Thursday, December 15, 2005

Genre trepidation

Okay, this is going to be a strange question, especially given my earlier comments. But take it seriously and answer me (please). Where is the line between porn and poetry? Is a poem more likely to bridge that gap by being text-based, or picture-based? What can you reasonably expect a poem to "do" for you? Poets have always been fascinated with their power to make stuff physically happen outside the page--console the mournful, seduce the romantic, inspire the political. In recent times comic poetry has become more acceptable (a poem to make you laugh). What are the limits of... respectability? regarding what a pornographic poem might encourage one to do? This could be asked about other... "gross" or "base" functions... a poem that makes you desperate to eat or... I ask this partly in response for Eric's call for experimentation.


Blogger House Press said...


That's actually a good question - one that came up last year in a seminar I was taking on 19th c. sentimental fiction. Porn is an interesting medium b/c it's primarily meant to act on the body, to evoke a physical response and change in a way that other media can't or don't (other media may evoke certain physical responses, but not as overt and stimulating as porn is meant to). In a way, porn is a lot like sentimental fiction (or at least I argue it is) b/c both deal with a physical stimulation of the body, or for that matter, something like sound poetry that is invasive, that cannot be blocked out and immediately makes you either laugh or feel uncomfortable or some other bodily reaction. But with sound poetry, you don't just sit there casually and take it in - it works on you, bodily. I guess I'm not really answering your question - but I think where the two meet (poetry and porn) is in their relationship to the body, how they work on the body, and the response / stimulation they evoke. If someone one day could write a poem that puts the body so physically out of wack as porn does - that'd be a pretty great poem.


11:47 AM  
Blogger House Press said...

I think where the two meet (poetry and porn) is in their relationship to the body, how they work on the body, and the response / stimulation they evoke.

i'm not really sure this means anything insofaras what isn't meant to work on the body and the response thereof?

this isn't meant to be nasty or anything, i just want to understand the terms.


1:19 PM  
Blogger The White Angel said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:32 PM  
Blogger House Press said...


I think you're right - what isn't meant to work on the body? What I think Jessica is raising is the theoretical possibility for poetry to radically alter the body in the way porn is able to - to make something happend to the reader. At least, that's what I think she's asking. What is at stake in Jessica's post is an issue of control: humorous poems MAKE you laugh, porn MAKES you aroused, sentimental fiction MAKES you feel sympathy, etc. Porn and poetry I think can work as a narcotic, in the way that (for instance) Billy Collins' poetry seduces the reader into the poem so that consciousness of the world dissolves and you're left with only his images, just as the pornographic image draws everything into itself. It's an interesting proposition that Jessica makes and one that merits discussion. To contradict what I wrote earlier - I'm a bit uncertain about the benefits of such a poetry. Why exert such control over the reader? Why make him or her do or want to do anything? What happened to the good ol' fashion Brechtian alienation effect? I mean these as serious questions to open this up a bit more. MS

4:41 PM  
Blogger Jessica Smith said...

Well, as I said, the poet almost always asserts some kind of control over the reader; political poems, love poems, elegies do this; even narrative poems do this (inform the reader of a story); even experimental poems like Zukofsky's "Bottom" (not to "enter" into the porn discussion too boldly here) force the reader to move around in certain ways; my poetry as it is, the kind of stuff I have been writing, encourages one to read in certain ways. Yes, dear, it's totally about control; I'd like a pornographic poem to make you feel violated afterwards (or, you know, at least be able to forecast certain emotional responses for the reader). But we still have not addressed some central questions. First, must a pornographic poem have a visual component? Second, must it be multi-page? I think this is the next "frontier" for me--the multi-page poem (since i'm a page=canvas girl, this is a big deal for me)--perhaps a multi-page poem involves a kind of timing that a single-page doesn't? how much of porn is about timing anyway? i tend to have a vivid imagination and am not much for other peoples' ideas of porn, but maybe you folks more educated in the black arts can tell me--what are the essential elements of porn (as if it were any other genre, painting, etc.)?

I'm also interested in the poem that makes you binge, purge, shit, burp, etc. Poems make us cry (right? sometimes?) and laugh; poems call soldiers to arms; poems seduce lovers... how does one make a poem do, well, more fundamental work?

