HARLOT by Jill Alexander Essbaum
In book and CD forms
(No Tell Books, Reston, VA, 2007)
The CD version of Harlot is a condensed version of the book, it contains about half the pieces. It was extremely helpful to have both formats at hand. I don't think I would have been as appreciative of the work if there hadn't been the opportunity to hear the author speak it.
One upshot of seeing and hearing these texts is that for all their poemynesses (end rhymes, for example) I'm inclined to focus on their performative aspects. Some of these pieces do and some them don't pop on the page, but when Essbaum reads them they come alive in delicious ways.
What I want to say is that these works often read, almost in spite of themselves, like short dramatic monologues. They could and should be staged: these Harlot Monologues. They are all in fact pretty stagey. I mean that in a good way.
What I think unites Harlot is its unrelenting focus on the drama of sexual situations--on the way that they feel from the inside, given just a little distance.
Listen to these lines about a threesome:
She is Aphrodite. You are Priapus.
I am Impropriety in one of her kinky disguises.
This does not surprise us as I fondle the sway of her apple-
round breast, as our limbs take to mingling
like party guests, cock in the one hand, tail in another.
We bleed into each other like watercolors
Writing is a game of appearances, disappearances--it dances among the holograms called Desire. Jill Alexander Essbaum is an able navigator of the terrain.
Tom Beckett is the author of Unprotected Texts: Selected Poems 1978-2006 and Steps: A Notebook (both available from Meritage Press). He also curates the E-X-C-H-A-N-G-E-V-A-L-U-E-S interview series (which is available in print from Otoliths).