Alexis Fancher's How I Lost My Virginity and...
Alexis Rhone Fancher's collection How I Lost My Virginity To Michael Cohen and Other Heart-Stab Poems is an unabashed telling of a woman's sexual experiences. Her poems are explicit in detail and raw in emotion as she writes about childhood experimentations and losing her virginity as well as about the failures and pleasures of her adult life.
Fancher writes in multiple forms, mainly free verse, and in varying poem lengths, the shortest of which is "The Happiest Men in L.A.," a five-line poem in a single stanza. She also uses prose poetry in pieces such as "This is Not a Poem", "Polaroid SX-70 Camera", and "Happy Dick: A 100 Word Story", as well as haiku sets in "Five Urban Haiku" and the final piece, "The Seven Stages of Love: An L.A. Haiku-Noir Sequence". These forms are woven throughout with balance, and each change gives an angle to the poem's subject matter. For instance, one-third of the way into the book, a series of short, single stanza pieces titled "The Best ___ in L.A." pull the reader from the first-person intimacy of the longer poems that come before into the third-person view of life and love going on outside the speaker's immediate presence. This similarly plays out in the haiku sets that, while in the first person, give a feeling of opening out into the larger view of love as many experience it.
While many of the poems are not in a chronological order, the themes do follow a narrative arc. The book begins with pieces about adolescence and immature sexual relationships. The collection's retrospective tone is set with these earliest memories, as in the first and titular poem, "How I Lost My Virginity To Michael Cohen", a piece presented as a list in which the speaker describes her first time having sex. This piece introduces Fancher's play with the idea of innocence in the lines "When he entered me, it didn't hurt. /"I thought you were a virgin," he said. / I thought of the dildo that pleasured me in secret." While the poem's title indicates that this is her first experience, the speaker hints that she is far from innocent at the beginning of the scene as is later depicted in poems such as "The First Time I Gave Cousin Lisa an Orgasm" and "At Twelve, The Awakening." Youth in each of these poems is clouded by darkness -promises implied and broken, pleasure requiring penance, loneliness, adults turning away or taking advantage - all of which centers on sexual urges that the speaker names as a glimpse into [her] future.
This future is continued through pieces in which the speaker wrestles with her sexuality and how she is labelled negatively because of it. In Subterranean Lovesick Clues", a piece about the speaker at thirteen when she was kissed and then rejected by a devout Catholic girl, this labeling first comes to light in the lines of the fifth part:
The Gospel According to St. Dona:
She is the innocent,
I am the sin.
I am the bad girl
That let sin in.
The speaker moves on from the notion of her as the sin in the relationship, but many of Fancher's poems return to this feeling of sin that stems from her sexuality. This idea is explored further in the piece "College Roommates", when the speaker sees herself as at fault for being raped, seeing her own promiscuity as teasing her roommate until he attacked her. Even in the aftermath, she sees herself as having ruined him for others because she "fell for hard men / with bad intentions. / Not men who loved [her]."
The honesty Fancher expresses in these pieces of both good and bad experiences is refreshing, and the straight-forward and, at times, harsh nature of her word choice is beautiful. "Dark Options" describes an unhealthy relationship with strong images that leave the reader nervous in the last two stanzas:
Sandmen have made themselves at home in your lashes.
Dark blood is matted in your hair.
It's 2 a.m. but I'm awake.
I could have shaved my legs, could have blown you when you
asked, stopped being (what did you call me?) a withholding bitch.
I like you best comatose, compromised, your back to me.
Red is your color.
How I Lost My Virginity To Michael Cohen and Other Heart-Stab Poems leaves nothing out. There is no topic too taboo for Fancher, which makes her work only more engaging. While this collection focuses on sex and love, it really delves into the nature of being human, coming out the other side of difficulties and surviving. The final haiku of the final piece sums up the collection: "deep in my breathing / I stand outside of myself / and see me, breathing."
(How I Lost My Virginity To Michael Cohen and Other Heart-Stab Poems, Alexis Rhone Fancher, Sybaritic Press, October 2014, http://www.sybpress.com)