Review by Mindy Kronenberg
Ah, the kiss, a gesture so ingrained in our cultural imagination in so many guises. We have Rodin’s immortalized smooch elegantly rendered in marble; Klimt’s glittering, embracing couple; Romeo and Juliet’s tragic buss; fabled frogs turned princes with a peck; Alfred Eisenstaedt’s photo of a spontaneous clutch and smack of a sailor and nurse in Times Square celebrating V-J Day; the dreaded kisses of Judas and the God Father; the magical transformation in Craig Lucas’ play, A Prelude to a Kiss, of an ailing old man who kisses a bride on her wedding day; and Snoopy’s sloppy kiss of an indignant Lucy, who storms off in fury and fear over dog germs.
Well, pucker up! A Constellation of Kisses is an artful, robust, diverse collection of poems devoted to this not-so-simple gesture of pressing lips to lips (and sometimes elsewhere) to desired, unexpected, surprising, humorous, or frightening effect. There are nostalgic narratives included with shutter-bug captures of kisses, rhythmic recipes for romance, and succulent rituals in preparation and longing for the kiss that’s coming, as in “Satin Lips,” by Karla Huston (87):
First, she exfoliates:
rubs granules of sea salt,
sloughs off the cracks and chap
of too much, or too little use.
Then she applies a slippery
lip balm: sticky Plumeria kisses
and mango wishes,
and waits for someone to notice
how soft she’s become. …
There are also instructions to getting it right, taking the time, as in “Strategy of a Kiss,” by Michele Battiste (19):
Earlobe like an artichoke leaf. Savor
the jawlined jugular. Fingertips can place
the pulse, the heat. Rest your lips. Regress.
Revive for clavicle. Slide
To sternum. Trap
breath and wait for condensation.
Nipple can be tricked, cajoled. Take between
your lips and cast a mold, a certain fit,
The inside of elbow to wrist.
A sensuous, seductive dance of words meanders across the page in “After Your Shower” as Laure-Anne Bosselaar (32) follows a slippery, sly descent of a drop of water across the landscape of a lover’s body, dancing along the skin, “…& ambles along/ your/ spine,/ &, because I’m looking only/ at that tiny transparency,/ I shiver when it suddenly/ sucks up another drop,/ plumps,/ swells,/ & quavers now,/ buxom & boorish toward your loins. …” and ultimately is caught by the poet “with the hard,/ upcurled tip of my tongue, …”
In “Integration” by Wendy Barker (14) the poet recalls she was “Almost lost in his mouth” as her kissing partner tries to soften her earnest but rigid attempts, turn her proper articulation into a loosened utterance of desire, reminiscent of Joyce’s language of letting go in Ulysses: “My consonants: so crisp, he said./ Every one of my syllables clear, enunciated. But this now was a/ time for vowels, color, the fibrous textures of slow dipthongs,/ blurred edges letting i’s blend into u’s, long e’s open into ah, o,/ oh, oh, oh.”
Lockward ensures inclusion of poems dealing with female to male, male to female, same-gender kisses, familial kisses, and forbidden ones (“Men Kissing,” p. 149 and “Kissing,” p. 133), and even those that are initiated for political favor, as in the cocky and cautionary sonnet “Sycophant’s Guide to Ass-kissing,” by Marilyn L. Taylor, (148):
If you’ve kissed one, my friend, and think you’ve kissed
them all, don’t kid yourself. They’re everywhere.
So study them awhile before you waste
your sweetness on a worthless derriere. …
For those of us who know the affectionate pleasures of caressing and bestowing kisses on our fur-babies, there is “Kissing the Long Face of a Greyhound” by Yvonne Zipter (p. 163), celebrating the sensory communing of human-to-dog:
My dog’s head is the exact shape and size
of a Brooks leather bicycle saddle,
and I love to seat a kiss
on the snout of her,
bending over that jetty of a face,
our heads cheekbone to cheekbone—
if a hound can be found to have cheeks—
feel the velvet of that peninsula on my lips,
the faint scent of grime and grass,
the ghost of a tongue trail
grazing her platinum fur.
The poems in A Constellation of Kisses alternately shimmer and shiver in our imagination. Lockward’s anthology entertains and engages the reader by presenting kisses that land with an awkward or alarming heft, alight like a sigh, or are planted with a stroke of urgency. They also remind us that, in addition to its legacy from the lyric from “As Time Goes By,” made famous by Frank Sinatra and written by Herman Hupfeld (“You must remember this, a kiss is still a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh…”), a kiss goes a long and varied way in how we experience it.
A Constellation of Kisses
Edited by Diane Lockward
Terrapin Books, 2019
Mindy Kronenberg is an award-winning poet and writer with numerous publication credits world-wide. She teaches writing, literature, and arts subjects at SUNY Empire State College, publishes Book/Mark Quarterly Review, is editor of Oberon poetry magazine, and the author of Dismantling the Playground (Birnham Wood), Images of America: Miller Place (Arcadia), and OPEN, an illustrated poetry book (Clare Songbirds Publishers).