- Obscenity, like comedy and irony, is an undermining of order; its first feel is fun, fun at the expense of somebody serious who needs to be there, gathering in their skirts. We all take turns being the fun one and then the serious one.
- Tess Gallagher, in “The Lover of Horses” writes about a daughter taking care of a drunken father, “I made up a strong broth, and as I poured the steaming liquid into a Thermos I heard myself utter syllables and other vestiges of language which I could not reproduce if I wanted to.” Later, she writes, “For the rest of the morning I sat under the cedar tree and smoked. My thoughts drifted with its shifting and murmurings, and it struck me what a wonderful thing nature is because it knows the value of silence, the innuendos of silence and what they could mean for a wordbound creature such as I was.” Obscenity, I think, is the freeing consolation for we, the wordbound who cannot always bear the heavy value of silence.
- The dirtiest poem, according to the internet, is Catullus’ Carmen 16, “Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo…”, “I will sodomize you and face-fuck you,/Bottom Aurelius and catamite Furius/ You who think, because my poems/ are sensitive, that I have no shame/ For it's proper for a devoted poet to be moral/ himself but in no way is it necessary for his poems…” Every once in a while, in one of the merrier, more thoughtful dives, I will find Catullus’ poem as graffitti. It means something more vital to me when I read it as graffitti.
- The word naughty comes from Christian thought about the Fall of Man. Everything has value in God’s creation, and only the wicked can nullify, naught-ify God’s valuable things; the word originally meant, “possessing nothing”.
- In 1984, when I was editor of the college literary magazine, we received a poem that was a sort of broken haiku, no art to it, really, just a line: “Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck our love goes down the scum river.” It was terrible, and obscene, and the editorial committee had a good laugh, but here I am thirty years later, reciting it fondly from memory, and publishing it.
- My brother is a metalhead and likes to take his children to metal concerts; it’s a family affair. The Jackson County Fair featured a visit by the now-venerable Godsmack, a name that did not please my mother. “I hope you’re not going to see that GODSPANK,” she warned my heedless brother. I love Godspank—it sounds dirtier than the merely sarelegious she disapproved of. Don’t tell my mom, but I think she invented a new obscenity. And that’s a compliment, for there can be a beauty to obscenity; the crime of cursing is the crime of cliché (which is a terrible crime, the poet’s sacrilege).
- Thomas Bowdler’s name was turned into a verb. He was the one who edited out all the naughty parts of Shakespeare, to produce The Family Shakespeare. Out, out darn spot. If my name were to be turned into a verb, to Bouldreyize would mean that one make naughty things that were not naughty in the first place.
- A very memorable and prurient thing happened when that great lyric intelligence, Kate Daniels came to visit our campus a couple of years ago. The eponymous poem of her collection, “A Walk Through Victoria’s Secret” (Louisiana State University Press, 2010), is about old bras and lactating and the life of, well, boobs. Daniels’ poems, full of long lines and generous narrative and a mind that transforms politics and sex and history and her own life into a beautiful music. Because I am often making things naughty, I turned to my colleague and collaborateur, John Bresland, The Straight Guy I Know. “Are men really turned on by Victoria’s Secret underwear?”
- “Brian,” he said, “my fondest fantasy is to be the captain of a fishing trawler that rides down Michigan Avenue and crashes through the glass doors of the Victoria’s Secret flagship store.” More than fantasy, this obscenity felt like myth. A few months later, I was walking along the Thames in London, and saw John’s fantasy a reality.
- But I have made too naughty a collection of poems that are so vital to the body, the body politic, and sex. There is a poem I can’t stop thinking about, “Doc”, a poem about an attempt at interracial love and lust, a narrative that would offend hateful hearts but breaks mine. I keep thinking about the t-bone steaks of this poem, and the line, “No one who could possibly care/Knew we were there, alone, reverberating/ Inside the prison house of history,/Longing to touch each other/ Free from context.” The beauty of obscenity is trying to escape the prison of history and old narrative, to write a new story that will seem an obscenity to the thick-blooded.
- The burden of our terrible history, of our bodies, of racism and sexism, perhaps it can be lightened just for a moment by lyricism. “Sing sorrow, sorrow, but let good win out in the end,” laments the chorus of Aeschylus’ Agamemnon. That’s what Kate Daniels does.
His last name is lost now, misfiled
In the archives of my personal history
But I've never forgotten him,
That cute, black, pre-med sophomore
From Lafayette, Louisiana, who wore
Aviator glasses and tattered khakis,
So intent on becoming a surgeon
His roommates called him Doc.
I remember he lived on the ground
Floor of a garden apartment with sliding
Doors and vertical blinds that one of us
Must have locked and twirled shut
To ensure our privacy. Grilled t-bones
Decorated our plates, and while we cut and chewed,
I regaled him with an anecdote of poor Ted Roethke,
So psychotic in his mania, he believed
He was a lion. "Bring me a steak,"
He said to the waiter. "Don't cook it. Just
Bring it." And for some reason, both of us
Laughed. Then I quoted the phrase I had always loved,
"Suddenly I knew how to enter the life of everything around me."
In the silence after that, the end of the evening
Approached quickly. I could taste the beef grease
On my lips, and feel its heaviness in my gut.
The hot, arousing smell of cooked flesh
Filled the air between us. And before I realized it,
Doc was leaning toward me, his eyes limpid
Behind the huge lenses of his glasses,
His mouth relaxed, his hands soft.
I could find nothing in his face
To frighten me, and something old
Inside was punctured and started to empty,
Draining itself like a boil, or a chancre.
And though that felt like a healing, poison
Still poured out dampening the space
where Doc and I now stood, close enough
To smell each other...
No one who could possibly care
Knew we were there, alone, reverberating
Inside the prison house of history,
Longing to touch each other
Free from context. One kiss
Would transform me to the n***r-lover
My old friends determined I'd become.
And Doc would be pilloried beside me
For impersonating the race-traitor
A black man loving a white girl
Was called back then...
All it would take to free ourselves
From the old narratives and continuous
Loop reruns of our national nightmare
Was six more inches and a slight elevation
Of my quivering chin. The lower halves
Of our bodies were already touching,
And Doc's arms looped loosely, encompassing
My ass. But when I touched him,
When I raised my hands and fit them
On the smooth brown bulges
Of his muscled biceps, the automatic ignition
Of cultural reproduction switched on,
And the feeling that filled me then
Was something like a rush of wings
Unfurling and souring the room
With a musty odor... For a few hours,
Doc and I had cleared the air
Of racial difference and met
Each other in a rare element, debrided
Of color. Now, as our bodies clamored
For the culmination, clouds of old history
Reverse-fumigated the room, and something
As ominous and unambiguously black
As Poe's raven, croaking its warning,
Nevermore, infected the room. Thus,
I tensed and flexed before I turned my cheek
To make a landing pad for the silken slide
Of Doc's sweet lips on my schoolgirl's skin.
And then, without looking again
Into his beautiful eyes, I picked up
The cage I had brought, and turned to go.
I fitted the quilted cover down over the silver bars
And listened to that darkness quiet
Instantaneously the creature that lived
Then I bore it away with me, swinging
In my hands, and walked home alone,
through the darkened, shuttered streets.
Kate Daniels, you were great in bed the first time. I am always trying to keep up with you. SMOOCH.