Saturday, 25 October 2008

Carry on or get it on?

Firstly thanks so much for all the comments on the last post - for all the love poems and links. I think that is possibly the post on this blog that I have enjoyed the most so far. There is something about love that can bring out the best in people, don't you think? (And if you haven't yet contributed it's not too late – get down there quick and tell me what your favourite love poems are...and also if you've any favourite love poems of your own that you'd like to share...) But's time to get on with part two. It's time for sex.

So – here we go! I said I would write about sex this time...and I will...and do you know what's funny? This must be the post I have least looked forward to writing since I began this project. I have been open, honest and as interesting as I can manage here on all kinds of subjects to do with writing, emotions, life and death but sex...all of a sudden I'm not quite sure what I want to say or how much I want to... expose. Sex, for some reason... or combination of not something I write about much and I'm not even quite sure why this is the case. I'm not shy. I'm not prudish. I'm not inexperienced – in fact I have plenty of material...maybe too much (maybe that's part of the problem). I'm one of those people who started young, who tried things...lots of things...who's been around a bit...whilst some of you, according to comments in the last post, 'met your true loves at 15 and have been together ever since'. Some of you, I suddenly realise, might be a bit shocked and lose all (or any) respect for me if I give away too much (after all sometimes bits of my past shock me!). And it's hard to talk or write about sex without exposing your own attitudes to sex and your own experiences – it is matter how much you disguise it or work it...your own past comes out somewhere.

For a few months I have been aware that sex is a subject that is conspicuously absent in my poems. I've been writing poems fairly regularly for over ten years and this is the first time I've even thought about writing anything overtly sexual. So is that odd? Is it because so much of my life during that time has involved looking after a small girl so I have been thinking more about her concerns (making friends, dreaming, dogs, toast...) than sexual matters? Or have I somewhere along the line turned into my mother (I can't quote her exactly but I'm sure, if asked, she would say sex is something you do, not something you talk about). After all, it's not that I think sex has to be mentioned all the time – absolutely not – it's more that I do, as I said last time, like to try and write about everything and I have most obviously NOT kept to this when it comes to sex. Have I really written nothing (nothing!) about sex? How can this be?

This week, in the interests of research, I went back and looked through all my poetry files (yes, Jim, the pretty coloured ones!). I found poems (and sometimes loads of poems) about:

art, belief, childhood and children, comfort, computers, coping, death, decisions, drugs, education, emotions, families, fear, friendship, graveyards, grief, happiness, history, housework, knowing, love, people and how they behave (lots of those), mental chaos, music (many aspects of), mysteries, nature (just a few – not like some of you!), nightlife, optimism, our modern world, perceptions, performing, places, politics, regret, Quakers, sadness, seasons, seeing, seeing things for what they are, snobbery, special occasions, stages of life (loads of those), struggling, survival, telling the truth, the future, the meaning of life, the Queen, travelling and other moving, truth, TV and other media, war, weaknesses, work, worrying, writing and many related matters.

But sex? Very little. I found one sexual reference in my poem 'Between the lines' (an odd little poem in the writing section of the website – written as a reaction to an annoying rejection letter...) and there's the little poem 'Sex and drugs' (which is in the little poems section of the site and is in my book). Then there's the line in 'Self-help shortcuts' that says 'explore sex fully'. Well, yes...I did that and partly because of that I also have one very long poem called 'If only I'd been a Catholic - I have so much to confess' but that is one of the very few poems that I have never put online and probably never will. As I say...plenty of material...not all of it information I want to make public (unlike Tracy Emin...maybe that exhibition I visited recently has also prompted this subject at this time).

So is this it? Is this where my fairly direct style of writing is going to run into problems...because finally there is something I don't want to talk about? And is that because of my daughter, or my partner, or other members of my family? Or is it because of other people I have been involved with in the past (some lovely, some quite repulsive)? Or is it just me – fucked up and frightened? Or fucked up and cautious? Or just sensible? Goodness, that would be a first.

