Posts Tagged ‘sex


Rob Carney’s This Is One Sexy Planet (2005)

Over the next few weeks or months, I will post all my reviews (“Tom’s Celebrations”) that appeared in Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose (formerly Redactions: Poetry & Poetics) up to and including issue 12. After that, my reviews appeared here (The Line Break) before appearing in the journal. This review first appeared in issue 6/7, which was published circa mid-2006.


Rob Carney's – This Is One Sexy PlanetThe earth is beautiful, or was before war, greed, money, & the homogenous creations of the business world, & the earth still can be beautiful. This is an early premise of Rob Carney’s This Is One Sexy Planet (Frank Cat Press) [out of print], a premise sustained through the collection of poems.

In the opening poem, “Six Verses in Search of a Church,” we see this:

   For fingers came first, before grubbing after money,
         and our fingers speak the language of Guitar;

   for our minds weren’t ignited by gunpowder
         or factory assembled
         but remember the ocean,
         think like the wind;


   so it was and always will be
         that our lives arrive from music,
         Living in our bodies and loving is our song.

For the speaker of these poems, this is where the sexiness of the earth is. The sexiness is in the ability to present the urge to create through love or sex or artistic creation. But so what? Most of us have come to realize this, right? Yea, we have, but in this book, the poems with the mythic tones of original energy weave through the more conversationally toned poems of a contemporary man who enjoys nature & going to bars. And it is through this man that we understand & come to believe that the original creative energies are still in us & possible. The speaker is the manifestation of the mythic possibilities, & he lives the mythic possibilities through the allegories of the mythic poems. He is our possibility to create.

The weaving begins in the second poem, “If She Read It,”

   she’d like “Last Gods,”
         a poem by Galway Kinnell
                about sex on a rock in a river.

In the next poem, “Late at Night, When I Hear Some Distant Train,” we encounter the man living in the uncertainties of the allegories. In the opening poem, “Six Verses in Search of a Church,” a relationship was established with ocean & memory & with wind & thinking, but in the first five lines of “Late at Night, When I Hear Some Distant Train,” he is not sure whether he is in memory or in returning thought (the difference being that memory is experientially based, while returning thought is intellectually based).

   I half remember how the ocean sounds
   and half remember driftwood, scattered rain.

   Maybe it’s the desert – air so thin
   that things keep echoing and echoing

   up the canyons, out across the dark.

But eventually there is a resolution, an understanding in the second section of the poem:

   It’s like I’m half and looking for the rest.
   Or where there should be ocean, there’s a lake.

   Or maybe what’s past is only gone not lost
   and always washes up again, comes back

   taking the waves’ slow way around. Why not? –

A little later on in “If the Language of the Night Isn’t Sex,” he gets deliberately into the natural urge to create.
After pondering the title’s question for 14 lines & then assuming for argument’s sake that the language of night isn’t sex:

   so much of the night sky is empty
   we have to fill it with something. . . .

   What do you say we go make a constellation?
   What do you say we make two?

And in that ellipsis & stanza break he hears the title of poem & he recalls the previous poem’s (“This Is One Sexy Planet”) penultimate stanza:

   Or that yesterday dances with tomorrow
         and we’re all of us moving
               through the spaces in between. . . .

and realizes in the emptiness, the aloneness, that there is the human need to create, even if it is not sex. (It is a realization an erotic existentialist (if such a person exists) might have — if sex doesn’t exist, you still have to create.)

After a few more poems, we get to one of my favorite poems written in our new millennium — the seven-page poem,
“The Mother of the Mountains.” In this poem, all the weavings of myth & the contemporary, the thinking & the memory
& the ability to create come together. It is in this masterful poem where comparisons between nature & humans are revealed.

   It is here, in this dreaming, that the Mother of the Mountains
   is like us: full of love and aloneness.

It is in this poem that he & we learn that the union between humans & nature is possible, that we can communicate with nature, that memory & thinking can be one, & that creation is of importance. The poem & book ends:

   When people remember what counts most,
   they measure time by their children.


   tell the Mother of the Mountains something new.

