“transitions”, R.M. Francis
The Black Light Engine Room, Incidental Poetry series, 2015
Poetry that challenges
I think it’s important that poetry takes risks. And that it says what needs to be said. It’s not easy to write work that crosses boundaries – and, by doing so, challenges prejudices. It is necessary.
I’d argue that two essential ingredients help. The work needs to be deeply felt – have that urgency that Sylvia Plath famously called the ‘blood jet’, and Emily Dickinson, a ‘Loaded Gun’. And it needs to be carefully judged – clear in its communications, un-murky, non-aggressive.
R.M. Francis’s pamphlet, “transitions”, for me, delivers on both. I emerge respecting the care, and depth of feeling. And hearing its communication.
At the heart of the pamphlet, as it seems, is a sequence – dotted through the other poems, rather as with Andrew Waterhouse’s In – called ‘Nick, I’. This chronicles a transitioning from male to female – Nick to Nicki. But for this review I want to focus on another poem, ‘Fist’, which appears quite early in the (short) group. This poem is preluded by the quote from Alfred Kinsey ‘The only abnormal sex act is the one you can’t do’.
This poem, for me, takes a risk, and succeeds. It describes a ‘sex act’ – one character, ‘I’, fisting another (a male). An act – and poem – that I am sure might shock or prove abhorrent to some audiences, not least for its frankness:
A fist dipped in oil, warmed –
he leaned back, you’ve been warned
However, I think the poem’s clarity is its strength: its careful naming of a thing, shining a light. And its tenderness works to both move and communicate. ‘Totally exposed, / on his back, curled and me enclosed / within. I adore you, he hissed.’
The poem ends – crucially, I think – on the most tender and open of notes: ‘in a yin-yang of devotion, we rest’. In that sleep, exposed to the poem’s audience, I think lies the work’s greatest strength: its trusting us with its communication. A trust hard-won, and bravely communicated.