Review: Concupiscent Consumption

Concupiscence

A new collection of erotic poetry, brought to my attention by the author, is available at Amazon entitled Concupiscent Consumption. The poetry is by LindaAnn LoSchiavo and the poems are written in blank verse, a rarity, and that makes me keen to review them. Not only do I get to discuss the content of the poems, but the abilities of the poet as well.

Let’s start with the first poem. LoSchiavo sets the tone with intimations and hints of childhood sadomasochism.

"Experiencing pizzichilli young—
All Neapolitan adults intent
On giving children sharp affection: kissed
With possibility of pain required—
I learned to squirm, becoming fruit, firm, ripe,
And ready to be pinched on shameless buds
Called cheeks. Italians like operatic
Intensity: emotions leaving marks..."

LoSchiavo isn’t going to start off with the usual erotic clichés—heat, fires, burning, floods, sparks, electricity, etc… She starts with pizzichilli—sharp little kisses. One imagines the nip of teeth but LoSchiavo only describes the kisses as leaving marks. Our erotic experiences as children, influenced by other children and adults for better or worse isn’t usually something that’s discussed in an erotic context. To do so, even when not in an erotic context, often leads to politically and culturally motivated accusations that have nothing to do with the actual experience. But self-censorship is it’s own kind of violence.

Interestingly, LoSchiavo’s poem will leave the reader confused. She will go on to describe the kisses as “cockpit bombs” that “assaults kids” who “try escaping yet endure”, “confused from then, torn, victimized.” This is after LoSchiavo has described herself as “becoming” fruit, firm and ripe—erotically charged imagery—and as ready to be pinched on “shameless buds”. Having gotten that far, more than a few readers will wonder if she means nipples, but in the next line she ham-handedly adds “called cheeks”, so ham-handed that one wonders if she’s correcting the reader or correcting herself. But the whiplash continues. After describing herself as being victimized, she nevertheless asks if and when she should live “for opportunities like this” [italics being my own]. There will surely be those who would characterize this behavior as typical of sexual abuse. On the other hand, one’s first erotic experiences can be ambiguous without there being any abuse. The erotic tension between awakening desire and ambivalence toward the same is a theme that runs through a number of LoSchiavo’s poems.

The overall impression, at least in the first poem, is of a poet not quite in control of her subject matter or poetic technique. She writes poetically rather than writing poetry. And one may write an ambiguous poem deliberately, but there’s a thin line between the ambiguous and confusion. Is one supposed to treat this poem as an erotic poem, signaled by the conventional erotic imagery of “fruit, firm and ripe”, or as something more troubling?

Part of the poem’s confusion arises, I think, from the awkward blank verse and poor punctuation. LoSchiavo will leave out articles and syntactic connectives, or simply opt for poor grammar if it achieves an iambic line: “With possibility” instead of “With [the] possibility”;  “from then” instead of “from then [on]”; “mind and soul reenter fate’s… pain… know compromised enjoyment” instead of “mind and soul reenter fate’s…pain… know[ing that] compromised enjoyment”. This sort of awkwardness adds to an unfortunate impression of hesitance, uncertainty and impatience—qualities that, to a greater or lesser extent, are found in the poems that follow—and they lend the poems the feeling of sketches and first drafts. An example of this might be the poem Vagina as Orchid Boat.

Chinese call the vagina “orchid boat,”
The blotchy darkness universal man
First changes places through on win-lose seas
Of birth, still wearing this name on his tongue,
Air-tight, invading dreams’ closed crescent eyes...

The first stanza almost reads like notes for further development and I get lost in LoSchiavo’s gnomic grammar. What does “first changes places through on win-lose seas/ Of birth” mean?

All that said, writing traditional verse isn’t easy (and good for her for trying). She avoids the stock, clichéd imagery that so often mars erotic poetry while infusing her poetry with an impish sense of humor. Invitation to a Kiss, one of her best poems in my opinion (along with Soda Jerk), begins:

Some kisses are consumer errors. You’d
Try taking them back if you could. I’m hooked
On kisses warming me like cognac, poured
On my lips, heat transferring. [...]

Flashes of humor are found throughout her poems along with refreshingly playful but also charged associations.

All winter, fig trees huddle under tarps,
Enjoying long pajama parties, stark
Naked, their branches tied, unable to stretch.
This hibernation—their adolescence—
Creates desired sweetness through its stem. [...]

~ Sticky Figs

I say charged because, and perhaps not intentionally, the imagery may remind the reader of LoSchiavo’s first poem. With pajama parties, the reader is drawn back into the world of childhood, of nakedness, of tied “branches” or bondage, and the inability to stretch. The first poem’s themes of childhood, the erotic awakening and confusion of sadomasichism, matures into an adolescence desiring that “sweetness through its stem”.

