Reading Matters

Robarchek’s poems drag the river of sex

Peg Robarchek is an in-town poet who writes like an out-of-town poet.

The last time a poet in our midst could claim poems as bold as these was when Clemson poet Jillian Weise came to town to read from her collection “The Amputee’s Guide to Sex.” She hit Vin Master on South Boulevard in Charlotte one cold Friday night, and we haven’t seen her since.

But Robarchek, whose debut collection is “Inventing Sex” (Main Street Rag, $14), lives in Charlotte. She could well look up one day from palming avocados at the grocery and meet her readers face to face.

Disclosure: Robarchek is a friend. I’ve known her as a bestselling romance writer, as a mainstream novelist, as a teacher of fiction and as the ex-wife of former Observer columnist Doug Robarchek.

In these 53 poems, she drags the river of sex for all its slithery joys, sorrows, terrors, thrills, powers and humiliations.

“At sixteen, my boyfriend / asks would I rather be the one / who loves or the one / who is loved. No contest,” she writes in “Hindsight.” The poet knows which gives the upper hand. “… I live / that choice for decades before I learn / the whole world is pliable.”

Adept at power, the poet recalls a man in her office, 30 years her senior, who “… accepted the charity / of my lips, breasts, a bounty / that stunned him.” What she got out of it: “A fix. / A moment’s relief / from jonesing / for men to step over / on my way out.”

Humor buoys many of these poems, as in the title poem, where the poet and her boyfriend “invent sex” in 1969 in the front seat of an apple green Rambler:

“Friday night movies / are prologue / to tongues, fingers, juicy body parts / we discover and explore / obsessively, / not normally the territory / of a miss goody-two-shoes / honor student with a double life / of going all the way / while listening / with shocked pity to the girl in study hall / whose boyfriend kisses and tells / and there goes her chance / to make cheerleader.”

Robarchek’s deft touch keeps these poems from ever wallowing or flailing. Even describing her first time hearing the “F” word, the poet says she takes it to her room, “Fondling it in my head.”

Robarchek’s “Inventing Sex” is skilled and delicious. I hope it will be the catalyst for other poets to shed a layer of their monogrammed skin and step more vulnerably into the light.