On Poetry and Perversion

Then there are the various attitudes readers project onto you when you write on certain subjects. Generic sex is fairly safe ground; it’s understood that sex is a part of life, and fair game for poets. But change the parameters a little — mention restraints or implements, say — and readers get annoyed. Not because they’re puritanical, mind you — they’re oh so emphatic about that — but because you clearly think they are, and are hoping to get a rise out of them. Why else would you write about that sort of thing?

It doesn’t occur to them that you might be interested in that sort of thing for its own artistic, erotic, or psychological sake. After all, it’s not as if you were writing about their sexuality, which, it goes without saying, is complex and emotional, an expression of Love, and a worthy subject of Art; you’re writing about somebody else’s sexuality, which is low and vulgar. You must be trying to shock them, or showing off how worldly you are, or otherwise up to no good. And so, with all this suspicion swirling around it like a fog, the poem is lost.

This in 2010, nearly 150 years after Swinburne outraged Victorian England with his “Poems and Ballads.” Swinburne probably was trying to shock people, and good for him. He was also genuinely kinky, as anyone who reads his flagellation verses can see. His sexual preferences were not some trendy costume to be put on and taken off at will, but an integral part of his identity.

Ah thy people, thy children, thy chosen,
      Marked cross from the womb and perverse!
They have found out the secret to cozen
      The gods that constrain us and curse;
They alone, they are wise, and none other;
      Give me place, even me, in their train;
O my sister, my spouse, and my mother,
      Our Lady of Pain.
                        –from “Dolores”

How strange that his verse is considered hopelessly old-fashioned today, yet much of his subject matter is still seen as edgy (or selfconsciously pseudo-edgy, which amounts to much the same thing).

But enough of my blather. Ten years from now, I doubt any of this will be an issue. In the meantime, it’s inspired the theme for this issue, which I hope you’ve enjoyed.

Scuticaria itirapinensis