LoSchiavo’s poems The Baby-Sitting and The Girl Can’t Help It turn this tension into a source of eroticism in its own right. Clearly, in The Baby-Sitting, “love’s stupendous spectacle” is not where the erotic tension lies, but rather (and presumably) in someone else’s “master bedroom” with someone else’s child sleeping down the hall. On the other hand, the poet doesn’t clarify who she’s sleeping with or when, only that “we stayed up late” when baby-sitting. For all we know she could be referring to the baby’s father; and there again a kind of ambiguity arises. The reader might well question the reliability of the poet/narrator. Was this really love? How old was she? And how old was he? LoSchiavo may have intended none of this, but intentionally or not, the gnomic qualities of her poetry make what’s not said as important as what is.

Because it immediately follows The Baby-Sitting, LoSchiavo’s poem The Girl Can’t Help It almost seems like a commentary on the former poem.

Across America, most mothers hissed,
“Don’t be like her!” A movie star famed for
Her simmering stoked sex appeal was not
Most women’s norm in 1956.

The poet is unapologetic and the lovemaking, both public (in a drive-in) and private (inside the car) could almost be a metaphor for the book itself—both revealing, “as car springs swayed, we gave it away”, and ambiguous by virtue of being in the car. The reader, to an extent, must draw their own conclusions as to what’s going on in LoSchiavo’s book. At moment’s she’s explicit, but mostly one has the feeling she would rather maintain some distance with poetic gestures, figurative language and such stock erotic imagery as is found in Kinetic Kissing. Though that’s also the most interesting facet of the book—a flawed woman writing flawed poetry that’s full of ambiguity.

And the whole can be read as a sort of autobiography beginning and in childhood, with the eroticism wakened by ambiguously bruising kisses, and ending with the unambiguous My Dominatrix:

He’s staring at my breasts. They’re needling him,
Restrained and forced to obey whips and canes,
Skyscraper pain controlling time lust topped.
Men tell me that I’m good at this. [....]

Where she has fully realizing the erotic awakenings experienced in childhood. She is now the one tying the branches, the one restraining, leaving marks, and drawing the desired sweetness from the stem.

All in all, I would call LoSchiavo’s short collection of poems the work of a poet acquainted with the tropes of poetry, with meter, figurative language and metaphor, but not one who has mastered them—which isn’t to say her poems don’t have their inspired moments: “Lovemaking is the smile sewn through my skin,” or “my willow soul seeks moisture under dirt”. These are fine lines. Also, I think her collection will appeal less to those seeking explicit eroticism and more to those interested in the interior landscape of a woman’s sexual awakening and maturation.

Your words and steady gaze have made me blush.
I drop five dollars in your jar and leave
Without my shake because I’m staying here
Two more weeks and imagining how we
Will taste right after, mixed in with the dark. [...]

~ Soda Jerk
  • The Book One poem per page, nice font, and readable.
  • Comparisons This book compares to Libidacoria by 4play by Kristie LeVangie in that these books may be thought of as autobiographical or semi-autobiographical.
  • You and your Lover Trying too hard to be poetry and literary to set any fires, but if you’re fantasizing about tying your lover up or down, you will find a kindred spirit.
  • Embarrassment The beautiful cover will make it obvious to everyone on the bus and subway what you’re reading.

Sex ♥♥♥
Art N/A
Romance ♥♥♥
Look & Feel ♥♥♥♥♥
Poetry ♥♥♥
Index N/A

The Friendship: Wordsworth & Coleridge

Wordsworth&ColeridgeI’ve been reading about Wordsworth and Coleridge —  gaining perspective on their works and accomplishments. (I also read a biography on the friendship of Byron and Shelley which I’ll talk about in a later post — the curious thing is that I ended up disliking Shelley and liking Byron, and that was completely unexpected.) My dislike for Wordsworth, unfortunately, has only been reinforced. Now, not only does Wordsworth’s poetry exasperate me, but I find his person (at least as revealed in Sisman’s biography) more than a little dislikable. I don’t blame Sisman. He treats Wordsworth equitably, but it’s hard to ignore the man’s narcissism, self-centered’ness and the execrable way he treated Coleridge. The “friendship”, after all, appears to have been predicated on both mens’ idolatry and love of Wordsworth (and for  that, Coleridge doesn’t go Scott-free).

