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Thinking Sex: Normalcy, Law, Poetry Forum

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Normalcy, Law, Poetry
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2003-10-14 16:45:22
Link to this Comment: 6898

Welcome back, friends, from your fall break. I hope everyone is rested and ready for more...

thinking and talking and writing about sex. This week's topics are "normalcy": what it is, how it functions, how we might challenge or expand its scope, particularly in the languages of "law" and "poetry." We all look forward to hearing your thoughts in response to the assigned essays on these topics (by Michael Warner, Mary Poovey, Mary Conway), to various legal decisions regarding the age of consent, the assessment of sexual offenders and Megan's Law--and out of your own experiences of the "norm" and its "variations" (at your praxis site, in poetry, in your life elsewhere).


"No Sex, Please"
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2003-10-14 16:52:42
Link to this Comment: 6899

Related to these questions is an article in the Oct. 10, 2003 Chronicle of Higher Education: "No Sex, Please, We're Taiwanese," which describes how an English professor's outspoken views landed her in court: "Known for her refusal to pass judgment on prostitution and unorthodox sexual behaviors, the professor is, to conservatives, a symbol of what is wrong with modern Taiwan....In Taiwan's political and education environment, 'You were told to do things,' Ms. Ho says. At the U. of Geogia, her classmates' outspoken views seemed like poetry to her." See for a fuller (though of course never complete....) report.

re: no sex please
Name: Sarah
Date: 2003-10-19 22:11:09
Link to this Comment: 6922

I wasn't able to access the Chronicle link because I'm not a subscriber to the publication. Is there anyway you could copy and paste the article into your post for us? See you all in class.

Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2003-10-20 21:28:58
Link to this Comment: 6925

sorry, sarah, there are copyright restrictions...
but i'm happy to e-mail you--as well as anyone else who's interested--a copy.

wanting to be normal...
Name: Sarah
Date: 2003-10-21 13:46:03
Link to this Comment: 6931

I was interested today in Ro's comment that we want to be normal (ie acceptable) to people who have something we want. I want a good grade so I try to give the prof what he/she wants by following the stated grading scale; I want a job so I dress conservatively--traditional business suit, nothing out of the ordinary--for my interview; I want to not be picked on by my high school peers so I try to fit in with their standards of dress and behavior. We're trying to avoid that sense of being a freak that Laurel was talking about, the hurtfulness of discrimination based on whatever difference we have. We don't necessarily want to conform but just to end the feeling of alienation or estrangement. For example, although I don't enjoy shaving my legs, the annoyance of doing it is more palatable to me than seeing the surprise or disgust on people's faces when they see my hairy legs.

I'm working here with the idea of "normal" as being within an acceptable range of behaviors, with the word "acceptable" speaking to the way normalcy is a matter of perception. I won't break out the "human nature" phrase here, but I think most humans want to feel loved and accepted, and that requires the feedback (or at least the perceived feedback) of other people. Bryn Mawr's "determined individuals" may feel free to be as openly non-conformist as they want on campus, but how many of us modify our behavior off-campus, for our families or our high school friends or whoever? (My one friend here always wears makeup out in the real world but never wears it here; many people are "out" here but haven't told anyone in their family.) Are we truly being ourselves here because this is such an open, accepting environment, or are we responding to a different set of "norms" that exist here?

normalcy and inconsistency
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2003-10-22 09:17:44
Link to this Comment: 6942

I know that for some of you (Laurel?) yesterday's conversation about "the norm" and our needs to claim/evade it seemed....

frustrating. I found it provocative, and wanted to link here to at least two other conversations on campus: "What Counts?" and Making Sense of Diversity, where the same ideas are being explored (and which you are warmly invited to join).

During our discussion of the languages of law and poetry tomorrow, I expect to challenge Mary Conway on her failure to suggest an alternative language for talking about sex in the courtroom, for her "retreat" from the public language of law into the language of poetry. And I also expect (inconsistently? how's this for an example of a divided subjectivity? and how can such an inconsistent self be confined to any category??) to revel in the reading of poetry, such as


eating a plum
I tongue the tight skin
drawn seam
that halves this globed
whole in two
it's midnight
blue outside
but when I bite in
with wet red flesh
the juice dripping down
my fingers sweet
sticky sticky
sweet pulp
engorged I
fill my mouth
eat it down
eat it down
all the way to the

Becky Birtha in The Forbidden Poems

After Love

Afterward, the compromise
Bodies resume their boundaries.

These legs, for instance, mine.
Your arms take you back in.

Spoons of our fingers, lips
admit their ownership.

The bedding yawns, a door
blows aimlessly ajar

and overhead, a plane
singsongs coming down.