Do ya'll who went to UB, remember a Wedsendays at 4 reading, I don't recall the reader, but he was working with electronics that stimulated certain parts of the body to make specific gestures happen. I clearly remember a girl with wires attached to her wrist whose wrist was made to bend, graacefully, up and down. I want to do that without wires (and with a fairly normal page-space).

4:55 PM  
Blogger Jessica Smith said...

what did the deleted post say?

5:04 PM  
Blogger Logan Ryan Smith said...

Well, I'm curious here what the difference between this idea of porn poetry and the genre, "erotica," that already exists is.

Also, what would a porn poem do that a poem that "seduces a lover" doesn't already do?

These sorts of things always go over my head.

6:32 PM  
Blogger Tawrin said...

What is porn? Well, anything that I can masturbate to is porn. Insofar as I can get something out of it beyond that, it contains non-porn elements. I also label 'porn' as anything that is designed primarily for someone to masturbate to.

I think that porn does not, unless it is very good or one is unexperienced with one's own sexuality, MAKE a person aroused. One must be open to the experience in order for that psycho-physical 'hook' to grow into real arousal. Similarly with any body affecting art (and it's an interesting question as to whether this covers all art).

I'm not sure, as well, that a poem does exert any kind of control over the reader that they are not willing to give it. It's passive; we make it active, as long as we are good enough at reading it, or if the poet is good enough at making it desireable to be read so. Or if we're in the right mood, etc.

To throw a bit of a wrench into this, though, I should mention (or should I?) that I have mastrubated to entirely abstract music (as an experiment, mainly; it's not something I do often). So, it is possible to link one's arousal to pretty much anything if one is determined enough (masochism is a good example, and one probably easy link). So, Jessica, it would be possible to write a poem that "seduces" a reader into linking arousal to what's on the page; if you get them to masturbate to it, there you have porn. And a whole lot else, I'm sure.

Well, that's my two cents.

7:09 PM  
Blogger Logan Ryan Smith said...

I just thought of an answer to one of my own questions--porn is intended to get someoneELSE off, a poem that "seduces a lover" is intended to get the poet off. So, I guess I see the difference there.

I still don't understand why we're talking about porn poetry, and not "erotica".

7:17 PM  
Blogger House Press said...


Just one thing about your comment, about poetry being passive, and poetry not "exerting any kind of control over the reader that they are not willing to give it." This is simply not the case. Entering into a poem is like entering into a contract. The poem cannot exist without the reader giving it life, it doesn't exist in a vacuum, unlike a movie, for instance. I think that this is what makes poetry so exciting. The issue of poetry not exerting any control, well it is inherent in all artwork that it has control over the receiver. The amount of control is quite variable, but just put it to anyone who has ever sat through La Triviata, listened to Bach, looked at a Picasso, or read a Robert Lowell poem. I think 'control' is potentially one of the great dangers of art, and I find work that consciously works against this tendency to be quite valuable, for example chance-based music such as John Cage's, or conceptual art from an artist like Sol Lewitt, where the process is intregal to the whole of the piece.


8:14 PM  
Blogger Al Cohen said...

Whether or not a poem is a contract, whether or not an author has control, is entirely a matter of perspective. And arrive at this because I know you both and think I know where you're coming from.

I think what a lot of porn does, and this sounds obvious, is it lets biology take over. Character development in porn (here we go!) is focused purely on the fucking that is to come. The only thing that really matters is sexuality, and fucking. They are hardly people, which I guess makes it that much easier to identify with them, but at the same time, they performing the dance of the ancients. But to me, porn's real value is in it's animalistic purity.

Tawrin, what about something like a penthouse letter, it
s text, it get you hard, but then you flip to thh picture for the main event. right?

We should all write a pornograpic poem and hsow them to each other anonymously so that no one be self-conscious. Everyone can e-mail me their poem (or someone else we trust) and then that person puts them together and shows them off. The one that that Tawrin jerks off to is the winner!

9:03 PM  
Blogger CP said...

This is really interesting to me as a published author of "erotic poetry". I suppose that pornography is subjective. A bared breast in Playboy is porn while a bared breast at MOMA is not? I don't agree. I think that anything that invokes feelings of inner stirring is "art"...however, some of that "art" might be pornographic. What one person may find to be offensive and pornographic, another might find comfort and solitude in. Personally, I find sappy love songs and sonnets to be utter crap. They do nothing for me. They do not move me emotionally. Yet, a well written poem about lovers intertwined with a slow, climactic build, a forceful pinnacle and then, a gentle wind down...those to me are beautiful.

