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An annual published in hard copy in New Zealand and France paying special attention to the creative process and issues relating to translation.
Percutio is dedicated primarily to reflections upon the creative process, particularly in relation to work that bridges cultures.
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Wellington poet and musician Bill Direen takes us on a trip through his own NZ poetry collection, considering the erotic in N.Z. poetry as it is revealed in such matters as gardening and sport...
Georges Bataille reckons our sense of the erotic is inseparable from a sense that we are going to die. If he and others are right, erotic play is a dalliance informed by fascination and fear of death. Erotic play can be forceful, voyeuristic, dominating, submissive and above all playful. It can take place in costume, through food, in the realm of the spiritual, through exotic or earthy adventures. It need not be consummated in the physical act, but it is consummated somewhere, in the imagination, in our dreams, or in the body.
Paul Verlaine's erotic poems to his partners of either sex span the erotic spectrum, from earthy rhymes to spiritual fantasies of the flesh. Do we New Zealanders, the 'passionless people', do we yet have such poets? This article suggests that we do. The erotic is clearly discernible in our literature. Let's start with fantails.
My own reference to 'fanny tails singing' in The Builders' underground pop tune The Alligator Song had its precedents, as in these lines by Johannes Anderson, in Christchurch, 1903:. . . the gay fantail chatters;Death is around it -- what matters?A flirt of its fan and it flitsAnd over the foaming sitsAnd flirts, twits and chatters.
Other writers of old showed signs of an awareness of the conflicting demands of sexuality. Maud Peacock wrote at the start of the century:My heart must throb with each throbbing stringAnd yearn till it break --. . . must thrill with a pain that is ecstasy.
James K. Baxter was aware of the stereotypes people had of him,Some people thinkI keep a harem. No; my back's not strong enough.I keep a chook pen for birds of paradise.Te Whiore o te Kuri 5
while remaining alive to awakening Eros in this Rimbaudian poem about a confused first communicant:. . . Christ hides a nude and human bodyShe is yearning, yearning towards the core of the furnaceGripping the pillow tight to smother her criesStruggling in the net of a self-made paradise,Mouth wet . . .The First Communions
The girl feels 'a vague wish like the wind', and we shouldn't forget that the wind was used to describe the onset of spiritual occupation when the Holy Spirit descended on waiting apostles after the death of Christ.
New Zealanders love gardening, it is the perfect activity for channelling our erotic drives. Consider this poem by Helen Jacobs, Mayor of Eastbourne:. . . I can tell youthat the small holeI put the seedling cineraria inwas black and wet and smelt of worm-soilwhere soon the head of warm petals will glow. . .and in the wind rushthat poured through me as I moved from stoopinga tug of our days that were creviced by small things.Poem
The erotic and spiritual again combine in this poem by Anne Donovan, which is ostensibly about the past-time of hunting:Unshriven,the sheeting covers and extractsa blessing,a balance between rot and germinationLeaving decaythe raw hole gapingand far off, the guffaw of night animalsthis is my body and this is my blood.Open Season
Male violence and the past-time of stock cars are combined in my only anthologised poem, one many people know because the anthology Dangerous Landscapes was a text popular with secondary school teachers for more than twenty years:through an open windowthe wind blows their roars to himand occasionallythe unmistakeable whiff of their masculine prideAccidental Death of a Cat
A lot of kiwi satirical poetry makes use of sexual imagery for impact. Sometimes however, the truly erotic triumphs. In Fiona Kidman's Bulls Provide Semen for Breeding Programmes the poet is watching men who are watching bulls ejaculate, and all but hides her fascination with the process behind her satire, were it not that her language is too highly charged, betraying a deeper imaginative impulse:you'd think wouldn't you`that the semen would come gushing outas if the creature werean All Black champion. . . but it comes soundlessly
More kiwi eroticism surfaces in spite of our famous self-apologetics. The passionless covering, the puritanical veneer, the need to legitimise any inexplicable desire or impulsive fascination has resulted win some shadowy deals with the muse, as in this strange combination of revulsion and appetite of Ian Wedde:Where I went for watercress stank of cattlebut I wanted it (metaphor)From One Centre
Jane Bowron proves to be impatient with the bestial nature of alcoholic mating behaviour, but is there not another impatience underlying her words:What does spunky mean? I askThere's a nice awkward silenceI volunteer, do you mean one who oozes seminal fluid?Another drink arrivesI'm beginning to enjoy myself.He Leans Over
Compare this with these lines by Linda Earle, whose speaker is lucky to have found stereotypical sexual display combining with her own less explicable attraction:When I met Dit was many brawls laterto a tuneto that same tattoostriped across her clit-- she was so spunkyI fell in love with herunstraight away --she was so spunkyI wanted to becomea lesbian prostitute
The erotic arises out of something crazy, something internal, something sensual, something cooking, something flourishing, something deathly. Michael Harlow:When sheCloses my hand into the fist it was,Running the tip of my tongueAlong the inside of my wrist,I begin to imagine where it isWe may be arriving, one heart-Stopping prediction from now.Necromantic Interlude
Religion, the earth, death, beasts, the mythological. . . these are the areas that poets refer to when describing erotic experiences. it is necessary for them to reach into those undefined places where story, the senses and memory provoke and evoke the strongest desire of all -- to live so intensely that we obey the erotic drive even to the point of abnegation:I see two beastsmeeting at nightone with your arms.She burns for him all day,but in the black treesher tongue is cool.Their drink their pool of one another, until her wings are fluttering against him.His hooves leave the ground then,flashing past herinto the night.I See Two Beasts (Mary Anne Bourke)
Performance poet Neena light-heartedly worships 'at the altar of oral sex':. . . speaking in tongueslistening as you spoke of weavingfingers through the velvet of my underground.