Nothing is changed, except
there was a moment when

the wolf, the mongering wolf
who stands outside the self

lay lightly down, and slept.

Maxine Kumin

Out Week speaker
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2003-10-22 10:01:43
Link to this Comment: 6943

Laura Smoot, co-head of Haverford's Sexuality and Gender Alliance, Haverford's LGBTQI and ally student club, is bringing a speaker to campus on November 11 and 12 as part of "Out Week". She is Michelle OBrien, a social justice activist and a genderqueer trans woman from Philadelphia. She will be participating in two separate events: a workshop over dinner (Nov 11) and a lecture (Nov 12). If you are interested in the workshop, please email to reserve a spot.

(Below find descriptions of the workshop and lecture).

Workshop: Down To Basics: An introduction for trans allies

Primarily for those interested in transgender communities and seeking ways to be supportive allies, the workshop will cover some of the basics of vocabulary, community politics, respect and humility to trans people. Trans people are encouraged to attend to share insight in how others can support and respect trans communities.  Down to Basics will include material on personal gender identity, discrimination in social service and other institutions, and honoring self-identification and self-determination.

Relevant for: Non-trans social justice activists interested in making trans-inclusive movements; students of health care and social services who will come into contact with trans communities; non-trans feminists interested in including trans communities and issues in gender politics and theory; faculty and staff who could work with trans students.

Lecture: Tracing this Body: Transsexuality, pharmaceuticals and capitalism

Tracing this Body locates forms of transgender body modification historically, politically and economically. OBrien examines the ways hormones are both a form of participation in and resistance to systems of transnational capitalism, the inequitable flow of pharmaceuticals and the complex terrain of the biomedical industry. Offering a blend of political economy, body politics and personal narrative, this lecture rethinks ideas of purity, complicity and resistance within capitalism. Calling on an understanding of trans bodies as cyborg forms both resulting from and disrupting forms of capitalist domination, she works to trace a redefinition of the nature of politics and bodies.

trained to fit in
Name: Tia
Date: 2003-10-22 12:32:26
Link to this Comment: 6944

i left class thinking about anne's comment about is there such a thing as human nature. is it human nature to be naturally cooperative? i think those were her words. anyway, human nature is about survival,and we identify in norm for emotional survival. we bond with people beause humans are social and do not like to feel alone.
i think the same applies to sex and sexual norms. i mean, mathematically speaking, if you are into some off the wall stuff that only two other people in the world like, your chance to find a sex partner that will satisfy you are extremely slim. and you will be kinda lonely in the sex department.
And i think this is why people want to know about the sex lives of others. so that they do not feel alone in any activity they do, so they do not feel weird about themselves. all of our lives we are trained to fit into norms. social scientists would say that because we are trained to do this eventually want to do this. we want to be seen in a the same light as others we admire and try to be like. therefore, we would want to fix into sexual norms.

sexual poetry
Name: Heather
Date: 2003-10-23 00:30:44
Link to this Comment: 6963

In Love

Of what does the burning mouth
Of sun, burning in today's
Sky remind me......oh, yes, his
Mouth, and ......his limbs like pale and
Carnivorous plants reaching
Out for me, and the sad lie
Of my unending lust. Where
Is room, excuse or even
Need for love, for, isn't each
Embrace a complete thing, a
Finished jigsaw, when mouth on
Mouth, I lie, ignoring my poor
Moody mind, while pleasure
With deliberate gaiety
Trumpets harshly into the
Silence of the room......At noon
I watch the sleek crows flying
Like poison on wings-and at
Night, from behind the Burdwan
Road, the corpse-bearers cry 'Bol
Hari Bol', a strange lacing
For moonless nights, while I walk
The verandah sleepless, a
Million questions awake in
Me, and all about him, and
This skin-communicated
Thing that I dare not yet in
His presence call our love.
-Kamala Das

