Maiden, published by 48th Street Press, is Karina Bush’s debut poetry chapbook. Consisting of 41 poems and 43 pages, with a cover image designed by the author, this licentious poetry collection is limited to 99 copies. Regardless of its erotic theme it would be misguided and misleading to label this complex work as erotica. Generally speaking, erotica tends to work on two levels; titillation and satisfaction. Maiden, in contrast, is a deeply personal expression of uninhibited lust and convoluted love. From start to finish, these poems are rooted in a desire so strong it becomes – in the moment of gratification – unendurable.
I want to fill a man up with me
Fill him right up
With red blood
To bursting point
To breaking point
(from Red Blood, p.1)
By the end of the second page, our narrator has turned her lover into a primate, hailed him as the rapist and ran a knife over her clit and through her tongue. To say the least, the book gets off to a primal and somewhat lascivious start. In fact, the first couple of poems work as a trigger warning for the easily offended. The sensitive reader, accustomed to warm escapism and happy endings, will know to close the book before the third page, protecting their comfort zone from the looming threat in the coming poems.
I’ll be shy
It will be my first time
With a girl’s eyes
I’ll be tight
(from A Girl’s Eyes, p.3)
The desensitized reader, however, may carry on and miss the point altogether; Maiden is so much more than a book about fucking. The poems in this collection are preceded by an Emily Bronte quote, “Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” Make no mistake about it, this book is aggressively sexual, but there is much more here than a mess of flesh slapping against flesh. Bush is a poet who shies away from neither romance nor gratuity.
Because of him
I leak my soul out
For his mouth
(from Straining, p.4)
The “him” in the above quote remains a consistent throughout the collection. He is the object of the narrator’s untamable desire. And it is a complicated desire that all at once seeks to control and be controlled; an interchangeable yearning for dominance and submission.
I needed you to push it – push me
(from Negligible p.6)
The poet wants to take and be taken, to own and be owned, to be destroyed while maintaining her own ability to destroy.
I’m the thing you don’t want to feel
You can’t control it
And you can’t control me
(from Wank Me, p.7)
The value in this work is the author’s ability to present lust at its genesis, as it manifests itself within the subconscious. That is to say, none of the base instinct is filtered out through the writer’s conscious process. Consequently, there is an unfastening of moral constraint, which results in an unholy animalistic regression.
I have surrendered to nature’s order
(from My Horse, p.19)
Despite its propensity for gratuitous vulgarity, Maiden only swerves into truly transgressive territory on page 21 with the poem, Daddy.
Naked on his lap
Stroke me I’m your pet
I’m squirming like a little girl
Under a grown man’s hand
(from Daddy, p.21)
Transgression is a major theme in this book as the poet’s fantasies cross over the line of moral, social and legal acceptability. The above poem is unquestionably fucked up. That is, arguably, what makes it so damn compelling. After all, who wants to read well-adjusted poetry? Of course, there are plenty of readers who do want to read from the balanced and the banal. Maiden is for another type of reader altogether; readers who want art to forcefully take them by surprise, question their own boundaries and challenge longstanding preconceptions of right and wrong. Essentially, the aforementioned poem makes sexual play of a sinister and abusive scenario. Yet I am not offended; why? Perhaps I should ask myself if my response would alter if the poem had been written from the perspective of the abuser rather than the abused. Would I feel differently if the poem had been written by a man rather than a woman? Maybe my lack of offence could be put down to living in an abusive world and a belief that art ought to imitate life. Maybe it is down to morbid fascination. Or perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I have never read a poem that made me question my own response quite so thoroughly prior to this one. The poem works best when parsed within the wider context of the book.
As previously stated, control and the lack thereof, play a large role in this thematic set of poems. As is the primal urge found in, His Blood, “I’m lying here/All this blood surging/Trying to feed.” And in, While You Sleep, “You think things/I can’t control/My black jealous throat/Can’t swallow.” But the defining poem of the book is, War. In a mere 40 words, this poem captures the ethos of the book in its summary of a well-established, but somehow damaged sexual relationship.
If you are with a real man
You are at war
A real woman knows
What roams their blood
When he licks my throat
I’m a kitten
Not a soldier
The book concludes with a three-part, untitled poem with a romantic longing for intimacy and ruinous human connection.
Pressed against him
I look up
But in the blacks of my eyes
I have curiosities
I’m not afraid of the dark
(from untitled, p.42)
Karina Bush is in a league of her own; a poet whose poetry epitomizes unfettered lust and dysfunctional love. Of all the small press books I have reviewed here at Screaming with Brevity, this has been the one that has taken me in the most unexpected directions. This is the book that, as a small press reviewer, I have been searching for. Maiden is daring, brave, brash, gentle, beautiful and disgusting; a truly unique work.
Author: Karina Bush
Publisher: 48th Street Press
Publication Date: June 2016
Page Count: 43
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