Just as I have done in recent years, I went yesterday to hear some poet friends read their work locally at Seventy Bay, a new Staten Island art-location that we broke in for those great “Art By The Ferry” shows last summer, and now –I am glad to see– seems to be coming into its own, with shows and readings.
It was, as usual, a lively affair, and with a good turn out. Some of the poetry I had heard before; some was new. (The themes were diverse: there is very little that these folks will not tackle.) Some poems were better than others –that’s no surprise; and some poets read more effectively than others. But it all was enjoyable. And interesting.
And some of the poems were really good. Worthwhile.
One thing in particular struck me –the idea of “Categories of Poems”. And one particular “Category” stood out, prompting a question: –is it now obligatory to include a Sex Poem in one’s repertoire? If it is indeed obligatory, nay expected –and one cannot help getting that feeling– I have some ideas:
We might shoot for this –a new moment in the Cultural-Communal Life of our Poetry Nation.
Might there not be –somewhere out there, as yet undiscovered– A Standard Default FIRST-SEX Poem– which, very much like a NATIONAL ANTHEM , we all (audience as well as poets) could know the words to –or fake them– and stand up and recite in that halting more-or-less spoken-unison that crowds employ, for example, when reciting a well- known prayer at a church service, or repeating a mass-oath, or doing a Declaration of Independence. Audience as well as poet(s), of course: this is beyond poetry. This is Community-Poetics-in-Action.
In a generic First-Sex poem, certain allusions are requisite. The experience: it was…usually in an uncomfortable setting…Something was sticking in someone’s back…. It was…outside. It was cold…the car …or the alley…was not quite how we had pictured it …how we had dreamed about it. Fumbling was involved.
There was…embarrassment….painful embarrassment.
But in the battle between Hormones and Embarrassment, Hormones has a pretty good track record. To paraphrase Damon Runyon, the race isn’t always to the strong and the swift –but that’s the way to bet. Hormones.
Then there is The “Un-” Phase.
This is the Unhooking, Unfastening, Unzipping (Unhinging? No –that’s a different poem; Un-coupling? that comes later ) of Young America. The Default FIRST SEX Poem prefers Awkward to Smooth here, hands down. The message from your Poet-for-the-Evening is “Now I’m… Very Smooth….then I was…AWKWARD as hell.” Your audience will be with you on this, so –if it wasn’t THAT awkward for you– a word of advice: FAKE IT. With Awkward you get laughs; with Smooth….I’m not sure what you get, but…
Well, I think I’ve made my point.
And here’s a line that I’d like to see used: ask “Was it awkward for you (too)?
But –let us press on. (Irregardlessly or not, just as you wish.)
Even the Generic FIRST-SEX Poem recognizes that after the “UN-” phase, Hormones is in the lead, with Embarrassment slipping back into 3rd place, or even “Pulling Up” as they say in the horse-racing world. ( Excuse me, Poet-for-the-Evening: can we get rid of this horse-race metaphor? The…RIDING; it’s a bit…hackneyed. PFTE: “I’ll see what we can do about it, sir.” )
Here’s where language takes over….like a jockey using stick (No. No –you promised!) It is –lets face it– ALL DOWNHILL from here, but one thing you cannot do is..be specific. Such as….you CANNOT Mention Body Parts in this poem….and that rule, as far as I can make out, is Absolutely Un-gendered.
Instead, your language –aided and abetted by Hormones– becomes allusive (allusory?), suggestive. Nothing particularly fancy –allusions to a dawn sky in late summer will lose you points with the audience, whereas a good wink-wink line…goes down well. Everybody gets it.
Here we are in the territory, not of “The Double-Entendre”, but what I like to term “The Single Entendre”. (Did you have another “Entendre” in mind? No, I didn’t think so.)
The language must be basic…and repetitive is good too. When you say ” RUSH RUSH RUSH RUSH” and “NOW NOW NOW NOW” the audience will catch your….drift. Not that there is too much allusive “drift” left.
There is a Billy Wilder line coming to me at this point…where the Master Cultural Satirist is doing a bit about…appropriate language. I think it’s from “The Seven Year Itch” and the Tom Ewell(?) character does his version of RUSH RUSH NOW NOW except that it comes out Besotted and Hoarse “…inwardly, downwardly…” (I know there are some Billy Wilder fans out there who will correct me here.) By all means try “creative”. But BROAD tends to win.
OK, GENERIC FIRST-SEX POEM Class –don’t go to sleep on me now. We’re almost done –there’s just one phase left, THE “AFTER” PHASE.
NOW –at this stage, oddly enough– you can throw in that purple line, that “evening sky in late summer” (or was it early fall? whatever!). NOW your audience will be with you; they will recognize the word AFTER, while they won’t necessarily minutely-decode every inflection of your RUSH RUSH and your NOW NOW. And EXACTLY what stage of the stage you are at. (Perhaps this is deliberate.)
“AFTER” only means One Thing, –AFTER. Can we be… any plainer?
Was it as awkward for you?
[ I have another idea about moving past the GENERIC FIRST SEX POEM that I will post shortly. Meanwhile –thanks again to all our intrepid poets.]