   Tell her your story if you have to,
   but make it tie the river to the wind

   and lift up the green smell of moss
   and the memory of someone’s body

   you never got to touch
   and the jumping drum of your heart. . . .

   If one day you see a heron – a long blue stillness
   at the water’s edge, or a blue impossible flying –

   then the Mother of the Mountains did listen.
   And her answer is yes.




Carney, Rob. This Is One Sexy Planet. Grand Junction, CO: Frank Cat Press, 2005.//


Laura McCullough’s Speech Acts

A version of this may appear in Redactions: Poetry & Poetics issue 14.

Laura McCullough's Speech ActsBlack Lawrence Press has released another fine collection of poems. This time it’s Laura McCullough’s Speech Acts – an exploration into the language and experience of poetry. Yes, language. And McCullough deliberately makes poems about language. Oh, but they are fun, and they aren’t some intellectual bullying of the reader or some masturbatory ego-stroking of the poet’s cleverness. No. These are fun and enjoyable while maintaining integrity.

I am getting bored of the intellectual poetry that is void of experience, which is why I like McCullough’s newest collection,  because her poems can be intellectual while maintaining an experience.

The first section of Speech Act does this well by being sexy and showing the sexiness of language. It’s as if the first section announces to the reader: “Pay attention to language in this book. I’ll give you sex up front, but come the second section I’m gonna give you more.  I’m going to give you poems in the second section that are strong on their own, and if you read the first section, they will gain new depths. I’m telling you something more is going on down below. Dear reader, you will go down on these poems like you are going down to perform fellatio on the poem, and the poems may be ‘more than the mouth can handle’, and in a good way.” Even if you didn’t know that, you’d realize it in the poem “Crucifix Block” in the second section, but I’m getting ahead of myself, so let me explain.

The first section of the book is about language and the sexiness of language, but it’s also about the consciousness of language or the self-consciousness of language and of reading a poem.

What Burns 

I want to kiss the mouth of another
   language, feel the small muscles electric
and tingling around their vowels,
   the consonants swallowed, the silences
like small maps of a small
   engine that rests on both of our lips.
Chomsky said language
   is too difficult to deduce by attention
to repetitions, but I will
   repeat this exercise until your tongue
feels like my own and the spittle
   of apprehension collects in the pit
of my mind. Your reason
   isn't all I care for; when you speak, the air
is shaped into momentary volcanoes,
   the ash drifting into my eyes, blinding me,
so I can finally see vowels
   that float in the air like ash, like snow,
searing and momentarily illuminated.

On a sexy level, that’s like getting to first base, but I think the point is clear. The poems examine language and use the lens of sex to zoom in even closer, especially the home run poems, oo la la.

In the second section, the self-consciousness disappears. The poems become more experiential, like “Crucifix Block.” In this poem not only do you symbolically go into the unconsciousness by diving underwater with the whales and holding your breath of consciousness, but the poem moves with leaps, the kind of leaping I like and celebrate – the haiku leap, the jumping-with-sensation leap. The type of leaping that can’t occur if you are self-conscious. And there are two of these leaps in this poem.

Crucifix Block 

Today, the humpbacks have made a comeback,
   and still we know so little about them.
We don't know why they hold their breath
   and go still underwater or why they
gather off Hawaii; we do know only males
   sing the famous songs and change them each year.
We know the males rise up out
   of the water, their bodies tall, the tails submerged,
their fins extended like the cross.
   Scientists say this is to block other males from
charging a female, but I don't buy it,
   it's too grand, too high out of the water, the mating
dances far below. Whales live
   in a world they hold their breaths to survive in.
We breathe the details of our lives like oxygen
   isn't the endangered species it is.
A fog has rolled in, and someone's been disappeared,
   no charges filed, and none of us
are singing, writing letters, or even complaining at all.

