In this age of spam filters and porn blockers, how do we start a piece on Ellen Sussman’s Dirty Words: A Literary Encyclopedia of Sex? Carefully. An alphabetical romp through carnal obscenity, Dirty Words brings together 90-some writers (including Phillip Lopate and Martha McPhee) to consider a cornucopia of sexual terms like 69, taint, and Lucky Pierre. (How’s that filter doing?)
But really, Dirty Words is less about the words than about the acts; it’s about human relationships, which is why (arguably) words like monogamy and kissing are included. The entries, in the form of essays, stories, plays, and poems, run the gamut from funny to filthy to surprisingly touching, and the best, such as Brian Bouldrey’s on Dirty Sanchez — yes, Dirty Sanchez — successfully manage to be all three.
Like all anthologies, Dirty Words has its highs and lows, but its subversive appeal is best summed up in Rand Richards Cooper’s essay on the word f***: “Let’s face it — dirty words stop being really dirty once you can publish them without getting in trouble.”
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