Book Review

Hot Sonnets: An Anthology by Moira Egan and Clarinda Harriss, editors. Entasis Press, 2011. $14

Reviewed by Moira Richards

This book is delicious to dip into, and, with my red-wrapped chocolates, I saved the review to write on Valentine’s Day.

I’ve long been a fan of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sonnets, which are of the hottest and of the coldest as the mood takes the diva, and I was happy to see a trio of her poems open the collection in fiery mood:

I too beneath your moon, almighty Sex,
Go forth at nightfall crying like a cat,

This poem is followed by another sonnet throughout which the narrator is bowled head over petticoats by a sexy companion, although here she manages to bring the poem and the encounter to a conclusion with some dignity:

            I shall remember you with love, or season
            My scorn with pity,—let me make it plain:
            I find this frenzy insufficient reason
            For conversation when we meet again.

I hadn’t known that ee cummings was a sonneteer and all three of his contributions play with grammar conventions to evoke, very effectively, heady abandon. Although he can’t resist stepping out the moment too…

            —and furiously puzzling through,prismatic,whims,
            the chattering self perceives with hysterical fright

            a comic tadpole wriggling in delicious mud.

HL Hix contributes two wonderfully energetic sonnets featuring the same pair of lovers. First,

            The man with the crooked dick shines his shoes.
            The woman with one arm takes off her brassiere.

and so on… These may seem flippant but the eroticism builds over the second poem which begins:

            The man with the crooked dick strikes a match.
            The woman with one arm breaks into flame.

and concludes:

            His favorite word is now. Her word is yes.
            Apart, each is only radiant stone,
            But one touch brings them to critical mass.
            He likes to burn things and she likes to burn.

David Rothman writes a kind sonnet that really warmed my heart, and might have been written for a widowed facebook pal. The title: "She Receives Flowers":

            Late in life you don’t expect romance.
            You don’t expect to be swept off your feet.
            You don’t expect to have another chance.
            You’ve learned to take the bitter with the sweet.

and the closing couplet:

            Sweet friend, this is your door. He sent you flowers.
            Surrender to this sight, this scent, these hours.

Julie Stoner uses the first three quatrains of her sonnet to write comic drafts of discarded ‘break-up’ letters to, in turn, Bluebeard (“Yes, this means I found your cache / of body parts. You promised me, you swore, / and still you’re hoarding pornographic trash!"), to Dr. Frankenstein ("I can’t compete / with patchworked fantasy. My flesh is real, / and therefore flawed."), and to Don Quixote ("Dammit, don’t pretend / I’m Dulcinea! Love me as I am / not as you wish I were!"). In the last couplet she gets it down just right.

            Dear John—This isn’t working. You know why.
            Go buy yourself a blow-up doll. Goodbye.           

Midge Goldberg’s temptress ups the ante on that old serpent, beginning with

            Apples? No good. If I were going to try
            and tempt you, it would be with pecan pie,
            sticky and sweet, or steak—filet mignon—
            or burnished Irish whiskey, burring on
            the tongue…

And Amy Lemmon’s "Invitation" to a colleague is irresistible in its understatedness:

            Loosen your tie, dear sir, admit instead
            the mouth I proffer soft along your nape.

and so on for another ten seductive lines until:

            Yes loosen, do, the armor. Let it fall.
            I’ll entertain your body’s carnival.

Moira Egan plays with first lines by Ms. Millay, Marilyn L. Taylor and Kathrine Varnes contribute sonnet crowns; almost sixty poets are represented, more than one hundred erotic sonnets. I read this review to a group of writer friends and many were clamouring for me to read more—the collection is definitely a keeper for many Valentine’s Days more.

Moira Richards lives in South Africa and hangs out here: and here: She, with Norman Darlington of Ireland, edits and publishes the annual Journal of Renga & Renku.