to all the insider-ness that’s in the book, though, especially in the illustrations, which include lots of hidden puns and jokes. And there was a funny back and forth with the copy editor about why my haikus about Audre Lorde involved so much produce and vaginas. I won’t give it away, but will say that if you don’t get the reference, read Zami immediately.”
 
It’s so rare even in 2016—maybe even especially so—that lesbians have something that they feel in on; that speaks to us so wholly that we are able to recognize both the hilarity and the honesty within three lines. And besides that, it’s completely relevant. There’s an entire section dedicated to how lesbian characters are treated in Hollywood.
 
“It makes me so mad, especially when it’s a queer character of color who dies. Like, get with the times, Hollywood!” Anna said. “I wrote those lesbian death haikus two years ago, and the trend has not abated, as you are well aware. I’m glad that people are paying attention to it more, but what I would really love to see is more queer people telling their own stories, however that manifests—in videos, on TV and films, in plays, in novels. We need to let the world know that we’re surviving just fine, thanks. I do hope my weird little book plays a small part in that. Spoiler: No one dies!” 
 
An excerpt from “A Representative Sample of Every Lesbian Movie Ever Made”:
 
Girl has sexual awakening
awakening with teacher/
roommate/friend. Then dies.
 
Girl has horrible,
traumatic past, present, and
future. Then she dies.
 
Girl has sexual
awakening with druggie.
The drug addict dies.
 
While the book is very now, it’s also the kind of text that will continue to be relevant for years to come, something Anna was hoping for throughout the writing process.
 
“I didn’t want the book to be too ‘dated,’ but at the same time I wanted to give a nod to some of the pivotal moments from our queer past,” she said. “Some of it, like the haikus imagining how Susan Sontag would hit on a lady, were because I LOVE her and want more young lezzies to know who she is. It’s a subtle Women’s Studies class in haiku. Shh.”
 
An excerpt from “Imagined Awkward Propositions from Famous Queer Women Throughout History:
 
Susan Sontag
Sex is a pillow—
an extension of the self.
Yet suffocating.
 
Being inclusive was on Anna’s mind, as well, and she said she considered including a section “specifically for trans lesbians” but “decided that being a cis lady writing about an experience that was not mine was probably not cool.”
 
“I also thought, well, trans lesbians are lesbians so why should I separate them from the coven?” Anna continued. “We’re a diverse community, and I didn’t want to single anyone out, so I scrapped the idea in the end.”
 
As for collaborating with her partner, something that can either be fantastic or fatal, Anna described her process with Kelsey as “easy.”
 
“Sometimes I would tell her which haikus I thought would be great next to an image, and sometimes she would draw something, and I would write a haiku around it, such as the John Stamos Long Haired Butch cat image,” Anna said. “That said, we totally also went to couples therapy to sort out some of the legal and financial parts of making a book. Neither of us had ever dealt with that before, so it was nice and super gay to have a neutral third party to talk to.”
 
5.2 cat tied to bed
 
Funny enough, Anna’s only concern about how the book would go over was not anything to do with her sometimes sexually-themed haikus, but about the cats.
 
“I was worried some of the images would be too ‘racy’—thanks, sex-negative culture!” Anna said. “There’s a cat holding a Hitachi image that Kelsey and I fought about initially, but it’s such a great image that I decided to ignore my prudishness. Now it’s probably my favorite image from the whole book.”
 
 
 
The Lesbian Haiku Book (With Cats!) is available now. If you’re in the Bay Area tonight, Anna will be reading at The Booksmith, or at Pegasus in Berkeley on April 28. If you are interested in buying any prints of the images from the book, you can email Anna for more information.

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