From Issue 3.5 - June 1997
What is kinky? In reviewing Between the Cracks, I knew my first job would be to define kink for myself and to decide whether I thought the work in the collection was actually kinky. I like the Webster New World Dictionary definition of kink: a mental twist; queer notion; whim; eccentricity.
I was thrilled to review an anthology of kinky verse because I think poetry is the perfect medium to use when playing with or breaking rules. The traditional, exacting nature of the rules of poetry make transgressions from it all the more dramatic. Thus, with a subject like kink, which is all about the unusual and the other in the first place, kinky poems are doubly perverse.
In editor Gavin Dillard's introduction, he writes about taking "the coward's way out" and "letting the work define itself," allowing the authors, for the most part, to define what is kinky. He then listed categories that he considers commonplace or amply covered elsewhere and not worth including in his anthology. His list included oral and anal sex, prostitution, sex in off-hand places, porno watching, phone sex, sex with minors, bestiality, and non-consensuality.
Upon reading the anthology, I came to agree with Dillard -- he did take the coward's way out. He includes poems that are erotic and pornographic, but few that are actually kinky. And they deal with subjects that he, himself, claims are commonplace: leather, lace, S/M, vampires, anal and oral sex, D&S, motorcycles, necrophilia, group sex, phone sex, sex with food, and so forth. The more I read, the more I felt cheated in terms of seeing some real live kink.
I will admit however, to one strong qualification, which is that kink, ultimately, is in the eye of the beholder. With that in mind, I encountered several examples of kink. Barbara Hauk's poem about bald men attacked the issue from angles I'd never seen before: "It is easier to imagine a bald man/ naked than anyone else: he has lost/ a right to clothes along with his hair./ Nude he stands with his cock in his hand./ Baldness is immoral." In "Deformity Lover," Felice Picano addresses sex with physically disabled men. He writes, "It's beauty/ not the grotesque he seeks./ But the only perfection he can see/ is that most apparently/ poignantly/ flawed... He's a hospital ward/ for the maimed young gods/ a port for anyone's surgical storm/ looking to fuck/ the human condition." Fred Voss has Ruth getting off to the fantasy of her fuck Dave dying in a motorcycle accident in "Motorcycle Babe."
Vytautas Pliura's prison poems were among my favorite in the anthology. From "In the Hands of the Enemy": "The Prisoner to be shot was tied to a post, I could/ hear the women washing their clothes in the Red River/ singing lullabies/ Hands tied behind my back/ I was lowered to my knees/ One boy shot his semen down my throat as he lurched with/ bullets./ Loins quivering/ it took him ten minutes to die./ It took them that long to free his fingers/ from my hair."
Without a doubt, Between the Cracks is a fantastic volume of work with some beautiful and sexy poetry. Fabulous moments include Gerry Gomez Pearlberg's "Happy Birthday Baby," describing the moment we discover that our body can be a vehicle for transcendence. Simon Sheppard does something similar with S/M as well in his soaring "Wing." Fun, effective plays on God and religion make their appearance in Belinda Subraman's "A Pentecostal Neighbor" and Picano's "Aches-Les-Bains." Other notables are pieces by Cuir Underground Assistant Editor Anna Bergman, Michael Lassell, John Giorno, Gary Goude, Thaddeus Rutkowski, Cheryl Townsend, Allen Ginsberg, D.H. Lawrence, Deena Metzger, Pat Califia, Trebor, Terry Wolverton, Pierre Charles Baudelaire, Stan Rice, and many others.
My biggest problem with the anthology is that it badly needs to be edited. While 322 pages of poetry isn't necessarily too long, it is here. Many poets have multiple poems published per section, when one would have sufficed. The excess dilutes rather than increases the impact of each poet's work. The organizational structure of the anthology is confusing. The pictures -- with the exception of that of Trebor -- are sometimes evocative and sometimes hot, but never kinky. There are 31 poems by Dillard plus one poem about him by another writer. This might have been more acceptable if had he published even half as many poems by any other author. Someone needs to bind Dillard's writing hand and teach him editng skills. Turn it into a scene -- hell, it could even be kinky!
Should you buy this book? Yes. For $20, it's a hot, expansive
collection of many of the best sex writers around.