But all pleasure is stripped from sex in Anne Donovan's poem about a sex worker:On the game hunting strange meatburntout faces of the streetTake her homeTake her home where the money lies winkingwith durex and paper towels on the bedUnhooking with the Other
If sex and work don't mix, eroticism and sport are inseparable. Michael O'Leary's recipe of comic chaos knows this well:The sickly inswingerBy glimmering through the low-browed misty defencesFurled round with thy spittle and ropey slimeThe ball a supermammary horrorAnd serves only to make my night more irksome.. . . the dripping carcass of Hadlee impaled on the wickets of my brain which stand the top of Gothic Calgary -- he lusts after the Bleeding Nun who dances seductively around his writhing body. . . He closes his eyes, trying to shut out the beautiful visage, but she moves closer, her perfume filling his head and all his sense maddened by her touch, his agony and ecstasy complete as he becomes the more ensnared in this trap, this spider web of human passion, she the black widow smiling all the while. . .Out Of It
Even in Dunedin, where the puritanical cult of Calvinism found its Southern Hemispheric home, Eros is alive and well, albeit in a rather self-analytical way:By worshipping in the temple of the bodyduring love-making,all desires are fulfilledHere in this body are the sacred rivers;here are the sun and the moon,as well as all the pilgrimage places,I have not encountered another temple asblissful as my own body.Brother Set (from Alien Child 3)
Wellington poet Raoul Sensual is influenced by the erotic sculptures and tantric practices of India, so it is not surprising that in New Zealand he is aware of the opposition of guilt-based Puritanism and eastern sexual openness. In this one an American couple visit a Hindu temple:The amorous celestialwas taking a woman from behind.The stone woman's breasts were more sensualthan my wife's, the American thought,. . . She was conscious of a little golden crossthat hungbetween her breasts and it was stainedby sweat.The Amorous Celestial
Sometimes he is more direct, and becomes merely funny:. . . before you know it she's on topher unbelievably large breasts pummelling your faceSuccubus a Violent Sex Demon
But this brings us to the sadder side of eroticism, the masochistic and the sadistic. Kim Eggleston:Five days of booze and dopeand all I wantedwas to lay down with himFeel the beating heartInstead I'm lying here on the bedwith a black eye, spinningBinge
Sex and murder have been catalogued by the terribly under-rated Alan Brunton:In Tulsathe cops entreated him to stopA single shot rang out with the full authority of the State-- 'He dropped like a stone'They found the Beautiful Lady in bus stationsin seven non-contiguous states.Slow Passes
The sex murderer is also found in this suffrage centennial-year poem by Linda Earle where the murder is play-acted or fantasised (at least I think that is the case):So he took her even though the moonfell like a brick shithouseAnd her eyes rolled back till the whitesshowed as clear as dayHe took her even though he wasadonis and her distended bellycarvd holes out of the Dark AgesHe took her with her broken teethLining specimen boxes like signpoststo the ancientHe took her and went down on herand put parts of her in small plastic bagsHe was careful to name each dry boneWhen the job was complete she rolled overtossed the condom on the couchlit up her telly and Winfield Red.Satisfied.
So it wasn't as bad as a real murder (or was it happening on the telly?), and perhaps the erotic gives us an outlet for our terror as well as for our love. Caroline Avery captures the way Eros seems able to carry out the impossible:I moved the South Pole north for you.
Antipodean erotic poetry could also be moved north for the readers of the world:. . . if there's a magic in my wish, I would turn you into a mountain and never let you out of sight,make words chase upon your heels like spinning tops. I would wake you with a thought.. . . the lamp lowered like a white breastand that is the moon, anytime. Light, submergedin tears descended to the corners of his eyes.
Variations (Stephen Oliver).
Some Refs: The Tears of Eros Georges Battaille, Songs of the Happy Isles Maud Peacock, Songs Unsung Johannes Anderson, Collected Poems James K. Baxter, Islands 25 and 35, Poetry NZ 1990 Number 2, Scene Away from the Crime Jane Bowron, Giotto's Elephant Michael Harlow, Writings 10 (Mary Anne Bourke), From the Face to the Bin Kim Eggleston, Slow Passes Alan Brunton, Sevensome—new poems by NZ women (Linda Earle), Guardians Not Angels Stephen Oliver.
©Bill Direen, 1994.