O in Mouth

Publication Date


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing



Major Advisor

Martin Corless-Smith


Janet Holmes


Edward Test


The poems in O in Mouth are concerned with pleasure and guilt, self and other, form and transgression, orgasms and the weight of the moments after. They focus on orality in poetry and in sex, locating the mouth as the site of all these concerns.

Much of this book is written in dialogue with other texts, including Shakespeare’s sonnets, Dante's Vita Nuova, Helene Cixous's "The Newly Born Woman," as well as many others, including some of Pablo Neruda’s love poems. While reading representations of eros, I was excited by the passion and desire felt by the lovers; yet I found myself troubled by how, while exalted, the beloved (generally female) was often treated as if she was completely passive, always already dead. Reading, I found myself seeing from the active subject position of the lover, yet I could also see myself in the passive, silent, and often female beloved. The poems in this book attempt to respond to this complicated relationship; they want to participate in the long and rich history of love poetry, but they also speak back (hence the erasures and echoes in "L/B"). They desire to slide between the self and other, male and female and locate their Voice in the multiplicity of self that Cixous uses to define bisexuality in "The Newly Born Woman."

The manuscript begins in sonnets, because sonnets are a memory we keep in our mouths. But these sonnets are echoes, an experiment with the boundaries of this form that reflects their desire to push at the edges of self and voice. Their building tension acts as a framework for the rest of the book, asking the questions which are cyclically repeated throughout. How can we sustain the moments of love, orgasm, pleasure, presence? How do we cope with the fact that eventually we have to drag our bodies from the bed? And where and how do these two modes of living press in on each other?

The sections that follow repeat and build upon these themes. Using the mouth as the central place of sexuality and of speaking, the poems think about the push between pleasure and nonpleasure in circles. This book doesn’t treat love as an arching narrative which reaches its climax and ends in denouement. Instead it hopes to mimic the constant having and losing of love that is our experience. It uses the O as a visual and vocal representation of these circles while representing the void that is simultaneously necessary in their existence.

The book ends in a confessional mode, following the attempt to sustain pleasure and presence in the "cicadas." While one of their formal goals is to look at dull and mundane existence juxtaposed against those moments of lyric pleasure in the "cicadas," they find that this delineation is blurry. Pleasure pushes in.

Robert Creeley ends his poem, "The Language," by saying "Speech/ is a mouth." For him, the mouth and what it makes are simultaneous. Earlier in the same poem, Creeley tells us "Words/ say everything… I heard words/ and words full// of holes/ aching." Language, by design, must say everything, but this same language leaves us with painful absences. The poems in the following collection are meant to act as mouths and it is in these aching holes I wish to explore love in O in Mouth.