Name: Grannis
Date: 2003-10-23 08:57:08
Link to this Comment: 6964

After reading all three pieces for this week (Warner's "The Trouble With Normal", Poovey's "S/ex In America", and Conway's "Oral Sex With a Capital 'O'") I noticed several underlying themes. The first, of course, is the question of normalcy: is there a norm? If so, how is it determined? Can anyone or anything actually meet that norm? These questions sprung up in my mind, along with the observation that all three authors allude to the restricting qualities of language and statistics, and the pressure that words can put on individuals to try and conform to normal standards. It seems that, especially in Conway's case, there are a lack of words to describe sexuality in the public realm (in other words, "decently" without using crude words).
This leads me to the next theme I detected: that of the need for sexual validation. Each of these pieces discusses the human desire to be accepted, and goes on to describe how and why people try to shape their personal preferences and/or experiences so that others will respect them. It appears to me that this is especially prevalent in the queer population; for instance, Brenner was so concerned about society's opinion of her sexual life that this concern made it impossible for her to say what really happened. She was so busy trying to pick the right words, i.e. "making love" and then flipping back to other phrases like "playing around" or "having oral sex but not with a capital OS" that she began to contradict herself and blemish her account for the sake of being p-c. I have a problem with this. It makes me sad that Brenner yearns so strongly to feel personally validated and respected by society that she starts giving what seems like an inconsistent account of what actually happened on the day of the shooting.
As for normalcy, I don't think it exists. Obviously, there are certain characteristics or interests that a considerable amount of people in a population may share in common, but this does not mean that possessing this quality makes one "normal." Just because a trait occurs frequently doesn't mean it should constitute a norm (take heterosexuality, for example-- it appears to be more prevalent than homosexuality in our culture, but that shouldn't mean it's more "normal" or more respectable than homosexuality). I actually believe that oftentimes the word "normal" is equated to the word "respectable". After all, that's why people want to be "normal" in the first place, isn't it.... to gain respect and validation from others?

my sexual poetry
Name: Grannis
Date: 2003-10-23 09:14:19
Link to this Comment: 6965

I have several poems I love that conjure up thoughts of sex in my mind... here they are:

1. Upon Julia's Clothes by Robert Herrick

Whenas in silks my Julia goes,
Then, then, methinks, how sweetly flows
That liquefaction of her clothes!

Next, when I cast mine eyes and see
That brave vibration each way free,
Oh how that glittering taketh me!

2. by Edna St. Vincent Millay

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.

Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before.
I cannot say what loves have come and gone;
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

3. A Woman Waits for Me by Walt Whitman

A WOMAN waits for me—she contains all, nothing is lacking,  
Yet all were lacking, if sex were lacking, or if the moisture of the right man were lacking.  
Sex contains all,  
Bodies, Souls, meanings, proofs, purities, delicacies, results, promulgations,  
Songs, commands, health, pride, the maternal mystery, the seminal milk;          5
All hopes, benefactions, bestowals,  
All the passions, loves, beauties, delights of the earth,  
All the governments, judges, gods, follow'd persons of the earth,  
These are contain'd in sex, as parts of itself, and justifications of itself.  
Without shame the man I like knows and avows the deliciousness of his sex,   10
Without shame the woman I like knows and avows hers.  
Now I will dismiss myself from impassive women,  
I will go stay with her who waits for me, and with those women that are warm-blooded and sufficient for me;  
I see that they understand me, and do not deny me;  
I see that they are worthy of me—I will be the robust husband of those women.   15
They are not one jot less than I am,  
They are tann'd in the face by shining suns and blowing winds,  
Their flesh has the old divine suppleness and strength,  
They know how to swim, row, ride, wrestle, shoot, run, strike, retreat, advance, resist, defend themselves,  
They are ultimate in their own right—they are calm, clear, well-possess'd of themselves.   20
I draw you close to me, you women!  
I cannot let you go, I would do you good,  
I am for you, and you are for me, not only for our own sake, but for others' sakes;  
Envelop'd in you sleep greater heroes and bards,  
They refuse to awake at the touch of any man but me.   25
It is I, you women—I make my way,  
I am stern, acrid, large, undissuadable—but I love you,  
I do not hurt you any more than is necessary for you,  
I pour the stuff to start sons and daughters fit for These States—I press with slow rude muscle,  
I brace myself effectually—I listen to no entreaties,   30
I dare not withdraw till I deposit what has so long accumulated within me.  
Through you I drain the pent-up rivers of myself,  
In you I wrap a thousand onward years,  
On you I graft the grafts of the best-beloved of me and America,  
The drops I distil upon you shall grow fierce and athletic girls, new artists, musicians, and singers,   35
The babes I beget upon you are to beget babes in their turn,  
I shall demand perfect men and women out of my love-spendings,  
I shall expect them to interpenetrate with others, as I and you interpenetrate now,  
I shall count on the fruits of the gushing showers of them, as I count on the fruits of the gushing showers I give now,  
I shall look for loving crops from the birth, life, death, immortality, I plant so lovingly now.   40

Name: Laurel
Date: 2003-10-23 09:54:56
Link to this Comment: 6968

"Na'Natska" by Chrystos

Teasing your eyes flicker like tongues on my lips
little roses your nipples become red mountains
My tongue climbs into you
shaking our legs sweat sliding
Your fingers in me are ruby-throated
humming birds Your eyes iridescent wings...
You laugh a gurgle of nectar
We go shining in the rainy road your palm kneading
my thigh mine yours
I murmur Am I affecting your driving too much?
Tossing your head smiling you answer
I want you to...

