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  #1  
Unread 05-04-2019, 12:19 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Default An impossible genre?

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...the worst thing in the poetic world: poems that try to delve into Emily Dickinson's sex life, or, what is worse, imagine the narrator having sex with Emily Dickinson...I've never seen such a poem succeed. I can't imagine how one could write one that did.
Aaron N offered this (sort of) challenge on his 'The most cursed poetic genre' thread. I couldn't not rise to it. Whether I've risen very far is debatable. Yep, it's difficult.

Emily

I've been that freezing person, I've felt the snow,
and reached for you before the letting go.
I've sat beside you, telling you they're wrong,
that no bird sang such truth in such strange song.
I've felt the coolness of your kindly Death,
the heat beneath the weave, the catch of breath,
your dry lips touching mine — we both are flawed
and seek for cold perfection and won't be thawed.


Apologies for adding to the genre. I won't be attempting publication...
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Unread 05-04-2019, 11:24 AM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is offline
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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=de3WWGCK4N0
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  #3  
Unread 05-04-2019, 11:26 AM
Aaron Novick Aaron Novick is offline
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Sorry for not responding to your PM sooner, but, yeah, I don't think you've redeemed the genre. There's interesting stuff here, but the sex is gratuitous—it adds nothing to the intellectual relationship you're developing here. It just makes the poem creepy.

FWIW I think Roger's "sex with Gerard" joke would've made for the basis of a better D&A thread.
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  #4  
Unread 05-04-2019, 11:37 AM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Aaron Novick View Post

FWIW I think Roger's "sex with Gerard" joke would've made for the basis of a better D&A thread.
Agree with this. It was a funny idea that could actually turn into a meaningful poem and I'm upset I wasn't clever enough to come up with the idea myself.
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Unread 05-04-2019, 12:26 PM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Hey Aaron,

I do understand all the objections to this stuff and am more or less in agreement. I really don't think I've redeemed the genre either, but I wrote this as a little challenge, a 'drill' (rather than an 'amusement') hence its placement in this forum. It isn't something that would have occurred to me to write otherwise. Unlike what I'm sensing from you though, (and Andrew, given the video reaction) I don't necessarily see the attempt as something that should be seen as somehow taboo. I think a poem could potentially exist on this, or similar, theme that wouldn't be exploitative. One that imagined a more equal power relationship between the speaker and the subject and where the eroticism seemed somehow natural and inevitable. Or where the speaker is self-aware and there's an acknowledgement of the transgression, maybe. I realise this quick poem hasn't managed the genre's redemption.

And clearly others feel the same as you, and even more strongly. I have received a PM from a Spherean (won't say who, obviously) suggesting I should "feel no regret if you deleted your Emily piece, title and all, from the Sphere? It does you and the Sphere little credit." They then go on, strangely to me, to say it might be "right at home on New Verse News or Asses of Parnassus."

I've changed the thread title from 'Sex with Emily' to something less flippant.

I wonder how Billy Collins got away with it?

Edit: changed 'your skirts' to 'the weave' to mitigate the creepiness, maybe. Basically, if someone says a subject can't be written about, I'll try to have a go and happily fail.
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Unread 05-04-2019, 10:25 PM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is offline
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Mark,

I mean, no one is going to throw anyone in jail for the attempt.

But I do think writing a poem about seducing a woman dead for over a century who actively was uninterested in men is weird and problematic. Particularly a poem written by a man.

There are a number of topics I don't think can, or really should, be written about. Anyone not trying to be knee-jerk contrarian could come up with a list with little time or effort.

Did Billy Collins get away with it? I mean, in the sense that anyone and everyone is allowed to freely write on topics like this, sure. He's not in jail. But it's a weird and shitty poem that probably wouldn't have gotten published if he weren't Billy Collins. So, yay for him and the pobiz?
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Unread 05-04-2019, 11:05 PM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
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So, rather non-controversially, I went with this:

Wearily Emily
(albeit imaginary)
fends off advances from
verse-writing boors,

tells them they’re dwelling in
impossibility,
pushes them out of her
numerous doors.

but then I realised that close is open to being read as double entendre, rather than just a reference to her poem, so I tried again.

Wearily Emily
(albeit imaginary)
fends off advances from
undersexed bards,

bored as these fantasist
phalloventriloquists
pull at their pen nibs and
try to get hard.

but now the end is probably too much of a single entendre. Oh well.

(typo, "of" - > "off", thanks Ralph).

Last edited by Matt Q; 05-05-2019 at 04:13 AM.
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  #8  
Unread 05-05-2019, 12:30 AM
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RCL RCL is offline
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Matt, both are amusing, but in line 3 did you mean fends OFF advances, you know, like getting off.
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Unread 05-05-2019, 02:38 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Matt – 'phalloventriloquist' is a brilliant word and those are great.

Hey Andrew – anyone who claims never to have any thoughts that they wouldn't be immediately comfortable sharing is probably lying. I think one of the beautiful things about poetry is that it isn't journalism. It can be a space in language for the 'weird and problematic' to express itself, for the unconscious to sift and organise itself without having to worry about what might be socially acceptable. If the resulting poem reveals nothing but ugliness then it's failed. But it needn't.

One of Aaron's original main objections to this niche genre was that it is cliched; there are too many of them, so they are doomed from the start. The first part is probably true, but the second isn't necessarily. Yes, if all a hypothetical 'Emily' poem reveals is a sort of smirking fantasy about the speaker's opinion of his own sexual magnetism, then it's going to be pretty bad. But people are fascinated by Dickinson and by the idea of the genius / self-imposed recluse in general. And how her attitude to publishing, and company, and sex might be somehow interlinked. People – men and women – may empathise with that reclusiveness, and even have erotic fantasies about somehow overcoming it for both of them. These thoughts can be messy and uncomfortable, but there's no point pretending they don't exist. I don't know what the current consensus is on whether Dickinson was actually a lesbian, and this would obviously complicate things from the standpoint of a male writer, but there's nothing inherently wrong with imagining a sexual relationship with this person, unless one automatically thinks of consensual sex as an act of aggression. In her later years she didn't much like going outside either. Would a poem imagining going for a walk with her be equally problematic?

The risk of failure is high with this subject, but I think a good poem is possible, that's all. I don't think mine is it btw. But yes, at least I'm not in jail, so I should be grateful.

Apologies for the lack of laughs in this thread. Start the 'sex with Gerard' one!
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  #10  
Unread 05-05-2019, 11:01 AM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is offline
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I think some poems are doomed from the start in part when the assumptions implicit in them are repellent. A poem that is overtly racist or antisemitic or misogynist.

The problem with the sex with Emily Dickinson poems is exactly as Susan put it in the other thread:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Susan McLean View Post
I have to say that the poems about sex with Emily Dickinson are particularly repellent because they feel like rape fantasies even though they present the sex as consensual. Women like Dickinson and Austen were able to preserve their privacy and autonomy by having a loving and supportive family that did not insist that they marry and that allowed them some space and free time for doing something they clearly loved. These rape fantasies present the authors as rescuing Dickinson from a life of loneliness and repression, but they seem to ignore her own choices and fierce determination to be herself.
I agree with her whole cloth.

Matt's poems, in contrast, mock the genre, and so don't fall into this. In other words, the only sex with Emily poems that even halfway work need to mock the speaker (thus the genre) or the genre directly, otherwise they fall into the trap Susan points out above.

Last edited by Andrew Szilvasy; 05-05-2019 at 11:04 AM.
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