The man don’t give a f**k
By Colin Herd.
Vincent A. Celluccin, ed., Fuck Poems: An Exceptional Anthology, Lavender Ink, 2012
Everyone knows that sex in poetry is meant to be difficult to do well. But you’d never know it from this anthology, where poets of many different stripes tackle the supposedly sticky subject from all angles. Probably the sassiest and most seductive anthology of the year, Fuck Poems is a recent publication from the legendary New Orleans press Lavender Ink, run by poet Bill Lavender. Edited by Vincent A Cellucci out of a reading series he holds in Baton Rouge, the glue that holds the contributions together is sex.
The book is more than just an anthology, it also contains the result of a collaborative writing exercise whereby the contributors put their contributions into one large document and let the other contributors edit and make additions to a collaborative poem. This sort of compositional bed-hopping has resulted in a peculiar and very interesting sensation: individual voices and quirks of style and expression are preserved but there’s a kind of sticky cohesion uniting the anthology as a whole.
The book opens with David Parker Jr’s riotously comic poem, “The Astroglide Kitty” which performs its own numerous, well lubricated glissandos as it riffs and purrs on the aftermath of sex:
The kitty is covered in Astroglide
which is kind of disturbing
but, like, what were we going to do
when she climbed into bed after we were done
to see what all the yelling was about
not pet her?
Meanwhile, Matt Hart’s breathless lyricism in ‘Poem that used to end in geraniums’, a long skinny drainpipe of poetry, ends with the lines:
you lay yourself
out like a boxer, K.O.ed,
the blood in your eyes,
on your shirt, full of words
You fuck and fuck and fuck
Matt Hart’s contributions see the lines themselves engaged in a kind of sex act. They tug and tickle each other, semantically embracing but rhythmically pulling away and getting close all the same. Every line-break in his poems is like a mini chasm that has to be leaped, and sometimes it’s a smooth landing and sometimes there’s friction.
Victoria Mansberger’s poem ‘Carne Mal’ is heartbreaking and shocking by virtue of its bruised spareness:
every time i get an email
a 20 to 24 year old girl gets
raped under a dumpster under
the yellow sodium light of
some back alley street lamp
She creates an image cluster of penetration and reception (the dumpster, a switchblade, an email inbox) and combines them in a venn diagram of pain and hurt. This horrifying magic (the idea of hoping upon hope you don’t get an email because you know some awful deed is being carried out), the suggestion of email as invasion, as rape, all combine to create a harrowing poem. Mansberger’s a writer I haven’t read before but on the strength of this poem she’s a talent to watch.
In her poem ‘Everything Boils Down To’, Sammy Greenspan resists the imperative of her title and leaves you guessing what the elided word might be: Sex? Family? Feminism? Whatever it is that structures and organizes her modular snippets, they enact a performance of an echoing, bristling, imaginative mind at work, sifting through memories and piecing them together.
I was delighted to see the great Megan Volpert included. As usual, her work shines with guts and wit (her poems, something about their disarming clarity, reminds me equally of Elaine Equi and Eileen Myles-but she has a curious way of looking at things that is all hers):
“There’s getting fucked
up, being fucked up and
feeling fucked up. You
get it at the bar, you be
it at work and you feel
it in writing.”
Lara Glenum (of avant-garde movement Gurlesque fame) is represented by the poem ‘A Poem is a Skin that Ruptures’ which tears mini lacunae all over the membrane of the poem, which is set up as a bodily site, (or kind of like the inside of a mouth- a place for chewing.) It’s as if her poems are written mid-mastication, little gristly shards and wiry tendons that once lodged are impossible to get out of the teeth of your mind.
Experimental poetry legend Anne Waldman is also included in the anthology, with an excerpt from her ‘Soldatesque/ Soldiering’ collaboration with the artist Noah Staterstrom. It’s appropriate that her appearance is towards the second half of the book as she helps to resist the urge to totalize or tie things together. Erotics are a conflict in Waldman’s piece, and like poetics, they always seem to duck out of being figured out: “No this is not possible, no way no way not possible.”
“Fuck Poems”- it’s a description of subject matter (synonymous with “sex poems”) but also an attitude towards the poem- that it’s not as important as all that maybe. As in, “fuck poems, let’s make out instead!” It’s also a description of form- the poems picking up each other’s keys. But maybe most of all it’s a reading method. Walt Whitman wrote that reading is an gymnast’s work- involving attentiveness, focus, dexterity. But reading’s also an intimate act, analogous to fucking in that you have to give yourself over to the text in equal measure as you also bring your own self to the text. Good reading (like good fucking) is both active and passive, for all parties.
Writing about sex is difficult because it’s brave. Just like sex, when it goes wrong you look silly. Reading about it too, in a way. Know those subway readers who knowingly glanced at each other when they were reading ’50 Shades’ like they were in a secret club? Fuck Poems is the new that, and it’s a hell of a lot better.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, July 1st, 2013.