Then I it shame? Am I ashamed of my sexual past? Not long ago I read an interview with poet Kate Clanchy (when her book about her Kosovan cleaner came out). I have quite liked some of Clanchy's poems so I was quite interested when I read in the article that Clanchy tells her creative-writing students to 'Write the thing you are most ashamed of, because that is where the interest lies.' (Daily Telegraph 13.07.08). Really, I thought...really? Because, you know, that's all very well if all you've got to be ashamed of is having a cleaner (oh, the shame of success – how many poets have cleaners anyway?) but what about the rest of us... who have driven along the B roads of life now and again (or, let's be honest, set up camp in them)? Those of us who have very...colourful back stories...what about us? And then it makes me annoyed (with myself, with society, with some aspects of certain religions) because I think why should sex be necessarily to do with shame? But these are still difficult times...women are 'liberated' and yet..are we? Is anyone? Do teenage girls in school feel any freer to talk about, say, masturbation, than my generation did (which was not at all...we wouldn't have dared to mention it whilst the boys, in my secondary school anyway, had wanking competitions in broad daylight – it's a strange world, eh?). I don't believe things have changed that much - writing about sex is still a big issue, it can still make a woman (in particular) very vulnerable indeed. Sex is still a tricky subject and maybe it always will be. It's that or 'Brave New World' perhaps...

Thinking, as I have been doing, about poems about sex (or poems with some sexual content) I tried to think of sexual or erotic poems by other writers that I have read and liked. I couldn't think of many. As we said in the last post about is very easy to fall into clich├ęs when talking about both love and sex and the language of pornography doesn't help either, hijacking, as it has done, the whole business of sex. Isn't there an award for the worst prose writing about sex and aren't there usually lots of possible winners? Also sex, unlike love perhaps, can bring out the worst in people...far too often...lots of stuff you just really do not want to read (well, I don't...rape scenes in films...don't get me started...). But then the other day I picked up a book of poems secondhand in Edinburgh. The book is by Angela Readman and is called 'Strip'. It has lots of sexual content but my favourite poem in it so far is 'How to Make Love Not Like a Porn Star' which contains lines like “Let us not talk about the size of anything.” It is really very good indeed - a prizewinner (well in my world anyway). It looks at sex in a really interesting way. I'm not going to post the whole poem here but hunt down the's interesting.

The language of sex is another reason I think I have not rushed to write poems on the subject. Words to do with sex tend to either be very crude (dick, cunt, fuck) or very clinical (labia, penis) or very flowery (make love, caress...OK some of you may find 'make love' straightforward enough but in Middlesbrough in the 1980s, believe me, 'make love' was for wimps). I'm not sure any one of these sets really gets to the heart of sex in all its complications (well, I know it's quite often complicated for women anyway...I can't speak for how men feel). Sex is all of those things – crude and clinical and yet, sometimes, flowery and touching too (and that's one reason I liked Angela's poem so much – because it addresses that problem, that situation). Like many people (well, many British people at least), I have long avoided the sexual language problem by using humour – very often when I talk about sex I will make jokes, innuendos...even at the most intimate moments... and I don't think I'm the only one who does this. I was brought up by TV to a large extent and a lot of my sexual education came from TV humour - 'The Two Ronnies' (many innuendos), 'Morecambe and Wise' (very innocent in some ways but packed full of cheeky sexual jokes too), Benny Hill and, of course, the Carry On films. I LOVED the Carry On films (though I haven't watched any since childhood). I loved Kenneth Williams (but then give me ten gay men and I will always love at least nine of them) and I loved all the nods and winks and sexy jokes. Maybe I will write a poem this year about Carry On films...has anyone done that already?

So all this in mind, I sat down last week and tried to write a poem about sex (I know some of you don't write poems 'about' things...but I do...sometimes anyway). Now it's here I'm not sure if it is about sex - it is probably just another love poem (and I already have quite a lot of those). It's very new so it may yet change a bit. Who knows - it may be the first of many! I would be interested to hear about any of your own sex poems (Dick Jones posted one this week...and no jokes about 'well, he would, wouldn't he?' ) and I'm interested in other sex poems that you have enjoyed too (though I feel I may regret saying that...we are on the internet after all). Who knows (again)...maybe my Mum is right and I just shouldn't talk about it – maybe I shouldn't even be thinking about showing my soft places to the world. Oh, I don't's the poem.

Sex, at last

When we met you were so still
Someone I could not imagine
You believed so many things
That I had forgotten
Or maybe never known

You believed, for example
That sex and love could come together
That they could even hold fast
Two happy bedfellows
Two sides of happiness

I had been a different route
Seen sex from other angles
Known all the pits and pratfalls
The rings of confusion
Pain, guilt and tedium

You were surprised by my layers
Amused by my confusion
You kept things simple, basic
You knew full deep inside
The final score, the outcome

And much to my amazement
Here we are proving your point
Sex and love can stick together
Can cohabit long-term
Who would have believed it?

RF 2008


Marion McCready said...

