Fire and Devolution: A Review of “Erotic: New & Selected”

Poetry collection

The poetry of L.A.-based poet Alexis Rhone Fancher, both hooks and unravels the reader as it speaks to raw, no-holds barred experiences and dives with abandon and precision into the complicated wreck of sexual encounters. In Erotic New & Selected, Rhone Fancher’s sixth book, the poet comes full circle with familiar themes—lust, hunger, grief, loss, ravishment and celebration. 

Two of poet’s previous collections, State of Grace: The Joshua Elegies and The Dead Kid Poems (both published by KYSO Flash Press), dealt with the loss of her only son at an early age to cancer. Although some of the poems in Erotic address loss and grief, most speak to the poet’s joyously unabashed relationship to sex—with men, women, in threesomes–and to the dance of power it represents in richly, aural language. Her noir-ish black and white photos accent the sultry text of this her sixth collection. Rhone Fancher, a well-known photographer, is also the poetry editor of the rad literary zine, Cultural Weekly.

The most sexual poems in Erotic play with a variety of feelings to an exhilarating effect. In “Tonight I Will Dream of Anjelica, My First Ex-Girlfriend, Who Taught Me the Rules of the Road…,” about sex in a ’57 T-bird, the narrator relays: “She rides me hard, week after week, double clutches me into ecstasy, hipbone against  hipbone, the dulcet, lingering groan of our gears, grinding.” When the narrator’s boyfriend begs to be part of the fun, the narrator waxes greedy: “All I can say, is I want/ her for myself. All I can say is I’m a die-hard romantic. Anyone I do,/ I do for love.”

“Come, enjoy the ride, it doesn’t last forever,” the poet seems to say. The message repeats in other poems like “Tonight We will Bloom for One Night Only,” in which the narrator affirms, “We are each bodies, hard wired for pleasure,/ destined for momentary blooming,/then extinction.” 

Sexuality has many shades and Rhone Fancher explores them all–from unbounded lust and ecstasy to whimsy. Examples of the latter are: “I Prefer Pussy (a little city-kitty ditty)” and “Morning Wood.” “I Prefer Pussy” features the anthem-like: “I prefer pussy, as in whip/ as in flower, as into it you slip—as in I have the power.” Sex here celebrates female power, even if it is sometimes fraught with peril. 

The narrator is drawn as much to exotic women as rough and ready men and her hookups signal fun and sometimes danger. In “Let’s Be Happy Now!” the poet warns: “Not the marrying kind,/ I’m the fucking kind,/ the lewd lingerie kind,/ The girl you/bring home for/ the weekend/ not to meet the family/ kind,” echoing Anne Sexton’s famous poem, “Her Kind,” in which the narrator’s desire makes her a flammable witch.

To fall in love or lust is to risk pain, sometimes rejection, the stakes are always high. In “Mixed Signals,” S & M imagery points to complications: “Tonight, dozing at her feet,/ I fell again for her painted toes-/ her impossibly high expectations,/ the crushing payback of her heel.”

In Rhone Fancher’s poems hot girls crave bad men, or at least the wrong kind of man, as in “Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera,” about a sleazy mechanic who tries to get a young girl to take naughty photos of herself for him: “’I dream about you at night,’ he said, his voice husky, low. His breath/ smelled like clove gum and cigarettes. ‘I dream you do everything/ I tell you,’” the last line echoing everyman’s fantasy.

In “His Full Attention,” a riveting tale about a 17-year old’s alternately terrifying and thrilling experience with an older man, the narrator lays bare fantasies about young girls and older men, while turning them on their head: “I’ve fantasized the moment for years, hot sex/ with some dark, silent stranger who knows how to touch me. All/ action. No talk, unlike the pale, timid boys I know. But my ado-/lescence, a steady diet of G-rated Hollywood romantic comedies/ where everything stays above the waist, has me ill-prepared.” 

In “When I Turned Sixteen Mother Let Uncle Kenny from Chicago Take Me For a Ride,” adolescent allure and longing commingle with loss in a poignant narrative about a not wholly innocent young girl and her uncle: “He ran his tongue around the rim of/the margarita glass, licked the salt./ His blue eyes stared right past me.” Sleaze and booze aside, after his death, the girl reminisces about him and his gifts: “At Dead Man’s Curve/ I threw my head back like I’d seen/ Hedy Lamar do in the movies./ My chandelier earrings tinkled in the wind.”

Rhone Fancher’s cocksure narratives range from the incantatory delights of “This is NOT a Poem,” and the strutting desire of “I Want Louboutin Heels,” to the grueling, “I Was Hovering Just below the Hospital Ceiling, Contemplating My Death,” about a collision that killed both the poet’s fiancé and her unborn child: “So I hover on the Sistine ceiling/ of the I.C.U., undecided, my dead lover’s/ hand reaching for me/ like God stretched for Adam.” 

The threat of death or extinction, warnings and red flags loom over sexual trysts. At the end of “This is NOT a Poem,” the narrator herself warns, “My life goes dark/ without you, honey. Clap! Clap! This is NOT a poem. You with your/ lust, with your X-ray eyes. Listen up now. Be careful how you love/ me.”

The death of an illusion is the subject of “(Menage a Trois) Tonight I Dream of My First True Love”: “I need him to scream I love you! Again and again like/ he did before. But Gene’s eyes are locked with Brett’s. I see what I’m not/ meant to see; I’m disposable, nothing more than a deep hole.” 

Nothing is off limits. The poet explores the underside of past affairs as well as her own dark side. In “The Narcissist’s Confession,” for example, she owns up to nasty paybacks doled out to conquests gone wrong, and concludes, “It took me forever,/stepping on them to get/ to you. Sometimes/ I wonder how/ I managed to climb/ over all those/ bodies.”

Even when passion is unbridled, the poet is alert to consequences, looking back with sharp insight, sometimes humor, or a combination of these. Love is life, tinged with pain and laughter, everything good and bad vying for a chance to be had. “Love Song for My Baby” oozes sex, whimsy and nostalgia: “I want you to taste the bit in your mouth, and have it taste sweet/ like Tic Tacs, like summer time, like ginger-ale. Just like you take to/ me. I want to corral you in my arms, cavort in the moonlight, dos si dos with the best of ‘em. I could put you on the stage in Tijuana.” It also sums up the poet’s sexual raison d’etre: “Do you wanna know/ how I see it? Each of us teeters on the totter, a paycheck away from/ homeless, from ruin, just one pitch away from a shutout, one sweet/ fuck away from the end.” 

Rhone Fancher’s work is not just about unadulterated fucking, but the marks it leaves, the echoes that resonate through time that connect the poet to her past as well as the reader to her experiences. The poems in Erotic thrill and sate even as they take surprising turns and shake up the reader, who is not likely to forget the ride. 


Fire and Devolution: Erotic New & Selected
by Alexis Rhone Fancher
The New York Quarterly Foundation, Inc; 142 pages

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