Book Review by Elya Braden, Assistant Editor
A student undergoing a word-association test was asked why a snowstorm put him in mind of sex. He replied frankly: “because everything does.” Honor Tracy
Welcome to the world of EROTIC, where flowers, rain, mudguards on a 16-wheeler, a dog leash, a crystal chandelier, a yucca tree and even a Swiss Army knife all seethe with sex. From the opening poem, Handy, Alexis Rhone Fancher introduces a poetic narrator who boldly embraces her desires: “I wanted to use you for sex. Isn’t that what all men dream of?” She is powerful and hungry, eager to devour all that life has to offer as if men and women were a sexual smorgasbord and she a plate ready to be filled.
“I almost grabbed a fistful of you, crammed you in like food.” This theme continues in Tonight I Will Dream of Angelica, My First Ex-Girlfriend, Who Taught Me the Rules of the Road… whom the poet calls “Ms Angel Food” and in Eat, in which the object of the poet’s affection has a smile that “makes me gluttonous, ravenous, makes me eat gelato, and pomme frites, lick pasta with prosciutto in red sauce from the hollow of your throat…” These poems will make your mouth water, make you crave… everything. These poems embody the sexual philosophy of the Marquis de Sade:
Sex is as important as eating or drinking and we ought to allow the one appetite to be satisfied with as little restraint or false modesty as the other.
And, Ms. Fancher would add, we ought to be able to write about it with a similar lack of restraint, which she does.
Reading these poems, I am also reminded of the difference between art and porn. Like the difference between the erotic photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe and an issue of Playboy, these poems elevate sex and desire to fine art. Yes, there are nipples and breasts, lips and mouths, cocks and vaginas (though, as the poet insists: I Prefer Pussy). But there is also visual art as in White Flag, an ekphrastic poem inspired by Edward Hopper’s painting “Morning Sun,” and the perhaps more prosaic image of words scrawled on a bathroom wall which inspires her poem: Gold Star Lesbian.
In Tonight We will Bloom for One Night Only, the poet and her lover become a garden of exotic flowers: moonflowers, mock orange, night phlox, Epiphyllum Oxypetalum, cereus, frangipani, primrose, plumeria, night-blooming jasmine, and more. A mouthful of lusciously sensuous sounds that soar with a musicality that leaves us, as the final word of the poem suggests: “singing.”
Another of the many delights of this collection is the inclusion of several of Ms. Fancher’s photographs. Many of these photos detail the everyday wonders of her once-neighborhood of downtown LA (aka DTLA): a doorway graffitied with the image of Andy Warhol, a lost girl, the sexy waitress at the local diner, club kids, rain, all imbued with a sexy noir quality that punctuates and enhances the poetry, in an ongoing dialog, answered by poems referencing photographs or photography such as Portrait of a Woman’s Vagina as an Aerial Photograph and Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera. Is Ms Fancher a poet-photographer or a photographer-poet? Yes. Her photographs are poetic and her poems, with their wealth of visual details, work like photographs with words as pixels.
The poet also delights in playing with poetic form, as in her Murakami Cento Love Poems, turning text from Haruki Murakami’s “Norwegian Wood” into three poems about love and, of course, sex, taking on the persona of a man to explore another kind of sexuality. She demonstrates her facility with haiku in The Seven Stages of Love—An L.A. Haiku-Noir Sequence. EROTIC also includes prose poems and several stand-out flash fiction pieces, showing off Ms. Fancher’s versatility as a writer.
One of my favorite forms she employs is the “list poem,” as in How I Lost My Virginity to Michael Cohen (title poem of her first collection) and Casual Cruelty, one of her group of “sister poems” in which we feel the push/pull, love/hate of all sisters, the poet’s desire for closeness even as they compete for men, for clothes, for youth, for their mother’s love. Sometimes this competition goes south for the poet, as in when your mother convinces you to take in your homeless younger sister…
She will date your boyfriend. She’ll do it better than you ever did. … Your sister will borrow your clothes, and look better in them than you ever did. … When you complain, your mother will tell you it’s about time you learned to share. … No matter how many times you remind her, she will one day forget to lock the gate; your cat and your lawn chairs will disappear. … Your mother will wash her hands of the pair of you, then get cancer and die. …
This poem, like many others in the collection, reminds us, that even while life is a sexual buffet, the piper must still be paid, and the cost is high. Yet still, the poet tells us, we are all human, all apt to tread on the fingers and feet of those we love. So, she enjoins us at the end of the poem:
Forgive your sister as she has forgiven you.
We are all, these poems remind us, saints and sinners, hungry for love, food, sex, and forgiveness in equal measure. EROTIC, through its lens of the sexual and sensual, shines a brilliant light on what it means to be human by a master of not just poetry or sex, but life.
Book Review by Elya Braden, Assistant Editor
Link to Erotic on Bookshop.org
Link to Erotic on Amazon
Alexis Rhone Fancher’s Website
Tinderbox Poetry review of The Dead Kid Poems book
The Dead Kid Poems on Amazon
Previous Gyroscope Review Book reviews:
The Only Light Coming In by Joseph Hardy
Another View on Serving by Kari Gunter-Seymour (review by Constance Brewer)
Another View on Serving by Kari Gunter-Seymour (Review by Kathleen Cassen Mickelson)
Blackbird: Poems by Laura Grace Weldon
Moonglow on Mercy Street by John Biscello