“He tried to make a body out of words, to make words a body”, wrote Brad Richard in “The Body, The Word”; that sentiment seems to permeate throughout his 2012 collection Butcher’s Sugar. This collection tells the story of coming-of-age and entering sexual desire, with all of the complimentary emotions, beauty, and violence that this implies. In these poems, Richard doesn’t pull his punches. Instead he presents tales of youth in sexual exploration, youth inaugurated into the world of sex with older men, and youth wasting away as age takes its hold.
Two parts of this collection deserve special notice. The first is the collection of poems that features the Greek god Hermes. “Dead Tongues,” “Hermes with the Corpse of Hector,” “Young Soldier Watching Hermes Sleep After Sex,” “Hermetic Nocturne,” and “Hermetic Psalm” all feature the god in various sexual exploits with different boys and men. The homage to Greece invokes the idea of institutionalized pederasty and a historical era where this sort of initiation to sex was an ordinary part of life. In addition, the language in these poems is smooth, ever flowing, and so memorable that you hate for them to end so quickly.
The other part is the poem “Eye-Fucking” based on the murder of Nicholas West in Tyler (TX) in 1993 that stands out from the rest of the collection for its length and narrative structure. Told from the perspective of one of the two men who bashed West to death, its chilling and remorseless language causes the poem to remain in memory long after other poems are fading.
The primary emotion I receive from Richard’s work is conflicted as he presents the sexual awakening of youth that does not hold back from its eroticism. We live in a society that places hard lines on the appropriate age to consider someone a sexual being, and this acknowledgement of sexual desire in teens and preteens is uncommon. Factor in the number of poems that consider violent sexual acts, pederasty, and other incestuous acts, and you might be left with the idea that this collection is only negative and dark. But that’s too simple: many of the poems are breathless romances. They are all aspects of the same beast, and some of the beast can be hard to view.
This is Brad Richard’s third collection after Habitations and Motion Studies. Currently, he is the chair of creative writing at Lusher Charter High School in New Orleans.
This collection is recommended for all libraries that collect modern poetry, but it will find its main audience among GLBTQ men.
Reviewer: Mack Freeman