On Re-Positioning (Ekstasis Editions, 2011) by Stephen Bett


Michael Johnson




    I saw several couples stop on the sidewalk to listen to another couple fucking in my neighbor’s apartment. They looked like people standing around after a movie, still putting it together. Their listening faces ranged from absurd to melodramatic, and a kind of smug weariness was coming over them. They stood and listened for a few minutes then they moved on. I was strangely moved by all this. It was like we were all new friends because of it--friends by proxy--me and the passers-by. Regardless, the couple enthusiastically fucking abruptly stopped, and I pressed my ear to the wall waiting for some kind of sign, but they picked it up again and kept going.


    Re-positioning by Stephen Bett comes close to placing the reader in my shoes. He catalogs a year's worth of sexual positions. It's like a how-to guide on sex. 67 poems, and every one of them with a funny name, and an introduction like you'd see in the Kama Sutra, only these are spelled out in words, but rarely are they actualize-able: "Line drawing: both seated on the floor, squatting, facing each other, all knees up, tight 'into' each other, blank face gazing," for example. That one's called “The Good Conversationalist.” He wants us to think about the absurdity of the cultural tension surrounding sex, the funniness of experimenting and of the book culture created to supplement it. I'd never use Re-positioning as a how-to book, but I see it working as literature. Every ending has a kind of simulated punch line. Like we're listening into a conversation that's nothing but innuendo and that has to wrap itself up in innuendo, because that's what those kinds of conversations do, even though innuendo's just a pretext anyway. Like he shows you how many calories you'll burn, and what equipment you'll need, and all this fantastic bullshit for a joke--for the joke--that kind of changes the way you look at the world.


    Bett puts a big space between all of his stanzas--giving time for the metaphors sink in. "Hold that very/ Poundian/ thought," he writes in the first stanza of “Position 36: Sex on the Brain.” It is then followed by one of those big spaces, and it works similarly to a comedian's pause for laughter. He comes back in with another joke: "Hold it till/your neck's/stiff," stimulating at least two layers of action: for those people who are reading this and taking mental notes, and for the characters in his poems who are doing exactly as he says. He's trying to bridge the gap between his book and our imagination by enacting an experience most of us have felt/endured/enjoyed.


    "Right through/your heavy/throbbing/head," he continues in the next stanza, interlacing the action with theory--that an indication of a thread of thought can distill all the tension. When poetry leads the reader into a psychological condition, and then distills that condition into a line break, or a metaphor, or any literary device--that is when the poem itself happens. This poem happened in the third stanza as the second part of an extended metaphor:. "Right through/your heavy/throbbing/head," as the poem is passing, as the joke is passing, and the tension is passing right though our heads.


    This is a poem that replicates the readers’ disposition by commanding it. "Pound it/ till it all/ hurts," Bett sort of calls out prophetically to the audience. It's like he's telling people to just have sex no matter what's going on in your life, just have sex and stop questioning it. Don't veil it, just have exactly whatever sex is, and have so much of it that it hurts--"Till someone/cries Uncle/Ezra, pls."