Extreme Positions

Extreme Positions

The Soft-porn Industry Exposed…

Stephen Bett’s new book of poetry, Extreme Positions, is based on a hilarious soft-porn spoof. Each poem begins with a simple blank-face, stark naked line drawing of “boy & girl next door” figures in utterly physically impossible sexual “positions”. Accompanying the text are witty cultural or literary allusions, a calorie burn count for “him” & “her,” equipment required (deodorant, etc.), cautions & hazards (such as requiring a lawyer and/or chiropractor).

In this volume, Bett is riffing on language itself. These humorous, self-referential poems are tied to the langue, the argot, not just comic satire. There’s an effort at a more serious humour underlying cultural and philosophical issues that seem to plague us in our increasingly vapid monoculture.

Ordering Extreme Positions


“However, when poet Stephen Bett picked up the book from a Valentine’s Day sale table at the UBC bookstore, he found something completely different—inspiration. Bett’s ninth book of poetry, Extreme Positions finds the former Langara instructor riffing on 67 of the source material’s positions including “the Pinball Wizard” and “the Multi-tasking Executive” in what he describes as ‘sporn’ or ‘horny porny satirized humorously.’”

- Michael Kissinger, “Horny poet assumes the position”, Vancouver Courier, Wednesday, January 27, 2010.
(see the full article/interview)

“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.”

- Billey Rainey, Exquisite Corpse (Sept 9 /09)

“I’m already a big fan of your poems, so these ones only corroborate that fact. You have great energy and are full of life and, my god, you sure know how to write….Great fun. I really like the poetry — immensely! I know if Joel Oppenheimer were alive he would love your new book of poems. These are just the kind of poems he championed. All the poems are very good in this collection, but some are sensational, really, and I marvel at their execution and delivery, they are so full of jazz and what comes after jazz, whatever that is. …The book is a seamless entity, joined by these parts (the poems), telling the story of a man in the beginnings of the new century. They are pleasing to the ear, pleasing to hear, they look good on the page, they are so subtley crafted. … Bravo! I’m still reading your books and still liking reading them, great stuff, in fact.”

- Michael Stephens, poet, novelist, critic, award winning author

“Spent quite some time going through Stephen Bett’s work. Was impressed by the consistency of voice & tone. Read quite a few out loud to catch his modality. Lots of quick skips and shifts you don’t catch if you read too quick. Reminded me of Olson’s comment on Pound, how his mind moves like light on water.”

- Ken Cathers, poet

“Keep going with this sequence. The soft-core-help-books on sex really deserve to be skewered. I like reading mocking, dismissive, and allusive humour, especially when it shows up in your poems. Always will.”

- John Tyndall, poet, critic