Then again, I am a little biased.


Great question! Love the blog!


9:15 PM  
Blogger House Press said...

Hi Logan,

I think that the answer to your question is in your question - but this is just my speculation. "Erotica" is a genre, and "porn" is not. Porn is an element to an art (or a function within it), but it doesn't form a genre. Erotica, I think, has its own conventions and such. For instance you might hear someone say "hey, that painting is pornographic" or "that movie with the clown in it is pornographic". So Jessica is asking how can you get the function of pornography into a poem. At least that's how I'd distinguish the two.

9:16 AM  
Blogger House Press said...

forgot to sign my name to the above comment - MS

9:16 AM  
Blogger Jessica Smith said...

go mike. yes, something like that, difference b/t erotica and porn also being ... how it makes you feel. in my experience , erotica is more gentile, where porn is, as aaron puts it, about the fucking. there's a "best erotica" every year just as there are "best short stories" and "best poetry," etc, but there's not a "best porn," it's not a legitimate genre, it's "base." okay, so i have enough experience with porn and erotica that i think i know the difference; erotica is more subtle, often pretty, often more narrative; porn goes over the edge. like (just to be totally scientific about this) maybe one starts out (ehem..) with erotica, but it's porn you're looking for at climax. so what i want is not poetry that seduces/entices you, but literally, poetry that makes you cum, preferably somewhat against your will.

11:31 AM  
Blogger Al Cohen said...

co[u]ming against one's will?

now that's hot

or it's really scary

1:12 PM  
Blogger Jessica Smith said...

exactly. ok, this is lame but, let me tell you what i'm thinking. on an episode of Friends (i warned you it was going to be lame), Joey goes to a sperm bank, and he can't... produce. So a nurse comes in to "help" and he gets all excited, but she jams her finger up his ass... and he comes instantly and he feels so violated. I want that. I want to make a male reader feel violated.

i think this is an interesting task, i mean, for you guys would it be easier to write erotic/pornographic poetry about women (imagining what they'd want to read) or about men (knowing what they want to read)?

eric i think you should name the magazine MAKE and the first issue should be entitled IT and those of you who have no other experimental ideas should experiment on this front; i'd like to see what people can do. and i don't think it's fair that we just send all these poems to aaron (very cunning, aaron).

2:16 PM  
Blogger Logan Ryan Smith said...

Jessica, you made up that episode of Friends, right?

Also, I have to say, the idea of making a reader feel "violated" would be a tough task. I mean, you'd have to pick your audience, and they'd probably have to have some preconceptions about "porn" or whatehaveyou; because, well, I know that I wouldn't feel violated by anything I read. Grossed out, maybe. But not violated.

2:52 PM  
Blogger Jessica Smith said...

LRS: did i make it up? maybe. sometimes i have trouble distinguishing my vivid dream life from reality. uh, yes, well, anyway art does sometimes make you feel violated. concert goers at stravinsky's rite of spring felt their ears had been violated. initial american readers of Ulysses felt their sense of dignity had been violated. When I saw the movie "Love Actually" I felt violated,because it was tugging so hard at predictable heartstrings that i felt puppeteered. i've felt violated reading porn before (i mean, porn addressed to men). all i'm saying is, is there a way to switch that around. maybe actually getting someone to secrete fluids is asking too much, but-- in principle, what does it take for a poem to violate you ("you") these days, i wonder.

10:12 AM  
Blogger Logan Ryan Smith said...

This may not be at all what we're talking about here, but perhaps it'll bring to light some of the finer points with a discussion.

