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Poetry or pornography?

With the launch of my second poetry chapbook, Love and Fuck Poems, approaching, I thought it timely to write a post to hopefully generate some discussion about poetry and pornography, and the fine line between the two – or can they be the same thing? It’s a question that’s been dancing in my mind the last six months. Before that time the thought never crossed my mind to explore this kind of poetry. But then I was introduced to a poet named Ben John Smith, editor of Horror Sleaze Trash and suddenly my poetry world was expanded to new horizons.

Ben was featuring at Passionate Tongues Poetry readings at Brunswick Hotel the first time I was exposed to his poetry, and he invoked a strong response – people either loved or loathed him. Mention his name to some poets and they’ll reciprocate with a look of disgust. ‘His work isn’t literature!’ someone said to me, ‘he’s sexist, misogynistic – he’s a pornographer, that’s all he is.’ And I received more than a few complaints when I interviewed him on 3CR’s Spoken Word program a few weeks ago. I’m working with Ben to put together a show for my launch where we will be going head-to-head, poetry style, and I have to say, getting to know him as a person, he is a far stretch from the ‘sexist pig’ people label him to be. In fact, he has been in a loving relationship with his girlfriend for ten years, so what seems to be the problem here?

Growing up in the working-class suburb of Broadmeadows, Ben wrote poetry from a young age but was afraid to tell anyone. Today, at the age of twenty-seven, he has only just come out of the woodwork with his writing, producing three chapbooks (Drunk and the matinee, Double penetration and I fucking love you, bitch, launched at the Overload poetry festival) and one poetry collection (Horror, Sleaze and Trash) in the last year, all of them selling well. On 3CR radio he admitted to me that he felt the only way he could get away with writing poetry was to write about things his friends could relate to, or more precisely, in order to communicate with them, he had to speak their language. ‘I wanted to put something together where all my friends could enjoy it … it’s the lowbrow scene, it’s the tattoo scene … it’s all very related to nudity and sex, it’s kind of alternative … and I thought it was a good idea to put literature next to things like that where everyone could be exposed to art.’

The main concern, it seems, is that Ben is accused of treating women as sex objects in his writing and on his website, which, averages 300 hits a day but can sometimes get 4000 hits. On his website Ben features artists from around the world including poets, short story writers, graffiti and sketch artists, and photographers. A lot of the content is sexually explicit and some of the photos are of naked women. But Ben defended the claims against made against him on 3CR. ‘The women is always empowered, and often they contact me to be photographed – I am hosting the photographer, here, not the woman as an object.’

Ben may have not been fortunate enough to receive the education that many in our middle-class literary world seem to have, although he does read avidly, two books a week, from Dostoevsky to Chuck Palahniuk. But to me, there is real beauty in his poetry, an honesty and rawness that draws me in. His poetry challenges me, makes me feel uncomfortable at times, and has inspired me immensely, which is why we are doing this show together. I’m not sure if I would have had the idea to produce my chapbook, or to think it was even at all possible to write poetry like this, had I not been exposed to Ben’s poetry.

If we examine the literary landscape at present, it seems that sexually explicit literature is shunned away from, particularly in journals. This is one of the main reasons I decided to self publish my chapbook, because I can’t imagine any journal publishing my material, and that begs the question: is Australian literature too conservative? After all, words are words; why does literature have to be academic writing? Literature is art, and art should not be censored. Yet it seems, from the responses Ben receives from the literary world, they want him to be censored. If anything, Ben is a mirror to the world he grew up in. Art is a reflection of society, and in order to understand society, we should allow the art to be free to be viewed, questioned and appreciated.

Although Ben and I both share a love for words and sex poetry, my aims for my poetry and particularly my chapbook, stem from a different seed. Growing up in a sexually repressed culture, I was never encouraged to explore my sexuality and instead the focus was on finding a man to marry. Ten years later, having separated from my husband, it seems that I am now living the years I was denied by my culture – and it isn’t just me. Lately I’m hearing many stories of divorces and separations where the woman married young because she felt that it was expected of her to do so. Writing this poetry and producing this book has been one of the most liberating experiences in my writing career, and also, my personal growth. Esther Anatolitis, CEO of Melbourne Fringe who is also from a Greek background, had this to say after reading my chapbook: ‘Koraly writes in a voice that you need to hear. Her pride and passion is powerful, vulnerable, tentative, strong. The way she fucks with our sense of φιλότιμο – pride – will be chillingly resonant and painfully desirable to women from our community who have refused themselves a voice.’

But that wasn’t my only aim. I am tired of reading poetry about birds and trees, and although birds and trees are a huge part of the world we live in, so is sex, and this part of humanity shouldn’t be buried or ignored. Paul Kooperman, National Director of Australian Poetry had this to say: ‘Love and Fuck Poems is exactly what poetry should be – personal, passionate and bold. It goes to places many poets avoid, shining light on humanity’s dark side, allowing the reader the rare opportunity of feeling included in the experience through the clarity and honesty of the work.’