These leaps are so below my consciousness, so below self-consciousness that I can’t quite explicate what the poem is trying to say, but I can tell you what the poem is doing. The first part reminds us of how the humpback whale almost went extinct. It shows us how the whale breathes, and it shows us sex acts – sex acts explained by a scientist and McCullough. The scientists give a practical answer as to why the whale behaves as it does – it’s a mating ritual. McCullough, however, gives us a grander explanation, a religious explanation. She explains it as a ritual of joy. A rising up to the gods, almost. A holy hosanna. Look at that those two lines:

We know the males rise up out
   of the water, their bodies tall, the tails submerged,

There are three prepositions in a row interrupted by a line break. You might think McCullough should get rid of “up” as that is implied by “rise.” But read it again, aloud, and with imagination. The “up” makes the humpback whale rise higher. Then higher still with “their bodies tall.”

Humpback Whale – "Crucifix Block"

The males rise up out / of the water their bodies tall, the tails submerged / their fins extended like the cross.

I can’t remember when I’ve seen three prepositions strung together like that while being successful and adding to the poem’s doings and meanings.

But back to the leaps. Back to the experiential and unself-consiousness. The first leap happens with:

We breathe the details of our lives like oxygen
   isn’t the endangered species it is.

The poem makes a leap from whale world to human world. What makes the leap work is the oxygen, the breathing. It connects the first part of the poem with the second part of the poem. The scientist helps the bridge, too, since he is human, but he is the self-consciousness, the self-conscious world we’ve been in. At the same time, he is in the whale world. That leap takes us into the human world.

The next leap takes us into the unknown, the lost, the “disappeared.” It’s almost like a movie scene, too. This is the experiential. The lack of self-consciousness. These last three lines feel right. The poem closes shut tightly and snugly. My body and extremities feel good about the poem. They embrace the poem. They say, “Yes. I get it. Wonderful.” My conscious mind, however, is a bit lost. It can’t seem to explicate. It thinks, “Maybe it has something to do with singing and rituals. Does singing and writing and complaining do something. Are the whales not extinct because they sing or because we wrote about them or because we complained when they were almost extinct and then they were brought back from extinction?”

Is this how the book works? Is this “the ars poetica hidden in the agenda”? Will the third section end up:

            [. . .] breaking the sky
   into component parts. Everything
is reanimated, but, like some crazy
   reincarnation, you can't ever be
sure if the original thing is retained
                                               ("Beauty, I Said")

The third section moves like good poems do – just moving in and out of consciousness and unconsciousness, moving in and out of water, in and out of breathing, in and out of sex, as she says in  “Animal Engine:”

   "It's the third element that matters, the one that
completes the equation, that computes to love."
   This engine gone still hums hot underneath us.

Where “engine” is sex and the momentum generator of the poems. The question of the third section:

            [. . .] Is
            there such a thing as beauty if we're
           not aware of it? ("Beauty, I Said")

After reading the second section, the answer is “Of course there is.”

“So that’s, cool,” my inner voice says. “There’s a dialectical movement between the sections, but do the poems work?”

Yes. And what’s important is that there is something new happening in these poems. A new type of engagement for the reader with the poems. It’s an engagement that explores both the experiential and self-conscious involvement of the reader. The poems are indeed Speech Acts. They are poems that act on you and ask you to act back.

These poems show how McCullough’s:

[. . .] body was fertile, then not,
then fecund, again, with language. There's           
a connection between the throat           
and vagina.
                                          ("What Can Happen in the Dunes")

I feel like this is a significant collection of poems for McCullough as she seems to be on the edge of doing something wonderful. These poems are her exploring poetry, her poetry, and her speech acts. The exploration is fun, and Speech Acts is a fine book of poems that I recommend to any reader or writer of poetry. I also await her next book, where I think she will really create and share something truly wonderful. That’s a tip to you Black Lawrence Press – Make sure you hold on to Laura McCullough because her next collection of poems is sure to be something even more special than this collection.//


Keetje Kuipers’ Beautiful in the Mouth

Beautiful in the MouthA version of the following review will appear in the next issue of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics.

Often with a collection of poems these days, especially those that win a contest, the collection is filled with the best poems the author wrote in the last year or two or three or five. This is fine. But give me a themed book, oh, now there’s joy. Or give me Keetje Kuipers’ newest collection Beautiful in the Mouth (BOA, 2010), winner of the A. Poulin Jr. Poulin Prize. This book has three main self-contained themes, love, sex, and death, and they all intertwine.

