Books

Limbic by Peter Scalpello review: the dark side of queer writing

From youthful yearnings to drug-fuelled nightclub hook-ups, poet Peter Scalpello shines a light into every aspect of queer experience

Photo: @sushilnash / Unsplash

Would it be wrong to proclaim poetry to be the queerest form of literature? If one were to line-up every facet of writing that makes up ‘literature’ along the Kinsey scale, surely ‘poetry’ would score quite high, given that so many of its pioneers — Sappho, Whitman, Dickinson, Cavafy, Lorca, Ginsberg, O’Hara — were queer. (As an aside, I wonder what the most heterosexual form of literature would be, perhaps it’s the kind of books Bill Bryson writes.) 

Limbic by Peter Scalpello is out now (Cipher, £10.99)

Poetry, then, being an exclusively homosexual endeavour, is often the form through which many of our best queer voices find a home. Think of Andrew McMillan or Sean Hewitt or Joelle Taylor; another name that would fit quite snuggly on this list is Peter Scalpello. 

some poems would better be described as whirlwinds of words scattered across the page

Scalpello’s debut collection, Limbic, is a vivid exploration of a darker side of queerness. It is a queerness found in the dark rooms of nightclubs, in vials of GHB and lines of mephedrone. Many of the poems are earnest exploration of the culture of chemsex (“you tucked your erection to the groin / of your jeans & left for rum & / ice a pipe & pipette / of G”) whilst others touch on the joyous illicitness of burgeoning queerness (“Peaking in park bushes, dirt of a / public toilet; the grime that heightens throb and thrill”).

Scalpello, too, likes to play with form throughout. Some poems would, perhaps, be better described as whirlwinds of words scattered across the page whilst others form shapes which require the reader to twist and turn the collection like a steering wheel. There is a playfulness also, especially in poems like 2K12 with its cast of “twelve of the whitest boys you ever did see” and Don’t Really Have A Type But Please Be Masculine which is a poem constructed entirely out of opening messages of Grindr conversations. 

What shines throughout the collection is Scalpello’s ability to balance the dark and the light, the agony and the ecstasy. Limbic is a very noteworthy debut.

Limbic by Peter Scarpello is out now on Cipher Press, £10.99

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