Name: Megan Hill
Date: 2003-10-23 15:16:26
Link to this Comment: 6973

Lament of a Slut
By Alexis Heikkinen

I wanted hanging tongues dripping with lust
drooling for my touch

I wanted permission
--as a member of the infamous female gender--
to quench the burning
that quivers through me

I wanted to be a different body
so I'd be used more than once
before I'm thrown in the closet to collect dust

but now
after each endorphin rush
when my blood feels carbonated
and orgasmic burning swells
from where the wooden clips press together

I want the satisfaction
of a job well done.

is it getting hot in here? :-)
Name: Sarah
Date: 2003-10-23 16:07:32
Link to this Comment: 6974

Short Sweet & Sensual
By mmmmsexy
found on

sensing I would like to use ALL my
senses to explore ALL of you

scent mmmmmmmm
situation suggests sharing sexy scenarios
stately shaft sliding into slick
slippery softness


share some?


sexual poetry
Name: Ro.
Date: 2003-10-23 19:35:10
Link to this Comment: 6976

This is a poem by Irish poet Michael Longley. It is written about Arachne, the accomplished and impudent weaver who boasted she could out-weave Athena. Long story short, they battled with looms and Athena flew into a fit when the disrespectful Arachne wove a flawless tapestry illustrating the debaucheries and rapes perpetrated by the gods upon mortals. So Athena turned Arachne into a spider.

In "Spiderwoman," Longley makes love to Arachne, the spider...who also seems to be somewhat of a muse for his poetic imagination. These "musings" are often sexual. It's a great poem, but leaves me cool only because, as a would-be poet, I am the wrong sex to have a muse, so it would seem. Foiled again :-)


Arachne starts with Ovid and finishes with me.

Her hair falls out and the ears and nostrils disappear
From her contracting face, her body miniscule, thin
Fingers clinging to her sides by way of legs, the rest
All stomach, from which she manufactures gossamer
And so keeps up her former trade, weaver, spider

Enticing the eight eyes of my imagination
To make love on her lethal doily, to dangle sperm
Like teardrops from an eyelash, massage it into her
While I avoid the spinerets--navel, vulva, bum--
And the widening smile behind her embroidery.

She wears our babies like brooches on her abdomen.

Discussion Today--the language of rape
Name: Ro
Date: 2003-10-23 19:56:42
Link to this Comment: 6977

Sorry to have seemed so pointed in our discussion today. All of a sudden it hit me that the language used to describe this crime of violence was not a language of violence. Instead, it is a language of "sexual intercourse" that is usurped and warped, and we (myself included) seemed to have been lulled into the trap.

For example, no one determines how to prosecute physical assault (as in a brawl) by defining what bodily parts were hit, how hard, if they bruised or bled or broke, etc. Assault is prosecuted when one party is involuntarily, physically accosted by another. Do you see where I'm going with this?

No wonder rape is so hard to prosecute, to prove. Rape is a crime committed by performing a perfectly normal act (unlike punching someone, with the resulting damages), but with intent and in a way that may or may not produce abnormal evidence. And look, I'm using the "N" word...just noticed that.

Can we come up with a language for the legal system to use to describe rape as a violent crime without sexual references and implications? Anybody want to counter this, or shed more light,...please!

Name: KB
Date: 2003-10-23 21:35:19
Link to this Comment: 6978

During today's discussion on the the language used by the courts to describe sexual acts, I could not help but think about the book "Lucky" by Alice Seabold. Most of you probably know her for writing "The Lovely Bones," but "Lucky" is Seabold's memoir about the time when she was raped. The book is titled "Lucky" because after her rape, the police told Seabold she was lucky to have lived. After reading about this horrific act, one can easily become frustrated with the word "lucky" that the police chose to use, because it definitely downplays her rape. From even before you open her book, you can sense that the word "lucky" is innapropriate, and it is a great segue into the rest of the memoir. Seabold spends the majority of her memoir describing the emotions surrounding the rape; how it stole her virginity from her, how for a while she felt distant from men, how she swept in and out of depression. Yet, she vividly details how when she was in court, she was told to speak just the facts and to not convey too much emotion.

While I do think that the legal terms that we read today used to describe rape and other non-consentual acts do a great job of portraying the acts, they do a less than mediocre job in portraying the emotion involved. I know this sounds so obvious, but really, isn't that what a rape case is really about? This all comes back to the question of whether one can even begin to describe an event like this. Seabold decided to write a memoir, and to also write a book ("The Lovely Bones") about a little girl who is raped and murdered. I wonder if "The Lovely Bones" would have been as good if Seabold didn't feel and know the emotion behind being raped. Perhaps I am just going on and on, but I find myself thinking, maybe poetry and prose are the answer to allowing emotions to surface, or maybe not, and maybe it just worked for Alice Seabold.

