Hot with the Bad ThingsPoetry
Reviewed By Kelly Weber
- Alice James Books (2020)
- 100 pages
“When I open I need to know who. Or, when my mouth opens, it’s full of fire and still so hungry.” Lucia LoTempio’s gutting new book Hot with the Bad Things both meditates on the ethics of such opening of body and language––releasing everything that has been kept locked inside the speaker’s mouth. An essaying lyric on rape culture and sexual violence, particularly as located on college campuses, Hot with the Bad Things does important work thinking through and witnessing trauma with gorgeous intellect. LoTempio uses a lyric essay form with beautiful invention to consider the body and the violences of the patriarchy.
Part of what makes Hot with the Bad Things so powerful is how LoTempio considers the way violence corrupts or obliterates language itself. For example, the name of the rapist who reappears throughout the book is represented as a · , a kind of hole or wound in the field of the page that cannot be articulated. The effect is not so much anonymity as a vanishing point of thought and language in the place where a person would be. It’s powerful and distinctive. We as readers are made acutely aware of the gaps and blank spaces in the field of the page, even as the speaker also finds ways to say the trauma directly:
Told me a rape is a small
death something still lives
a blasphemous love for myself
and not dead or small There
is nothing triumphant
about red rising like next day
LoTempio finds words for both the trauma and the way “a blasphemous love” still exists for the self, demonstrating the holes, gaps, and pauses for breath in the caesura across the lines. As this passage illustrates, parts of the text also cut to image for what cannot be said: “red rising like next day,” or the question posed near the middle of the book, “Why is there a delicious doe under all these poems, so sweet and glowing, like the blue fire of a dead star too far away to even fathom, gorgeous as a knife sponged into sugar-dusted yellow cake?” On top of being gorgeous, these lines offer a kind of articulation of the impossible through image, offering surrealism and imagination in juxtaposition with the witnessing and reportage of violence grounded in such frank realism elsewhere in the book. It’s a powerful tension throughout Hot with the Bad Things, like we must contend with both imagination and reality to find ways to articulate both violence and a potential world without this violence. Both can be agentive.
These passages also illustrate the way Hot with the Bad Things feels concerned with collaging other texts or talking about texts that don’t exist—or only exist in this book in fragmented form––because of the sexual violence. A deer lives beneath the poems. Language is pieced together from Facebook posts––“I don’t know what to say,” “Actually, he was a really nice kid”––grieving violence creates a kind of horrific palimpsest of how the public choruses these events. People grapple with words while also using them to witness and eclipse and reify the violence as a public text. The speaker writes and speaks of theoretical books, or fragments of texts, that do not yet exist or that we only see in pieces because of the present text before us: violence transforms its witnessing into a text that sometimes covers other texts. The speaker says, “I wrote little letters to myself: ‘I dream / my name is a carousel— / he takes a turn— / I don’t spin / (or stay still): I watch lips / widen with the sea—” but we as readers never see these poems or letters in their entirety. Indeed, between these fragments, the trauma repeats itself, and the speaker meditates directly on this fact: “It feels like I’m repeating myself because I am repeating myself.” The trauma keeps happening.
In this way, Hot with the Bad Things becomes a lyric not only of what repeats, but what is not allowed to be said or felt. After listing the times she has been called a cunt and told she has anger issues, the speaker declares,
I’m jealous of anger.
I keep dreaming of cars without brakes and somehow I’m still full of apology. I keep dreaming I go to punch a face and my hand is a weak caress. I want to be · when he couldn’t get the bartender’s anger. I want to throw the menu, shout, kick things, shake a person by the shoulders, and not have the person be me.
Anger, and who gets to have anger in the patriarchy—who even has the ability to feel it, when the patriarchy is so deeply internalized—is one of the primary concerns of Hot with the Bad Things. In direct conjunction with that concern, the collection also asks: Who gets—or expects—forgiveness in the patriarchy? If our body is a text, how does rape culture become imprinted into the foundations of that text? “I tell my lover to throw me onto the bed and he refuses. What happens when you are hot with the bad things?” LoTempio’s work is important not only because the book considers these questions, but also because the book stays in a place of unknowing, thinks laterally through these difficult topics with surprising image, metaphor, juxtaposition, and direct statements. Hot with the Bad Things both resists directness and is unafraid to “say the thing,” as Lucia LoTempio puts it in “Playback: Lucia LoTempio on Moving Forward After Violence” in LitHub’s Playback Self-Interview Series.
LoTempio uses beautiful lyricism and inventive form to do the difficult work of conducting poetic inquiry into sexual violence and trauma. Hot with the Bad Things offers space both for the repetition of violence and a way to move forward. Even if trauma doesn’t end, texts do—and yet don’t texts always go on living? LoTempio’s stunning, critical book is deeply necessary, always and especially in this particular moment. With LoTempio’s unique voice, Hot with the Bad Things creates a counter-text to all of the violences those in power in the patriarchy inflict against bodies.
Kelly Weber is the author of the forthcoming poetry collection We Are Changed to Deer at the Broken Place (Tupelo Press) and the forthcoming chapbook The Dodo Heart Museum (Dancing Girl Press). Her work has received Pushcart nominations and has appeared or is forthcoming in The Laurel Review, Brevity, The Missouri Review, Cream City Review, Palette Poetry, Southeast Review, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from Colorado State University and lives in Colorado with two rescue cats. More of her work can be found at kellymweber.com.