Natalie Zina Walschot’s Thumbscrews is a ‘dirty-minded, sticky-fingered book’ which reveals language’s kinks and hang-ups, reveling in every drip, drool and bruise. The poetry in this volume gathers around sites of naughty play, allowing grammar to bind, restrain and enjoy every moment of it.
Thumbscrews is written in seven sections, each section explores the typically non-poetic diction of a sexual experience or event through the juxtaposition of evocative description and abstract visualization of detail. For example, in “parking lot,” as part of the suite “Christening,” Walschots develops an impressionistic swerve “lung strainer / fumes smeared violet / tonsil gravel / lust yellow backlit.”
Walschots continues on this sensual writing in “Toy Catalogue,” a series of poems which explore bondage and consensual pain. “Ballgag,” as an example, builds a vocabulary both in sound and in description:
Walschots ups the ante with “Photopsias,” scattering her words loosely—and as the white-space builds, so does the sexual tension teased out in short lines, “pawned / pussy / sups / gouge / thin throat / stricken / blister / raw denim / wrung out / sweat.” These abbreviated lines gasp out across the page, gulped breaths of poetic line-treading. Walschot’s words gather and crescendo in brief thrusts. Written in primarily 3-or-4-word lines, Thumbscrews’ language gathers in tight burst which both clarify and elide the subject, “your burning / meat hungers me.”
These poems dwell in the moments of sexual asphyxiation when “thumbs press trachea” and the vocal chords become constrained. Working within this constrained—restrained, tied-down—form, Walschots’ work revels in the excitement of tension.
Walschots’s first book of poetry is a slender, well-designed, sleek little number. Thumbscrews—in language, in design and in function—will remind you of that lovely chrome vibrator; compact, fashionable, and designed to arouse.