Well written post rachel! I like the poem, and it's most definitely a love poem, subtle and thoughtful in many ways.

As you know, I write mostly nature poetry but I think there's something inherently sensual about nature. I'm always slightly worried that my poems are taken as euphemisms for sex (maybe they really are about sex, lol)!

Take a look at my poem in Snakeskin 144 'when I became a wave' -

My husband couldn't stop laughing when he first read this, so many innuendos that didn't strike me until I read it that way.

Colin Will said...

Poems about sexual passion are actually not hard to find, but good ones are scarcer. Most concentrate on the desire phase rather than the consummation. Recommended reading would include two of Neil Astley's Bloodaxe anthologies - Passionfood; 100 love poems (for the first), and Pleased to See Me; 69 very sexy poems (for the second). My favouries would be Sharon Olds, whose honesty in matters of sex as in other aspects of her life is terrific, e.e. cummings, Tess Gallagher.

As far as the business of writing about sex goes, it's a poor second best to doing it, but all (or nearly all) poets attempt it. It's such a powerful human drive that it would be stupid of us not to try to write about sex. And shame is just the other side of the same coin; it's the negative driver that holds us back. Here's Judie's Song, from Sushi & Chips (maybe some readers will remember Judie Tzuke).

Judie’s Song.

We won’t call it dancing then;
it was a seventies swaying –
the way your body moulded to mine
replayed the song.

“I’ll show you a sunset
If you’ll stay with me till dawn.”

You felt it too.
Your eyes portrayed a potent assent
to the unasked question,
your nervous lips on my neck
promised notable kisses to come.

The music stopped, and you exhaled.
We unzipped from each other with a quick peck
and walked back to our respective partners
respectable once more.
Stiffness subsided, moisture was absorbed,
but memories record a betraying moment,
a time when crossroads offered choice
between the known
and a delicious uncertainty.

Don’t get me wrong – I regret nothing –
It’s just that sometimes
memory dances slowly.

Colin Will

Rachel Fox said...

Thanks Sorlil - it was tough to write. I don't think I've edited a post so much in a long time! Glad you like the poem. I like being called doesn't happen often!

I will go and read the and water...yes, well, hmm...

And Colin, thanks for all the pointers. I have quite a few Bloodaxe books and have read quite a few more. They work hard down there! I like Sharon Olds too.

As for I kind of depends what you've done in your life...doesn't it? Do you feel shame about much? (You don't have to give details...I'm talking more in general). Have you written about anything that might involve shame?

And yes, I know Jude Tzuke. My brother used to have that single (7 inch) and I used to play it in his bedroom (while viewing his porn collection as it always baffled me...the collection, not the song).

Anonymous said...

I think it's a really good post and, no, not because it has rude words in. :)

I think one thing we share with our blogging, Rachel, is an aspiration to be as honest-to-ourselves as we can. (I'm trying that anyway) It doesn't come easily. I've been writing a long time but mostly telling stories that, whilst being technically okay, had little bearing on my own life-and-stuff.

The point is, it's hard to be *too* upfront and honest - this isn't a little closed writers group here - the whole world has the potential to be watching and that's a bit scary.

Recently I was asked to list some weird things about myself. Somebody pointed out, that list of mine ain't so very weird. They were right, it's not... but the world is watching.

Rachel Fox said...

Thanks Ken..for understanding! I suppose what we're trying to do, you and me and others like us, is find the place where honesty and creative writing will live happily together. For some people this isn't an issue - they aren't giving much of themselves away when they write - but for those of us who do is something we have to learn...exactly how much to expose and in what way. If we have children (or other family that might be parents etc.) it gets even more complicated.

And yes...I know I wrote a poem that contains the line 'I have nothing to hide' (see back cover of book). I never said that the 'I' in question was me exactly now did I..? It is creative's not the news.


Rachel Fox said...

By the way, Colin, I like your poem - especially the last 3 lines.

Art Durkee said...

You ask some very important questions, and you wisely don't answer them all. It's good food for thought. I appreciate the opportunity you're providing here to muse on the topic.

I have no guilt or shame whatsoever in writing about sex, which I have done often, or in writing poetry about sex, which I have also done often. Yet Ken makes some very good points about redacting the self while the world is watching; as do you, Rachel, in your questions. I rather liked your indirect and subtle approach.

