Hello all, today I would like to welcome a guest blogger to our bar. Anmol Arora who blogs by the name of or HA.
Anmol is an organic, home-grown poet, an amateur designer, a lover of languages, a selfish spectator of art & other things and a retired emo extraordinaire. He blogs at HA’s Place and can be found milling around 24/7 on his Instagram.
To burn with desire and keep quiet about it is the greatest punishment we can bring on ourselves. What good was pride to me—and not seeing you and letting you lie awake night after night? No good! It only served to bring the fire down on me! You think that time heals and walls hide things, but it isn’t true, it isn’t true! When things get that deep inside you there isn’t anybody can change them.
— Federico García Lorca, from “Blood Wedding, II:1” in Three Tragedies: Blood Wedding, Yerma, Bernarda Alba. New Directions, 1955
Welcome to dVerse Poetics. This is Anmol (HA) and I will be your host for today. And we have a lot to talk about and read today — so let’s all get a nice drink, sit back and relax, and explore desire.
Desire — the word unto itself has such connotations, experiences, and meanings attached to it. It is a part of the human condition and a way for us to understand our own needs for companionship and intimacy, for love and romance and for everything else that it entails, in all its colors and shapes. Lorca picks at the experience of desire, of its fire and a blistering sense of presence that lingers requiring us to submit to it, to wield it for our pleasure and bliss. Today, I would like to talk about desire that manifests itself in the form of sex and sexuality through the poetics of some well-renowned poets and hopefully, that would inspire you to work out the magic of your words and create a desire fulfilling/subsuming/figuring/articulating verse.
As a “conscious impulse”, I feel that the expression of desire is something vital, a kind of a liberating force to give a name to our feelings of love and lust and derive pleasure and satisfaction from the attainment of the same. We perform and practice our desires in our own individual manners. As poets and artists, we showcase it in our work, we breathe life through our metaphors and images and define and carve relationships between humans, between selves, and between the self and inanimate objects. Desire is something that has been penned down and imbibed in the poetics for a long time.
Primarily, Sappho’s name comes to my mind — her fragments that are available to us have such an unbridled expression of love and desire (apart from her elegiac works). This is Fragment 31, which at once conveys both desire and what may be construed as a kind of a jealousy,
That man to me seems equal to the gods,
the man who sits opposite you
and close by listens
to your sweet voice
and your enticing laughter—
that indeed has stirred up the heart in my breast.
For whenever I look at you even briefly
I can no longer say a single thing,
but my tongue is frozen in silence;
instantly a delicate flame runs beneath my skin;
with my eyes I see nothing;
my ears make a whirring noise.
A cold sweat covers me,
trembling seizes my body,
and I am greener than grass.
Lacking but little of death do I seem.
Today, in a more equal and liberated world, Sapphic connotations and symbols are attributed to the love, desire, and companionship between women. This gives a new perspective and understanding of the idea of desire as espoused by Sappho.
Many of us have admired EE Cummings’ and Pablo Neruda’s work for their candid display of sensuality and desire in many of their beautiful poems. Since most of the consumption that we get from the media and otherwise is mired in the male gaze, let’s go beyond that and discover the voices of women poets like Sappho and also those who don’t fall into the orthodox binaries and majoritarian identities of gender and sexuality, to have a more holistic understanding of sex and desire in poetry.
Let’s have a glimpse through Emily Dickinson’s sharp poems along with the confessional verses of Sylvia Plath in that regard. Known for her simple and secluded life, Emily Dickinson in her Poem 754 (My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun) embodies the traditionally masculine power through the symbolism of gun and hunting, while staying in a subordinate relationship with her master/partner. This dissidence is more apparent in her Poem 269 (Wild nights) giving us a deeper taste of her desire and need:
Wild nights – Wild nights!
Were I with thee
Wild nights should be
Futile – the winds –
To a Heart in port –
Done with the Compass –
Done with the Chart!
Rowing in Eden –
Ah – the Sea!
Might I but moor – tonight –
Dickinson creates an identity intrinsic to herself alone, where her gender and her sexuality are defined by their own meaning and interpretation as experienced by her, while also denoting the divisions of power and possession in romantic relationships, with an intriguing symbolism.
Taking the same idea forward, Plath often addressed the unequal power relations and how they become a source and reason of repression of a woman’s desire and sexuality. In Virgin in a Tree, she alludes to the holiness attached with virginity and how abstaining from sexual desire is a quality seen as admirable in women while the men are considered to be driven by lust and desire due to women’s inability to repress their own sexual natures. This brings about a very significant gender discourse around the idea of desire through the invocation of mythical characters such as Eve and Helen of Troy. She suggests the depravity and destruction resulting from the same virginity and how youthful sexual desire should prevail over the taboos and restrictions concerning women’s sexuality in the last two stanzas:
She, ripe and unplucked, ‘s
Lain splayed too long in the tortuous boughs: overripe
Now, dour-faced, her fingers
Stiff as twigs, her body woodenly
Askew, she’ll ache and wake
Though doomsday bud. Neglect’s
Given her lips that lemon-tasting droop:
Untongued, all beauty’s bright juice sours.
Tree-twist will ape this gross anatomy
Till irony’s bough break.
Of course, a morally ambiguous and orthodox society hasn’t taken a liking to these ideas, based on the cultural and religious ethos of the time. But the individual expression stays on and literature as a forum has been available to one and all to express their sexual natures and how it takes different forms in their lives. Queer voices like that of Oscar Wilde, W.H. Auden, Lord Byron, Allen Ginsberg, and Agha Shahid Ali define the range of this exploration of complicated and restricted desires that they felt towards their lovers and affectionate friends of the same gender. And sometimes, their unbridled writings have become a powerful repository of literature which gives meaning to the struggles and identities of sexual minorities.
Take Auden’s detailed description of fellatio and rimming in The Platonic Blow (I can’t help but smile at “…the Byzantine dome of the head”) or Ginsberg’s ode to his Sphincter. And here he is reading this poem called, Please Master. The sexual submission or BDSM as graphically depicted in this verse is a beautiful manifestation and expression of desire.
These erotic poems, through their ‘shameless’ exploration of sexual acts often disregarded by the society and majoritarian narrative, derive their power by breaking apart these fallacies and moral strictures that restrict desire and individuality.
To end with, for a more politically and socially representative and a modern exploration of queer identities and desire, read Regie Cabico’s A Queerification and Trace Peterson’s Exclusively on Venus.
Our desires matter, our expression of who we are as individuals matter. In the 21st century, we have seen an overwhelming change in the socio-political domains of our lives. Legally and otherwise, we have come to uphold an individual’s assertion of their own identity — in that purview, recognition, promotion, and protection of gender and sexual identities has brought about such a positive change in the lives of people who have faced the brunt of traditional morality and stringent orthodoxy which banished them to invisibility earlier.
So, for today’s Poetics, I would like you all to reflect over your own desire and identity and how one affects the other, and perhaps seek inspiration from the poems shared here, and share with us your own expression of the same — it can be romantic, it can be sensual and sexual, it can be erotic, it can be political or philosophical, it can be outrageous or perplexing — it is all about our individual rights to express and practice our desires in the way that we want.
Once you have made your post, link it up with the Mr. Linky widget down below. Do visit your fellow poets to enjoy their take and explore new ideas and share what you think with them. I wish you all a wonderfully poetic week ahead.