On that note, here is the poem I read in class today, by E.E. Cummings:

may i feel said he
(i'll squeal said she
just once said he)
it's fun said she

(may i touch said he
how much said she
a lot said he)
why not said she

(let's go said he
not too far said she
what's too far said he
where you are said she)

may i stay said he
(which way said she
like this said he
if you kiss said she

may i move said he
is it love said she)
if you're willing said he
(but you're killing said she

but it's life said he
but your wife said she
now said he)
ow said she

(tiptop said he
don't stop said she
oh no said he)
go slow said she
cccome? said he
ummm said she)
you're divine! said he
(you are Mine said she)

Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2003-10-23 22:13:38
Link to this Comment: 6980

This afternoon, after our class finished working the distance between the language of law and of poetry (or what Ali identified as the spectrum from precise-exact to allusive-evocative language--for which see also a discussion of The Two Cultures-- I went to a meeting of the working group on Language. We were reading a book by Norretranders called The User Illusion and much of what came out of our conversation was an abstraction of--and very much relevant to and I think illuminating for--what we had been discussing, in more concrete terms, in class.

Norretranders argues that language functions as a "bottleneck": a large amount of information in the unconscious is compressed into language, in order to be transmitted to a receiver, for whom it serves as a "germ" to be "expanded out" again. In computer programming, this process of compression and decompression is an attempt to attain a faithful reproduction of the original, but natural language doesn't aim for that sort of equivalence (and, because not controlled--or controllable--both "horrifying" and marvelous in the range of reference and ambiguity it can evoke, for the speech [or text] "underdetermines" the meaning we get out of it). We decided that there may be two reasons--aside from efficiency--for this act of compression. It functions, first, as a means of evoking a response in the listener (so that language becomes less a process of transmission than one of inquiry: what will the hearer say back?). Secondly, because it is a reduction, an abstraction of some particular complexity, when it "expands out" again it may take the form of--and so create a link to--another language. Norretranders describes this process is as a "problem of bandwidth," but it seemed to us less a problem than a positive: the more compressed, the more productive of new linkages language may be.

legal poetry
Name: Heather
Date: 2003-10-23 23:24:29
Link to this Comment: 6983

First I wanted to respond to the question we were debating of whether the "poem" of legal terms we were throwing out could be considered a poem. I disagree with the arguement that the group cannot produce a peice of art because we couldn't contemplate what was going to be the end result. I was surprised by how well it actually did come out, and I think there's validity in the process of group production, even unintentional production. The process is part of what makes it art.
I also wanted to comment on Grannis's comment - "It makes me sad that Brenner yearns so strongly to feel personally validated and respected by society that she starts giving what seems like an inconsistent account of what actually happened on the day of the shooting."
I have to disagree with this. When reading her account of the experience, it seemed very human, and while there may be language missing to accurately describe it, I think that language is missing to describe most both sexual and violent emotional experiences. As we talked about a couple weeks ago, maybe there's a better way to describe things (music, art) and a lack of language can sometimes be more telling. I don't think that she was avoiding telling an accurate account of her experience, but rather searching for the best way to explain it. Sometimes the best way to describe things is not precisely. Innacuracy shows humanity, imperfection, emotion.

Name: Megan
Date: 2003-10-24 03:21:06
Link to this Comment: 6985

I feel bad because I always make these random points related to the discussions and readings instead of one coherent arguement.

To the discussion on normalacy I wanted to offer an experience I had this week at my praxis site. Being a middle-class white female who is working with low-income black females leads to the struggle of relating to these girls. In this instance, in order to best educate these girls, I must try to conform to what is "normal" for the group. That can mean the choice of langauge, the way I dress, or if I teach like a professional or as an equal. During the meeting, I thought our discussion of intimacy was going extremely well until one girl made a comment about boys only liking anal sex with girls with donkeys. Garron and I were puzzled so the girl said, "Let me translate for you: Girls with asses". It was definately a moment where a distinction was made that I was an outsider, someone who was not "normal" because I didn't understand their common language.

