The story of Hot Teen Slut (Write Bloody Publishing, 2011) goes like this: a recent lady college grad searches for a job and finds one described as ‘Guide Service Manager’, which turns out to be a job in porn copy-editing / writing, but she takes it anyway – money is money, right? – and the rest unspools poetically from there. And now, here, we get the chance to ask Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz some questions about Hot Teen Slut, this journey of ‘Guide Service Manager’:

MB: Apologies in advance, but here is the obligatory opening volley: Is Hot Teen Slut a true experience? Did you in fact take a copywriting job in the porn industry while still a virgin and did it all lead to your writing of this book and then beginning to perform your poetic art across the world?

COA: Yes, sadly, it is all true! I was a 21-year-old virgin and recent NYU grad when I landed literally the only job that would hire me in New York City—a writer and editor for an online porn website. My poor mother had a hell of a time figuring out how to write about it in our family’s annual holiday newsletter that year. But then, I supposed it prepared her for a lifetime of having to creatively answer the question, “And now, what is it that your youngest actually does again?”

MB: And regardless of where the poems in Hot Teen Slut originate from, the idea across this collection is that even porn inspires poetry, as you write in ‘New Millennial Badass’”

And I’m so hardcore, that I write poetry

during my lunch break.

And I’m so hardcore, that I am writing this poem

during my lunch break.

And I’m so hardcore, that I wish my lunch break

lasted all day, because I’d much rather be known

as the poet girl than the porn girl

Do you feel like poetry is everywhere, can find its legs anywhere, even where people least expect / anticipate it?

COA: To me, poetry has this wonderful ability to give you insight into very specific moments in people’s lives. Unlike nonfiction, where I feel like the audience expects some balance (or at least some deference paid to the fact that there could be another side to the story than just the author’s emotions or reactions), poetry gives the poet such freedom to just express themselves with a real purity and almost selfish single-mindedness. You can really focus in how you are feeling in just that one moment, and not worry if you contradict yourself in the very next poem, because for that one moment, whatever you are feeling is the truth.

And that freedom was very helpful when writing the poems in Hot Teen Slut. Because there were definitely times when I loved working in porn, and other times that I hated it. It was—at different points—confusing, titillating, distracting, inspiring, offensive, hilarious and revelatory. To be able to tease of all these feelings out in separate poems was incredible. All I wanted was to be as authentic as possible in my writing while I was working this incredibly surreal job, so that when I looked back I could remember it all accurately: the good and the bad, the strange and the strangely normal.

MB: And though most might never connect ‘porn’ with notions of ‘heart’, your poems in Hot Teen Slut often evoke the parallel between the two, even in odd or battered ways, for instance in ‘Falling Down on the Job’:

I have a bad heart.

I wish I were being poetic, but I’m not.

My heart sucks. Medically.

Can you talk to us a little about how this contrast works, how the ideas of ‘love’ and ‘heart’ run throughout these poems so pornographically charged?

COA: I think one of the big lessons I learned in working for porn is that people are searching for a connection. Yes, porn is designed to get someone off, but I also think there is an undercurrent of hope, as strange as that sounds. You are getting off in the moment, but you are also looking into the future, and thinking about a time when you might be able to fulfill that fantasy with someone else. You are taking mental notes about what you’d want to try with your current partner, and what you might want from a future partner. I quickly discovered that the most popular sections (or videos or pictorials) on the sites I edited where often ones where the actor(s) and/or actress(es) were surprisingly human: friendly and engaging the viewer as a girlfriend or boyfriend might. Even today, you have James Deen, a male porn star who is getting a lot of mainstream attention because he looks and acts like a boyfriend might, and thus, is gaining a large fan base with high school and college age women—a population not traditionally thought to be big porn consumers.

So to me, porn, love and heart aren’t necessary mutually exclusive. I mean, that isn’t to say there isn’t porn out there that makes you doubt the existence of God, BUT I don’t think it is all like that. And I think you can be a big old romantic and still love porn too.

MB: In terms of Hot Teen Slut as a whole, one could definitely read many of the individual pieces as fiction vignettes as easily as they can be read as poetry – can you tell us a bit about how you see this as a poetry collection, and all of the pieces within as poetry, as opposed to fiction or a fiction / poetry hybrid?

COA: At the time that I was writing Hot Teen Slut I was running a poetry series in the basement of NYC’s infamous rock venue, CBGBs. As you can imagine, the rowdy CBGBs crowd was the perfect audience for poetry about working in porn. They ate it up, and it was almost like a telenovela—every week, I would come in with a new story to share about my journey through the porn world.

It was only after I put the collection together that I realized how much the book was sort of a memoir-in-verse. I had limited success in publishing the poems in the collection in literary journals—probably to some extent because of the extremely vulgar content, but also because I think so much of the success of the individual poem depends on seeing it in the context of the larger story the book tells. Individual poems work, but I think they collection works best as seen together as a whole.

So in that sense, having it be a nonfiction/poetry hybrid might be somewhat correct. But I do consider the work—for the most part—to be pure poetry.

MB: Hot Teen Slut ends (spoiler alert) with the demise of your position in the porn industry’s machinery but with the simultaneous rise of your work as a poet and a poetic performer. So much has surely changed since then though, so can you give us a little update on your poetry / performance since the release of Hot Teen Slut in 2010?

COA: It is absolutely true that I was laid off the same day I was being flown to Australia for two weeks of poetry performances. The metaphor wasn’t lost on me at all, and so while it sucked to be laid off (I’m a working class girl, so losing your job is always going to suck), I felt like fate handled it in the classiest way possible. I was able to leave that job filled with hope and possibility.

After I was laid off, I put together the first incarnation of Hot Teen Slut, a handmade book that I sold out of my backpack at readings. I have to admit, I was nervous about it. As a young feminist poet just starting out, I wasn’t 100% sure that having a title called Hot Teen Slut in my back catalogue was the smartest idea, but I thought if my poetry is going to be truly honest and truly autobiographical, then putting Hot Teen Slut out there was a fait accompli. And I don’t regret it at all. In fact, of all my books, Hot Teen Slut is the one most often brought up in interviews—and for good reason!

In the years since I left porn, I’ve written five books of poetry, all of which are currently available on the fantastic indie poetry press, Write Bloody Publishing. I also wrote the nonfiction book, Words In Your Face: A Guided Tour Through Twenty Years of the New York City Poetry Slam, which was published in 2008 by Soft Skull Press.

Most recently, I served as the 2010-2011 ArtsEdge Writer-in-Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, won a 2011 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry and was named the 2013 Writer-in-Residence at the Amy Clampitt House.

If you would have told me this is where my life would have lead during the days in porn, I would have never believed you. But I suppose it is a testament to the transformative power of poetry!

And porn has never been so poetically charged, never rendered with such humor and careful control, making Hot Teen Slut not only a fantastic book but a unique one in every sense of the word. Thanks again to Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz for chatting with us here, and now that you know how highly we recommend this one, buy your own copy of Hot Teen Slut here, & read more from / about Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz here.