What Ben and I both agree on is that sex is something natural and part of our humanity; it’s something we should celebrate and not be embarrassed about. Ben also spoke to me on 3CR about the photographs he takes for the website. ‘All the shots I’ve ever done are never naked – and I think that’s very funny because the shots I do get 100, 200 likes on facebook but then the porno ones [taken by other professional photographers], we get 3000, 4000 hits, but two likes on facebook – it’s the whole I want to see it but I don’t want anyone to know, and I just think it’s something that should be embraced.’

And embracing is what we will both be doing for the launch of my new chapbook, Love and Fuck Poems:
8 pm, Thursday 30 June
Bar Nancy, 61 High Street Northcote

In the meantime, enjoy the poetry below.

Author’s note
WARNING: The poems below are sexually explicit. Please do not scroll down if you are easily offended. After reading Ben’s poem ‘Fantasy’ from his poetry collection Horror, Sleaze and Trash, I responded by writing my own poem called ‘Fantasy’. Ben and I will be responding to each other in this way on our evening at Bar Open, poem for poem. Hope to see you there.

Fantasy
By Ben John Smith

I think my ultimate fantasy
Would be to dangle
My limp dick across a woman’s face.

And like a tea bag

Drop it slowly into her opening –
Red lipped mouth.

I’d keep it in there
While she toyed with her junk.

She would have green nail polish on,
And it would dance,
In her pink and purple
Play ground.

She would hum
And my dick would grow harder.

Moan
And my shaft would expand.

Firmer.

Like them dinosaur toys
That expand in a glass of water.

Bigger. Chunkier.

Filling up her jaws

Pushing out her cheeks
like a blow fish.

Her teeth leaving imprints
On the foreskin.

Muffled and full

Until, finally, she would
Be unable to maintain the load
And with a big

“Phatttooie!”

She would throw her head back,
In an arch of spit a
and bright glowing eyes.

While my dick bounced up and down
Like a great rubber gong.

Fantasy
By Koraly Dimitriadis

you pin me to the bed
spread my legs
penetrate me
without a condom
skin against skin
you whisper my name
tell me you’re falling for me
ask me what we’re doing
and I’m not sure, what we’re doing
and you’re fucking me slowly
teasing me with your cock
in a little, out a little
ask me if I’m liking it
ask if I’m sure I’m liking it
because you can stop
if I’m not liking it
and I assure you
I’m liking it! I’m liking it!
but you’re not so sure
so you slow to a stop
and I’m begging you
but you don’t care
please fuck me!
you take a chunk of my hair
rotate my head, kiss my neck
and you’re moving again
in deeper, out, in, and out
and I’m gonna come
and you’re gonna come
because I’m gonna come
and I’m gonna come
we’re gonna come
and you ask if I want it
and I yell, yes, more than anything
I want you swimming Inside me
and I’m gonna come
we’re coming, we’re coming
and we’re screaming
each other’s Names
yes, yes, fuck, yes, yes!

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

Koraly is a widely published Cypriot-Australian writer and performer. She is the author of the controversial Love and F**k Poems. Koraly received an Australia Council ArtStart grant. She presents on 3CR radio and has a residency at Brunswick Street Bookstore. Her 2013 La Mama show is Exonerating The Body. She is mentored by Christos Tsiolkas.

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Comments

  1. Hi Marcus, thanks for reading and commenting. I feel I have to say something here. Some of Ben’s poems are about his health, drinking, growing up in the suburbs and he has stunning poems about love that are full of heart and emotion while others yes, are very sexual, and very ‘action’ poems. I do this too, maybe not to the extent of Ben, but I do. Sometimes I have poems with a lot of heart and emotion and others that are very sexual action. I think even my action poems(like fantasy above) have a touch of emotion whereas Ben’s don’t because sex is more emotional for woman than it is for men and this has been proven.

    I don’t think Ben’s poems that are sexual are sexist. I think they connect with the primal, human, male part of him. The ‘cave man’ part that wants sex and wants a woman and wants to perform this act. This is human and normal and I don’t think it is sexist at all. I admire the honesty in Ben’s work, even though some of his very honest ‘male’ poems, piss me off!

    I don’t think Ben’s poems that are sexual are sexist. I think they connect with the primal, human, male part of him. The ‘cave man’ part that wants sex and wants a woman and wants to perform this act. This is human and normal and I don’t think it is sexist at all.