I think sex is a topic that is SO powerful, SO important, that sometimes all one can do is approach it sideways, with subtlety and care. I don't feel that way out of shame, or because our culture has done so much to shame us about sexuality (the religious ideology of "sex bad, spirit good" thinking was codified by St. Augustine, although it predates him, and has been in contention ever since); I also don't feel that way because whenever one talks about sex one opens oneself to attack by the bluenosed busybodies. Rather, I feel that way because sex is sacred; to me sex is tremendous pleasure and fun, and at the same time sacred. I always feel surrounded and infused by archetypes, when getting it on. In some (other) spiritual traditions, sex is actually a sacrament. Sex is powerful and beautiful and often abused as a subject, so it's sometimes necessary to be oblique. I write a lot of erotica, some of it very explicit, and have since I was in my teens.

I speculate that perhaps some of the reticence about posting about sex in a public blog is because it is a very intense kind of intimacy to talk about. Perhaps our reluctance isn't fear but respect. Perhaps some things ought to be kept private: not out of shame, but because we're in awe of them.

(Don't let any of this highfalutin' talk give you the impression that sexual experience for me is purely spiritual or mental. Not at all. I'm a very earthy lover, and I've had my fair share of experience(s). I'm just simultaneously aware of the energetic dimensions to the topic.)

A couple of years ago I was asked (solicited?) by a poetry publishing website, that wanted to feature my poetry and and photography, to submit in particular my homoerotic poems. Those poems and photos are here. A subset of those poems, with some others, are on my own website here. I've posted a position paper on erotica vs. porn on my blog here. An erotic poem for Beltane is posted here.

So as you can guess, I've written about sex a great deal, in many different ways, modes, moods and styles. Ditto the erotic photography and artwork. (I agree with Thomas Eakins, painter and photographer, who thought that the nude human form was one of the most beautiful of things. I've got an ongoing nudes-in-nature series I've been working on since 2000.) None of this is considered porn, and here's why: there is no intention to porn but getting off; porn is essentially a masturbation aid. Erotica has other intentions, including artistic ones, that do not reject arousal, rather embrace it, but also do not place arousal as the sole purpose of a work of art.

Because sex is so powerful and important a subject, it's one I keep circling back to. I once wrote and published a chapbook of homoerotic haiku, tanka, and renga. I've had some of my erotic artwork in gallery shows. Eros is the life-force, that expresses creation: physical creation but also other levels of creation. Sexuality at its best is the sacred marriage, the union of selves; and I've written poetry from that perspective as well.

I have a large collection of poetry anthologies that talk directly about sex. Many favorite poets take sexuality as an important topic; and not only the LGBT ones. I think one reason the LGBT community tends to focus so much on sex per se is because we're in self-doubt about having been under constant attack about it, not least for being "deviant." The list of poets I could cite is long; I'll briefly mention Cavafy, Ginsberg, Sappho, Whitman, Lorca, May Sarton.

On the other hand, I recently discovered Bloom Magazine, which is a fairly new LGBT-contributed journal, that challenges the stereotype that LGBT writing is erotic mostly erotic. Alison Bechdel's "Fun Home" is another LGBT work I highly recommend: a poetic graphic novel about family, in many ways both hilarious and disturbing.

Among non-LGBT poets, great poems about sex have been penned by Gary Snyder, Octavio Paz, Neruda, Sam Hamill, Odysseas Elytis, Jim Harrison, Jean Valentine, Hayden Carruth. In Asian poetry, erotic poetry is a respected and honored tradition; sensuality was never shameful in those traditions the way it was made to be in the West, so there's a rich tradition of it. Paz devotes a whole section to this poetry in his book-length essay "In Light of India."

I'll leave you with a shorter erotic poem of mine, never published elsewhere before:

in your shoals

Tide moves in
low across the rocks, a few
blowholes spuming geysers, shocking
the gulls. Two wheels, a turn, a landing;
nothing else moves.

Tide moves up along the ridge
of mussels, calving around ankles
of wet basalt, indigo kelp drying;
into the notch of the bay,
that rising.

Tide lingers, lapping
at gill, barnacle, grassblade, abalone eye.
Salmon are wandering the trees, lifting
belly towards headland, bridal call
and seamouth gape.

As I move, belly down,
rising, an iguana climbing a steep boulder,
tongues lapping into.

hope said...

Nicely put, Rachel! For better or worse I think woman more often worry about the end results of what they say/do. We're just wired that way. We have a "worry" gene on hyperdrive: did we offend or hurt someone? Were we as thoughtful as we could be? Does EVERYONE really NEED to know all our secrets? But aren't we suppose to tell the truth? ;)

You were brave here and I admire that. Sex is a personal issue. There's no guide for how much to share...just that internal voice nudging us along. I've attempted this topic in writing and it falls in two categories: humor/innuendo or me grimacing, both of which conclude with hitting "delete". If you're not comfortable expressing a topic when you write, it shows. The damned perfectionist in me hits delete rather than be declared a fool. Sad but true. Hey, aren't we all a work in progress?

