Extreme Positions
by Stephen Bett

Reviewed by Billey Rainey

The human imagination is inventive. The wheel, the written word, airplanes, and the Final solution are all our creations.

But, shockingly, the recent deluge of sex columnists, sex blogs and sex manuals suggests that we lack ingenuity in the expression of sexual appetites. What a relief then, that Canadian Stephen Bett’s new collection of poems, Extreme Positions … the soft-core industry exposed, skewers this would-be-wicked self-help genre, revealing the desperation and often false urbanity of the gymnast-masquerading-as-therapist.  

Extreme Positions is Bett’s ninth book of poetry and signals a return to the social satire of High-Maintenance, Three Women, and Sass ‘n Pass.

Employing the spoof soft-porn book Position of the Day Playbook: Sex Every Day in Every Way (January 1-December 31) as a launchpad, Bett describes the line drawing that accompanies each position, and includes that book’s calculation of calories burned, suggestions for essential and optional equipment, and the potential hazards. Then, he crafts a poem that pokes a hole in the playbook’s ironic humour and, he suggests, its unintentional misogyny.

Bett’s eloquent, tongue-in-cheek technique is well-illustrated in “POSITION 23:  THE ‘DROP ME AND I’LL SUE’”:

LINE DRAWING: male standing ‘up’ straight, holds female ‘onto’ him; she’s squatting right ‘into’ him, legs spread & knees curled around his mid-section, her hands grasping onto his wrists, she leans back straight out, perpendicular to him, horizontal long drop to floor; they make a one-sided ‘H’ shape, no right side to hold her up, she’s leaning out solo, tits up

CALORIES:    Him 100.8
                         Her   132


Gotta pray on this one

Pray for lower discs
his & hers
L4, L5

Pray for sciatic nerve

Pray for nerves,
for ‘the nerve’
of it

Pray for a
right nak’id
& drawing

on yer knees
‘fore it’s
too late


The sophistication of Bett’s shifting points of view and slangy, nudge-nudge/wink-wink diction focuses readers’ attention on the queasy-making implications of law as a replacement for sentiment.

Demonstrating the influence of postmodern American poets Ed Dorn, Robert Creeley, and Anselm Hollo, Bett cuts his lines short and hones language. The intention is to thrust cleanly, as if with a stiletto, into the heart of his subject.

And as “POSITION 36: SEX ON THE BRAIN” shows, Bett isn’t above mixing a sly and irreverent commentary on the classically crafted and often mind-numbing poetry of Ezra Pound into his discourse:

LINE DRAWING: he’s standing up, slightly bent at knees; she’s facing him, but upside-down, her head bent with her neck on the floor; he’s holding her spread thighs, ‘into’ him; she’s grasping on, hands around his knees

CALORIES:   Him  75.4
                        Her   82

HAZARDS:    Stiff Neck

Hold that very

Hold it till
your neck’s

Right through
your heavy

Pound it
till it all

Till someone
cries Uncle
Ezra, pls

Clearly, Bett, who acknowledges a friend’s advice on his dedication page that “poetry can never sell without a sex aide,” offers self-deprecation and wry chuckles along with his cultural critique.