Thinking Sex: Representing Desire and Difference
A Feminist and Gender Studies Course
Bryn Mawr College, Fall, 2002

Archive 15: The Languages of Law, Poetry, History and Religion

For previous postings, see course forum archive

Name:  Anne Dalke
Username:  adalke
Subject:  Languages of Law, Poetry, History, Religion
Date:  2002-11-01 15:49:56
Message Id:  3474
This week you are invited to post your comments about the language of law and poetry, as described by Mary Conway and explored by our class discussion; and/or the ways in which the language of sex is expressed in history and religion, as Lauren, Sheri, Sarah, Maggie have initiated that discussion. See especially The Kama Sutra as Sheri suggests below.
Name:  Sheri
Subject:  history/ religion & sex
Date:  2002-11-01 15:51:47
Message Id:  3476
I would like everyone to go to this site and find something interesting in the kama sutra section she would like to talk about/ comment on in class. There were so many awesome topics that I couldn't limit us to a sepcific reading.

Questions? email me or post.

Name:  Sarah Hesson
Username:  shesson
Subject:  Our Group Presentation
Date:  2002-11-03 22:42:28
Message Id:  3509
As most of you probably know, Maggie, Sheri, Lauren, and I will be presenting on Sexuality as it relates to a few topics in history and religion. The four of us more or less chose our own readings according to what interested us about the topic, but they all relate in many ways (a task we are presenting to all of you!) The readings I chose (3 copies are available on reserve at Canaday circulation desk) are a piece on Sexuality and Prayer and a section from Scott Peck's Further Down the Road called "Sexuality and Spirituality." Both emerge from a Christian tradition but by the same token digress from some traditional views of the religion as well. My worry is that the language used (prayer, God) might be restricting, so I am inviting you to recognize this language, but also move past it to find the deeper meaning of the texts. For example, what the article calls prayer might be meditation for some, but my hope is that this difference in language won't restrict our discussion.

One way I thought these articles related particularly well to our class, which is focused on putting sex into language, is that the articles encourage the same thing, in a way.
Some questions I would like to pose:
1. How do these articles stay on that theme of putting sex into language?
2. What is significant about putting sex into language before your God (whatever/whoever that may be)?
3. How does articulation of sex in prayer help sex and help prayer?
4. How would you define a spiritual connection between two people as opposed to a sexual one? How does each connection enhance the other?
5. God as a creator -how does this role make God inherently sexual? Does reproduction(creation) have a strong connection to sex here? How is sexuality reproductive beyond the realm of "making babies"?

Name:  lauren h
Subject:  assignment for 11/7/02
Date:  2002-11-04 15:39:35
Message Id:  3518
hey ladies-
sorry i forgot to let you all know. one of the readings you need to do for thursday is on reserve under the name engendering america
Name:  Sarah H.
Username:  shesson
Subject:  Poetry and Sex
Date:  2002-11-04 19:39:31
Message Id:  3524
I think poetry is a great way to express sex because of its succinct nature. Poetry is a more compact language, that often provides a burst of detail or description which captures the essence of something without lengthy explanation. I think this works well for sex because sometimes elaborate technical description can take the focus off the spiritual or mental aspects of the act (or series of acts, as the case may be). One I thought was good...

4 zayd/ absences

in yr/absence
my fingers
my legs
as this
late evening
claiming its
quiet place
crying over
or else
like the
electronic lock
slamming u away
after the

by Asha Bandele

Name:  Kathryn McMahon
Subject:  "Rapunzel" by Anne Sexton
Date:  2002-11-05 12:11:23
Message Id:  3535
The image of the women "making love"/"playing"/"having sex" in the woods reminded me of a poem by Anne Sexton. "Rapunzel" is a little too long to post here, but if you'd like to read it online go to

This is the part of the poem that captures that image for me:

A woman
who loves a woman
is forever young.
The mentor
and the student
feed off each other.
Many a girl
had an old aunt
who locked her in the study
to keep the boys away.
They would play rummy
or lie on the couch
and touch and touch.
Old breast against young breast...
Let your dress fall down your shoulder,
come touch a copy of you
for I am at the mercy of rain,
for I have left the three Christs of Ypsilanti
for I have left the long naps of Ann Arbor
and the church spires have turned to stumps.
The sea bangs into my cloister
for the politicians are dying,
and dying so hold me, my young dear,
hold me...

