Horny poet assumes the position

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Stephen Bett was inspired by the Position of the Day Playbook to produce a book of satirical poems.

Poetry book satirizes satire of porn industry

Written by Michael Kissinger.
Originally published in The Vancouver Courier on Wednesday, January 27, 2010.

Some of you might be familiar with the Position of the Day Playbook. It’s a coffee table book featuring 366 line-drawn diagrams of “erotic coupling.” If you’re like me, you received it in your Christmas stocking a few years ago from your significant other and were disappointed to discover the instructional tome was intended to be jokey and conceptual rather than practical. 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.” Before leaving town to get married, Bett penetrated the Courier’s 10 Questions with his massive, innuendo-filled wit.

1) What about the Position of the Day Playbook did you find inspiring?

I thought the source book was witty and clever, almost whimsical in the way it was both taming and satirizing the porn industry (clever allusions—in the line drawings’ titles— to literary and cultural issues, icons, etc.). I immediately realized the book’s potential for me to “riff” poems based on the drawings… It didn’t take long to realize I could not only humorously satirize the porn industry, but take a poke (I can’t stop punning when I talk about this) at the source book’s implicit sexism.

2) How is it sexist?

The source book does satirize the porn industry very cleverly. But the “boy” clearly takes the lead role in the drawings over the “girl,” I think. So I’m “satirizing the satire,” too, jabbing at the source book as well. Quite consciously. Taking a “position,” so to speak.

3) Out of the 366 positions depicted, how many do you have intimate knowledge of?

Not very many, for sure (ha!). Seriously, most of these are gravity-defying positions. That’s part of the whimsical wit, of course. Many of the line drawings come with warnings under their titles requiring “post-position” visits to chiropractor and/or lawsuit lawyer.

4) Do readers need to be familiar with the source material or the positions being described to have a better understanding of your poems?

Well, I tried really hard (no, not a pun!) to present each drawing to my reader with my own two or three line italicized “header” (sorry again, can’t stop—I do need help) describing the drawing. So, under my italicized description, I “positioned” each poem. So the idea is that the reader doesn’t need to see the drawings at all to get the poems.

5) For poetry based on a book of sexual positions, I found the poems surprisingly less than erotic. Was that on purpose?

Absolutely. The line drawings are simply a starting point for the poems. Riffing on the drawings in order to expose (gasp) underlying social, cultural, philosophical issues.

6) The popularity of poetry isn’t what it used to be. What do you think it would take to raise poetry from the level of, say, a toe-sucking fetish to a missionary position level of mainstream popularity?

It ain’t gonna happen, is it? Poets are not (sorry Shelley) the true “legislators” of the world. But you’ve got me thinking. Poetry as fetish, hmmm. The poet as missionary, ahhh.

7) Is poetry still a good tool for wooing?

I grew up listening to Bob Dylan (and our very own Cohen). Child of the ’60s. Every hetero boy thought girls would really “go” for poets. My very first publication was in Rolling Stone Magazine. I thought I had it made. Manno, was I wrong! On the other hand, I’ve just finished my 11th book of poems, one of the aims of which is to make my fianc?e cry (weep, wail, flail, land me in jail). But, nope. Nada. She’s dry-eyed. And I’m a flop. A soft-touch.

8) What’s a common misconception people have about poets?

That they speak in rhyme (or “rime,” as my post-modern mentors spelled it).

9) Do you own or have you ever owned a beret?

No. But glad you asked: I do own two Tottenham Hotspur Football Club ball caps.

10) What do you do you to relax?

I’m a voracious reader (poetry, fiction). I play metro league soccer twice a week. Then there’s… you know, a stiff interest in a few otherworldly things.

For more insight into Bett’s poetic mind, go to www.stephenbett.com

—Michael Kissinger