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Gregory Sherl

In addition to penning the poetry collection Heavy Petting, Gregory Sherl is the author of The Oregon Trail Is the Oregon Trail (forthcoming from Mud Luscious Press, January 2012) and I Have Touched You, a chapbook of linked stories from Dark Sky Books.


"If I had to reduce my foreword to four words, these would do: I love these poems. To three: these poems love."

– Bob Hicok

"If you wake up tomorrow early and Frank O’Hara is a Sony Walkman, Xanax is the new Surgeon General, and someone you’re not sure you recognize as your beloved is writing his/her name on the inside of your lip, don’t be alarmed, you’re reading Heavy Petting by Gregory Sherl."

– Matt Hart, editor of Forklift, Ohio

"Heavy Petting is a hell of a sexy book. A sexy and generous book."

– Dorothea Lasky, author of Black Life and Awe



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Heavy Petting

Don’t tell Gregory Sherl not to reference pop culture, please. You’ll see what happens if you do.


On my way home to write my recommendation for Gregory Sherl’s Heavy Petting, I ate it. I was walking along the sidewalk, trying to ignore the ‘crazy man’ walking behind me singing Kreayshawn’s “Gucci Gucci” at the top of his lungs. At the light, I decided to make a sharp turn away from this man, who was obstructing my phone conversation with my parents. I guess I didn’t figure in the cobblestones or the length of my foot or both and I fell hard. My cell phone flew out of my hand, my bags crashed to the ground, I crashed to the ground next to them. Of course, the first person to help me up was the ‘crazy man’, who had stopped singing. Gregory Sherl’s book is that crazy man.

Heavy Petting squirms into consciousness in all its earnest lovemaking, peculiar mental states, pop culture references (some self-reflexive), formal elements (also self-reflexive), and countless, epic thighs. “I want to smell the sound of you eating my thighs, spread /  like warm apple butter,” Sherl writes in “Be My Date,” a water-soaked poem about being lonely.  In the song of Heavy Petting, thighs are the refrain: “I wish I wrote pop songs instead of poems / so after I sing Your thighs are a stiff drink / I can go bop bop bop bop into a tin can.” Thighs combine with lovemaking in “Concerning the Validity of Chinese Finger Cuffs,” creating new worlds: “I think fidelity is sexy so I touch the inside of your thighs by the water fountain in the bowling alley I built in my bed.” Body parts parse and tumble through the pages, cutting lips from bodies, building spines into bodies, lips touching shins, touching lips, touching arms.

In Heavy Petting, Gregory Sherl’s words make mental illness strange and uncool but intensely sexy. Pills abound these pages, qualifying moods and regulating actions: “this morning I forgot to take my pill. / My sadness is in the evening only / in the dark it makes breakfast / does Sudoku in its underwear / eats all of my Cocoa Puffs.” Sometimes the meds work, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes sickness becomes debilitating and sometimes it is “just an extended metaphor for my good looks.” Sometimes even the night takes too many pills. But poetry in Heavy Petting seems to hold the power to make some of this terror okay, has the power to repackage illness as beauty: “The last time I was sad enough to die I did not know / the sounds of poetry. Now I am sad again but there / is a billboard behind my eyelids that says THERE IS / POETRY IN THESE WORDS.”

Like the crazy man from my walk, Heavy Petting packs an unexpected punch of commercialism that, as it builds, knocked me off my feet: “There are only 5 calories in a serving / of Crystal Light. We drink like marathon runners. We drink / each other, drink each other like our fingers are straws, like our tongues are taps.” Pop culture twists through Heavy Petting, resting most heavily in Fame, the third of the book’s four sections, most desirable in its self-reflexivity. “Master of Fine Arts” proclaims that, “In Poetry Workshop, they tell me not to use pop culture references in my poems. I cross out lines about necking with you in the backseat of my car while listening to ‘La La Love You’ on repeat. I cross out: Natalie Portman’s hips are boss, but your hips are more boss. But why? I ask them. Because you need to be timeless they tell me. I close my eyes and imagine literary and pop culture fucking like two lumpy teenagers just starting to shed their baby fat. Their babies bitch slap bears, win National Book awards.” Don’t tell Gregory Sherl not to reference pop culture, please. You’ll see what happens if you do.

Gregory Sherl writes, “There’s a love story lost somewhere in the pockets of my pajamas.” Yes Yes Books has found that eight-limbed love story and tied it down to the pages of Heavy Petting.

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