Wordsworth was prolific and produced poetry with apparent ease. Coleridge, initially, produced almost as much poetry as Wordsworth, but struggled to a degree that Wordsworth didn’t. Writing didn’t come as easily; and Coleridge was also afflicted with self-doubt (and self-recrimination) in a way that Wordsworth never was. As the friendship progressed, Coleridge fêted Wordsworth’s ego by calling him the era’s great genius and comparing him to Milton, which in some quarters was higher praise than to be called the “next Shakespeare”. On the other hand, Coleridge was considered the far greater poet by his peers and the general public. He was an extempore speaker of genius. He possessed a photographic memory and could recite from memory any piece of writing having read it once. Coleridge’s impression on his peers is hard to overstate.

And so Coleridge’s self-doubt and ceaseless self-recrimination is especially hard to swallow. I, myself, consider Coleridge to be the better and greater poet, despite his minuscule output (as compared to Wordsworth). In my opinion, there’s nothing in all of Wordsworth’s output that compares to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Christabel, or Kubla Khan. The Rime was initially published alongside Wordsworth’s poems in a joint publication called Lyrical Ballads. The critical reception of the anthology wasn’t good and was especially hard on Wordsworth’s poetry (Wordsworth was a nobody in those days); and Wordsworth didn’t take criticism well. Sometime later, though, Wordsworth and Coleridge decided to reissue the Ballads. Despite their poor critical reception, they continued to sell (if not as well as they would have liked). And this is where it gets hard to rationalize Wordsworth’s behavior as anything other than cruel (or not to characterize him as a self-serving liar — plain and simple).

The initial plan for the reissue was to include The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Christabel, for which Colerdige had now written two parts. Wordsworth and his sister were initially ‘Exceedingly delighted with the second part of “Christabel”‘. (p. 320) Or at least they pretended to be exceedingly delighted, for the very next day Wordsworth decided to exclude it from the reissue. Not only that, but as plans developed, Wordsworth informed Coleridge that he would be publishing the joint venture without Coleridge’s name on it. Furthermore, Wordsworth would be taking any and all proceeds, income, money from their publication, despite Coleridge’s Rime being one of the most extensive poems in the collection. Wordsworth had concluded, self-servingly and with little to no evidence, that it was Coleridge’s poetry that had sunk the first collection (not his own). What did Wordsworth substitute for Christabel?

“Meanwhile, Wordsworth was writing a new poem to fill the vacant place at the end of the second volume, ‘Micheal’ was the very antithesis of ‘Christabel’, a pastoral poem evoking the sturdy qualities of the sheep farmers among whom he was now living.”

La! Sheep farmers. There you have it — one of our language’s great poems traded for a didactic poem on sheep farmers. It makes me want to climb into a time machine to  throttle him. Worse yet, Wordsworth, having deluded himself into thinking that his rightful genius was unrecognized solely because of The Rime, persuaded Coleridge to rewrite the poem . Coleridge, by now thoroughly pickled in the Kool-aid of Words-worship, obediently complied. The rewrite prompted the following from Charles Lamb:

“I am sorry that Coleridge has christened his Ancient Marinere ‘a poet’s Reverie’ — it is as bad as Bottom the weaver’s declaration that he is not a lion but only the scenical representation of a Lion. What new idea is gained by this title, but one subversive of all credit, which the tale should force upon us, of its truth? For me, I was never so affected with any human Tale. After first reading it, I was totally possessed with it for many days…” (p. 316)

According to Sisman, Lamb summed up his opinion of the second volume (of the original edition) stating “that no poem in it had struck him so forcibly as the ‘Ancient Mariner’, ‘The Mad Mother’ and ‘Tintern Abbey'”. This, apparently, is not what Wordsworth wanted to hear. Wordsworth’s riposte is lost, but not Lamb’s.

“The Post did not sleep a moment. I received almost instantaneously a long letter of four sweating pages from my Reluctant Letter-Writer, the purport of which was, that he was sorry his 2nd vol. had not given me more pleasure (Devil a hint did I give that it had not pleased me), and was ‘compelled to wish that my range of sensibility was more extended…’ — With a deal of Stuff about a certain Union of Tenderness and Imagination…” (p. 317)

Then Lamb goes on to mention a letter received by Coleridge:

“Coleridge, who had not written to me some months before, starts up from his bed of sickness, to reprove me for my hardy presumption: four long pages, equally sweaty and more tedious, came from him; assuring me that, when the works of a man of true genius, such as W undoubtedly was, do not please me at first sight, I should suspect the fault to lie ‘in me and not in them’, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. What am I to do with such people?” (p. 317)

