Friday, June 12, 2009

After Reading Sex at Noon Taxes

Since I’m backpacking for three months, I hem-hawed for weeks over what books I could bring. Answer: four pounds of them, nothing more. In the end, I decided on Lonely Planet, Lolita (that I can trade for another novel at a book exchange), a Victorian anthology since I’m taking an exam on this subject in September, and two gloriously slender poetry books from first time poets whom I had never read. Risky. Well, I just finished one of them, and it was a great choice. The poetry collection is Sex at Noon Taxes by Sally Van Doren who won the Walt Whitman Award in 2007. Since I’m putting together my first collection of poems now, I admire how well this book coheres. Sex at Noon Taxes is far from a jumble of “my favorite poems I was thrilled to have published” first book. A look at a few titles gives a sense of the flow: “Proposition” to “Preposition” to “Conjunction” and then to  “Pronoun/Punctuation.”  Word play, evocative images, and imaginative scenarios give this collection a voice that I find refreshing—and inspiring. Overall, these are piston-firing poems that get their power by generating associations for the reader and by creating surprise with the language. Sometimes, those types of poems can vanish from my mind right after I read them, the sensations too nebulous to have any sticking power. Admittedly, a few poems in this collection didn't read as anything more than witty word exercises. What makes a poem memorable to me is a combination of that intellectual play with some sort of emotional stake. And most of the poems do just that. “To Become World” (which I placed below) is an example of a poem that combines intellect, imagination, and emotional resonance. The title alone is intriguing, and the surreal, yet identifiable situation in this poem is one of many reasons why I’d recommend Van Doren’s work.


by Sally Van Doren

In the beginning the girl

told her story, although

each time her words fell

through her legs, a stain


wet her underpants. It was

uncomfortable, this

intimacy between her two

mouths, breeding her tongue’s


distaste for common speech.

With a pair of tweezers, she

plucked out every public hair


and affixed them to her chin.

She stroked her beard

when she spoke and listened.



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