The yellow rose will turn to cinder
and New York City will fall in
before we are done so hold me,
my young dear, hold me.
Put your pale arms around my neck.
Let me hold your heart like a flower
lest it bloom and collapse.
Give me your skin
as sheer as a cobweb,
let me open it up
and listen in and scoop out the dark.
Give me your nether lips
all puffy with their art
and I will give you angel fire in return.
We are two clouds
glistening in the bottle galss.
We are two birds
washing in the same mirror.
We were fair game
but we have kept out of the cesspool.
We are strong.
We are the good ones.
Do not discover us
for we lie together all in green
like pond weeds.
Hold me, my young dear, hold me.

They touch their delicate watches
one at a time.
They dance to the lute
two at a time.
They are as tender as bog moss.
They play mother-me-do
all day.
A woman
who loves a woman
is forever young.


Anne Sexton according to Alicia Ostriker:

When she began taking classes in poetry and meeting poets, Sexton discovered another group who spoke "language." "I found I belonged to the poets, that I was real there." As Diane Middlebrook remarks, what Sexton means by "language" is something compressed, elliptical, metaphoric. "Schizophrenics use language this way, and so do poets: 'figurative language' is the term Sexton might have used here, except she meant to indicate that the crucible of formation was urgent need." Clearly, too, "language" in Sexton's account is what people speak when they are free of the censor's invisible veil of ordinary intercourse; "language" is intimacy, authenticity, love in a loveless world; it is what the inner self uses to communicate with other inner selves.

This to me is a good way to think of Conway's argument (ah, rhetoric!) about poetic strategy. Conway claims that poetic expression is "empathic, associative, and identificatory." Poetic expression is a discourse that forms a bridge between the unspeakable/unfathomable and the demand for the expression of such, yet it remains intimate and within the writer's realm. This is not to say that it can't be misinterpreted, but as an artist the writer grants permission (Power) to access this discourse instead of submitting to the greater discourse/language policed by society. Poetic expression is therefore self-affirming and potentially more accurate than other currently available language for sex.

Name:  Andrea Friedman
Subject:  language, storytelling and justice
Date:  2002-11-05 20:42:55
Message Id:  3548
Hi folks,
It was a real treat to sit in on your class today. For those interested in the anthropology of law, the book I mentioned is:

Harmony Ideology: Justice and Control in a Zapotec Mountain Village
by Laura Nader. Nader is an legal anthropologist at U.C. Berkeley.

Good luck in your work,

Name:  Anne Dalke
Subject:  On being a divided subject
Date:  2002-11-05 21:33:42
Message Id:  3550
It's been a delight to me to host our range of visitors--Bob Washington, Paul Grobstein, Mary Conway and Andrea Friedman--over the past two weeks. My sense of the range of languages available to us (and the increased range of ways of thinking and talking about sex they enable) has expanded enormously as a result of their presentations--and I'm looking forward to further "broadening" as each of you selects texts to add to the landscape over the weeks upcoming.

Although I challenged Mary 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, I also (inconsistently? how's this for an example of a divided subjectivity?) reveled (could you tell?) in our end-of-session poetry reading in the darkened classroom.

