Kayla Sargeson Book Review
by Steve Henn
Mini Love Gun by Kayla Sargeson. Main Street Rag Publishing Company. http://www.mainstreetrag.com
I’ve encountered a variety of articles online lately that address feminist concerns such as rape culture, slut shaming, and sexuality in general. Sexuality, that evolutionary and cultural bedrock of human experience, is certainly worthy of intellectual and visceral exploration, which Kayla Sargeson does in her excellent chapbook Mini Love Gun. Reading Sargeson’s poems for the fourth or fifth time through, after perusing recent feminist cultural commentaries and layman’s articles on scientific studies of sexuality online, it occurs to me that Sargeson’s poems are a giant middle finger to anyone who would have her ashamed to feel or act on desire. She owns it, mind and body, and it is this rebellious ownership of desire, along with well executed language, cadence, and concision, that makes her collection distinct and noteworthy.
This may not be the first time a female poet has rendered sexuality in such a bold, brash manner – the thing to note here is that it’s done with spirit and exactitude, and that Sargeson’s chap is contemporary and necessary, arriving at a time when feminists organize public “slutwalks” as a way to reclaim their right to their own sexual expression and self-determination.
How bold is she? While sucking off a step-cousin in his “big-ass truck” in the poem “Road Head,” the narrator claims “I don’t love him, but I love this – cock, / his hand grabbing a hunk of hair, / the air on my exposed back.” In “Reading Edward Field in the Bathroom of the Rock Room in Polish Hill” our narrator riffs on a line from Field’s 2007 collection After the Fall, quoting “the most thrilling thing in the world / is grabbing a guy’s dick.” In this poem, the homosexual narrator is unrepentant when she leaves the bathroom where “someone might tell / the bartender I’ve got her boyfriend on his knees.” In “Dear World,” in large part a big fat fuck-you to the narrator’s frat boy rapist, she says “I’m not afraid of sex,” counteracting the trauma of rape with righteous anger and courage, rather than fear. And just in case we’ve not gotten the point of all this celebrating of unrepentant sexuality, in “Twenty Ways to Know the Empire is Falling” one of the signs of a new order, among the references to tattoos, studded tees, leather, dog collars, and Anne Sexton and Amy Winehouse tongue kissing in the afterlife, is the line “Female poets write about their bodies, using the pronoun ‘I.’”
There is, of course, more happening in this book than sex alone. There is honesty and surprising tenderness, precise diction, and perfect combinations of cadence and persona – without these things, the book wouldn’t stand up like it does. To grant the poet the centrality of sexual experience to the poems in Mini Love Gun is to acknowledge, however, that she succeeds at expressing the freedom, courage, righteousness, and self determination she expertly, with punk rock aplomb, lays claim to.