Double Penetration by Ben Smith and Ryan Quinn Flanagan

by Ian on March 8, 2011

by Ian Shearer

First time I read Double Penetration I did it lying in bed, sucking at my last beer of the night and listening to Tom Waits playing low. I wanted to do it right, you see. Wanted the full on, low down experience. I got it wrong though. I once read it very astutely put that reading a book of poetry cover to cover can be jarring. There is no narrative arc to carry you along, no regularity of tone as a comfort on your journey. Just as the final line of one poem curls your lip into a knowing grin, the opening of the next crushes your balls with the bald honesty of life. That’s if the book is worth a damn anyway. I’d say the hour I spent staring at the ceiling after finishing Double Penetration is a good indication that it’s worth a damn. The fact that I had to get up and have another beer is confirmation of it.

A chapbook in two halves, it’s like a bad ass wrestling tag team. Like Jules and Vincent rolling up outside your door to take you the fuck out. Like, of course, two horse-dicked porn stars taking on some slender, sweating, insatiable young vixen. Different voices. Different styles. They’re both out for your ass, and the import of that just depends on your sex.

In ‘Leaking’, which is one of the best poems I have ever read, Ben Smith understands the limitations of the whole game:

You gotta be a hard
son-of-a-bitch
to battle with them
kinda verbs.

Them suckers
will make
you wish you
were born
illiterate.

What he does not take enough credit for, though, is that he is working with a sharper blade than the rest of us. He keeps it honed on absolute honesty which is why, whether he is breaking down in a pub toilet, or smashing down the seat of his own, spitting venom in response to some perceived slight, his words always bleed like a wrist slashed in the right direction. The picture the words paint are of a man who recognises the beauty and the ugliness in all of us, because he recognises it first in himself. He is hopelessly romantic and unashamedly crude in the same line, and though he may apologise for it in the very next poem, you will hope he never truly repents.

I’d say it takes some balls to take the second half of a chapbook after Ben. Luckily for Ryan Quinn Flanagan, he has balls to spare, and his words rejoice in the fact. With an eye for cutting through the underbelly of a broken society of liars, thieves and hellish women, Ryan is ready and armed to take them all on, both literally and metaphorically, if his poem ‘Burglars Be Warned’ is anything to go by. It would be too easy to become overly solemn with such subject matter, but Flanagan has the good sense and the biting wit to inject the whole thing with a brilliant, dark humour. Whether relating the story of every woman who ever got the better of him in one ingeniously succinct poem, or quite literally getting the better of another during a discussion about Baudelaire in bed, he does it all with a swaggering humour that recommends him as the best of sorts – the kind of guy you would want to get drunk with. Most of us won’t have the opportunity, but a bottle of wine and a bunch of his poems ain’t a bad fuckin’ substitute.

The second time I read through Double Penetration I did it right. Sitting in a coffee shop, ready to write this review, I flicked through the thing, letting the right poems jump out at me. Surrounded by people who would balk at the language and the subject matter is just the right setting, because the words are written about the very people who would find it all so offensive. The words are about all of us. And when a poet is able to put down in words the thoughts that most people refuse to even acknowledge, the product is something special that you feel privileged to have gotten hold of. Right now I feel pretty goddamn privileged, and I’m looking forward to all future output from both of these guys. As a fitting epitaph in ‘Last Call’, Smith says:

If you can feel
feelings
after you’re dead
I wanna be
cremated

and
write
my
last poem

with the smoke
my body makes
in the sky.

By god I hope he does, and I hope the smoke brings tears to the eyes of everyone who chokes on it.

Buy the bad bitch here.

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