canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999


Temptations for a Juvenile Delinquent
by Sky Gilbert
ECW, 2003

Reviewed by A.E.M.

The anecdotal poems comprising Sky Gilbertís Temptations for a Juvenile Delinquent defy continued interest simply by not giving the reader anything to interpret. Lacking duplicity, Gilbertís work convinces us Ė as if we didnít already know Ė that homosexual love between younger and older men not only exists, but also might be something worth pursuing. However, Gilbertís descriptions of kissing his boyfriend behind the shopping mall and licking assholes long before the breakfast hour are dross. His words neither sing nor sting, particularly because Gilbertís compositions paint surface images that are far too immediate. In other words, the reader of this book need not bring an imagination. Rather, be prepared to paint by numbers. But donít bother to bring a smock. Despite bits of sex talk, the text is safe and clean and doesnít leave a mess. Even when I do find a certain image or line enticing, worth dipping into, Gilbertís poetic clumsiness scurries my interest back into the closet (forgive the duplicitous pun).

I want to admire Gilbertís use of classic American cinema as a deep structural reference point for poems such us "Key Largo" and "Roman Holiday", but I require playful plundering such as this to at least match the depth and interest of the originating text. Gilbertís "Key Largo" calls attention to "Humphrey Bogartís / silly, tortured, ex-war hero vacillations" regarding "patriotism" and "Lauren Bacallís honour," only to predictably (and rather thinly) draw a connection to contemporary love affairs. Roman Holiday, which I suppose, justifies the bookís cover image (in which the model looks like a skinny Lou Ferigno set to star in Il Barbiere di Siviglia), butchers the cause of decent poetry by dragging us through an effortlessly scrawled meditation on the delicateness of nubile men at the hands of upper-class patrons. At the very least, "Roman Holiday" presents a rare example in the book where Gilbert requires the reader to investigate the text at a linguistic level in order to extract a hint of meaning. But there are no bravos earned for doing that. Isnít reader participation precisely what poetry was designed to include?

I like that there are writers like Gilbert who donít mind explaining in a personal voice about how sore his throat can get after sucking cock for the first time on a speeding train. The intimate interaction, the inviting entrance into a pleasing but not uncomplicated atmosphere, the casual constitution of a world previously unknown (at least from Gilbertís point of view) Ė these aspects are to be admired about Temptations for a Juvenile Delinquent. However, without drawing a useless number of comparisons to other poets and writers, I think the book lacks craft. Dead metaphors stapled shamelessly to purposefully ironic scenarios repeat throughout the work, recalling the mail-in participation columns at the beginning and end of every Readerís Digest ever created. Aimless masturbation.

In one poem Gilbert claims that "tuition, as we know, is always free." The tuition may be free, Canadian poet, but poetic skill is hard earned and rarer still.

a.e.m. is Anthony Metivier, TDR's fiction reviews editor.
 

 

 

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