- Kaleb A. Brown
Too Numb To Cum Book Review
Read on 12/01/2022
On my increasingly cluttered bookshelf, I have a tome of a book simply titled The Limerick. Edited by G. Legman, The Limerick is a collection of poems written in the eponymous form, which is characterized by its strict adherence to rhyme and meter. While not technically a requirement, limericks are further characterized by their overwhelmingly bawdy nature. The byline to the book is “this is the largest collection of limericks ever published, erotic or otherwise. Of the 1700 printed here, none is otherwise.” The book says erotic, I say bawdy, because there is a difference. While the poems are sexual, they aren’t really meant to titillate and I’d wager few even can titillate. Most limericks are absurd rather than sexy, they’re meant to make the reader laugh and don’t really take themselves seriously whether in terms of being a poem or a piece of erotica.
I bring this up because there are three ways of reading Too Numb to Cum, a chapbook of thirty highly sexual poems by Cody Sexton, managing editor of A Thin Slice of Anxiety. The first way to read it is essentially as a collection of unorthodox limericks. The form isn’t here at all — in fact, with Too Numb to Cum being as utterly unrhythmic as it is, a snob might be loathed to even call its entries poems, but they have enough of that special sauce to count for me (more on the ingredients in a bit). What is here and what connects it to the limerick tradition is the subject matter, the absolute lewdness of it all. Each poem is very sexual in nature, yet they’re more bawdy than erotic. It’s certainly possible to be turned on to some of the tamer scenarios, but every poem is screwed up in one way or another. At best, you’ll feel a bit uneasy reading a poem and at worst, you’ll audibly say “what the fuck?” This might happen once. Or twice. Probably eight or so times. It’s easy to see these as being shocking just for shock’s sake, just like limericks. And to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with this. I love limericks. Right next to The Limerick is a similarly thick tome with the inventive title of More Limericks.
But there’s another way to read Too Numb to Cum. Instead of a group of shallow, bawdy tales, the collection can instead be read as a critique of our society. Given the contents of the preface, the forward, the afterward and the many, many praises of the book, this seems to be the intended reading. And there’s certainly evidence in the text itself. For one, in the only bit of form that Sexton grants himself, each poem begins with “I want to watch a porno where—” By the end, the repetition of this line and the repetition of the insane scenarios make you start to feel numb to the whole thing. Beyond that, limericks operate on a certain type of comedy that these poems don’t. The comedy derived from these poems are largely muted, a type of quiet, nervous laugh from witnessing something horrible. This is in strict contrast to the drunken, loud laughs that a limerick is meant to create. A deeper read of Too Numb to Cum invites more engagement, as a disgraced, top-of-the-line Jedi pilot once said, “this is where the fun begins.” The poetic elements show themselves as each poem suddenly becomes infinitely complex. I found myself asking what aspect of society a particular poem was critiquing and at that point, reading became something of a fun puzzle. There are many different ways to interpret each poem and the collection as a whole, giving Too Numb to Cum a lot of re-readability. Still, just as the first reading does, this reading has a few issues as well. For one, some of the poems are just so absurd that it feels like there’s no way to interpret them besides just being shocking for shock value’s sake. Beyond this, I feel like the aforementioned preface, forward, afterward, and praises do a lot of heavy lifting in terms of priming readers towards specific readings. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the sharpest knife in the crayon box, but I can’t help but feel that the poems in-and-of-themselves do very little in fostering deeper readings. If those deeper readings are only possible due to the variable preambles, then can I really say the poems themselves are complex? Are they just meant to press buttons, after all?
There’s of course the third way of reading this: the sum of a bit of column A and bit of column B. The poems could have genuine meaning, but that doesn’t mean shocking readers isn’t another goal. ¿Por que no los dos? Each poem might indeed be a limerick, but one that you can read more into if you find it more entertaining to do so.
At the end of the day, I choose to do the latter even if I find it harder to do so for some poems than others. I’ll be sure to revisit the poems in order to look at them at new angles. The collection certainly isn’t for everyone — I’m sure the cover and the very title make that clear as day — but if you’re someone who appreciates something new and lewd, you should give it a read. It’s not perfect, but when it comes to reviews, we don’t fault ambition, nor novelty. It’s not quite what I’d do with the concept, but Sexton isn’t me and the collection has inspired me to try my hand at my own sexual-yet-meaningful poems, and if inspiring its reader isn’t a mark of a good book, I don’t know what is.