With Hand


An Amorous Couple in a Landscape, Jan Steen, 1626-1679

From The Brooklyn Rail:

What makes sex so interesting to write and read about is not the two or three lines, paragraphs, or pages of coitus, but what comes directly before, after, and in between them.

It is rare, in an anthology this voluminous, for the work to remain so consistently intriguing from beginning to end. What comes to the surface is the breadth of compassion each writer displays for the contradictions and varieties of life, and the characters at play in it. The book is roughly divided into thematic sections; it moves from the human condition, reflected in sex, to the mundanity of the act, to the opposite of erotica, deviant behavior, sexual violence, some verse, and finally essays about sex or sexual behavior (my least favorite section).

“Maupin Row,” by editor Ron Kolm, depicts an educated couple living in a redneck shack that’s too cold for intimacy in winter. Through resourcefulness and sheer desperation, the couple turns to date nights in their pickup. The male narrator writes: “We finally came up with an ingenious solution to solve our sexual woes; we’d hop into our half-ton pickup truck, drive to the East Tennessee State University parking lot, and fuck in the cab while keeping the engine running and the heater on.”

A classic line of sexual ennui comes from a short stanza in Hortensia’s verse, “Another Night In Gotham”:

After i come and
Before he does, i get bored

Rami Shamir’s dissolute characters barely have a chance to come up for air in their spin cycle full of dashed hopes and dreams, as one character comes face to face with the reality of just having had sex with an HIV-positive partner, and muses: “life sucks out the thunder and the flash really really quick.”

J. Boyett continues to keep things real in “Names Are Removed” by deftly portraying a landscape of sex and love, a place where memories and images are disjointed and brief, overlaid, on top of one another in a kaleidoscope of missed opportunities, aborted launchings, and regret. At the end of a contemplative jag, Boyett’s character muses: “I feel things about J. But the odds are that, by the time you read this, I won’t feel very much about her anymore at all.”

Sex and gender are given a humorous send up in Chavisa Woods’s poem,: “What Are You Some Kind of Angry Dyke or Something?” which includes such pearls as:

When I’m fucking a woman
With my hand
I’m just a lesbian

When I’m fucking a man
Who used to be a woman
I’m a queer

And when I’m fucking a woman
Who used to be a man
I’m probably really straight

“Size Matters”, Nava Renek, The Brooklyn Rail