The “Dedication to Venus” at the opening of Advice for Lovers declares “I am a love poet, and dedicate all my verses to Love, that god among goddesses, goddess among gods.” Although Julian Talamantez Brolaski marks xir book in this most familiar of poetic traditions, the lyrics that follow tumble and cavalcade into new landscapes, rich with rhythms and language so fresh that they are able to transform recognizable forms into wanton, unexpected romances.
“O would that I would brim to be so bold / To swim into that icy throne, decanted / With your crotchless chaps, ruthless to behold,” begins one of many recurring sonnet variations. Brolaski occupies an erotic and a lyric role that are inseparable from one another. Xe is a sort of instructor of love, heralding new modes of (queer) sex by mining them out of the past and out of the available language. “How to Brag to Your Lover,” as one poem is titled. “On How to Blazon Your Lover,” “The Perfect Love Poem Tutorial,” and “Fuck Me Harder,” to give a few other examples. And like any good instructor, Brolaski is as quick to critique as to encourage. Xe shifts across spectrums of masculinity and femininity, of top and bottom, in a way that argues for their interdependency. “Let’s this or that, let’s hard and then let’s harder.” Or, “I’ll have you panting while I stroke my whip / And begging while I idly lift my dress.”
By ignoring and sometimes flaunting accepted modes of gender and sex, Brolaski’s advice extends far beyond any sort of postmodern critique of gender politics. Instead, xe embraces the charged erotic power that is dormant in our poetics and our bodies. We regularly encounter variations on familiar lines, both from elsewhere in the collection and from a wide range of other poetries. “Transcoping this goy’s grist or that one’s scope,” we’re lulled into something recognizable and advised that nothing is recognizable, that everything must be taken on its own terms and invented again. “Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples, for I am sick with love,” as one poem quotes Song of Solomon. It’s an engagement with language that is as rewarding as the lyric qualities are erotic. Paired with Brolaski’s unique, improvisational voice, the collection becomes thick with pleasure.
Put another way, Brolaski is having fun here, a sexy teacher ready to discipline and be disciplined. Because good sex is fun, after all, even when it’s disconcerting, or challenging, or exhausting. And the act of reaching into poetry and pulling out something kinky should also have some joy in it. The lover, directly addressed, is “Thou / Devonshire-within-reach // You filthy gadabout / Endearinger than a cuscus // Thou diver with a miner’s / Attitude about birds.” The fun makes the poems rollick, pulling us across lines that are so done up in tawdry drag it is sometimes difficult to keep up with their wit. It also, in an emotional topping from the bottom, allows Brolaski to engage honestly with the sorrows that come along with the whole project. The poem “What to Say Upon Being Asked to Be Friends” begins “Why speak of hate, when I do bleed for love?” Elsewhere, we learn that lovers speak of eyes because “It’s the humid beams they rapturate, it’s the vaporous tears they drink in place of sex, it’s the juice and its antidote.” Like in any good burlesque, the sadness and the joy compliment one another, adding depth to both. Somewhat sarcastic, somewhat performative, there is still an emotional core, taut across all the cries of “fuck me harder.”
“A rose is arrows is eros,” as one poem has it, and who is to argue? Love and lyricism are all the better for their queerness. Brolaski, with a powerfully trans poetic, instructs us on just this fact, cloying power dynamics, pulling hair, and refusing any of the quaint old boundaries. “Darling, I’d eat the sun / If it meant / What I want it to mean,” and you never doubt that xe would follow through on that threat. Advice for Lovers is the type of book that makes you see language with fresh eyes, challenging you toward something fiercer and more honest yet. It leaves you bruised and aching to be bruised again, and isn’t that what you were asking for after all?