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Maureen Seaton begins her memoir, Sex Talks to Girls, with these words, “At the age of six I sat in my closet in complete darkness, praying for strangers, interceding for ailing animals. Age seven brought me Christ’s flesh on a plate, a wafer I carefully swallowed without chewing, and I found myself transported to a lovely place, right off the pew and into something called Paradise.” Mystical and magical transformations fill this book. Seaton’s memories of anorexia, alcoholism, recovery, marriage, divorce, coming out, and Catholicism – with both a lower-case and a capital c – are refracted through delightful images and playful language. Sex Talks with Girls is structured in small, titled vignettes and divided into three parts that generally recount her experiences of coming into sobriety, lesbianism, and maturity.
While the book is organized chronologically, the chronology is quirky and at times uncertain as though she is unzipping narrative and pressing it through the meat grinder of her poetic sensibility. This is certain to delight fans of her poetry. Seaton is the author of six poetry collections, many of which are award-winning. In addition, she has written two collections of poetry collaboratively with Denise Duhamel and is one of the editors of a new anthology, Saints of Hysteria: A Half-Century of Collaborative American Poetry. Seaton has won multiple awards including the Lambda Literary Award and the Audre Lorde Award.
Her poetry is both narrative and confessional in its impulse. This emotional resonance is present in her memoir. Interestingly, the precursor to Sex Talks to Girls seems to be her chapbook, Miss Molly Rockin’, published by Thorngate Road in 1998. In that collection of prose poem, the characters that populate Sex Talks to Girls as well as the structure of the memoir have their beginnings.
Sex Talk to Girls works through refraction and distortion – of Seaton as the narrator and memoir subject and of the other characters of her life. Seaton’s characters are first warped and then distilled through naming, image selection and juxtaposition, and incident reporting and recounting. Throughout this artistic process is Seaton’s humor: wry, exaggerated, and, sometimes, simply belly-laugh-funny. At times this humorous tone is apt, but it never gathers the power and authority that humor can. At its best, the tone and refraction result in vignettes that are engaging, well-paced, and entertaining. By the end, however, what comes through is less the narrative of a life and more the artifice of caricature. Unfortunately, the many delightful vignettes that are gathered never quite cohere as a whole.
Sex Talks to Girls stands beside important memoirs by lesbian poets including Eileen Myles’ Cool for You and S/He by Minnie Bruce Pratt. It is gratifying to see this memoir by an important lesbian poet published and available. In spite of its shortcomings, Sex Talks to Girls is worthy of consideration for readers, especially if it brings a wider audience to Maureen Seaton’s poetry.
Sex Talks to Girls
University of Wisconsin Press, 2008