Black Lawrence Press
November 30, 2010

Is language our sexiest proboscis? (New poetry title from BLP)

At first glance, Laura McCullough’s collection, Speech Acts—borrowing its title from the branch of linguistics interested in the nature and intention of artifacts of language and their effect in communication—may seem overly sensational, the surface subject matter at times blatantly sexual, but on closer interrogation, McCullough is attempting to strip away the obfuscations of language(s), the barriers between genders, the difficulties of intimacy and reveal the relational and power balances between people. Behind the sometimes erotically charged poems in Speech Acts is a real concern for linguistics, the philosophy of, the tools of.  Beneath the bawdy, glittering surface and language play in Speech Acts is McCullough’s desire to “kiss the mouth of another/ language,” to go beyond the veils that separate people, nations, perhaps this world from whatever comes after. These poems are not just about love; they grieve over the impossibility of ever fully comprehending anything at all, let alone another human being.

Speech Acts is available from Black Lawrence Press and Amazon.


Laura McCullough’s book Speech Acts lives up to its title—so  many of thesepoems take  as their starting point the social occasion of a speaker wondering how to talk—naughty or nice-like?,  over-educated, or heartfelt?; the results are bright with velocity, lexical intelligence, and a distinctive fusion of headiness and carnality. McCullough’s poems  are manic, heartfelt and humane; and they crackle with  what the Reverend Marvin Gaye would have called  “textual healing.” —Tony Hoagland

“Is language our sexiest proboscis?” asks Laura McCullough, then responds with  unabashed word-slinging to bolster her rhetorical affirmation. If her lines charge each poem with vibrancy—“it’s all in the syntax”—it’s because McCullough knows “how good secrets can be handled right, / by the various names we give them.” Her enthusiasms for Adam’s task as well as for Eve’s sensuality provide Speech Acts with a rollicking measure.  “You gotta like it / to do it well,” McCullough half-jokes, and her pleasures become our own in this provocative and wildly entertaining book.—Michael Waters

The word “acts” in Laura McCullough’s Speech Acts is as much verb as it is noun. What her speech does in these stunning poems is restlessly sift through language and experience alike, searching for words, lips, hearts, and truths that might just keep one from spinning off into the coldest, emptiest reaches of being. Bold, witty, erotic, and provocative, McCullough’s poems re-imagine for our time E. M. Forster’s tremendous artistic and humane injunction: “only connect!” —Fred Marchant

The poems in Laura McCullough’s Speech Acts search deep into the interior of language to recover and explore the resources of our most intimate lives. It is that rare collection which disassembles the very constructions of thought itself (while simultaneously embracing the reader with surprisingly tender gestures). Speech Acts refuses to shy away from the difficult, the necessary. It recognizes the tenuous qualities of the moment and lifts them up with reverence. It is a collection which offers fresh insights with each reading. —Brian Turner

About the Author

Laura McCullough has been a fellow in both prose and poetry for the NJ State Arts Council and has an MFA in fiction from Goddard College. Her poetry, prose, essays, interviews, and reviews have appeared widely  places such as The American Poetry Review, The Writer’s Chronicle, The Painted Bride Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, Iron Horse Quarterly, Hotel Amerika, Poetry East, The Portland Review, and others. Visit it her at


The economy of Madagascar collapsed overnight when Coca-cola changed its formula, switching from real vanilla to a synthetic and didn’t bounce back until New Coke failed and Classic Coke was reintroduced, with vanilla back in. Malagasies were relieved, but conspiracy theorists thrilled to the fact that sugar was gone, replaced by High Fructose Corn Syrup.

Vanilla come mainly from Madagascar, and grows
on a vine, its flowers both male and female; from planting

to pod can take 5 years. The language of Malagasy has no
grammatical gender. It is not a Romantic language, but has

borrowed a little from the French who took so much.
It’s an island language, Austronesion, and plurals are managed

with a beautiful efficiency: more than one book: book-book;
more than one child: child-child. It’s hard for the Latinate

mind to imagine. They say men give love to get sex and
women give sex to get love, and today a man told me

he doesn’t trust a woman who gives blow jobs. It’s all
about power, he said, and her need to control the man.

I didn’t buy it; I have my own conspiracy theories, prefer
real vanilla to synthetic, sugar cane to HFS. I rarely give in

to a sweet tooth, but now and then, I do, and when I do,
I want it, not like jet fuel, but a slow, complex burn,

the line between control and surrender delicate and uncertain,
like dependent economies, and tenuous like the vanilla flower

blooming for only one day, both male and female, the thinnest
of membranes between them waiting to be stripped away.


ISBN: 978-0-9826364-4-2, $14

Please contact Diane Goettel at for media inquiries and review copies.

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