That finally coming to love you
has been a hard-earned pleasure,
so that every time you enter me
I want to cry out, Bury me,
bury me. Put me in the ground.


Further, what this book does within its three intertwining themes is to create associations within itself.

Sure any collection of poems has associations, but they are just happenstance, an accident, which is fine if you can see the largeness of the author’s synchronicities. But usually what happens is similar to what I. A. Richards says in Science and Poetry, “over whole tracts of natural emotional response we are to-day like a bed of dahlias whose sticks have been removed,” where sticks are beliefs or connections to something other or that move “towards something other than ourselves” (“Driving Back into the City”), and without the sticks, they don’t extend. So the associations don’t attach to anything bigger. With Kuipers, however, these associations are immediate, mental, psychological, emotional, unique, and everyday for her and at the same time connecting to something larger – love:

you’ve become the man I build
every poem from

(“My First Love Returns from Iraq”)

Plus, her poems are dictated by the needs of her associations.

What am I talking about?

Let’s look at one example, “boats.” What are your associations? Okay. Now, let’s look at what Beautiful in the Mouth does.

I’m not asking for love anymore.
I don’t care if I never see a sailboat again.

These are the last lines from “Fourth of July,” and after you read these lines, you feel she’s sick of love, or she doesn’t want to go on any more journeys of love. Something like the those two insights or both are the initial feelings. And there’s an association between love and sailboats, which is unique to her. But then you recall the first use of “boat” in the earlier poem, “Driving Back to the City”:

And our thighs rocking together like two moored boats in the night, all those tender lights held
tight in their hulls.

Now that’s sex. (A brief aside – there are a lot of sexy and erotic poems in this collection, and some are quite arousing.) Shortly after you finish the “Fourth of July,” the mind yokes together the two boat associations – boat, love, ooh, sex, yes. The associations that were unique to the poet are now becoming the readers.

In another sex poem that’s about love, “You Loved a Woman Once,” another “boat” appears, and it associates with tenderness. The boat associations are filling up with passengers of love, sex, and tenderness. She’s creating the boat’s associations through accretion. It’s not just the typical one-to-one association arising from a happenstance of synchronicity. The “boat” also incorporates despair:

                         academe gone down
like a fast ship on fire

(“Why I Live West of the Rockies”)

Then you encounter the sadness of the associative boat:

I think I’ve been sad for a long time now –
crying in my coffee near the Place des Vosges,
taking pictures of toy sailboats at the Jardin

(“Ne Me Quitte Pas”)

This boat is getting heavy with love, sex, tenderness, despair, and sadness. The boat appears to be love and everything that comes with it.

In fact, the further I get into the book, especially the last death-filled section, the more I hope for the boat to appear. The more I expect the boat to appear. The more I need the boat to appear. Finally, it does. After 13 pages without seeing the boat, when I need it most amid all the death, the boat appears twice in the penultimate poem, “What Afterlife.” In the first occurrence, it’s a metaphor for death and dying.

I think of my fifth summer
the day I lost one shoe
over the side of a sailboat,
it’s sinking away from me

into the untreadable dark.

When you get to the poem’s second occurrence of “sailboat,” you understand what she meant when she said, “I don’t care if I never see a sailboat again.” So much of the book and its self-created, ever-expanding associations come to conclusion in “What Afterlife,” especially the last few stanzas.

Kuipers’ boat is loaded with the intertwining associations of love, sex, tenderness, despair, sadness, and death. After successive reads, you see, hear, and feel how they are all one. You get to ride on Kuipers’ boat and feel it rock and sway.

In fact, you could argue that the boat is the metaphor for Beautiful in the Mouth. In fact:

You said the boat was her shoulder in your mouth, even when
you couldn’t bear her epaulets of freckles, even when nothing
but a body would do and there was no body but her own.

(“You Loved a Woman Once”)

The more I read Beautiful in the Mouth the more I notice how complicated it is. It’s as complicated as it is to be alive and just as beautiful.

This is a good year for poetry, so far, and it’s building up to be like 2005, and Keetje Kuipers’ Beautiful in the Mind is a reason why.//

The Cave (Winner of The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013.)

The Cave

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