Ken's right...confession on the internet can take on a life of it's own. The other day my Mom e-mailed me to let me know that she'd read my blog and I'd named the wrong aunt. Good grief! And yet I will still try to use my writing powers for good and not evil. ;)

Keep on doing what you're doing. It's interesting...and I promise not to correct anything you say. :p

Rachel Fox said...

Thanks, Art, for your thoughts and recommendations and poems. I will go and study!

On I say it's complicated for me...I don't even think it is shame... it's more that I'm wary, a bit confused, a bit not-quite-sure-where-my-head-is-at (especially now I'm middle-aged and see it all so differently). Maybe I'll be clearer by the end of this post and the comments! I know one thing - women do get judged in a very different way when it comes to sex (whether they're straight, lesbian or an everchanging combination...) and perhaps it makes us a little more cautious about what we reveal (well, most of us - there are a few notable exceptions). That sounds old-fashioned and as I say I feel things should have changed in this regard but I'm not sure they have. I know there are a lot of women talking publicly about sex these days...but listen to some of them...a lot of is just crap, to sell magazines or skin cream or whatever. It's like the whole business of appearance - (naked or otherwise) women are still more likely to be judged (in more detail) because of appearance. It's stoopid!

Likewise it is still the case that anyone who has had any kind of gay sex or gay relationship (or even a brief encounter!) will have to account for that in a way that is sometimes just ridiculous. That is changing but some places very slowly. I think humour changes it (or reflects the changes anyway). I watched some 'Little Britain USA' last night and thought how different it was to the comedy I watched growing up in the 1970s. Still men dressed as women larking about...but very different dialogue!

And Hope - thanks for the encouragement and understanding. It means a lot.

And beware everyone - I feel a wave of sex poems coming on (sorry 'erotic' to me just doesn't feel right...maybe in another ten years I'll be comfortable enough in this old skin to use it...I am English, you know, stiff upper everything and all that...).

Rachel Fox said...

In fact (she realises!) the reason it is so complicated in my head is that there are so many different issues.

There are -
1. Things I almost regret (no regrets really - but some close calls).
2. Things I wish I had had some advice about at the time.
3. Things I have to keep at least a bit private because of the other people involved.

and there are probably more numbers to come. I'm going to try and get some poems out of this. Some time soon. I think...


Rachel Fox said...

And Art...I love that you say sex is sacred. I can't say I've ever looked at it in that light...I'm not sure there's anything I'd call sacred. I may have to think about that.

And on my women and appearance topic further up. Having just reread that I should make clear that I'm not just blaming men for that! Some women have taken over the role of giving women a hard time these days and some of them are doing it really well. Quite ridiculous.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Excellent post and i enjoyed your poem. I haven't really written many poems about sex. i wrote one and posted it on my (other, not Crafty Green Poet) blog a while back in repsonse to a prompt to write a poem about something witout saying what it was about. Interestingly most of the women who read it knew it was about sex, the men hadn't got a clue...

Rachel Fox said...

Can you say which blog/date/poem. Would like to read it.

Colin Will said...

One of the (many) side issues I found interesting in your post was your list of things you write poems about. I've never tried this before, but tomorrow I'll try to categorise them (as a retired librarian I suppose I should have done this already). I'll let you know how my list comnpares with yours.

Rachel Fox said...

Oh yes Colin...I am a big lover of lists! Getting quite excited just thinking about them!


Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this post, Rachel, and the poem towards which it made its way!

My poem (to which you kindly linked) just (as it were) popped out. I don't have any others. No particular reason or deliberate policy here - just that my poetry tends to reflect at leisure rather than describe. One way or another, I tend to verbalise virtually every area of my life - an only child's constant monologue, I guess. Sex, immoderate laughter, a decent glass of whisky, a sound sleep - these exist for me within sensory territory and are to be indulged and neither analysed nor described. I just need to have a small, exclusive number of experiences that neither belong to nor lapse back into words.

That having been said, I'm happy to read others' accounts of things erotic!

Rachel Fox said...

I have an only child who practises the constant monlogue. I can hear her from here (she's in the next room...talking to princesses).

