Unisex Love Poems

Unisex Love Poems

By Bert Almon

A review of Unisex Love Poems by Angela Szczepaniak

Published on April 1, 2009

Unisex Love Poems
Angela Szczepaniak

DC Books
$16.95
paper
182pp
978-1-897190-39-5

Angela Szczepaniak’s whimsical extravaganza Unisex Poems is published in the Punchy Poetry series from DC Books, a venture devoted to “fun literature,” as the publisher’s Facebooks page says. This novel in verse turns on the quest of Slug to discover the source of his mysterious rash: he has broken out in “h”s, a clue that the book is mostly about language – the rash is not herpes but a typeface. In a search for answers in his building, he questions a tightrope walker with the unlikely name of Butterfingers (better than Buttertoes, this reader thinks). Slug has another problem besides his rash: he wants his lawyers, Spitz and Spatz, who are three and a half inches tall, to reopen his divorce case. Alas, they manage to lost Slug’s accent, his most tolerable feature, to his ex-wife. In a book about language, an accent is a tangible asset. The work ends with plans for a lawsuit between the Lilliputian attorneys, with Spitz suing Spatz for sexual harassment, a situation made confusing by a countersuit by Spatz – and their decision to act as each other’s lawyers. The narrative is interspersed with parodies of genteel etiquette writing, some addressed to males interested in seduction, others directed to women who want a ring rather than a tumble in bed. Most of these passages deal with kissing and use dainty terms like “osculation” and “buccal press” with such quivering refinement that they begin to sound obscene, like the more highfalutin passages in the pornographic classic Fanny Hill, where a spade is never really a spade. Adding to the postmodern fun, Szczepaniak has created cartoon characters made of typefaces and assembled them in a section framed by black pages. Laurence Sterne could sue for plagiarism over the black pages – he put one in Tristram Shandy – but he’s been dead for 241 years. Lest the book seem entirely devoted to words, the poet includes some literally visceral passages: disturbing recipes for “sweetbreads” – human organs. One example: “A Lover’s Feast” is the recipe for human heart, with a diagram showing where parts like “a girlish giggle,” “cottonwool daydreams,” and “a fluttering of eyelash” can be found. The variety of language in the collection is lavish: dialogues, the parodies of etiquette books written in a kind of ragged prose, and passages in conventional free verse. A romp is delightful, but this one is sustained over 181 pages, a trifle long for a collection of trifles. Samuel Johnson said to Boswell: “Nothing odd will do long. Tristram Shandy did not last.” But it did. Szczepaniak’s book is as odd as Laurence Sterne’s. Perhaps it too will last. mRb

Bert Almon lives in Edmonton, Alberta. Retired from teaching, he follows the careers of his former students.

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