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Peek-a-taboo, I see you! Tonight we are going to turn the pub into a psychological strip club as we bare it all. Welcome! I’m your host, Amaya Engleking.

What is considered to be taboo certainly depends upon the wider cultural context in which the subject is broached. As I was checking the dVerse archives to see the last time the subject of ‘taboo’ was used for a prompt, I saw that in 2011 the prompt writer gave the examples of sex, politics, and religion for what are considered to be “don’t-go-there” topics in polite Western societal discourse. Maybe one wouldn’t want to get too into championing the cause of the proletariat at a Fourth of July block party, but I’d surmise that as poets we are almost expected (and counted on) to write about these three so-called banned topics. And maybe times are indeed a’ changin’ because it seems no matter where you go these days, you cannot escape the sex-politics-religion trivium: the building blocks of a free-speaking, loud-and-proud America, either in the actual or the abstract.

So what then is too taboo for even the liberated-heart poets to pen? Well, in 1858 Comte de Lautréamont created quite a stir against the backdrop French romanticism and Bonapartean rule with his epic poem, Maldoror. Here’s the swine fantasy part:

I dreamt I had entered the body of a hog, that I could not easily get out again, and that I was wallowing in the filthiest slime. Was it a kind of reward? My dearest wish had been granted; I no longer belonged to mankind. [Part IV. Chapter 6]
To the twenty-first century reader, having since experienced the surrealists, then Murakami, and don’t forget the provocateur heavy metal bands and their gory stage antics, this passage barely causes an uplift of the eyebrow, much less an uproar of the masses. 
A poem by the Nepali poet, Haribhakta Katuvāl, struck me as bold despite its likeness to the many youthful revolution movements that have occurred around the world, for attacking the one thing I thought we could all agree on (at least in theory) to further the progress of both the individual and the collective: education.

A Wish (Rahar)
Father, I will not go to school,
there they teach the history of days long dead.
Math’s formulas are old,
the rusted components of a machine,
I refuse to live in history’s pages,
I must live in days still to come,
I must overtake history, become something more.
So father, I will not go to school,
there they teach the history of days long dead.
I prefer ideals I can feel
to ideals which are locked in a frame,
I prefer building my road as I travel
to walking a ready-made road,
my muscular arms need a hoe, not a tome,
and plans are not for me.
My feet must traverse each lofty peak
to pay off the debt of this earth.
Father, I will not go to school,
there they teach the history of days long dead.

[Source: Yo Jindagī Khai Ke Jindagī (This Life, What Life Is This?) 1972, translated by Michael James Hutt]

The un-student here counters the popular hypothesis that history repeats itself and in order to break that cycle, one must learn its patterns; instead, the father’s rebel-child knows of a better, more organic way to break free from the tireless cycle, and needs no conduit or years of study to do so.

A form I came across recently is taboo by virtue of its existence, before the content of the poems are even taken into consideration. Landai means ‘a short, poisonous snake’ in Pashto, and contributes to the oral tradition of mainly Afghan women. The culture has had its periods of relative female empowerment, but particularly during the suffocatingly oppressive Taliban regime were women to be devoid of all intellectual reasoning or higher thinking and a woman was not supposed to recite poetry, sing, or play music. Thus, the ancient form of a 22-syllable poem that is traditionally sung, and to the beat of a drum (a banned instrument during Taliban rule) and often consisting of sharp, witty cultural criticism, challenged the paragon of the Afghan woman—silent, submissive, scared. Here’s one:

“When sisters sit together, they always praise their brothers.
When brothers sit together, they sell their sisters to others.”

[From: I Am the Beggar of the World: Landays from Contemporary Afghanistan, translated by Eliza Griswold, 2014]

Likely, the most timeless taboo will forever be to share yourself with others; not an idea of who you think you are or a curated image of what you hope to portray to the world, but who you are, every quantum of profane beauty from every layer of your being. Because, for whatever reason (but usually to protect our “investments”), we constantly self-censor ourselves. Years ago when I was young and reading some Madeleine L’engle non-fiction, she said something that has stayed with me for all these years. She said that to write was a most courageous act. My god, who doesn’t call themselves a writer these days?! I suppose we’re all heroes? I just didn’t understand her meaning. But who among us bares it all, unattached to the social conflagration or consequence of saying what needs to be said? I’ll leave you with a poet worthy of L’engle’s definition, one who says, “It is I,” when the proverbial voice asks, “Who goes there?” Thank you, Brendan. (Follow the link to be charmed by an age-old, hilarious hush-hush.)

‘Smoke Signals’ — Oran’s Well

Write something that needs to be said, and ‘dance like no one’s watching.’ Don’t be like the tv shows, ever coming up with the next sensational thing just to get a rise. Go to your most secret place and do something courageous: be yourself. When your poem is posted to your blog, link it up and then read and comment on the other poems. Just in case one of us is captured by the thought police and thrown into prison, the dVerse Poets Pub has been full of stimulating camaraderie, and it was all worth it.