Alex Webb takes a look at Sophie Hannah’s assembly of poetry in the language of love…
Sex poetry is something that I had never really thought about before.
I’ve read sex poems but as a sub-genre I was ignorant of the style. Sierra DeMulder had formed my prior knowledge with her When The Apocalypse Comes blending blunt, emotionless “shagging” with desperation to make love and having meaning thrust into her. When I saw Sophie Hannah’s collection in the local bookshop I decided that it was time to try it out properly; losing my sex-poetry virginity I guess you might say. Expecting something similar to DeMulder’s take on this style, I thought I had prepared myself for what this book had in store, but I was surprised to say the least.
The first chapter of the anthology, So Ask The Body, seemed to bear no reference to actual sex and I thought I was going to be let down by Hannah’s latest offering. However, after a slow and, frankly, dull first section the collection quickly picked up. I understood Cavafy’s He Asked About The Quality as a narrative about the gay handkerchief code, itself something interesting at a time where being gay was still taboo. This poem highlights the intricacies of courting a gay man and the intimacy that comes along with it. It was one of the collection’s highlights as it offered an interesting, and successful, take on ‘sex poetry’. Whitworth’s Love & Sex & Boys In Showers was a captivating piece whose meaning is still lost on me, even after numerous re-readings. However, it is this that made me engage with the piece and want to understand it.
Holland’s Anal Obsessive paints a jealous woman who was warned by a past lover that he would hurt her and leave her for another woman. The bitter words spoken by the narrator translate well and highlights the belief that ‘old people have boring sex’ held by a lot of our youth. The standout poem of the whole anthology was Leo Cookman’s Haikus To Fuck To which presented a blunt and brutal take on sex that was very persuasive: I believed everything Cookman had to say. It showcased the crude nature of sex and, in my opinion, this is the true embodiment of sex poetry. If you had asked me for one reason to buy Hannah’s collection, it would have been this.
Overall, whilst Hannah’s book did not really help me understand sex poetry I do not think this was its aim. As she says in her comical introduction she presents her audience with a wide range of material that can be considered ‘sex poetry’; and this mimics the variety that we, as humans, have in our own sex lives. However, as I found it hard to relate to a lot of the content I would say don’t pick this one up if, like me, you want to understand more about this art.
(reference: Hannah, Sophie; The Poetry of Sex; (England, Penguin Books, 2014).