‘Live Nude Guys’ that won’t ghost you

Thursday, March 14, 2019 - 3:16pm

Verity Sturm

Verity Sturm Buy this photo
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In the next week the Book Review will be featuring works from Gimmick Press, an independent publisher of niche literature and art based in Plymouth, Michigan. Gimmick was established in 2015 by Josh Olsen and Katie MacDonald with a commitment to diversity and inclusion of both subject matter and voice throughout all aspects of their work. Gimmick publishes digitally through “Worthless Treasures” and calls for printed chapbook and anthology submissions throughout the year. They’re currently accepting submissions for an anthology of creative nonfiction about pop culture obsessions.

Before reviewing a collection of gay erotica titled “Live Nude Guys,” I would like to disclose that I am not a gay man. The imagery of this poetry — a pivotal element of its affect — is not written by or for the likes of me.

As a human, though, I am compelled by Shane Allison’s project. Despite its spectacular title, this collection dances the sobering line between railing against rejection and galvanizing a bruised moxie. It yearns to be seen, but cannot admit to yearning. Classic. In the aptly titled “You Are Nothing to Me,” the speaker tells “you” that:

“I don’t notice you down here

Can you see me from up there

I’m a head with a fresh new haircut”

It’s too cool for punctuation, because “can you see me from up there” isn’t really a question. What’s happening down here is an acknowledgement of rejection, the spurned speaker being physically low, which at first seems self-deprecating but then turns around to permit the powerfully casual remark that “I don’t notice you.” Beyond that, there’s a killer claim to anonymity: The speaker presents himself as “a head” rather than a person, a past lover or any of that identity baggage. Moreover, this head has “a fresh new haircut,” revitalizingly unfamiliar. The dude “up there” couldn’t access him if he tried. As a person who has been spurned and who has dealt with it through one, two, skip-a-few emotional haircuts, this feels good to read. In fact, my moxie is aroused. Let’s go.

“Live Nude Guys” is low-key powerful like this, working to right the implied wrongs of those “up there” through the creation of beautiful objects — poems — that move beyond relationships by documenting them, no matter how dirty or fleeting. Each poem is like a proclamation that “THIS HAPPENED,” whether it be a hookup “between / The Blonde Iguana Salon and a Park Avenue Church,” a tryst with “John, before (his) wife comes home” or that aforementioned moment of transcendence in the smoky bar of “You Are Nothing to Me.”

In an era that witnessed the graduation of “ghosting” from Urban Dictionary to Merriam Webster, it seems like a big deal to prove that something simply took place. Especially when that something is sexual, or is buried within the sexual. Accordingly, “Live Nude Guys” is full of evidence: dry saliva, ticket stubs, phone numbers on scraps of paper, stained sheets, dirty dishes and so, so much cum. In this manner, the collection rails against ghosting through the presentation of proof — a text is easily ignored, but stains are hard to get out. What’s even harder to eradicate is the number of “Live Nude Guys” that have been printed and circulated to god knows where. Publication: perhaps the ultimate “fuck you” to ghosting.

Although they boast mad moxie, the poems in this collection aren’t technically astounding. They’re personal in a way that is generous but creates some distance between the reader and the poetry. It’s the inevitable struggle of reading someone else’s experience: I haven’t lost myself in “Live Nude Guys” because there’s nothing abstract about these poems. In fact, they’re about as literal as it gets.

That being said, Allison plays with structure in a way I haven’t seen in a while, employing older verse forms to deliver his very new, very literal material. “Kiss Me John, Before Your Wife Comes Home” reads as a loose villanelle, alternately repeating entire phrases like “Let’s make love on a floor of empty pizza boxes” from stanza to stanza. One of the collection’s standouts, “Angry Sestina to Chris,” is the first sestina I’ve read since high school, and manages to work the complex French form into an angry letter to a ghost: “Dear Chris / I am so sick of your shit / Why is it that every time I call / I get transferred to your voicemail?” The end result is something like an angrier version of Dorothy Parker’s “Telephone Call,” written in the exact formula of Ezra Pound’s “Sestina: Alaforte,” but using terms like “bullshit,” “voicemail” and “mail / Order brides.”

This interplay between the literary tradition and contemporary drama is downright fun to read. It also feels kind of triumphant, as if Allison is proving that his one-night stands and rage against Chris are absolutely worthy of the canon’s finest forms. “Live Nude Guys” is an ode to all who have been fucked and spurned, proving that messy sex and voicemail angst is poetry, too.