  2. So, Marcus, who determines/decides whether there are consequences, and – if so – what they are, and what are their effects? Some people don’t get affected at all, and others may get affected in a multitude of ways, large or small. We all bring our own interpretations via ideologies, prejudices etc to reading and writing. Marcus can write, we can choose to read or not, and comment or not, but I see no overriding duty for poets or writers to overly consider the nebulous area of ‘consequences’ when expressing themselves. Unless we want censorship, of course – bye bye Marquis de Sade et al. And so, Koraly, 103 comments so far of various opinions on matters you’ve raised. That’s very good. All the various comments above are an excellent illustration of ‘eye of the beholder’, or ‘ear’, for example, when a piece is performed. What follows is just my personal opinion and not presented as fact. Do what you want with it. I’ve won lots of slams around the country, and featured at major gigs in the capital cities, Sydney Theatre Company, Woodford, Salt on the Tongue Poetry Festival in SA, Qld and Tasmanian Poetry Festivals, and run performance workshops at some of them. I’m probably regarded as a performance poet/monologuist/storyteller/spoken word thingy – see CV – but, in my late fifties, am most of the way through a creative writing degree. I used to harbour ambitions about being published, but don’t submit too often to establishment poetry publications because it appears I also am not ‘publishable’ in these sorts of forums. Many of the biggest names in performance poetry world in Australia are in the same boat. I spoke to a number of them recently when I noted their absences in the inaugural Australian Poetry Journal. I was disappointed with the publication – same old establishment writers writing for each other as usual. Andrew Galan got in, and he’s a pretty outrageous avante garde Canberra writer/performer, but generally same old, same old. As research for a paper I’m writing I circulated the book around ‘normal’ people from a variety of professional/social/educational backgrounds to see what they they thought. Overwhelming feedback was that it was boring, impenetrable twaddle from a bunch of tossers utterly out of touch with the general public. Their words, not mine. I find it interesting when I hear poetry festival panels lamenting the public’s lack of interest in poetry activities. Australian Poetry’s Salt on the Tongue festival in Goolwa last year was a good example. It was the performance poets who galvanised the audiences. Same at Bellingen Writers and Readers Festival earlier this year. Good performance poetry can enthuse anyone, from the boffins to the bogans, because it engages whether you are poetry-educated or not. This doesn’t make it better, but is a reason that it should be included more in establishment events and publications, particularly if you want bums on seats. The biggest poetry turnouts in this country are bush poetry events – by far. When I started the Nimbin Performance Poetry World Cup with my friend Gail M Clark in 2003, it was because performance poets didn’t get a look-in at writers and poetry festivals. The situation has improved since but the divide still exists.

    I don’t distinguish necessarily re merit between spoken word vs writing/page poetry. Some spoken word doesn’t work as well on the page as the stage, but some of it certainly stacks up in a literary sense, in my opinion. Some of it I think is crap. I also see a lot of poetry published in well-known literary media that is boring and impenetrable as fuck, in my opinion. I note only one rhyming poem in the 80+ pages in the APJ, and that by Clive James who’d be hard to knock back on profile alone. So rhymers, rappers, bush poets, and most performance poets are immediately binned. Who decided that rhyme in poetry was ‘out’? On that basis, Shane Koyczan – good enough to appear with KD Lang, Neil Young et al at the Winter Olympics – wouldn’t get a guernsey. Neither would Shakespeare, Shelley, Banjo Patterson, Walt Whitman and hundreds of other famous poets. I just hope that the merger between the Poet’s Union and Australian Poetry doesn’t turn into the Poetry Establishment Club and eschews the challenge and excitement of the poetry revolution that is returning poetry to the public. I think there is only one requirement for writing generally – if the author wants to be read as opposed to wants to write – and that is, it must engage. “There is only one school of literature – that of talent.” ~ Vladimir Nabokov. Getting published is another story. Bukowski never got a look-in in academia and has been rubbished by the literati. JK Rowling would have been rendered puerile by my creative writing faculty who gave no credence to my proposition that ‘450 million books speaks for itself’. Obama copped a bucketing from literary critic Harold Bloom and Co when he invited rappers and performance poets to perform at the White House after his election. Shakespeare, Austen and Dickens went from populists to the English Literary Canon. Maybe one day Emily Zoey Baker will be recognised for the genius she is, Ezra Bix will have his own TV show and Koraly and Ben will be sex therapy gurus selling millions of books and DVDs. Anyone else wanting an insight into the current state of Australian Poetry can go to my Facebook note and read my scholarly dissertation What To Do If You Come Across A Poet In The Wild. In the meantime, argue between yourselves, and go go go Koraly and Ben. You are making stuff happen. x

  3. sometimes I rhyme
    and sometimes I don’t
    sometimes I will
    and sometimes I … choose not to

    for example

    ANGELS DON’T COOK

    It’s my turn to cook she says
    picks up the phone
    orders takeaways
    can’t cook for shit
    unless you call charred flesh and mutilated vegetables ‘cooking’
    it’s a challenge she sees no need to confront
    not while there’s a phone
    takeaways
    me

    Reckons she’s only got a kitchen because one came with the house
    calls food ‘fuel’
    but because I’m a fool for her and I cook very well
    I do all the cooking

    She does other stuff
    like love
    and compassion
    and grace
    works in the hospital intensive care unit
    saves lives
    sometimes
    if she can
    holds the hands of dying people
    always
    because she can
    says somebody should be there
    and despite my inherent cynicism
    I still think ‘God’ moves in mysterious ways
    gives those dying people an angel to comfort them
    as they slip away into the dark
    my angel
    my angel who can’t cook
    who doesn’t need to cook
    she does other stuff

    (C) Robin Archbold 2011

  4. Koraly, please call me Archie, and thanks for your comment. I suspect there can be no higher praise.

  5. Pingback: Top Ten Poetic Moments of 2011 « Overland literary journal

  6. Pingback: Sacked by Overland « One lifetime is not enough, for all my words – Koraly Dimitriadis

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