In Praise Of Messy Poems

Ali Shapiro describes her infatuation with her favorite collection of poetry, Richard Siken’s Crush:

I literally carried Crush everywhere I went for three or four years. It was like my poetry-security blanket. Which is funny, because Crush offers little security—in fact, it totally upended my entire aesthetic sense of self as both a reader and a writer.

Before Crush, I was afraid of messy poems. I liked my poems short n’ sweet n’ clever, with last lines that tied everything up in neat little bows, almost like punch lines.

But the poems in Crush are decidedly, unapologetically messy. They hurtle; they sprawl. They end awkwardly. They blurt out their secrets. After I read Crush, everything else felt limp, stale, tame.

In her search for similar writing, she realized what her favorite poems had in common – nearly all of them were penned by gay men. One possible explanation? The way they plumb the relationship between sex and death:

The sex/death connection is hardly revolutionary (see also: la petit mort). But death feels especially present in these poems—sometimes spectral, sometimes explicit, but often inextricably tied to sex and desire. Taken together, these lines suggest a world in which intimacy can be contagious, toxic, risky.