Friday, January 17, 2020

Robin Richardson's Sit How You Want

I suppose comparisons of Robin Richardson’s poems to those of Sharon Olds are inevitable. Both writers concentrate on the dance, denouements, and death of sex, but whereas Olds’ take on the subject is elemental, Richardson more frequently details desire and its fallout within relationships. In Sit How You Want, her latest collection, Richardson has thrown a welcome ingredient into the high boil of sexual strife: hard-won, terse, frequently acidic philosophical summations or epiphanies. “Eventuality” links natural and human-made disaster with the troubling aftermath of sex – “nukes/in North Korea aimed like loaded cocks. What offspring!” – but the concluding two lines bring the historical or speculative considerations back home: “Now we’re naked on the pullout, losing interest./We’re no better than the rest.” “Without a Roof” moves from extreme vulnerability (“open/on the operating table, so impeccably pink/pearl you could drape me on a hotel heiress”) to sexual distancing (“He disapproves:/the carefree sovereignty of solitude”) to transformative assertion (“There’s freedom/in what no one knows”).

Even in the short quotes above, Richardson’s heady lyrical scoring delights. She manages, deftly, the difficult trick of creating sustained music through quickly shifting tonal registers and narrative fractures.

More mature than her also excellent Knife Throwing Through Self-Hypnosis, Sit How You Want is top shelf reading, contemporary as a power line, traditional as a post-coital Rothman’s. And nowhere in the volume does she succumb to the “fashionable cleverness in sex”, Dudley Fitts’ criticism of a topic most writers either approach with jokes, or avoid altogether like a neon-flashing landmine.

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