There’s a Whip in My Valise

Last Thursday, we marked the official launch of poet Lisa Summers’ Star Thistle & Other Poems with a wine and music-drenched reading at the Epicurean Connection in Sonoma, CA. The evening was a capacity-crowd-smash (and I was smashed as well). Fortunately, I had already prepared the affectionate toast-n-roast below…

The late French publisher Maurice Girodias had a bold approach when marketing his line of smutty books. He would list provocative titles in a catalog and then hire writers to write them once a title was actually ordered. And he had a crack team of hacks on-call that included expatriate writers Henry Miller, William Burroughs, and other names that eventually became big.

And the titles rocked. Among them:

The Convent of Satan; A Flutter of Lashes; Chariot of Flesh, Dr. Onan, Classical Hindu Erotology, and one simply titled White Thighs. But pronounced with a Z, I bet. The best title, however, was on a book by someone called Greta X about five women, or more specifically, ”four sadists and one nymphomaniac,” on a sex spree across Europe.

This one was called There’s a Whip in My Valise. I love how matter-of-fact it is. It’s like if you ask someone, “Do you have a lighter and they say, “I have matches in my purse.”

Or…. “Anyone have a cat-of-nine tails?”
“No, but there’s a whip in my valise.”

Clearly, it’s an awesome title – so awesome, in fact, that Adam Ant used it as the inspiration for a song. A song that contains the immortal lyric:

When I met you you were just sixteen
Pulling the wings off flies
When an old lady got hit by a truck
I saw the wicked gleam in your eyes

Your sadistic suits my masochistic
And there’s a whip in my valise

Duly, inspired by Girodias (and Adam Ant), I thought   I too would start publishing with the hope that I would eventually find my own Henry Miller and William Burroughs and Adam Ant. Or at least some unholy love child of all three.

So, you can imagine my delight, when I met poet Lisa Summers. After all, in the Punky Brewster version of her life, she’s Punky and Burroughs is the old guy she lives with.

We can imagine it was a literate household – lots of reading, Scrabble, the occasional game of William Tell. Burroughs would pack her Naked Lunchables, and Neal Cassady would drive the bus to school. She would study writing with Kerouac, but her guidance counselor, Truman Capote, insists it was just a typing class…

It was an idyllic childhood full of love, literature, and methamphetamines. And when she came to, she found herself in her 40s, in Sonoma. This has happened to a lot of us. It’s nice to see so many new faces in the support group.

Anyway, I had a title for an erotic space opera thriller that I thought Lisa could run with. It was called Quasar of Thorns. But Lisa didn’t like “Quasar” because “Q’s give her hives,” and she said “Thorn” was too “quaint,” and then she broke out hives.

So we kept whittling it down until Quasar of Thorns became Star Thistle. It’s a great title — unless you have a lisp. Then it’s Thar Thithle. It took me years of speech therapy to lose my lisp, so thanks for that, Litha.

Incidentally, I have more titles that need authors if any of you are inclined. These include:
There’s a Truncheon in my Satchel; There’s a Knitting Needle in my Fanny Pack; and You Won’t Believe What’s in My Overnight Bag — No, Seriously, Go Look

Now, I thought it unseemly as a publisher to read from my own work tonight, so I’ll read from Lisa’s work instead. Or some of the outtakes.

In Star Thistle, as you may know, she’s quoted Dante a few times, and even, at one point, she put the entire Inferno between quotes. I said I was worried about being sued for plagiarism. She said it’s okay because it’s postmodernism, a kind of plagiarism requiring a master’s degree. I said I didn’t want to be sued for postmodernism either, and she said yes, you do. And that’s when I knew she was a genius.

Lisa also references some of the other poets I’ve mentioned here tonight, however, those lines were also cut but we plan to recycle them for fortune cookies.

So, from the “publisher’s cut” of Lisa Summers’ Star Thistle & Other Poems, here’s a DVD extra I hope you enjoy:

You put my head into the stocks
And then you went to choose a cane
But hey, your cat has got nine tails
You like to leave me lame

I can’t thank her, my Sunday Spanker
And there’s a whip in my valise.