All This Gold Hurts My Mouth
Katherine Leyton
(Icehouse/Goose Lane)
It seems to me that good poetry, like good funny writing, demands a dollop of exasperation. And patience. And tolerance.

Which you get at least part-time in the poetry of Katherine Leyton.

Along with an additional wrench of irony.

Example: when The Paris Review interviewed S. J. Perelman, it went like this

    Q: How would you describe the form you work in? You've called it "the sportive essay" in a previous interview.

    A: I classify myself as a writer of what the French call feuilletons --- that is, a writer of little leaves. They're comic essays of a particular type.

    Q: Are there any devices you use to get yourself going on them?

    A: No, I don't think so. Just anguish. Just sitting and staring at the typewriter and avoiding the issue as long as possible.

Katherine Leyton in All the Gold Hurts My Mouth also manages to bring in this . . . what some would call "geshpet." For instance, in "Beaut,"

    I'm neat in short-shorts,
    or I used to think men thought so,
    until I met you and your smartphone,
    which you'd rather be ogling
    than me neat in anything.

Exasperation. And an especial tartness which comes from her view of men - - - what they do, what they stand for, what they demand. In "Body," which she recently published in "The Edinburgh Review," she concludes,

    What you meant - - - when you mentioned
    the decline of women - - - was
    that empires nearing

    the brink of collapse
    make stars out of women's eyes,
    turn their bodies into metaphor . . .

The collapse of empires may in turn bring all down, but it also has the transfiguring power to make "stars out of women's eyes."

§   §   §

Leyton also mixes into her poetry a sense of dada that gives a special edge to her irony:

    The trees and the sky can be ripped away.
    Behind them you'll find a peacock.
    When his tail opens flames eat
    what is left of the picture.

This startling image she then turns on its head, bringing in the personal . . . her family . . . her own history:

    Including the peacock,
    whose feathers are made of a lace
    my grandmother gave me
    on my twenty-first birthday.

In addition to the personal, the fantastic, and the sense of ay gevalt! - - - we find in Leyton's poems a raw sexualty, one that can light a few fires (on the page, or in our brains):

    I watch from
    my rented chaise lounge
    as she runs to the sea
    like any other pussy-on-stilts, like me . . .

Which image merges with a picture right out of Gargantua and Pantegruel or, perhaps, Jan Brueghel.

These echoes have the effect of turning the merely situational into the universal, one where she is not only moving the tide sexually as universal woman, moving it in pulses, advance and retreat . . . moving along, too, all that happens on the surface itself, including men who work by and perhaps for her:

    In the water she opens and closes her legs
    to let the flow in and out and back to the cargo ships
    with their working men and steel containers.

Leyton's words take the power to move . . . to move all of us, and not necessarily in a random or a benign way. She seems at times to take us as far with her legs as she needs, no matter what we may want. This can evoke what the Spanish call "poesía de la cara," which in this case comes to be a certain fire-hose anger sprayed directly from poet to reader.

For instance, in the poem "Search," the word "cunt" is scalded into the verse a total of twenty-two times . . . which some might consider overkill. But with this bleak repetition we get the distinct feeling that the poet is not kidding. She's pissed, she's in your face: and she's not going to let up.

This, for example, is the complete "The First Time With Pay-Per-View," which delivers, succinctly, the very same message:

    Her body was an ostentatious palace
    where he broke all the furniture.
--- Pamela Wylie
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