A Pen Erect
A Review of Stories About Penises, an Anthology of Short Stories and Poems
When I first cracked open the anthology of tales pertaining to male genitalia, I had no idea what to expect. But from the very first cheeky poem, to the last soliloquy, I found stories of romance, terror, sorrow, hilarity, reflection and so much more. The stories offered a multitude of perspectives. Whether that is the story of a woman coming to grips with her son’s transitioning gender, or a Victorian lesbian’s manipulative means out of marriage. This anthology has stories of exploration, from a man’s simple daydream of what would happen with the ‘slip of a salad knife,’ or a full consideration of the life a penis might have lived.
With an array of varying authors and intense narratives, this anthology is a welcomed retort to Eve Ensler’sThe Vagina Monologues. Guts Publishing, in their debut, have put together a group of authors that really represent a breadth of what the penis means today as well as what it has meant in the past. These stories not only celebrate and question the male member, but also speak to social constructs, spreading across several different countries, eras and gender fluidities. Even if some of these stories might find you scratching your head, or rubbing your… well anyway, there is something in this book for everyone.
At the opening of the book, a small and chirpy poem by Matt Dennison is the introduction into the onslaught of differing opinions and creative endeavors that make up the rest of the anthology. Following quickly along is a reflective piece by Gerry Marsh, of life with a dysfunctional downstairs. The book moves rapidly from one story to the next, changing time, setting, characters and tone at a rather fast pace. One of the few criticisms I would say is, I would have appreciated if there was more of a physical distance between stories, giving the reader time to breathe and take in the audacity of the previous narrative. With poetry mostly focused at the end of the book, it would have been nice to have the poems serve as pauses between stories. However, the final poem, ‘Too Many to Count’, by Kathleen A. Lawrence was the perfectly placed piece to end the series.
The stories that really stuck out to me were ‘How I Lost My Virginity in a Lobster Trap’, by Alex Carrigan, a hilarious and open piece about exactly what the title suggests. My curiosity was peaked in ‘The Camera-Shy Cock’ by Edward Appeldoorn, when a man, who serves as a backstage hand to his wife’s online sex career, has to move from behind the scenes to front and center. ‘Two Doves’ by Christina Lovin held an inquisitive and retrospective look into a life that very few might have lived; mirroring morals with injustice and those who find themselves in the position of survivor in the firmest sense of the word. ‘Garden of Vaginas’ by Shringi Kumari held a gripping shock factor that grabs any westerner immediately and refuses to let go, and even leaves the reader slightly haunted thereafter. Although other honorable mentions should be made with ‘Field’ by Molly McLellan, ‘Homage’ by Tobsha Learner and ‘We’re So Sorry’ by Julianne Ingles.
While parts of this anthology allow erotica to play its part, for the most part, these are fiction and nonfiction stories about encounters, dismemberments, disfigures, and dismay. From the medical anatomical reality of living with a “Gilly”, to the use of a “pocket rocket” as a form of confrontation. From the build of the beginning, each story had me questioning the characters, curious to their journeys and often wanting more. Although the cadence of these stories all seems to pack quite a punch. As if each story were a joke and the endings the punchline. I found myself giggling like a school child, or utterly blown away by some of the author’s experiences or imagination.
Overall, Stories About Penises is a collection of stories you never thought you would want to read. But once you get the crack of an opening line from a new author’s pen, you can’t help but dive in and race to the finish line. This anthology offers a series of views, from feminist to reflective. The mix, poetic prose and prosaic poetry, allows the reader to sit in conversation with a new world, a new ideal, and a new identity as to what the penis means to the world today. It will have you reeling and recounting your own encounters with the presumptive penis.