Monday, December 13, 2021

Twisted Moon #5 (2020)

Twisted Moon, ed. Hester J. Rook, P. Edda, Liz Duck-Chong & Selene Maris. Issue 5 (2020). Online at

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

Twisted Moon is a yearly magazine of speculative erotic poetry based in Australia that has been published online since 2016. Editors Rook, Edda, Duck-Chong and Maris are all also writers (some of whose work we’ve seen and loved elsewhere), and they bring a lover’s touch to the selection and presentation of poems in each issue. The contents are eclectic, as is perhaps inevitable with collections of poetry, and range from delicious, lyrical verses to the most discordant, experimental or opaque of forms, always tantalizing and excruciating and challenging.

The reviewer’s task here is a tough one: poetry is notoriously difficult to assess, it is so subjective that interpretation is unlikely to please both poets and readers; hard to avoid spoilers when summarising such short work, although how could you spoil the experience of letting so many words slither over you? All the more so, since such diverse erotica is almost impossible to review either objectively or informatively—appreciation is infinitely personal, tastes so varied and incompatible that your warm blush may be my cold shower, and I had best not try to guess what you’re going to like in these pages. Caveat therefore that what comes below is a personal reading, not a recommendation or ranking, and you should read this whole issue (and the back issues, if you’ve not yet) for a nice long soak.

While the eleven poems in this issue make for an impressive table of contents, almost all are under a page long and so the issue as a whole is a quick read (even factoring in time to bask in each poem before moving on to be caressed the next). There are no also-rans in this TOC. Kevin Chesser’s “Last Supper” is spare and sombre, but at the same time frisky with language and containing some nice wordplay. In contrast “The Valley of Anatomy” by Deborah Wong is intense, full-bodied and explicit, blurring cooking and fucking and vis ceral language. Rae White’s “dirty, clean” is full of gentle pain and fierce composition; is the vocabulary of passion a metaphor for writing, or vice versa—or somehow both at once? “My Phytophagous Love” by Tristan Beiter stacks similes and metaphors of social insects; does it describe a night or a year? Equally ambivalent is “gown” by Sara Matson, intimate as it is with descriptions of bodies and clothing, imagery that could be touching on Victorian sex work, kink or free love. Eunsah Chan’s “Measurements of the Moon’s Natural Infrared Thermal Radiation¹ is equal parts found poetry and distorted myth retold and repurposed. Easier to read is “to my ghost by the sound” by Hal Y. Zhang, singing a love song to one’s own skeleton, perhaps implying the fragility of love or passion?

The real joy of a journal that collects work like this is coming across a poem that stops you in your tracks, whether metrophilia at first sight or a gentle growing-into aesthetic appreciation. Holly Lyn Walrath’s “We Hold Up Eternity” is a story of exploitation with lines so long it is almost prose-poetry, but language so rich it could never be mistaken for simple narrative. Mythical, carnal, furious, sordid, and underlying everything, patient, this muse is serving notice: the words are not all yours; “One day I will no longer be stone.” Another patient and challenging love story, Tamara Jerée’s “upon learning my girlfriend is a mermaid” gives us a back and forth between a land girl and her mermaid lover. The cut and thrust, parry and withdrawal slowly shows us the differences that emerge in all relationships, the compromises that must emerge, the importance of being able to feel at home.

The other poem by Hal Y. Zhang in this issue is “Anatomicon,” a rich piece that juxtaposes aliens, partnerships, coupling and discovery. Full of breathless and fast-moving lines, playfully contrastive, the language is sometimes cold, but all at once it is breathtakingly sweet and intimate, warm against your ear. And this mix of tones, registers and vocabulary is also at play in “Lonicerad + Salixia” by A.Z. Louise, a visually striking piece that is tender and careful and luscious and wild and sweet and bitter and full of senses and numbing tastes. The language evokes carnality alongside the deployment of medicinal herbs and crafts, touching both body·ies and soul·s with an expert caress.

The richness of the pieces in this issue of Twisted Moon is why we keep coming back to it. It’s a very difficult theme, even harder to put together well, and the editors do so with an exquisite touch. You won’t love the same poems that I did—hell, next time I come back to them I may not love the same ones that I did—but you will leave sated, chafed, engorged, breathless, and knowing that you will want more.

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