Patricia Young, author of 12 previous books of poetry, has embarked on a peculiar mission in her latest volume: getting inside the psyches of animals with deviant (by human standards) sexual practices. Summertime Swamp Love is the apotheosis of the poet’s fascination with sex and courtship rituals of various animals, birds, insects, and fish.
Each poem is prefaced by a scientific quote that attempts to give the ensuing narrative an authoritative tone. Yet what Young offers is a mishmash of human perversions and existential ruminations projected onto unsuspecting creatures.
In “eHarmony: Whiptail Lizard Seeking Whiptail Lizard for Fake Sex,” Young turns parthenogenetic reproduction – the development of an egg without fertilization – into a low joke. the cold-blooded whiptail lizard is known to simulate sex to increase fertility. Young’s poem renders this instinct as nonsensical farce, conflating parthenogenesis with the casual sexual encounters of humans: “my blood’s / heating up fast … / I don’t need you / but I want you.”
In her introduction, Young states that what drew her to this endeavour was “the infinite and ingenious strategies nature’s males and females employ to cajole, bully, and even deceive each other into mating.” The poet admits she initially resisted the urge to anthropomorphize these experiences out of fear of entering the realm of exploitation; but these doubts were obviously cast aside.
Who is the audience for these poems? Childish readers who will snicker at the shock value of lines like, “I’m a ditsy birdbrain, sure, but that don’t mean / I’m gonna sit on my sweet passerine / ass and stew in silence.” Surely not anyone with a hankering for empiricism, as the poems oscillate wildly between fact and fancy. The collection is cute at best, and crass in its audacity.