In a recent post Seth stated that he wasn’t interested in reading “sexy” poems, particularly poems deemed “sexy” by someone else and recommended to him for that reason (And, arguably, Seth wants to define what’s sexy for himself. Which is good.)
It got me thinking about a recent “communication” (Don’t want to tip off Eduardo again!) I had from an editor recently, in which she described my poems as “sexy.”
It sort of concerns me. Let me explain why.
Those of you familiar with my work know that I have a few recurring concerns: what death it, what the body is, how people communicate. The concern with the body in my poems approaches the body as an object, a thing—which, granted, is nothing new—and to some extent this is “sexy” in that the spectator’s relationship to the body as an object is often linked to sex, power, and sexuality. That’s fine. But I will also caution that the bodies in my poems are often dead, decaying, broken, maimed, or untouchable.
If people perceive these bodies as sexual because of those aspects, then the body is no longer an object but a fetish. A fetish is an object whose power over the spectator is disproportionate to its function or appearance. That is, if I have a fetish for ladies’ feet (which I don’t, but for argument’s sake…), then a foot is no longer a foot but instead it becomes the idea of a foot. And the idea of “foot” takes on more significance than the object of the foot—the foot begins to stand for something.
In terms of sexual fetish, it’s generally assumed that the object stands for genitals. Freud’s writings on fetish objects describe how a boy (for example), when faced with a woman’s “lack of a penis” for the first time, freaks out. (All of this is debatable, yes; don’t debate me on it—I’m not Freud.) Anyway, the boy’s eyes, in horror, flee from the “lack” and look for something—anything—else. This is why fetishes take on these alternate symbols: feet, ladies’ shoes, stockings, breasts, even “fur.”
I’m digressing a bit here because I like fetish talk, but my point is, what makes a poem sexy? Certainly it shouldn’t be subject matter, because that’s so limiting. Language can be sexy, yes, but why? I know what kind of talk I think is sexy, but that’s not true for everyone, right? I tend to consider opulent, sonorous language to be the most sexual. Generally, words from Latin are more sexual than their Anglo-Saxon counterparts, unless we’re talking dirty, in which case I’d say “fuck” is sexier than “intercourse.” I also think that poems about sex are generally not sexy. They give too much instead of holding back. And see? Now we’re really getting personal. I like the allusion to the sexual, but not the reveal. I like suspense films instead of slasher flicks. I like to be hinted toward something, not thrust into it.
I also like to make teenage-boy like puns.
Should poetry be sexy? Is a sexy poem something we should look down on, like sex workers? Does it violate too many American Puritan values? Is it too easy to write the sexy poem?
And if Justin Timberlake really is bringing sexy back, where has it been all this time and why hasn’t anyone else thought to look before now??
(And how’s this for Freudian? In Googling the image of Justin, I “accidentally” typed “Justin Timberlack!”)