This is "Poem" by Aaron Kiely. I read Cypress Magazine, issue two, last night where this was published:


someone who wants their ass sucked all the time
someone who wants cock ass sucked all the time
someone who wants cock ass shit
twice after once
who wants shit
cock ass mouth
right after they've had it

kiss me after cock
my ass
my ass in my mouth
pussy in my ass on my mouth
you just fucked me? fuck me!

shit in a cock
mouth rub past pussy to mouth
my mouth in my pussy you'll say
my ass in my mouth in my pussy you'll say
after I've done it
my mouth in my pussy ass cock

maybe I want a man in a woman

my pussy
my ass
my pussy

I know my own ass more than I know my own pussy
if you can't say it's a cock and a pussy
you've just fucked me

it was said in my own pussy

not for fear it was the ass incarnation
of lips in my own ass
grabbed on the pavement
I was waiting to get licked
my own fingers
on the pavement

so I kept things in my mouth
in my cock pussy vagina
I was waiting to get licked in my own vagina
sucking my own fingers
on the pavement
blow job
waiting to get sucked
no strangers to my body
my own fingers
didn't know I wanted to suck myself
my own vagina
the lick of my ass on my lips

I didn't know I wanted myself
on the pavement
my sucking arms
sucked around my cock

I'm just waiting for it
sucking for real
I didn't know
my vagina was still there

you wanted
my ass on my breath
for a man
in a woman

quick on the pavement
suck me
before I'm here
so I know my body

before I even know I'm here
I suck your vagina
in my breath

I just sucked your vagina in my breath

which is what you wanted
in my man in a woman

4:42 PM  
Blogger todd said...

A Question for the House:
Porn is to poem as Chose Your Own Adventure book is to (blank)?


8:21 PM  
Blogger Tawrin said...

Mr. Unger, didn't we say the same thing about control, how a poem is animated? And where can I go to see a movie in a vacuum? Like, that would totally blow my mind man.

How is 'control one of the great dangers in art'? I think a lot of people here are working w/ different definitions of 'control'; I define 'being controlled' as moving (in body or in mind) toward ends that are not yours. Anyone care to give another, possibly better?

If one were not able to change their desires upon reciept of new information, action would be impossible. I would say that in many cases where it seems like control is being exerted there is, rather, an identical desire, even if one person had it prior to the other.

And so Bach exerts no control over me when I listen his music. I submit completely to him, but this is freely chosen; if he takes me in a direction I don't like, I can terminate the relationship (though that won't happen).

I don't know, that's just how I cut up the human animal. Seems to make sense to me. Aaron's probably right: it's a matter of perspective.

The idea of seduction is an interesting one: exploiting the fact that someone is of two minds about something, and giving strength to the one that shares your desires. (Anyone take issue w/ this definition as well?)

Aaron, the penthouse letters are probably better than the 'main event' if yous ask me, though both are rather tepid. Text based porn is better b/c it engages more of the mind; though worse because it's usually such a poor construction -- like having sex and the phone keeps ringing.

12:25 PM  
Blogger Tawrin said...

Jessica: why would you want to make the reader feel violated? Are you a bad person? Need to teach someone (men?) a lesson? The only way I can see you doing this is to 'violate' someone in the sense that a masochist likes to be 'violated'. There are plenty of men who, I'm sure, would be like "yeah, violate ME baby," so that's an angle for your project.

12:26 PM  
Blogger House Press said...


I'm not sure if this is what you're suggesting, but are you arguing that every encounter with art is a situation of control? At a certain level this is probably true (though I'd have to think it through some more), but what concerns me with your last comment is that it seems to suggest that encounters with art are agonistic struggles that work on the reader / viewer / listener and move him or her to ends not their own. While I think you're right about this, I'm wondering where you think the place of dialogue is in such an encounter. Since we're poets, this is a particularly important question b/c I've thought of poetry (and all reading) as an event that takes place as a dialogue btw reader and text, as a reconstructive/creative act (to be extremely simplistic). Gadamer is attractive for this reason, for thinking of each act of reading as event and performance. Anyway, I don't think "control" is the right word to use is we're thinking of poetry in this way, as mutually constructive, creative, and as an event. Control I think works against this event, when one party, either the text or reader, hedges the other out of the process - when one tries to govern the other. Eric U. is right to be suspicious of art and the dangers that come with it - when one tries to master the other, when it ceases to be dialogue - that is control. I felt the same way as Jessica in Love Actually - very sick, violated, without control. That is a danger. I wanted to go out into the streets and fall in love. After Saving Private Ryan, I wanted to die for my country. After the Passion, I wanted to be Christ. Of cours that's an exageration, but that sort of control is dangerous. Jessica's idea of a poem that makes the reader secrete fluids is conceptually interesting, but also quite dangerous - I mean, I wouldn't want to be reading it in the library, or on the bus. Art is a very dangerous thing - control being one of the reasons it's dangerous.


