A word used to describe talkativeness with an undercurrent of impertinence, mouthy is rarely reserved for men—though many fit the bill. Rather, mouthy is most often leveled at women seen as headstrong, opinionated, and otherwise a threat to patriarchy. Mouthy is also a delightfully self-aware and sex-positive full-length collection written by Chicago-based poet Emily Rose Kahn-Sheahan that travels between the poles of brazenness and hesitance, desire and loneliness, exploring everything found between.
Mouthy, too, is the titular poem which opens the book, boldly setting the tone. “My mouth don’t let me be quiet,” the speaker begins, the poem building confidence as it moves down the page. “Got a boom throat,” she continues, the fresh and unexpected metaphor as empowering as it is titillating. The poem ends with the lines “They get me into the good / trouble worth all this voice,” leading seamlessly into the book’s first section, “The Trouble.”
There are several poetic threads that run across all sections of the book, connecting the whole work. There are poems with “Lonely” in the title, wherein Lonely is personified, sometimes as the speaker in first person, sometimes with a bit of distance in third. There are also enumerated “Dirty Thought” poems, often with a subtitle like the excellent “Dirty Thought IV: Ripe Fruit, In Season,” which gives us the amazing lines “this is what Summer / smells of: salt / and effort.” These poems are presented in non-sequential order throughout the book, numbered from two to six, the number one notably excluded. The language is tighter and more clipped than in the other poems, often imperative.
The poems not in these series are still in communication with one another, like the brief “36 Questions.” Here, the speaker imagines getting to know a significant other, though none of the questions are named, and the five-times-as-long “36 Answers” directly follows it, in which all of the answers are given without the benefit of knowing the questions (“22. You go first. / 23. My family is more warm than close. I am grateful my childhood wasn’t worse. / 24. Blessed and easily frustrated.”). This disparity does an excellent job at underscoring the notion that the speaker is trying harder than the people she meets in a romantic context, or has more to offer. This inequality is a running theme throughout the work.
I particularly love the brief references to the exasperating questions the speaker is asked about her beleaguered love life. Prime examples of this are “Have You Considered Freezing Your Eggs?” which opens with the heartbreaking lines “This is my slow winter, my constant, the bloom / that won’t bud in frost, unseasoned,” and “When my mother asks, ‘Have you considered dating women’?” which begins wryly, “It’s not that the topography / is unappealing.”
Finally, I appreciate, above all else, how utterly, endearingly clever Kahn-Sheahan is. Little turns of phrases like “The Two Men I Was In Love At,” imply, just from the deftly-worded title, that the speaker’s affections are not only unrequited, but that perhaps she does not even understand what she should be yearning for (“It’s easy // to say I was too much fire for them / when I have nothing but wet matches // and the need for heat.”). That the book closes with a poem titled “Opening” is satisfying, turning the old “when one door closes” nonsense on its head, and essentially settling on the fact that it is entirely okay to end a book of poems about feelings with the conclusion that “I’m not interested // in feelings today.”
It is precisely this mix of ingenuity and spirit that led me to do a bit more research on Ms. Kahn-Sheahan (okay, a cursory Google search). I was delighted to find out that this title was funded via Kickstarter, with such wonderful backer rewards as postcards featuring original artwork and poems from the book or hand-knit scarves by the author. As a strong supporter of crowdsourced art, I commend this effort—and lament having missed out on the scarf!
Emily Rose Kahn-Sheahan
Thoughtcrime Press, 2016