I also wanted to bring up the Kobe Bryant case in relation to the discussion on rape as a violent act vs. a sexual act. I was guilty of watching too much TV over break, including the coverage of the Bryant preliminary trial. I was struck by the defense's claim that it was somehow relevant that the victim had had sexual intercourse in the days prior to the alleged rape. Its as if they were making her out to be a slut, therefore she couldn't have possibly been raped. To the defense, it was all about sex. To the prosecution, it was about power.

still thinking about poetry
Name: Ro.
Date: 2003-10-24 07:41:36
Link to this Comment: 6987

The American Heritage dictionary defines "poem" as follows:

"1. A verbal composition designed to convey experiences, ideas, or emotions in a vivid and imaginative way, characterized by the use of condensed language chosen for its sound and suggestive power and by the use of literary techniques such as meter, metaphor, and rhyme.
2. A composition in verse rather than in prose.
3. A literary composition written with an intensity or beauty of language more characteristic of poetry than of prose.
4. A creation, an object, or an experience having beauty suggestive of poetry."

At its roots, the meaning of "poem" is to pile up, build up, create. So, yes, we could argue that the exercise/process we went through in class yesterday was this kind of "piling up"...using words chosen for their impact... the resulting aggregate might, therefore, convey the underlying emotions of each selector-poet and also a new "group emotion" or intensity. Did it? I don't know. Would it be felt only by those vested in its creation?

For me, the exercise went too quickly--both in the selection and in the creation of the poem. In thinking about this (a lot), I wish we had selected our phrases with a bit more care, i.e., time to do so. I wish we had not gone round-robin but written all of the selections down, then worked together to organize them into a sequence or poem. I wish we had read the "poem" aloud with more clarity and deliberateness so that we could fully take it in.

I guess what I'm saying is that I find I wanted this exercise/process to be executed well, because it resonates with me as a possible way to move the language of sex forward and into the realms of our praxis projects etc. In general, we're going through so much material so quickly that I fear we are going to rush right past the jewels our collective might uncover. I think that's what caused me to pass and also to grump.

Or maybe it's that I don't see a plate of thrown spaghetti dripping down a wall as "art," even if one places a museum placard next to it. I could be wrong!

Have a great weekend!

Poetry as it
Name: Ro.
Date: 2003-10-24 07:59:16
Link to this Comment: 6989

This WILL be my last post for the week...I promise.

It just occurred to me that we are considering poetry as a medium for communicating--a language--and not as a form of art, although art certainly does communicate. We're after creating a vernacular for sex. I should have seen this, or maybe I didn't because it was too close to see clearly. The reason I'm at Bryn Mawr is to develop a sort of photo-journalism (where both parts of that hyphenated tag have equal weight) that communicates through the combination of two media... two channels at once...for the impact and for the compression it affords. In going after this, I know I'm perverting the intentions of most good Fine Arts departments who teach photography, because they teach it as Fine Arts, not language.

Guys, Anne, THANK YOU.

Name: Catherine
Date: 2003-10-25 19:07:27
Link to this Comment: 6999

I'm sorry to be posting so late; it's been a crazy week.
Anyway, I was thinking about the concept of normal, from one of our readings. The concept, because it is so abstract and because it is an even less bounded structure created by human minds, drives me crazy and in circles. What is normal to us? I could say that being a Bryn Mawr student in the Thinking Sex Class is normal, but someone could call me abnormal, or even I could call myself abnormal, by creating a subcategory under the category "Bryn Mawr student", or by creating a category which overlaps. The types of categories can be endless; how do people choose which are important, and make them normal enough in their minds, and which are not?
Another comment I wanted to make was about our poetry assignment of bringing in "sexual poetry." I had a difficult time finding a poem, because this time, unlike with our other similar assignments, I did not want to type in "sex" and "poem" into google. I don't want someone else to tell me what kind of poetry is sexual; I don't want google to determine that for me. So I found a poem, and parts of it to me sounded somewhat sexual. I brought it to class, but the more I thought about it, I would have to call it sensual rather than sexual. So do we consider things "sexual" only because everyone else does, or because some dictionary writes the definition and creates the boundaries for us?

passive and active
Name: Ali
Date: 2003-10-26 22:26:38
Link to this Comment: 7003

Two things. The first is in reference to Megan's mention of the (recent) sexual past of the woman in the Kobe Bryant trial. It is so frustrating that even the admission of this woman's sexual actions was received as a valid case against her character. Could you even imagine a jury judgmentally shaking their heads at a MAN'S having slept with someone two nights earlier? I understand that Bryant's lawyers are probably trying to set up the woman as some kind of slut who was begging for Kobe and can't be a victim because she loves sex. I wouldn't be surprised if suddenly a doctor got up on stand and testified that she were a nymphomaniac!!! This brings me to my second train of thought: balancing a survivor of rape as both passive victim and active agent. On the one hand, a woman is a victim of the power dynamic present in the mind of the rapist (it's about power, not necessarily sex). But I hesitate to harp on the victimization of a woman because it lends itself to the stereotype of a helpless, submissive person who needs a strong man to protect her. I want to preserve woman's independence, her ACTIVE agency and capacity to take care of herself like any other. But I do NOT want this to be interpreted in that a woman sets herself up for rape. A woman who had too much to drink or accepts a ride home is not to blame for her rape; I reject the idea that she "put herself in a bad situation" and should've known better. I struggle with the (in)consistency of my conception of woman as both victim (of a power dynamic) and agent (in control of herself) and every shade of the argument (whether legal, moral, personal, etc.) in between this.

