Oral History: A review of Mouthy by Emily Rose Kahn-Sheahan
Thoughtcrime Press, 2016
reviewed by Donna Vorreyer
Emily Rose Kahn-Sheahan is a force onstage and her second book Mouthy (from Thoughtcrime Press) gives the reader both that performance fire, the poems sizzling with crackling imagery and voice, and the quietly woven spell of careful craft.
In the opening title poem, the speaker asserts:
“(you) want the pretty to lay quiet, stop
causing all this fuss , but I got
firecracker teeth popping.
They get me into the good
trouble worth all this voice.”
And a section called The Trouble is what we are led to. The book is organized in sections, and The Trouble is full of the body’s salt and sweat. This is a body that is in control of its desire even when it abandons itself to pleasure, and it does. This is a body that knows how to love itself, even though sometimes it forgets, as in “The Trouble With Resisting Temptation is It May Never Come Again: Fortune Cookie”
How dare I be this body
and forget how beautiful it ripples,
the art in bountiful meat, milk skin.
Curve drunk on my own hips,
I let him deserve me.
And what a treat to read poems about sex that aren’t apologetic or shaming or romanticized – these poems are carnal and funny and poignant and real. The repeated diction of words like hum and shiver buzzes through the book like a current, a live wire that, if touched, will both thrill and hurt us.
One of the standout poems is “The Cake,” a brilliant remix of repeated words and phrases that starts simple, almost child-like:
“I baked you a cake. I know/it’s not your birthday/and we don’t know/each other yet but I made this/for you. I know/you’re going to like it.”
then progresses to become increasingly seductive:
“I made this belly for your back to lick/with your fingers so your tongue/can learn these things I like./I like you. Made this batter/from my heat for you. Would you/
like some? I’d like to know you/like my tongue.”
But the book isn’t only about sex. A persona named Lonely enters many of the poems, and in “Lonely Again,” she takes over the speaker’s Friday night:
“She doesn’t want to watch Battlestar Galactica./She knows the ending./She has my phone./She’s texting every bad idea.”
But Lonely also runs away from relationships before she gets hurt, turns tarot cards, fears being alone, and is “an awful magician conjuring/the same thing every time.”
Another standout for me was “Chicago, October” which investigates the way that, even though we move on, old lovers haunt us:
“When my mind wanders and he asks/what I am thinking, I never/say your name, never admit/my nipples firm at the thought/of your plucking fingers. I say/Kiss me, occupy myself/with his open lips and swallow/your taste.
Sometimes, he carries her ghost/to bed with us. His hands trace/the length and curve of me/to assure himself that this is not/her body. When I ask/what he’s thinking, he nibbles/the places I’ve shown him, my places,/until I am clutch and shiver.”
And, in “Permission,” we see a speaker who knows what she wants, who asserts her strength in every line:
“I was never glass. I am brick, blood mixed in the mortar./Defy your mother, be brute and club. Hammer at this stone until I crack/beneath you. Bind my hands, keep me from controlling this./I am bedrock and pillar. Remind me how to be sea.”
Mouthy, for me, was about acknowledging all the voices that make us who we are. Whether that voice wants touch, wants whiskey, wants to nest in bed, lies to its mother, or calls the moon both intimate and nemesis, each voice is a part of you that should be claimed. Named. And never silenced.
Donna Vorreyer is the author of Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story (2016)and A House of Many Windows (2013) both from Sundress Publications, as well as six chapbooks, most recently Encantado, a collaboration with artist Matt Kish from Redbird Chapbooks. She is the reviews editor for Stirring, and she teaches middle school in the Chicago area