Here are the two poems I read:


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

Name:  Anne Dalke
Subject:  On Being Neither or Both
Date:  2002-11-05 22:10:37
Message Id:  3553
Here's the reference to the article from the 10/29/02 Science Times which I passed around in class today (to learn more, or read the whole, go to ). Entitled "On Being Male, Female, Neither or Both," the essay reviews a wide range of books dealing w/ newly evolving views on sexuality.
Name:  Sarah
Subject:  Cartographies of Silence
Date:  2002-11-05 22:20:48
Message Id:  3554
I know this is long so read from it what you will. So many of the parts seemed relevant to our discussion throughout the course and particulartly today--"can language do everything?" and, can poetry describe fact? can truth be found in "these words, these whispers, conversations?"

Cartographies of Silence --Adrienne Rich (from "The Dream of a Common Language 1978"

A conversation begins
with a lie. And each

speaker of the so-called common language feels
the ice-floe split, the drift apart

as if powerless, as if up against
a force of nature

A poem can begin
with a lie. And be tornup.

A conversation has other laws
recharges itself with its own

false energy. Cannot be torn
up. Infiltrates our blood. Repeats itself.

Inscribes with its unreturning stylus
the isolation it denies.

The classical music station
playing hour upon hour in the apartment

the picking up and picking up
and again picking up the telephone

The syllables uttering
the old script over and over

The loneliness of the liar
living in the formal network of the lie

twisting the dials to drown the terror
beneath the unsaid word


The technology of silence
The rituals, etiquette

the blurring of terms
silence not absence

of words or music or even
raw sounds

Silence can be a plan
rigorously executed

the blueprint to a life

It is a presence
it has a history a form

Do not confuse it
with any kind of absence


How calm, how inoffensive these words
begin to seem to me

though begun in grief and anger
Can I break through this film of the abstract

without wounding myself or you
ther is enough pain here

This is why the classical or the jazz music station plays?
to give a ground of meaning to our pain?


The silence that strips bare:
In Dreyer's Passion of Joan

Falconetti's face, hair shorn, a great geography
mutely surveyed by the camera

If there were a poetry where this could happen
not as blank spaces or as words

stretched like a skin over meanings
but as silence falls at the end

of a night through which two people
have talked till dawn


The scream
of an illegitimate voice

It has ceased to hear itself, therefore
it asks itself

"How do I exist?

This was the silence I wanted to break in you
I had questions but you would not answer

I had answers but you could not use them
This is uuseless to you and perhaps to others


It was an old theme even for me:
Language cannot do everything--

chalk it on teh walls where teh dead poets
lie in their mausoleums

If at the will of the poet the poem
could turn into a thing

a granite flank laid bare, a lifted head
alight with dew

If it could simply look you in the face
with naked eyeballs, not letting you turn

till you, and I who long to make this thing,
were finally clarified together in its stare


No. Let me have this dust,
these pale clouds dourly lingering, these words

moving with ferocious accuracy
like the blind child's fingers

or the newborn infant's mouth
violent with hunger

No one can give me, I have long ago
taken this method

whether of bran pouring from the loose-woven sack
or of the bunsen-flame turned low and blue

If from time to time I envy
the pure annunciations to the eye

the visio beatifica
if from time to time I long to turn

like the Eleusinian hierophant
holding up a simple ear of grain

for return to the concrete and everlasting world
what in fact I keep choosing

are these words, these whispers, conversations
from which time after time truth breaks moist and green.

Name:  2002 TS student
Username:  2002 TS student
Subject:  poems of sorts
Date:  2002-11-05 23:52:46
Message Id:  3555
i seem to forget what type of poem we were going for...but this seemed to be beautiful examples of language twisted in a way to attempt to describe the inarticulatable.

Her Pear
by Ali T.

Hunger so
She offers me fruit
Smooth and ripe
Brilliant color
Stem erect and firm
Milky white flesh
Delicious on my tongue
Tender, succulent
Her pear

Name:  elisa
Subject:  Poem
Date:  2002-11-06 00:25:41
Message Id:  3556

I am still digesting class today, so for now, i will just submit a poem.

this poem popped into my head when i heard anne read "After Love" at the

end of class today.