normalcy and culpability in rape cases
Name: Jessie
Date: 2003-10-27 17:20:20
Link to this Comment: 7014

I found it interesting going from a discussion of "Normal" sexual behavior to a discussion of legality and rape cases. It seems to me that normalcy plays a huge part in determining culpability in rape cases. In a rape case, the victim's compliancy with sex norms determines, in a large part, her blame-worthiness. For example, hitch-hiking alone at night is an acceptable action for a man, but not a woman. Thus, a woman who is raped in such a circumstance, regardless of the rapist's actions and intentions, is said to be "asking for it." When we attribute blame to the victim, what we mean to say is that the rapist would not have acted the way he (or she) did under normal (and I do mean "normal") circumstances. In this way, the blame is attributed to environmental influences (the deviant behavior of the victim) rather than to the rapist's intrinsic motivation.

Megan brought up the Kobe Bryant case: The reason why the woman is being made out to be a slut is so that she will seemingly violate Normal female sexual behavior and let Bryant's own disposition off the hook. Similarly, we can explain Brenner's need to normalize her relationship with Wright in court -- she has a legal need to appear "normal," to make lesbianism fit socially "normal" and acceptable models, despite a lack of language to do so. The motivation to be normal, then, has expansive societal effects, including juridical implications. In defending a rape case, the victim must seem as relatively normal as possible. Everything, even our legal system, is fraught with the importance of matching percieved norms.

Anyway, while I was thinking of "normal" sexual behavior, I did some sex poetry googling and found this poem.

"Kinky," by Denise Duhamel

They decide to exchange heads.
Barbie squeezes the small opening under her chin
over Ken's bulging neck socket. His wide jaw line jostles
atop his girlfriend's body, loosely,
like one of those novelty dogs
destined to gaze from the back windows of cars.
The two dolls chase each other around the orange Country Camper
unsure what they'll do when they're within touching distance.
Ken wants to feel Barbie's toes between his lips,
take off one of her legs and force his whole arm inside her.
With only the vaguest suggestion of genitals,
all the alluring qualities they possess as fashion dolls,
up until now, have done neither of them much good.
But suddenly Barbie is excited looking at her own body
under the weight of Ken's face. He is part circus freak,
part thwarted hermaphrodite. And she is imagining
she is somebody else-- maybe somebody middle class and ordinary,
maybe another teenage model being caught in a scandal.

The night had begun with Barbie getting angry
at finding Ken's blow up doll, folded and stuffed
under the couch. He was defensive and ashamed, especially about
not having the breath to inflate her. But after a round
of pretend-tears, Barbie and Ken vowed to try
to make their relationship work. With their good memories
as sustaining as good food, they listened to late-night radio
talk shows, one featuring Doctor Ruth. When all else fails,
just hold each other, the small sex therapist crooned.
Barbie and Ken, on cue, groped in the dark,
their interchangeable skin glowing, the color of Band-Aids.
Then, they let themselves go-- Soon Barbie was begging Ken
to try on her spandex miniskirt. She showed him how
to pivot as though he was on a runway. Ken begged
to tie Barbie onto his yellow surfboard and spin her
on the kitchen table until she grew dizzy. Anything,
anything, they both said to the other's requests,
their mirrored desires bubbling from the most unlikely places.

the poems
Name: Garron
Date: 2003-10-28 01:37:07
Link to this Comment: 7023

I'm sorry I missed class on Thursday in part because I would have like to have been there to hear the sex poems read out loud. I'm glad that I at least got to read some of them on the web forum. Jessie, where did you find the Barbie poem? I liked it a lot. "Kinky" provided a new twist on a well known American sexual icon.

As for my sex poem I had a similar dilemma to Catherine. Over the year's I've collected very few poems I consider overtly sexual, but I didn't want to hunt for a poem just because it had sex in it. I want to feel at least some connection to the poetry I offer for the group. So I'm not going to share with you sex poems, I'm going to share with you intimacy or desire poems that I like, that speak to me.