I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I think one of the things I am liking about these two posts is that they are about writing but they are also about SOMETHING ELSE! Personally I can only talk about writing for so long and then it drives me crazy. Writing is only one little bit of life (though we may love it...feel that it is sacred maybe) and I love to think about the other really think about how we live and what it means (or doesn't mean). And it is good to communicate with people who want to think too! Thinking is a very underrated activity.

Jim Murdoch said...

I can never decide if sex is funny or serious. Or seriously funny. I usually say that thex is one of those words that hath to be thaid with a lithp. It takes all the steam out of a situation when you say to a girl, "You look tho thexy today." It's one of those situations where you can actually say what you think and get away with it because of the way you present the information.

I wrote a clump of poems with a heavy sexual undercurrent about twelve years ago. Before that and since there has been really very little. And in that batch of poems, although I wrote about sexuality, I didn't really write about sex. I think sex is like love, at least from a literary point of view, it's all be said before, what could I possibly add?

It's like the love poem I shared with you, a mathematical love poem as you pointed out, now that was different, it raises it beyond your average gushy drivel. And, it's the same with sex. I've never been very interested in going where other people have gone before probably because every sexual experience I've ever had someone has had before.

Sex, however, is a good metaphor. It's common ground. And so I have used it to talk about other things. A few of my sexual poems are about voyeurism like 'Mirror, Mirror' but the poem really is not about sex, it's about the writer-reader relationship. I doubt there is a writer living who doesn't have a voyeuristic streak. Whether that extends to the bedroom is another matter. But writers are insatiably curious.

My first 'sexual' poem is still probably my best. It was inspired by walking down Blythswood Street in Glasgow which, at the time, was the place to go to pick up a prostitute. Of course at the time of the day I went down there you wouldn't expect to see anyone and yet once I did, a big, sassy, black mama, the most incongruous thing I have ever seen on a Glasgow street; I saw a car sidle up beside her and, just like in the movies, she leaned over at a right angle, agreed a price, got in and left. I must have been about sixteen at the time but it's not one of those experiences one ever forgets so when I came to invent Sweet William, that is the street even though I never mention it. Like practically all my sexual poems is not really about sex. I'm not even sure in my head that sex has ever been about sex but that really is another matter entirely.

Common Denominator

Every evening
Sweet William
sits on the wall
watching Stiletto
and the cars
creeping quietly
down the street.

He knows her room
and sometimes he
kneels outside the window
on the fire escape
and watches through a
crack in the curtain
or more often just listens.

The sounds he likes best
are like children sobbing
and he understands that.

6 September 1981

William became a recurring character in my poetry for the next 21 years. I've not thought about him in a long time though.

Rachel Fox said...

Interesting do make my inner pscyhiatrist sit up and pick up the it were...

For a start "every sexual experience I've ever had someone has had before"...well, no not exactly they haven't (something very like it maybe...but not exactly the same...that's kind of the point). Every different coupling (or more...or less) of people makes a slightly different chemical reaction, if you like, a slightly different result. And I've had sex with same person now for over ten years and it's never exactly the same - that's one reason I still do it! It would be very dull otherwise (and sex can be dull - hence the word 'tedium' in my poem...dull sex is just horrible...for most women I know anyway).

Also in your 'Mirror mirror' know 'whores' don't 'become what you want'...they pretend. It's a huge difference! But then a person's views on sex (like so many other subjects) are very influenced by their experience and by their position in the game.

Colin Will said...

I like Jim's William poem.

Anyway, based on a sample of about a third of my poems (published and unpublished), here's what I write about:
ageing, aggression, archaeology, bee-keeping, beer, begging, biology, birds, books, Buddhism, chemistry, childhood, city life, communication, cremation, dance, death, drink, environment, exile, family, fantasies (ie made-up stories), fathering, food, friendship, gardens, history, humour, illness, internet, landscape, language, libraries, local area, love, marriage, maths, memory, mental illness, mortality, moving house, music, nature, painting, poetry, relationships, religion, reproduction, sculpture, sea, self-esteem, selkie, sex, sport, suicide, travels, trees, walking or climbing, war, weather, wildlife, work

Nature and travel are the largest categories. Of course, to say a poem's theme is 'nature' doesn't say what the poem's about.

Rachel Fox said...

So Colin...any subjects conspicuous by their absence in your list?

Jim Murdoch said...

I know what you're saying but you know what I'm saying too. There is a side of me that feels that writing about any particular sex act is redundant because other people will have written about it before so unless I can bring something else to the poem I don’t see the point. Ultimately the poems then become about the something else for me, never the sex which is invariably simply a convenient metaphor.

