On the Rod is a newly released erasure art book created by Melbourne artist and poet, ReVerse Butcher. The work converses with the erasure of queer and feminine identities throughout history by applying that same erasure to Jack Kerouac's hyper-masculine text, On The Road. Dunedin poet, Eliana Gray gives their take on the book:
I was fifteen when I became utterly infatuated with the beats, I pretended to read On The Road by old mate Kerouac at least three times but would loudly proclaim to people I was trying to impress that my favourite was ‘actually’ Dharma Bums (which I did actually read over three times).
After about ten years, many fevered discussions and one gender studies class later; I became what I see as a wiser version of myself, one clued into the patriarchal nature of the ‘literary canon’. I became angry. I began to loudly proclaim how much I hated Mr Kerouac and delighted in having never read his greatest work. Was I still trying to impress people with these statements? Yes. Was I absolutely primed to engage with the latest work by Melbourne artist and poet ReVerse Butcher? Yes, yes and yes.
Being primed to engage with a work, does not however, preclude that one will love the work itself. But I did.
First, some context. On The Rod is a clever decimation of that “seminal” (cough cough) work by aforementioned old mate Kerouac. The erasure in the title is in and of itself a triumph in this reviewer’s heart. Utilising erasure, over-painting, collaging and an insurmountable wit; ReVerse Butcher turns a single copy of On The Road into the queer feminist art book we always deserved instead.
The respect I have for the ideological underpinning of this book is enough to make me want to rain copies of it from rooftops and stand outside libraries shaking pages in the faces of passersby. But more so than that - the work is beautiful. The paintings and collages are arresting; the verse clever, subversive and impeccably placed. On The Rod stands out not only as a wonderfully transformative critique of the original work; but as an impressive artwork that is just as engaging on a visual level as it is on a cerebral deep-dive. Each page is both its own artwork and a part of a cohesive, cartwheeling narrative delivered with more of the stream-of-consciousness dream-state that was beloved in the original.
The book begins with its thesis, “hack the control system”. Does it achieve this purpose? More than I or Mr Kerouac could have ever anticipated.