Poetic Sexuality: Analyzing Jeffrey Harrison’s “Sex and Poetry”

by Femme from Pinks+Femme | The Black Lion Journal | The Black Lion
by Femme

As hush-hush as we like to pretend it is, sex remains a popular topic in society. We are obsessed. This instinctual act is constantly on our minds. If we are not having it, we are looking for it. If we can’t find it, we talk about it. However, as fascinated as we are, when sex actually does happen (fingers crossed), there is a “kiss-don’t-tell” policy. In the meantime, anywhere else we can get our fix, we try. While sex itself is a physical act, it shares an emotional experience between two people. This sensual aspect ties sex securely with the arts, posing as a muse. In every movie, not matter what genre, a steamy sex scene is almost always expected. Paintings of a naked body, cheesy romance novels, dirty magazines are all direct results of the addiction. Expressing sex can be done but it takes a certain skill. To write about it takes even more talent. How can it be made to sound real without sounding too corny, or on the opposite end of the spectrum, too graphic?

Jeffrey Harrison is a poet who writes about everything except sex. After being questioned as to why this was, he produced a rather interesting poem debating the issue. In this poem “Sex and Poetry,” Harrison talks directly to the reader, even asks for their opinion at one point. He acknowledges the fact that he is writing a poem about writing a poem. This is a discussion in the form of poetry. Although Harrison claims he doesn’t write about sex because of numerous reasons listed, by the end, he is indeed writing a beautiful poem about sex. Using his combination of structure, diction, and intense content, Harrison shows a refreshing way to bring poetic sexuality to the page in a tasteful fashion.

(¡PSST! Only an excerpt will be shown here.)

“(After a friend asked me why I didn’t write more poems about sex)

For one thing, it’s hard to get away with,
caught as we are red-handed in the Chamber
of Mimesis, one of those kinky rooms
with mirrors all over the walls and ceiling
where we hope to satisfy our unspeakable needs
but get instead an abyss of dwindling reflections.
Also, it’s less like being in bed with a lover
than standing alone in front of a copy machine
xeroxing her panties and bra. Snaps and garters
give way to the block and tackle of narrative
which no amount of fumbling will undo.
Now tell me, does that sound like fun to you?”

Jeffrey Harrison, Excerpt From “Sex and Poetry”

Contrary to most writing, Harrison uses contradiction to his advantage in this poem. At first glance, the structure of the poem is relatively simple: two stanzas. Once it has been read and thought through, it is apparent that each stanza has very different underlying ideas. Harrison has split the poem in half. The first half is entirely about why writing about sex cannot be done. He describes the impersonal feel this writing would have on paper, “…it’s less like being in bed with a lover than standing alone in front of a copy machine, Xeroxing her panties and bra” (9-11). He compares the difficulty of bra clasps to the difficulty of writer’s block. We have all been there when things just don’t go as smoothly as we planned. Either the words won’t come to you or you can’t get the bra undone. Frustrating, yes, but sometimes, it just isn’t going to happen.

The imagery in this half of the poem creates the emotion of frustration. Harrison uses words that aim to remind the reader of an unsatisfactory time regarding writing or sex. In this part of the poem, sex has almost a “dirty,” distasteful aspect about it. He describes a “kinky room with mirrors” on the ceiling, etc. The gross motel with the vibrating bed comes to mind without the poem even mentioning it. Harrison acknowledges this understanding between himself and the reader: “Now tell me, does that sound like fun to you?” (14).

Now, the second half of the poem is very interesting. While in the first half he talks more against sex on paper, in the second, he has a more positive voice. He transitioned somewhere in the middle. Herein lies the contradiction. This is when you get an idea. As does a writer, the words come without hesitation and the block has passed — when you meet that person and there are no hiccups or bumps in the road and it is just right. Harrison writes of an uninterrupted experience, whether it be sex or a writer’s groove, like “an idea that takes over without knowing and adds glow to whatever we see…”( 18-19). His new perspective reflects human reaction. Waves of emotion, changing at every turn; he depicts reality. Adding glow to everyday life is magical; this is the same idea as “walking in the clouds.” Either way, about sex or poetry, after it happens, it is a happy day.

In the second half, Harrison’s sentence structure even flows better; there is only one, continuous sentence. Contrary to the first half, the words have more pleasant imagery associated with them. He uses words like “glow”, “suave”, “sinuosities”, “seduction,” “love,” and so on. Not only do these words have greatly positive connotation, they are softer on the ears. Many of these words contain soft ‘s’ sounds as opposed to the harsher, more blunt words such as “block” or “fumbling”, as in the first stanza. These changes, though subtle, create a very powerful effect.

While Harrison clearly states in the beginning of the poem, “After a friend asked me why I didn’t write more poems about sex,” he is obviously taking them up on their request. In the first stanza, he explains to the reader why he had not written about sex before this poem. The harsh unattached voice usually paired with poems about sex turned Harrison away. His point being that sex, and writing, are more personal than would be shown. This was his fear. In the second half, he breaks free from the chains of his own reservations and doubts. He goes with the flow. He lets the emotion take over. This greatly reflects how some feel about both subjects. So is this poem about sex or poetry?

Harrison starts by discussing poetry and it’s inability to do sex any justice. By the end, parallels between sex and poetry are too strong, almost inseparable. They overlap to the point where the reader could choose either — one and that idea would make perfect sense throughout the whole poem. Due to the title “Sex and Poetry,” Harrison believes that the two overlap on a number of different occasions.

If we over think every little detail, we lose the best part of it. We lose the ability to let go, the ability to enjoy the moment. In writing, one of the best cures for writer’s block is to just start typing. It will just happen naturally. Needless to say, the same goes for sex. The two are different physical experiences, yes — most would agree with that. Both sex and poetry are emotion-based, “…as if the sinuosities of syntax were the suave unfolding of limbs and skin and language a seduction which we love to succumb, feeling the words take shape in our mouths and tasting them on someone else’s tongue” (23-26). Sex and poetry are both about sharing your mind with someone else. Harrison demonstrates this well. He writes this poem about sex to prove a point. Finding the right person or the right words is hard to do. It is hard to bring our ideas to life, but as Harrison shows in a lovely way, sex can translate through poetry.

 

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¡PSST! © 2016 The Black Lion Journal & Pinks+Femme. Excerpt from “Sex and Sexuality” by Jeffrey Harrison. Featured Image found on Christy Pastore.

A Contributor Submission Shared With Permission. Visit The Submissions page to learn about submitting to individual sections or to The Wire’s Dream! P.S. Use the social media links below to share with others!

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