Monday, November 24, 2008

Writing Taboo as Diptych: The Southern Poetry Review is Anti-Condom

Maybe. My recent submission, which included a poem about condoms, two about miscarriage, one about suburban voodoo and one about an bitchy person I went to grad school with all came back rejected in record time. The condom poem was on top, and looking at it, I was struck by the sudden idea that it was a little ridiculous that I had a poem about a condom and I had sent it to the Southern Poetry Review.

Now I'll admit I've never read a full issue of SPR, they don't have samples online, and I live in a literary vacuum now as far as lending privileges go. (Oh how I miss you, Piper Center Resource Library!) Skimming through the current contributors, I noticed K.A Hayes, a poet I know (somehow) from working at HFR. She wasn't one of the contributors on my issues as editor, but I think I solicited poems from her.
Since I can't comment on their aesthetic, I'll blame the condom poem.

It started as just a crazy idea; I liked the fact that a major condom company had its name in a two-part mythological boobie trap. Destroyed cities, viruses, and condoms--they share a physical and a linguistic connection! I wrote the poem as a diptych: on one side, the condom. On the other side: the condom's significance. After all, a condom seems silly and physical and just like a bathroom joke in some ways. But on the other hand, condoms stand in for protection, or lack there of, from disease, from pregnancy. They are a physical barrier in a sexual relationship where there is some need for physical distance. Deep.

I loved the poem I wrote and it has gotten mixed results. People liked the idea of two independent poems commenting on each other in the space of a page, but didn't like the two poems together. C.D Wright liked it the way it was, and suggested I write more. But at some level, the jokey-ness of where I tried to go, taking two words as poem titles that are innocuous together but suggestive when paired, (Trouser Snake) was fun, but didn't reveal everything that the first poem did.

After getting this rejection and thinking about it on my drive home (honking and braking to avoid hitting a vulture that was just a little too full to lift off a roadside deer quickly)I realized what it was I liked about the poem. It takes something physical and vulgar that elicits teen movie humor and school yard giggling and presents its very physical nature on one side. But the other side of the poem is about what the thing really is, it's about the push and pull of a sexual relationship, the desire for intimacy and fear that the intimacy will destroy the person who desires it. So that pun allowed me to get at something real in my life.

I'm thinking about what other "vulgar," "taboo," or "ridiculous," things might hide a real connection to who we are as humans on the other side of their surface. Things that people have taken the time to fetishize or make taboo are powerful things. They make us uncomfortable, and they show us how we feel and what we fear.

I'd like to take a moment to thank the Southern Poetry Review. I looked at a copy and met the editor at AWP Atlanta, and it's one of those journals I'd love to get from my family as a gift subscription this Xmas. And I'm sure they support safe sex.

UPDATE: The condom poem, "Trojan Horse," was recently accepted by Puerto del Sol.

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