Poems of desire fuse bodies and landscape
Geographies of a Lover
By Sarah de Leeuw. NeWest Press, 57 pp, softcover
Davie Street Translations
By Daniel Zomparelli. Talonbooks, 95 pp, softcover
In a supposedly sex-saturated culture, why is the writing about sex often so bad? Two up-and-coming books’ poetic take on sex alleviates this problem, producing highly stimulating results.
First, Sarah de Leeuw’s Geographies of a Lover takes heterosexual sex to places where it hasn’t gone since Elizabeth Smart’s 1945 By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, where the power of a woman’s sexual desire pulls a lover from across a continent. De Leeuw’s portrayal of a sexually charged but doomed relationship matches the intensity of Smart’s earlier work; de Leeuw, a Prince George–based poet, writes confidently from a woman’s perspective—here no timorous desire or uncertain gestures. No, this speaker fuses her body with the straightforwardness of landscape: “cracked frost-like dried cum on the line of my jawbone you fucked my mouth like the lake in winter it takes forever, before you blow open exhausted the ice expands enveloping water marks left in ochre fields where puddles have evaporated…” Desire here is matter-of-fact, but rendered using nature as a correlative for sex in an innovative way that pushes the trope beyond, say, flower petals opening.
Her structural device of titling the poems with latitude and longitude coordinates representing the various sites of the relationship reinforces the elemental connection between bodies and landscape. In “48025’46.04”N 123024’05.76”W” she writes, “your hands open me, breathing ocean and breaking horizons, phosphorescence spilling you’ve grasped the raw edge of my climax holding on with teeth and hands you haul yourself out and up onto dry land.” The harsher images are balanced by the driving open force of the speaker’s need for sex for its own sake. That the confidence of her perspective is surprising shows how few works there are of this type.
Daniel Zomparelli’s debut collection, Davie Street Translations, subjects gay male culture to a diverse range of perspectives, and doesn’t shy away from laying down a younger, more urban take on sexual behaviour, as in the poem “Faded”: “into sleep, drank tears, drank into your car, drank your way home, drank your sleep, drank your ass out of bed, drank the morning, drank forgotten, drank you.”
Zomparelli, the Vancouver-based creator of the ironically titled Poetry Is Dead literary magazine, constructs poems from a myriad of sources, using a host of poetic strategies, to make a pastiche collection that is both arresting and hard to put down. Letters of regret are formulated from text found on Craigslist, and poems use social-media sites as settings. In palindromes he reworks lines from other writers, and in blacked-out texts he reveals the societal dismissal of events like gay-bashing. Some poems provoke unspoken questions, like “If You Had”: “I don’t think we could date if you had, if you had, I would not think of having sex with you at all, if you had, I would guess you were a slut, if you had…” The omission pushes the meaning.
He renders Vancouver’s Davie Street through a series of hyper-contemporary references that create a sense of place line by line, until the accumulation aches because it produces such strong recognition. In “Tomorrow” he writes, “Friday we walk the streets of rain and grey coats the bottoms of pant legs. We can’t wash the grey out, we’ll have to bleach our eyes and teeth again. Put the coin on my lips, I’ll use it for laundry later.” These “translations” are utterly charming and disarming.