Truth was, there were a number of Coleridge supporters who were very nearly fed up with Coleridge’s cult-like idolatry of Wordsworth, including Josiah Wedgwood, who had generously patronized Coleridge. Wedgwood’s intent had been to encourage Coleridge’s own literary efforts, not subsidize his subservience to Wordsworth. Even so, Coleridge spent the next several months editing the reissue of Lyrical Ballads, his thanks to Wordsworth for Wordsworth’s removing his poetry, his name, and any recompense. And as if Wordsworth weren’t delusional enough, he decided to preface Coleridge’s Rime with an apology to the reader:

“Wordsworth added an apologetic footnote to the ‘Ancient Mariner’ acknowledging the many criticisms of the poem, which ‘had indeed great defects’. He elaborated these defects before listing what he considered to be the merits of the poem. He claimed credit for its continued presence in the volume, ‘as the Author was himself very desirous that it should be suppressed.'” (p. 315)

Such was the gratitude Wordsworth extended to his “friend”. Sisman points out  that in another note written contemporaneously, Wordsworth “warmly defended his own poem “The Thorn” against the criticisms it had received”. Wordsworth’s interest in poetry that wasn’t his own was marginal, if nonexistent. (It’s said that Wordsworth died with an unopened copy of Keats’ poetry in his library.) While Coleridge devoted his time and energy to furthering Wordsworth’s career at every opportunity, Wordsworth’s thanked him by snubing his “friend’s” poetry and career (and especially if he thought it could benefit his own). Such was Wordsworth’s almost sociopathic narcissism. In fairness to Wordsworth, Coleridge seemed to “cheerfully” go along with it, but this was not the decision-making of a healthy man. It’s clear that Coleridge suffered from psychological issues that would gradually degrade his health and mind, manifested, in part, by an addiction to the pain killer laudanum. Wordsworth, in later years, would express deep concern over Coleridge’s health, but one questions whether his concern was for an erstwhile friend or an erstwhile admirer.

Sisman sums up the waning of their friendship this way:

“Wordsworth apologists have claimed that Coleridge accepted the rejection of ‘Christabel’ ‘cheerfully’, and quote his own self-justificatory letters afterwards in support of this argument. They cite Dorothy’s comment on Coleridge’s next visit to Dove Cottage; ‘we were very merry’. But Dorothy, though very fond of Coleridge, was blind to the possibility that her brother might be at fault. And Coleridge tried to put a brave face  on his disappointment. In reality he had suffered a mortal blow; his spirit was broken; he would never be the same man again. ‘I have too much trifled with my reputation,’ he reflected sadly to Poole….

Colridge concealed his distress from the Wordsworths, and perhaps they remained unaware of its true cause. His mind would no longer be wholly open to them. The wound continued to fester. As the years passed, entries critical of Wordsworth began to appear in Coleridge’s notebooks. Though the friendship remained warm a long time, it could never recover the same closeness…” (p. 325)

Sisman then concludes the chapter quoting Coleridge’s letter to Godwin:

“‘If I die, and the Booksellers will give you any thing for my Life, be sure to say — “Wordsworth descended on him, like the γνῶθι σεαυτόν from Heaven; by shewing to him what true Poetry was, he made him know, that he himself was no Poet.’

Colreridge’s confidence was in ruins. As he told Godwin, ‘the Poet is dead in me’. He was twenty-eight years old.” (p. 326)

This is a lot to lay at the feet of Wordsworth, but if Wordsworth had reciprocated with even a fraction of the generosity and encouragement devoted to him, Coleridge’s life and poetic output might have been very different. But my heart goes out to Coleridge. Everyman ColeridgeI feel like I’ve discovered his poetry all over again. I see myself in him: Frustrated by a feeling that I haven’t done enough, by self-doubt, self-recrimination, inadequacy. I wish I could have been Coleridge’s friend. His surreal poetry appeals to me like no other poet’s and I can’t help thinking we share a kindred spirit. I love his poem Frost at Midnight. I would trade a hundred pages of Wordsworth for another like it.

Wordsworth’s poetry, meanwhile, continues to leave me cold. As I wrote in a hotly contested previous post criticizing The Prelude, I find all but a handful of his poems tedious, repetitive, full of triviality and above all, exceedingly poorly written. At the close of Sisman’s book, the author quotes Coleridge once again, referring to Wordsworth, and this time the veil is lifted:

“Never does he turn round, or ponder, whether one has [already] understood him, but each word is followed by three, four, five syn- or homonyms, in a tiring sequence of eddies, and in this manner for three, four hours… I was repelled by the infinite number of dissonances which his way of thinking, feeling and arguing created with my own — the worst being his great worries over money and trifling money matters. Recently, all the shortcomings, which marked him in his early manly years, have increased considerably; the grand flourishings of his philosophic and poetic genius, have withered and dried. (p. 424)