As for 'Mirror, Mirror' – do poems 'become' or 'pretend'? Now, that's a subject for a poem.

Colin Will said...

Well Rachel, I've compared your list with mine, and I haven't yet written about:
drugs (well maybe drink, and I have written about a friend with an addiction - I'm Cleanhead Colin)
education (don't know why)
happiness (maybe I'm a sad old bugger)
housework (a definite gap)
knowing (that's a subject I might tackle)
mysteries (not happy with the concept of mystery)
nightlife (I'm a daytime person)
meaning of life (erm... does it have to have one?)
the Queen (not in my social set)

Dave King said...

I think I have said before that for me, love is the most difficult of subjects to put into verse - except privately. I have never quite worked out why that is. Maybe it's just natural (or even unnatural) reticence or maybe (more likely, I think) it is because it demands an even higher skill-level than usual, just to be acceptable. But every time I come across a poem well made on the subject I think I will try my hand. Your poem makes me want to do that - there can be no greater praise possible from yours truly. Excellently well done!!

Rachel Fox said...

Jim - yes on the one hand there are poems that use sex as a metaphor (and they do tend to say something about sex at the same time too of course) but I am really talking more in the post about the subject of sex and how to write about it (or not). Subjects change all the time so, for example, whilst the basic sex acts may not change that much attitudes to sex, how people feel about sex...that kind of stuff is changing all the time (and it may be most obviously the case for women but I think it is true for men too...). The times are changing...that's always what we have to say or write about everything that is going on changes too. That's how, despite all the books coming out all the time, all the poems being written, all the songs, there are still new, interesting things to say and new ways to say them. Sometimes we manage it and sometimes it's someone else. We all have the subject areas we like to work in most and those areas change from time to time (which is probably for the best).

Rachel Fox said...

And I shall be working through your list Colin and seeing if there's anything I have to get on and write about NOW (though don't expect my beekeeping poem any time soon...).
I've had a poem (or series of poems) about dance/dancing building up in my head for ages. I'm not sure when it will be ready to get out onto paper and screen. Soon, I hope.
I might post my Queen poem soon too just to get it out of the closet, as it were.

Marion McCready said...

"Interesting do make my inner psychiatrist sit up and pick up the pen" - exactly my thoughts too, Rachel. Jim what a complex and interesting fellow you are!!

"to say a poem's theme is 'nature' doesn't say what the poem's about" - good point Colin, I like that.

Art Durkee said...

I like your list(s). For me, though, making a list of what I write poems about isn't very useful to me. It gets me too much into that editor's mind of critical self-analysis, which is not where I want to be these days. For me, it makes writing poetry into something too close to an intellectual game, which for me it just isn't. I'm not trying to be critical of anyone by saying this, I'm trying to explore why I resist making up such a list. partly, I think too that I'd rather keep shedding poems in my wake rather than turn around to look at them, and risk losing my current momentum.

I can note themes I keep returning to, but not much else. In no order whatsoever:

nature, visionary spiritual experience, transcendence, architecture, music, portraits of imagined characters, epiphanies, autobiography, the void, October, walking between worlds, mysticism, sex, cruising, mysteries, geology, the old gods, magick, Zen, death and dying, birth, rebirth, hommage, naturism, arts & crafts, travel & the spirit of place, veriditas, ruins, the changing seasons, clairvoyance, etc.

You see why this doesn't work for me? That list all sounds very abstract, but every single poem is rooted in earthy, actual experience. So much for lists.

Rachel Fox said...

I know what you mean, Art, and I'm not for a minute saying that each poem, for example, is only about one subject or that all the poems have a subject that I can put my finger on necessarily...or even that I necessarily know what all the subjects of all my poems are! The list is quite vague...just a pointer for me take a look back at the poems I've written so far and think about what I'm going to write next. I put my first book out this year so this whole time is a bit of spaghetti junction for me re writing and ideas and what happens next. Some days I even think maybe I won't write any more poems at all...I did always think I would be a writer but not necessarily a poet...maybe I'll do something else next. But for now...on I go...

Jim Murdoch said...

Rachel, I knew full well what you were looking for when you asked for comments to this blog. The problem is I think I have two, maybe three poems, out of my 1000+ now that are about the sexual act. But I wanted to contribute, to provide my, as usual, a little off-kilter perspective on the subject. Oh, and of those two or three poems Leonard Cohen has written a song, 'Light as the Breeze', that wipes the floor with one of them. You can read an interesting analysis of the song here. Here are the lyrics. And here's him singing it.

