Soft Threat by alexis Pope
Coconut Books, 2014; 108 pp
Reviewed by Carleen Tibbetts


Alexis Pope’s first full-length collection, Soft Threat, first and foremost, could not be more appropriately titled. Sandwiched between an introductory quote from extrovert poet supreme, Anne Sexton, and ending with Pope herself admitting having to fake extroversion to navigate all the worlds she inhabits as human/poet/lover/partner/mother, is a series of intricate, introverted, and exquisite privacies laid bare so tenderly and honestly that one wonders where the “threat” in the title looms. Moving through the work, I realize Pope herself is the vulnerable, tender threat. She truth-knifes the reader with lines like, “I have these missiles/and no one to hold them,” and “there are never/enough strawberries in my pockets/when i am trying to tell you that hell/is not where you think it is.” Each of the three sections in the book begins with lyrics from tracks of Hole’s “Live Through This” album, and several poems are also titled after songs penned by Courtney Love. Reading Pope’s words against the backdrop of Courtney’s persona, intensity, and reputation, these poems are little razorblades tucked into babydoll dresses. They are the stains on the silk before the Celebrity Skin makeover. They reverb. Pope rivals Sexton’s confessional verse and Love’s outspoken sexual frankness with lines admitting to wanting “a good man/with diamonds/for his dick.” While some of these poems make us feel safe and small like “Moonrise Kingdom” with its innocence and whimsy, this book isn’t cute. Pope doesn’t dial it down. Bedroom fantasyscapes, relationship failures, pregnancy, miscarriages, and what it means to move in and among this world as a female body are just some of the themes Pope tackles. She isn’t afraid to get a little bloody in her subject matter and language. There is such an excellent balance both in terms of content and form in Pope’s work. Many poems are narrative and tight in their structure, while others become more blown apart on the page. In terms of speaker and voice, there is the I and there is the i. There is “fuckedoffness” and “crotchbloom.” There is the beauty of “I felt a swan nest/in my navel & I gave you my high sap.” Pope’s poetry is the exquisite high sap, and I don’t want to wash away the stick.