Book Review: Extra Illicit Sonnets

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Extra Illicit Sonnets, George Elliot Clarke, Exile Editions,, $18.95

Extra Illicit Sonnets is a book of poetry of various forms, centring around “blank” sonnets by George Elliot Clarke. It tells the story of an affair between Sonja Fuentes of Andorra, a Catalan older woman, and Luca Xifona of Canada, a younger Libyan-Maltese man.

Percussive sound and sexual acts are Clarke’s primary fixations in the book, as its first poem opens with: “I like to fuck, and hold forth on fucking,/ For I hold fucking dear.” Yet, he notes at the book’s conclusion that ‘illicit’ refers to “irregular.” The poetry and peppering of erotic illustrations by Claire Weissman Wilks tells a different story.

The lovers travel to different locations during their affair, from Rodos to Morocco, and while there is some sense of place, the focus is definitely on the various bodily acts the couples engage in usually on ‘white sheets.’

This is a book of poetry that truly benefits from being read aloud – as I did (comically and awkwardly) with friends one evening – so that Clarke’s commendable worship of sound becomes evident in lines like “A white-and-black/Duet, we roar in sheets – as if hived bees,/ Until we breathe honey – mead – and we drown.”

Unfortunately, there were clunkier elements that detracted from the experience, such as words being capitalized and italicized without explanation and the plethora of obscure references unsolvable even with a Google search. I was also left questioning the believability of Clarke’s supposedly feminine voice as Sonja, who is repeatedly compared to some species of animal or another gone out of its senses, frothing at the mouth over sex with Luca.

It’s a fun read. But for the warm-hearted romantic reader, the book surprisingly lacks emotional range and depth, as the couple cling desperately to sex, and seem to find little else in life, or each other, valuable. (Fiona Raye Clarke)

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