Poem No. 3

i gather up

each sound 

you left behind 

and stretch them 

on our bed.

           each nite 

i breathe you

and become high. 

                         -sonia sanchez 

the poems that have been submitted have a lot of food imagery, playing up

on taste.  there has also been a lot of description about the body.  so, i

thought i would go a different route... i love this poem bc its focus is

concentrated on sound and scent.  yum! 



Name:  ngoc
Subject:  a poem
Date:  2002-11-06 17:27:47
Message Id:  3576
i thought this poem is really i would like to share w/ the class.

The Sea and the Shore -- Yehuda Amichai

The sea and the shore are always next to each other
Both want to learn to pseak, to learn to say
one word only. The sea wants to say "shore"
and the shore "sea." They draw closer,
millions of years, to speech, to saying
that single word. When the sea says "shore"
and the shore "sea,"
redemtion will come to the world,
the world will return to chaos.

Name:  Deborah
Subject:  poetry
Date:  2002-11-06 17:46:49
Message Id:  3577
"Do you an act is not, as young men think, like a rock that one picks up and throws, and it hits or missees, and that't the end of it. When a rock is lifted the earth is lighter, the hand that bears it heavier. When it is thrown the circuits of the stars respond, and where it strikes or falls the universe is changed. On every act the balance of the whole depends. The winds and seas, the powers of water and earth and light, all that these do, and all that the beasts and green things do, is well done, and rightly done. From the hurricane and the great whale's sounding to the fall of a dry leaf and the gnat's flight, all they do is done within the balance as a whole. But we, in so far as we have power over the world and over one another, we must Learn to do what the leaf and the whale and the wind do of their own nature. We must learn to keep the balance. Having intelligence, we must not act in ignorance. Having choice, we must not act without responcibilty. How am I--though I have the power to do it--to punish or reward, playing with men's destinies?"
--Ursula Le Guin, The Fartherest Shore

Name:  Chelsea Phillips
Date:  2002-11-08 08:54:48
Message Id:  3602
Hey guys, thought Maggie, Sarah, Sheri and Lauren were awesome yesterday!! Thanks for all the interesting readings:) I've been thinking about the question Sarah asked yesterday, about how you would express sex if you had a room and some time to do it in...the first thing that came to my mind was that I would wrap myself in a bright yellow fuzzy boa, but I'm not sure why. What that says about my perceptions of sexuality is probably at the least entertaining:) I also thought there would have to be glitter there...but I'm not sure where;) hehe...I'll keep thinking, what about you guys?

Oh! And a shameless plug- COME SEE HAMLET'S SHORTS IN GOODHARDT MUSIC ROOM, FRIDAY AND SATURDAY AT 8PM!!!!!!!!! Very funny, very short (less than an hour)!!! See you there:)

Name:  Chelsea Phillips
Date:  2002-11-08 09:05:49
Message Id:  3604
Sorry, one more thing: you can buy a "Big Willy Rocks My World" T-shirt before and after each performance and in the CC today from 10-3, only $10, and how often do you get Shakespeare in a PIMP HAT?! Thanks, that's it, promise!
Name:  Tamina
Username:  tmencin
Subject:  last class
Date:  2002-11-08 10:13:52
Message Id:  3605
I really like how the presentation this week was begining to open up our conversations of sexuality. The group had a good introduction to cultural views of sex. My group next week will be looking at this topic of multiculturalism in greater detail. The discussion on Thursday realy helped me have better ideas on where to take our topic, and brought of a lot of information that was new to me. I especially liked our conversation about religon and sexuality.
Name:  LH
Subject:  no subject- thats the issue
Date:  2002-11-08 10:48:17
Message Id:  3608
I am having some trouble with our class. I thought the readings we selected all had the potential to turn into great discussion, but I don't think that was happening. I think we would get on an important topic for a few minutes and then get off track and end up discussing less relevant things. All sex discussion is relevant to putting sex into language but we could have some of these discussions outside of class. I am sure many of us do have these discussions outside of class so we really need to use the time we have in class to have more academic discussion. That's why we have class. We are supposed to come into class and have a discussion that leads to some kind of conclusion, but we weren't going in any direction. We were all over the place. We would sometimes get redirected but never really stayed on a path. So could we all work really hard to make these next weeks contribute more to the theme of the class?

