Wednesday, December 17, 2008



Your Ten Favorite Words by Reb Livingston
(Coconut Books, 2007)

When my oldest daughter was a child, I asked her what she liked best about a ballet performance. She was perturbed about being prodded to choose. "Everything," she replied. That's actually how I feel about Your Ten Favorite Words. I love every word of it.

Nonetheless, one of my favorite sets of ten words in Your Ten Favorite Words is: camisole, bra, spectral, polygamy, smitten, quantity, quality, lover, fissured, and pretendography. I also liked these hyphenated words: candle-waxed, coal-sucking, cartwheel-thrusting, coupon-clipping, home-wrecking, off-key, stick-up, one-time, blow-hole, and sink-hole.

As you can see, I've italicized the first set of words and haven't done so in the second set. That might or might not be important. You should read this book and find out (he says suggestively).

Your Ten Favorite Words is a smart, funny, angry and very adult book of poems about the power and pitfalls of eros, about the ways in which men and women stumble into one another, and about the fall-out from those collisions.

I'm aching to quote one of these wonderful poems in full:
My Lover Never

Matrimony had a lover;
they took bike rides together,

shared an angel sex partner,
tied her to a cement block and utterly rejected her.

My lover never gave a handjob
in the muck, hardly.

My lover is a sex lamb, incensed
and salmon-colored

like that man over there,
pruning his foreign foliage, ignoring me.

Awfully American, pretending not.
A fancy American wearing stripes.

I'm wearing a skirt.
I tried to call, a little hurt.

Attending yet another wedding.
My lover pumps a bright bicycle,

hoards wire hangers, licks moths,
finds pleasures inside his mouth.

Love, we must atone some.
Something inside must climb and crinkle.

You were never supposed to be my friend.
That's passion's funny lie.

An emotional universe is being sketched in the ravishing languagescape of "My Lover Never," and in each of the poems in this volume. Read these poems to yourself aloud, slowly and with deliberation.


I've been working, for the last few months, on a year-long exchange of views with Geof Huth. We're at a point in our conversation, coming off a discussion of Leslie Scalapino's work, where Geof has essentially asked (I'm paring things down for the purpose of this brief review) what--if any--differences I see between male and female writers--can I, for example, tell if an unattributed text was written by a male or a female. That is the sort of question that a male writer of a certain age, such as myself, needs to take a deep breath before approaching. It's also the sort of question that I love.

I'm not an essentialist. I don't believe men are this and women are that. I do believe though that men and women live in more or less different social contexts and that meaning itself is contextual. These kinds of things can be difficult to parse.(Such parsing is some part of what I believe Reb Livingston is attempting in Your Ten Favorite Words.)

This is to say that one of the many ways where things get complicated between men and women is when social and linguistic contexts that seemed woven together begin to visibly and audibly fray. Your Ten Favorite Words works that seam.

Your Ten Favorite Words is a delicious, thought provoking stroll among the landmines strewn across the battlefields of love. It is wonderful.

Here's ten more words from Your Ten Favorite Words to close things out: entwine, lament, clasping, conjure, wanton, unfocused, torso, frosty, dismal, thrum.


Tom Beckett is the author of This Poem/What Speaks?/A Day (Otoliths), Unprotected Texts (Meritage Press), and the curator of the E-X-C-H-A-N-G-E-V-A-L-U-E-S interview series (Otoliths). He is currently working on a year long conversation-in-writing with Geof Huth.

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