Review of Between the Cracks

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Between the Cracks: The Daedalus Anthology of Kinky Verse
edited by Gavin Dillard
Daedalus Press: San Francisco, CA. 1996. 354p.
ISBN 1-881943-10-0

Ladies and gentlemen, Daedalus Press is on a roll. As you'll recall, this is the same publishing company that produced Consensual Sadomasochism, which met with critical and popular acclaim on this mailing list and in the general public. Like Consensual Sadomasochism, Between the Cracks meets the highest standards of editing, binding, and typography. But unlike Consensual Sadomasochism, the focus of Between the Cracks is unique not only in the Daedalus catalog, but also nationwide.

According to the Daedalus press release for this book, this is the "only serious collection of poetry with kinky erotic themes ever published." I can't personally think of any others myself. Yes, some people have published chapbooks of their kinky verse, and some of these poems have been included in larger anthologies (such as Second Coming), but Between the Cracks contains ONLY poetry, and over 300 pages of it at that.

Between the Cracks contains poetry from a variety of ages and countries, beginning with Anakreon (560 B.C.) and continuing to the present day. As would be expected, far and away the largest share of the poetry is from the modern era (including a great many poems originally published in 1996), and the bulk of it is from American poets. As the modern BDSM/kink community is largely a product of the last half of this century and developed into its present form in America and Europe, this is unsurprising.

But what is absolutely FASCINATING about this anthology is to see how the explicit sex described by the hippest San Francisco writers is echoed in feeling, if not in content, by earlier literary masters. This anthology contains poetry from Walt Whitman, DH Lawrence, Edgar Allen Poe, etc. The topic of this anthology and the context in which their poems are presented encourages the reader to examine these classic works for images and nuances relevent to present day kinky sex. In that respect, this new book is a resounding success. I would have a hard time thinking of another poetry anthology that contains works by Emily Dickenson, Aleister Crowley, AND Pat Califia - this one does.

The quality of the works selected for this anthology are unifomly top-notch. Selections are catagorized into the following chapters:

  1. Externals
  2. Software
  3. Games we Play
  4. Hardware
  5. Family and Pets

As so much of the material in this volume is quite modern, a chronological ordering scheme wouldn't have made sense. The one selected actually grows on you as you progress through the anthology.

This book has obvious potential for kinky people. For those who haven't yet found any non-traditional sex that they respond to, this anthology might be valuable from a "personal exploration" standpoint. And even for those who just want to understand, this book can supply the soft, inner reasons why "we do what we do" that might get missed in the more theoretical or "how-to" books on BDSM/kink. Furthermore, it should be noted this book doesn't shy away from controversial topics - the only subject matter that wasn't included falls in the general realm of non-consensuality, such as lust-murder or non-consensual rape. Please take note of chapter 5: "Family and Pets". Any book that is willing to include erotic material on these topics is unlikely to shy away from any other, more common kink. Between the Cracks doesn't.

For people who are kinky and who like poetry, this book is a "must-have". For others, it's "highly recommended".

Generally, in reviews it's considered appropriate to include a sample of the work being reviewed. Book reviews include broad summaries of the topics and arguments being discussed; this is appropriate for books as the ideas they contain are usually more important than the writing style. Siskel and Ebert commonly show clips of the movies they are reviewing. In that spirit, I'm going to include a representative poem from this anthology. This poem by Pat Califia, and will probably also be published in Ms. Califia's soon-to-be-published book of poetry called Diesel Fuel (through Masquerade Press). The thing to keep in mind is that this is representative of the poems in this anthology, and the quality of the other works included in it generally meet this standard.

"The House Boy's First Day"
by Pat Califia

So many people say, "Please let me serve you, mistress"
When they really mean, "Why haven't you tied me up yet,
Whipped me, and fucked me yet?"
Tired of this, sometimes I won't bite,
But the loneliness and a herniated disk encourage me to gamble
On the latest offer from a butch young farmboy
Who really wants to garden but will
Do housework if that's what it takes to get
Access to the topsoil of my overgrown back yard.

You arrive wearing shorts with your leather jacket,
And you've shined your beatup combat boots until
They look like patent leather.
Even your nose ring twinkles.
You dykes in your twenties with your bare knees and twentyseven earrings
Seem to have enough energy to polish entire freeways.
It's endearing and a little scary
To someone like me who has been wearing pajamas
A lot more often than my leather.
Picking up the remote control hurts me, and
If I have to climb more than one set of stairs in a day,
I have to take a nap. Forget parallel parking.
I know there is gray hair under the bodacious burgundy
I've thrown on my hair.
I know this won't work; I have nothing for you.
But I've promised to give it a try,
And my sadism dictates that I give you a chance to fail.

So I leave you with a list, keys to the house,
Brand-new bottles of cleaning supplies.
When I return I expect to find a sullen house
Full of half-completed chores.

Instead, the rooms are full of peace, serenity, and Pine-Sol.
The vacuum cleaner is warm to the touch.
The corners of the kitchen floor wink like mirrors
Signaling rescue is on the way.
In the disk rack, plates wait to be used again,
Clean as an unopened deck of playing cards.
The cats are asleep, having accepted your service
As something natural and benevolent,
Like sunshine or the water in canned tuna.
As cats will, they leave the task of gratitude to me.

In my laundry basket,
A Japanese poem waits for me,
Formal in its simplicity,
Beauty made manifest by self-discipline
(Honor, like God, being in the details).

The T-shirt, socks and briefs
Are compartmentalized like the food in a TV dinner.
No sock has gone unmated.
The unwieldy Y-fronts have been turned right-side-out
And snapped into boot-camp shapes as rectangular as a shoebox.
The folded T-shirts are stacked up like coins.

And I suddenly feel rich
With the abundance of love
That has quietly waited
For me to come home and discover it
Like an unexpected inheritance.

No one could deserve such care.
I know myself incapable of this serene and graceful service.
Instead I offer you what chatelaines and overlords
Can spend upon their charges:
A list, my keys, and the tools to do your work,
My name if it should ever be of use to you,
Hands to take your reins,
White gloves to run along your cracks and edges,
A roof to shield your fealty,
A vocation that deserves your loyalty.

With scrub brushes and dusters,
We craft a sort of romance
More potent than the love that's made
By most, who woo armed only with a kiss.

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