And sarah's question...

I communicate physically. With friends, lovers, family, anyone. Physical. I am really easy to read when you look at my body language and facial expressions.

Name:  Jess T.
Subject:  Poetry, etc.
Date:  2002-11-08 14:00:09
Message Id:  3619
When I was trying to pick a poem for class, I had a lot of difficulty first of all because I don't really think I understood what Mary Conway thought poetry could accomplish. (I just didn't get it from the reading.) So I after looking for a poem for a while, I just kind of gave up and picked something. I don't really feel that the poem is what was being looked for, but I'll share it..

Thunder Love
By ruffy

Thunder Love
Tie me up
To the rings above your bed
Here I lie
I await you
Thunder Love
Scratch me
With your nails and your teeth
My body arches
Your delirious lover
Your devoted slave
Blindfold me
Use your satin scarve
I don't want to see
Rather feel
Your touch
Candle wax
As hot as my skin
Trickle it down my breasts
You're a master
Tangible lightning
Calm me
You're a threatening storm
And I am drowning
In your rain
Thunder Love

Also I just wanted to share a few thoughts from class. It was discused how Anita Hill's words became pornography through her testimony. Then when Anne read "Plumstone" in class as an alternative testimony. I thought it was interesting that no one mentioned this: I felt that the poem was more pornographic in its imagery then the words she probably used. To me there is something more intimate and sexual about poetry then the usual language of the court room and that for this additional reason the poetry would not be a good language for the courtroom.


Name:  Maggie
Username:  mscottwe
Subject:  Poetry...
Date:  2002-11-08 16:20:21
Message Id:  3620
I don't really remember what we were going for with specific poems, but here are a few short ones...

Her breast is fit for pearls,
But I was not a `Diver' -
Her brow is fit for thrones
But I have not a crest.
Her heart is fit for home -
I - a Sparrow - build there
Sweet twigs and twine
My perennial nest.
~Emily Dickinson

When you came, you were like red wine and honey,
And the taste of you burnt my mouth with its sweetness.
Now you are like morning bread,
Smooth and pleasant.
I hardly taste you at all for I know your savour,
But I am completely nourished.
~Amy Lowell

Name:  Monica Locsin
Subject:  thinking sexxx
Date:  2002-11-10 00:33:31
Message Id:  3628
This weeks presentation was G-R-E-A-T!! It was interesting to hear Sheri talk about kamasutra and how her parents kept these images away while living in the USA. I thought that that these images were not images to be shown in public in the indian society. This was just reallly interesting to me:) Sara's question about what language is used to describe or talk about sex really got me thinking hard. I did what she said to do and that was to think really hard and to tell you the truth, I do not know what to say or how to reply to that question. I mean as of now, putting sex into a language involves alot of physical and mental understanding between the two beings. Words describe how one is feeling and actions create an image of pleasure or unsatisfaction. How do I incorporate these ideas to actually put sex into a language? For example, when we were talking about orgasms in class, one can say "Oh God", but what does that really mean? Is one reaching great climax or is one dying of pain? Sex isnt always good for everyone, some people dont even experience orgasms. I will definitely add on to this idea when I come up with more to describe.

