March 2004

Gena Anderson


before, during, and after by Hal Sirowitz

Hal Sirowitz’s writing usually reminds me of a poor man’s Woody Allen. His previous books seem to come from the “advice from others couched as poetry” genre, including Mother Said, My Therapist Said, and the soon to be released Father Said. I don’t know if this makes me a snob, but anecdotes in verse don’t really comprise poetry for me. Sirowitz’s new book, before, during & after seems to come from the same stylistic mold as his previous works, and though the poems were vaguely funny at times, they struck me as dispassionate rather than deadpan or witty.

The poems in this collection are written in three sections -- before sex, during sex, and after sex. There is also a section entitled “Later," which seems to mean when women start nagging him and then they break up. Each poem is written from the woman’s point of view, which is probably the main problem I have with the poems. These women are perfect clichés of the high maintenance bitchy girl that every guy loves to hate, and mostly makes up in his own head. The women in the poems include one who brags about winning a best ass poll in high school, one whose father is her gynecologist, and a woman who doesn’t want to wear her expensive, sexy underwear. They are simplistic and self-absorbed, and by the end of the poems I started to question the author and if he just has bad taste in women, or if he sees all women that way.

A central theme to many of the poems was Women who Withhold Sex. According to this theory, women do not seem to enjoy sex and as a result men just don’t know how to please them. Certainly this can be true in some relationships (and can go both ways), but I started to wonder if the author had ever met a woman who actually liked to have sex. This theme came out in poems like “Less is More”:

The problem with having sex now, she said,
is we won’t have anything to do later.
We can’t just sleep with each other every time
we have nothing to do. Repetition
cheapens it. That’s why in the old days
couples used to wait to get married
before they had sex. They wanted
something to look forward to. I’m
not advocating that we stop having sex,
only that we wait a little longer before
doing it again. I want to savor
the experience. You only want to repeat it.

The poem “Not a Cause of Death” starts “No one died from lack of sex,/ she said. So you’re not going/ to die if I don’t sleep with you/ tonight." Those are certainly words of wisdom. I think my personal favorite sentiment was in “My Side of the Bed”:

I don’t mind getting you aroused,
she said, as long as you stay
on your side of the bed. But
once you come on mine
you can’t expect me to stop
whatever I’m doing, like reading
a book, to relieve you of your condition.

These poems, and others in the collection, run together so by that the end of the book I was getting a sense of déjà vu with each poem. The style of the poems was so identical that none of them really stood out or seemed interesting to me. I have heard from some people that Sirowitz’s poems are much more dynamic when read aloud, so I would suggest you skip the book and catch him live. You can say to your loved one, “Sorry honey, I know we were supposed to have sex tonight, but let’s go to a poetry reading instead.”

before, during & after By Hal Sirowitz
Soft Skull Press
ISBN 188712893X
124 Pages