Slut Machine (Queer Mojo) by Shane Allison is a thoroughly enjoyable, frequently raunchy, and poetically compelling account of gay male eroticism and identity.

Widely ranging in formal experimentation, including free verse, sestinas, and pantoums, the poems speak to us with a seemingly autobiographical and fairly plain-spoken voice about the many pleasures and occasional pains of the persona’s sexual adventures. The poet also intersperses periodic meditations on family life and his struggles coming to identify as a young gay man amongst verses that frankly and explicitly detail his sexual proclivities, desires, and kinks.

Perhaps most striking about this collection is the poet’s voice—strong, self-assured even when doubting, and provocatively straightforward about the complexities of gay male sexual life. Allison frequently borrows from the plain-spoken and free verse tradition of Whitman and Ginsberg, often listing items, such as “Things I Could Never Tell My Mama” and “Afternoon Pleasures,” with “lines taken from random walls of public bathroom stalls.”

One such poem, “Ass,” cleverly details the poet’s relationship to his bottom, chronicling its many complex adventures; here’s a snippet:

My ass wet and willing for anything
My ass “smells like shit,” he said
My ass naughty and spanked over my master’s bended knees
My ass in chain restraints
My ass getting fisted
My ass moons a family of four
My ass kissed and adored
My ass in tighty-whitey’s
My ass healing from his bite marks
My ass so cute and firm

At first blush, such a list seems potentially just pornographic. But a closer look reveals a true mix of pain and pleasure, the turn on and the turned out, the groping and the grieving, the lost and the found. This is an ass both fondled and rejected, serving as a complex metonym for the experience of looking for love and pleasure, sometimes finding them, sometimes not. The emotional complexity of the poet’s experiences are perhaps best rendered in the collection’s first section, “It’s a Boy,” in which the poet (or his persona) tells us about his experiences growing up poor and of color in a mixed neighborhood. His is not an easy youth, encountering periodic family misunderstanding and rejection. But it is also one turning deliciously defiant and defiantly queer, particularly as he increasingly details his interracial love affairs and erotic encounters. In the poem “When I Move Out of My Parents’ House,” he proudly asserts that he is “Gonna swish down Christopher Street/ And become the true queen I was always meant to be.”

Beyond the family romance or the romantic encounter, the poet also chronicles his gender questioning in poems such as “Becoming a Man in the Ladies Department of J. Byron’s,” “Teenage Drag Queen,” and “Fetish to be Female.” His is a complex sexuality, one also shaped in part by popular culture. In “Why Can’t My Parents Be Hollywood Movie Stars,” he asks for a different life: “Instead of dirt roads with sinkholes,/ Show me the road paved with glamour and gold platinum cards.” The nuances of gender roles and class consciousness pervade these poems, serving simultaneously as points of anxiety (would I be happier as a girl?) and the erotic (as in the poem “I Want to Fuck a Redneck”). And lurking in the background is always the possibility of pleasure cut short. In “Just,” another listing poem, the poet bemoans that “Just when I was about to ejaculate white fire/ I hear my parents’ slamming the car doors in the driveway./ Damn!”

As the collection proceeds, the sense of delight in the complexities of gay male sexuality evolves and matures. In “My Fuckbuddy Has a Girlfriend,” the poet describes love shared on the down low. But this is not a poem of regret or shame; rather, the poem asks us to dwell for a moment in the pleasures of the erotic pulled from, even provoked by the illicit, the secret. Conversely, “Lavender Wedding” offers a a joyously and quite publicly queer celebration of love. Still, the poet surprises us. In the midst of this raucous poem, Allison movingly describes one attendee:

Wally, the four hundred pound, stubble-faced cook
Who smokes stink cigars, where the ashes
Occasionally fall in the blueberry pancake mix,
Will have the pleasure of pulling
The garter belt from my husband’s thigh with his teeth.

Wally, whatever his personal pain might be, is a central figure, a welcome guest, at the joyous ceremony—that bit of pain in the midst of pleasure, perhaps that reminder of pain without which we wouldn’t recognize pleasure. What I love about such lines is how the poet uses detail to show us the pathetically mundane at the humanly throbbing center of all of our most cherished fantasies.

And throughout, he turns that realization periodically on himself, poking fun at his own desires in a poem such as “In the Event of My Dildo’s Demise,” a “last will and testament” as it were for a favorite sex toy.

As I finished the book, I was struck by both its sheer energy and complexity. This is a raucously diverse group of poems, in form and content. You may not identify with all of the poet/persona’s situations or views, but you will recognize many of them. And sure, there are sticky and unpleasant bits, more than enough of the wretched and the refused to stub your toe on, or to break your heart. But the cataloging builds so that the bitemarks and the heartwounds gain perspective alongside the sheer beauty and pleasure of the poet’s delight in the world, the “ass kissed and adored…so cute and firm.”
——
SLUT MACHINE
By Shane Allison
Queer Mojo/Rebel Satori
9781608640256, Paperback, 130p



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  • Ron Fritsch

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