2:02 PM  
Blogger Tawrin said...

Mr Slosek:

Hold on there: no one's going to write a poem that MAKES you secrete bodily fluids, die for your country, or fall in love. Really.

Now, how did you get that I think art is all about control? I mentioned that art does not control people; so, art is NOT about control. I'll say it again: art does not control people. I think dialogue is a weak way to put it, though, b/c there is no response mechanism in most art; it's dialogue as metaphor, remember, and don't abuse the metaphor.

The 'danger' of art is its ability to make something more attractive than you (YOU, Mikey) think it ought to be. Art can affect your emotional state, but christ you can take it back if you want. If you can't take back your emotional state, start working on it. It's an extremely valuable tool in life. If you can't do that, then at least understand your emotions well enough to know it's effects on you, and make a prior decision to give reason the helm under compromising cercumstances so that you are not so easily manipulated. This is stuff that everyone does, right? Self knowledge, right?

The thing about the 'danger' of art: it can manipulate your emotions if you let it; it can -- like any information -- alter your conception of what is true or not true; act like an opiate. In all these circumstances, a good critical awareness destroys the possible dangers. The solution to dangerous art, then, is more art -- art that sharpens the mind, senses, and emotions. Also (real) dialogue, high standards, an open, engaging stance.

5:01 PM  
Blogger House Press said...


AS you say: The solution to dangerous art, then, is more art -- art that sharpens the mind, senses, and emotions. Also (real) dialogue, high standards, an open, engaging stance.

Right on!

AS you say: In all these circumstances, a good critical awareness destroys the possible dangers.

That's a bit too optimistic. My examples of movies were a bit exagerated and crass (as I said), but critical awareness cannot neutralize what we're calling "dangerous" art or the control of art simply b/c reason cannot stand in the way of emotional response. I don't think you can say, "I choose not to let this affect me" - if you can then I don't think you're truly giving over to the work's appeal, and I think you have to. This encounter means you make yourself vulnerable, and in doing so, I don't think you're critical faculties can insulate you from this experience. Again, this is simplifing things b/c of course you need reason to receive the work and so on. What I hear you saying is that you can objectify art, stand at a distance and experience it, and therefore mitigate the effect it can exert on you, or chose to have it affect you - and I don't think that is the case. The "danger" comes in b/c you can't control art, tame it, conceptualize it, contain it - it works on you, and you in turn work on it. In my understanding, the danger (which I'm equating with control) occurs when the art does not give anything in return but a single avenue that wants you to feel or think one thing.

I don't think that talking about art as dialogue is metaphoric - I mean it literally.

Sorry about misreading your comment, re: control. I get what you're saying about Bach - and the experience you describe is a giving over to it. But unfortunately all art is not Bach. There is art that offers no dialogue (you're probably freaking that I keep using that word) and seeks to manipulate and control. Examples of this type of art span from Guess Jean commercials, radio jingles, poetry by Billy Collins, Anselm Adams, Wagner, etc (some may disagree with people on this list). If I'm misunderstanding a point of yours, please let me know - we need to put less faith in our ability to destroy the way art can control.


6:43 PM  
Blogger Jessica Smith said...

I've decided I'm not interested in this anymore. You fellas can keep discussing it but I'm moving on. Sorry.

8:48 PM  
Blogger Al Cohen said...


You of all people

You taught me to value the language on bus stops in Montreal the same as Olson.

Control is purely a form of perspective. Me and Slosek met a beautiful lady and we act against our better judgment. Baker meets a beautiful lady and sticks with her until she starts chattering about children. I got no self-control, I'm all impulse. Art with impulse, with intuitive truth, (I like Slosek's single avenue metaphor) art that makes an honest report- that's what I'm after.

The stuff on the bus stops, Hollywood, that stuff is layered so deep in meaninglessness, it's endlessly attractive to turn it against itself, spray gun it back to Being.

8:54 PM  
Blogger House Press said...

Being with a capital B - you're knocking me dead, Lowinger!


9:58 PM  
Blogger daniel said...

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9:26 PM  

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