Rachel Fox said...

Thanks for all the links Jim.

The article about the song is interesting - especially considering some of the comments higher up here (I'm thinking of Art and his sacred sex).

I still find the Cohen vocal...uninteresting to listen to so maybe I'd be better listening to someone else singing this. I know he has leagues of fans...and I may yet be one (it took me quite a long time to be able to bear the sound of Dylan's voice but I'm...well...OK with it now...on some songs). To me Cohen seems to sing on one note nearly all the makes me want to give him a shove or something.

I was listening to some Karine Polwart this there's a singer! She can write great songs too - I may write something on her next time. And it will be in no way sexual.

Ken Armstrong said...

In all this hugely interesting talk about sex-and-poetry, funnily enough, it is your Leonard Cohen analysis that will surely make the biggest impression.

"... it makes me want to give him a shove or something." Wonderful. :)

Unknown said...

OMG - you don't like Laughin' Len's voice! There was a time when I thought his was the sexiest thing going. Just goes to show you, doesn't it. I love your 'giving him a shove.'

Sex poems? I have written a few. The Garden of Earthly Delights is about desire, and The Covenant is about the consummation... But I like Dick's recent poem: very succinct. Now off to read everyone else's links.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes..luckily we all find different things and people sexy! Imagine the chaos if we didn't...

Rachel Fox said...

Yes and Ken...I should point out that 'give him a shove' is not Middlesbrough speak for anything least not in this case.

Rachel Fox said...

And Barbara... I love your 'riot in the radishes' in 'The Garden of Earthly Delights'!
Interesting L Cohen link in the other poem too.

Fiendish said...

The fact that this post has so many comments is testament to the fact that sex is pretty much everybody's favourite topic.

Personally, and for a reason I really can't understand, I always end up writing about sex from the male l point of view. Whether it's because I feel that male sexuality is more ordinary and understandable, or because if I wrote about a girl people would presume it was me, or because I am writing about me but I don't want to believe that I am - I don't know.

Rarely do I achieve anything near honesty, anyway. I'll chalk that up to teenage insecurity.

Rachel Fox said...

Fiendish - so good to have you back!

Honesty about sex is any stage of life but probably most of all for younger people. I can think about the sex I had as a teenager now and see what was going on but at the time...I don't think I had a clue! I enjoyed some of it and hated some it...sadly trial and error is the only way to learn what works for each of us! Sometimes lots of trials and lots of errors...


nommo said...

Call me a romantic if you wish, but I think good sex *is* poetry... maybe that's stating the obvious?

Rachel Fox said...

Well, Paul, I know what you mean...but I would say good sex is like good poetry (and therefore I suppose bad sex is like bad poetry, dull sex is like dull poetry, disappointing sex is like disappointing poetry etc.). Which is kind of what you're saying...kind of not!

Hello by the way. Who are you? Been here often?

nommo said...

Hiya Rachel,

I guess we do agree then ;)

I *did* get that urge to edit my post after I posted it to add something about bad sex/poetry - but you corrected me anyway..

I am a crowd-pleaser 'virgin', I stumbled on your site today after spotting that you have a wordpress site that I manage in your blogroll... in the interests of freedom of speech (rather than transparency) - maybe I won't tell you which one for now ;-)

That way I might be able to write some revealing poetry... or something... (I haven't written a poem for a decade!).

I think that's the problem with sex 'art' in all its forms - it's still a taboo to many.

Even writing about straight marital missionary style is not acceptable behaviour, unless shrouded in metaphor.

We are in denial of our origins with regard to reproduction - never mind evolution!

I am never closer to 'god' (whatever that may be) when I orgasm - and I feel more alive than at any other time, and to *give* an orgasm brings me closer to my goddess than any other practice - even more so than doing the housework without being asked (actually that will usually lead to the latter ;-))

Sorry - I do go on. I liked the succinctness of my last post :)

Rachel Fox said...

Paul - I too alternate between the succinct and the extremely long and rambling so you're in good company here!

As for sex poems...a work in progress there...

Hugh McMillan said...

Paul that's interesting. The French call orgasm the "little death". Sartre said it was like "rehearsing for death"(presumably he knows a bit more about it now).

Interesting post rachel, as ever. I don't write much about sex in case I feel the spectral hand of my calvinist grannie clipping me roon the lug.

Rachel Fox said...

Well, you know, if she was a grannie chances are she had sex somewhere along the line too...probably swinging from chandeliers...or something.