Name:  Jenny Wade
Subject:  poetry
Date:  2002-11-11 10:47:33
Message Id:  3662
I found the following poem beautiful and there was an image that went with it, but unfortunately I couldn't figure out how to paste it. If anyone wants to check it out go to SESTINA IN SILK He bound her eyes with blood-red silk and placed bonds of silver on her neck. "You are my swan," he said, "my beloved shadow, to whom I give my whole heartsong. Let us dance and fuck beneath the stars." She had always hid her gaze from stars and kept her gaze low beneath the silk, even as he hummed a song and kissed the bonds of silver harsh upon her neck. The shadow of his lips felt like the feather of a swan. She trembled, like a newborn swan and felt upon her skin the rush of stars she felt the heat of his shadow against her skin. Against the silk her eyes shook. The silver trembled, as if it rang in song. She seemed to hear a sudden song, the death-cry, perhaps, of a swan, or something played upon a lyre of silver. Through her mind danced fiery stars. She gasped. She pulled the silk from her eyes. "I am no shadow. Not tonight. If you wish a shadow, find another to sing your song." She kissed him and tied the silk against his chest. "Let me be a swan and soar beneath tonight's dim stars free of bindings, silk or silver." He knelt, and touched her chains of silver then pulled her down into his shadow, piercing her soul. She screamed to the stars and turned her scream into a song. For once, she knew the flight of a swan and fell against him, weak as silk. He left her bound in silver silk. A trembling shadow of a newborn swan. But she had had her gift of stars and song. Copyright (c) 2002 Mari Ness. All rights reserved. Do not copy or post. Illustration "Grace" Copyright (c) 2002 Lisa A. Smith. I found this poem particularly beautiful, creating a sensual world both indulging in pleasure and wrestling the violation of it. The vivid imagery of flowing, covering silk, hiding the sexuality and the stars from the speaker in combination with the eventual removal of this cloak-like silk astounding. The sexual acts are in a sense a rape, as the speaker attempts to flee from this lover's ownership as a swan bound in silver and cloaked in silk, but is kept in this lover's clutches. The speaker wants to be free to fly, but before this flight, she is drawn in by the lover's shadow, penetrated, yet while this seems somewhat violent, has a "gift of stars and song" allowing a euphoric freedom at the poem's end. In the context of the swan, a song is a mark of sweetness, and a swansong a final declaration of sweetness often before death. Perhaps sexuality becomes intertwined with the spiritual in this poem, the song marking a rebirth. Such vivid, passionate ideas and imagery could not have been conveyed neraly as well through conventional language. I also find the image (that was paired with the poem when I found it) very interesting, characteristic of the vulnerable yet bold presentation of the self that took place in the poem. Also, I find it quite interesting that while the poem is written in a strict poetic form, its contents seem to be unrestricted by the formalities of poetic structure. I'm curious to know how other people feel about managing to confine sexuality to confined forms of writing, yet still managing to let what the writing has to say remain completely unrestricted. Does this work?
Name:  Iris Dickerson
Subject:  poem
Date:  2002-11-12 00:43:02
Message Id:  3690
it took me a little bit to find a poem that might relate well. here is what i found:

Raw Pink
Jan Hastillo Brown

This is how it feels, exciting the raw pink.
Slow, slow at first, little spark of thought
Ignites into torrid fantasy.
Deliciously, tortously slow,
Middle finger slides across sensitive skin,
Dipping into warm pink folds,
Circles of arousal,
Hips lifting in supplication to the
Goddess of the hand.
Faster now, reaching for the
Firm, waxy bud.
Blossom opens its petal to receive a stroke,
Sticks out her moist tongue to taste the fingertip.
Raw pink, slow-roasted,
Tender hot flesh oozing spicy juices.
Comes now, comes now
No awareness except the rapture,
Imploding red blossoms behind clenched eyes,
Nipples massaged, tweaked to fullness,
Barely touchable in their ecstatic extension.
Thighs and cheeks soaking into the sheets,
Sticky, heated sweetness-musk,
Gift from the raw pink.
Pulse beat spreads throughout,
To lips and eyelids from still-throbbing bud,
Coursing up through fluttering belly
To distended nipples, to lips pursed for breath,
Raw pink sleeps satiated.

This is how it feels.....

(c)2002 by Jan Hastillo Brown

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