Written by Chance

Fifteen years ago, beneath moonlight and flowers,
I walked with you
We composed flower-viewing poems together.
Tonight the moonlight and flowers are just the same
But how can I ever hold in my arms the same love

--Author unknown

2) This isn't a poem, but an excerpt from Tillie Olsen's book Tell Me a Riddle. Still, it has a poetic quality for me.

He slept badly, so used to her next to him. After all the years, old harmonies and dependencies deep in their bodies; she curled to him or he coiled to her, each warmed, warming, turning as the other turned, the nights a long embrace.

3) Again this isn't a poem, but it has a poetic quality to me. This is a lyric from Dar William's song Iowa

Back where I com from,
we never mean to bother,
We don't like to make our passions
other people's concern,
And we walk in the world of safe people,
and at night we walk into our houses and burn.

a slippage between intention and reception
Name: Laura
Date: 2003-10-29 01:01:21
Link to this Comment: 7035

Poetry – "admission is not required..."

I decided to add on to the phrase that Sarah pulled forth in our class last week. Just one more word... does it change the meaning of this phrase for anybody? I am fusing the language of law with the 'suggestion' of poetry. Much like our class "poem".

I am also going over the idea that I was chewing on in today's class. To whom is agency admitted when literature or poetry is read? Is it the author who is violating/encroaching upon/subverting (I forget the word that we were using, ironic isn't it?) the text by writing it? Or is it the reader who is trespassing by reading, as I suggested earlier? If poetry is a slippage between intention and reception, can there exist a transgressor of language/ thought? Can literature/poetry exist outside of an author's intention and the reader's reception? Without one or both, is language nonexistent?

Trauma resists incorporation into the realm of language... how then can there be literature describing/ condemning/ analyzing trauma? There is theoretically no intention nor reception... or are they present but misleading? inadequate?

Here is a poem that I found eerily reflected Mary Conway's article. I believe that the poem can be read as someone reflecting upon their sexual entity, although it's not necessarily sexual/sensual in the way that we might think of sexual poetry... And I felt that reading this poem after I read the O.S. article invariably reminded me of the trap within which Brenner found herself.

Subsisting Existence

power and pleasure
is it the truth
or a deep-seated fear?
have I been the chooser
or the chosen?
am I a participant
or a 'victim'?
doubts boil my mind
an integral Inquisition
plagues my pliable heart
I am so afraid
of the unknown
of the dark
is this due to programming
or instinct?
when I verbalize
my desires
"I want you"
and lay down when I'm not tired
just to dream about you
am I twisted
or queer?
am I perverse
because I miss your smell?
sometimes when I wake
I swear I feel
your hands on me
caresses are so sweet
but they delude me
mocking me with your absence
the weight of my own body
piled on top of itself
is dejected
I wish I had potent verbatim
but I don't
words can't pacify
they more or less
liquefy my emotions
I miss what I never had
c'est moi
au revoir.

Also, I would like to post my favorite Nathaniel Hawthorne quote. I read in this quote a timeless truth that applies to sex, as well as to life and everything/anything else. That truth has followed me around for the past five years since I first latched onto it when reading the Scarlet Letter (the sexual/sensual content of which I trust you all to be familiar...).

"But there is a fatality, a feeling so irresistible and inevitable that it has the force of doom, which almost invariably compels human beings to linger around and haunt, ghostlike, the spot where some great and marked event has given the color to their lifetime; and still the more irresistibly, the darker the tinge that saddens it."

This quote is also reflective of the obsession that we targeted in Jeanette Winterson's Written on the Body. This idea of fatal attraction is nothing new... But what we were contesting in class was the object or aim of the narrator's fatal/ obsessive attraction. And it's funny that I just thought to use those words, 'object' and 'aim'. Not to delve into Freud, but was Louise the object of the narrator's obsession and language the aim? Or could it be vice-versa?

One last comment... I thought our discussion of norms/ normative/ normal last week and its relation to the Secret Lives of Girls was very interesting. I believe that we pretty much refuted the thought that norms developed solely out of statistical findings. That norms can vary and do not necessarily need the support of a majority. Yet, when we first read the Secret Lives of Girls, I remember one of the attacks on Sharon Lamb was her attempt to establish a norm for young girls without the numbers or statistics to back her up. I thought that it was intriguing how the argument upon her work shifted with the change in context of our class discussion...

where i found my poem...
Name: Jessie
Date: 2003-11-03 13:03:18
Link to this Comment: 7094

Hey Garron (and anyone else interested),
"Kinky" is in a collection of poetry by Denise Duhamel of the same title. She's fantastic :) I found out about her online at, which is a great, highly accessible, site. There's a huge collection of poems, covering a wide variety of time periods and genres, as well as biographies of the poets. I'd highly recommend it to anyone doing poetry related research.
Glad you liked the poem!

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