Book review: Purpose and Devil Piss, by Robert Siek

Purpose & Devil PissSiek, Robert. Purpose and Devil Piss. Sibling Rivalry Press. 2013. $16.95. 79p. PB. 978-1-937420-50-5.

In long block poems, Robert Siek’s first poetry collection explores daily life through a lens that shows the way that the ordinariness of the outside world often conceals extraordinarily dark inner workings. This unflinching gaze combines the erotic with the ordinary, bringing both to life through a contrast in which Siek excels.

“It’s troubling to decide if I’m disgusted or horny,” Siek writes in “All the Life Forms,” and it’s that attitude that seems to encapsulate so much of this collection. There is an explicit eroticism in this collection that shines a light on Craigslist hookups, anonymous chat rooms, gay-for-pay porn, and the everyday lust that hits people in the most mundane moments. These poems often feature a juxtaposition of the ordinary with the lecherous. The poem “Auto Shop Mixer,” for example, starts with the speaker lifting a used car battery out of his car to exchange it for a new battery, but it quickly changes into an analysis of how one of the Latino mechanics “walked like a hustler approaching a john” that prompted thoughts of “bathroom blowjobs, glory holes, and slow-motion cum shots.” This explicit combination repeats throughout the collection and forms one of the highlights of Siek’s voice.

Another point of Purpose and Devil Piss that stands out is the self-awareness that comes through in many of the poems. The poem “Like Clockwork” has the speaker woken up at four in the morning by his father who has high blood pressure and recently suffered a heart attack. Instead of the gut reaction to rush and help that many may think comes instinctually, the speaker sits there “considering 9-1-1 because an ambulance would pick him up instead. I could sleep, then make it to work by 8:45.” In the end, the better angels win out, and the son takes the father to the hospital. But the recognition that we are rarely all good pervades throughout. Whether it’s “aggressive online dating tactics” or trying to figure out “what comes after bed death in a long-term relationship,” the tone of these poems is unflinching, unapologetic, and desperate to get the things it desires.

This collection is recommended for all libraries that collect poetry or have an interest in gay studies. It is also recommended for readers who like their poetry spicy and hard-hitting although this may not be the best introductory collection for those who don’t read a lot of poetry.

Reviewer: John “Mack” Freeman

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