Thursday, April 30, 2015

Poetics of Sunflowers and Sex

++(My coach had told us boys, “Forget girls, go shoot baskets.” Now pointing at me: Start writing)++

What’s the point in me writing about sex, anymore than I’d write about procrastination?
Do you really need to see yet another blog post on procrastination? Well, maybe I do, as I’m a sucker for self-help articles, but—a post on general sexuality? There’s obviously even more feature articles about everybody’s favorite topic than articles on procrastination, right? I mean, society eagerly spends millions of dollars on research, and presumably that means more than enough knowledge and articles. Presumably.

On the other hand, I keep learning stuff on my own, and sometimes I think society is out to lunch… I think what Lao Zu advised thousands of years ago is still true: “Those who know, don’t tell.” There are sound reasons for me to not tell you and our society what I have so painfully learned.

Lao Zu also said, “Those who tell, do not know.”

A serious reason for not knowing, in human affairs, is a simple one: We like to be comfortable.

++(My coach makes a time-out sign. Pointing at me: Be a citizen)

That said, please pardon my discomfort, while I briefly do my informed-citizen–during-wartime thing... Sexual culture is not fixed: It was back in the 1980’s, even before cross-border terror, that a New York Times best seller by Louis L’amour, The Walking Drum, exposed the Arabs as having a saying, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” I would have comfortably forgotten that an entire nation could believe this, I would have conveniently misremembered the saying as being from a Hollywood Mafia show, were it not for the war to re-take Kuwait from Iraq: Every one was begging the Israelis, “Please don’t shoot back!”… Don’t counter-fire against Saddam Hussein’s missiles, lest Arab nations instantly switch sides and join Saddam. You may recall that despite Iraqi missiles landing in Israel, the Israelis exercised self-control.

As for self-control and sex, L’amour’s book has a scene where a European man and an Arab woman are alone together, crouched alone behind some road brush. When some local Muslim friends ride by, the man starts to go out to hail them. The woman hauls him back to hide, with desperate strength, like Sarah Connor holding back a time-traveler from the police: “They’ll kill you!” Arabs of that time and place will assume a man does not have self-control. For my own comfort, I will assume this concept does not apply to a modern Arab tourist alone with my sister in London Ontario. You will too, right?

(OK, time-in)++

Here at home, while proudly twirling my moustache, I have to admit I’m not a boon to women. That is, I have to if I want to be a writer: Canadian novelist Stephen Visinczey, best known for In Praise of Older Women, wrote, “If you think you’re wise, rational, good, a boon to the opposite sex and a victim of circumstances, then you don’t know yourself well enough to write.”

Visinczey was saying, of course, don’t be vain. But oh, it’s so comforting to be vain and say we are at the pinnacle of all past history, that our latest “new improved generation” is the finest and most sexually liberated of all, even more than the “younger generation” of the sixties. Tell yourself this, Sir, when you’re walking back from the beach flopping cold seaweed against your legs with every step, saying, “Arg! Arg! Arg!” wearing long bathing shorts just like dear old granddad would wear, instead of sensible sixties style jockey shorts.

What of our ancestors before TV, before radio? Think back to when the Tin Lizzie was a marvel, and as you would putt-putt-putt along the road some wit would call, “Get a horse! ...” Did those Victorian folks have a clue about sex? I seem to recall some classic English literature book where a sedate lady in a prim long dress is sitting with her knitting, having her ball of yarn in her lap. A man comes up and kneels to kiss her yarn. Yes, they knew… unless, of course, the readers were all innocent, and it was only the poets who perceived things.

I am old enough to remember the sexual revolution and how writers of the time, if they wished to write nonfiction about sex, had to go through a few contortions in the first few paragraphs saying they were only trying to help people, that sex was something good and clean.

Right. So this week’s poem is from musty old innocent times, and if you are telling me I must have some sort of dirty mind to connect the poem to sex, well, I won’t argue with you, not if I’m bent over busy rummaging in my beach cupboard. I’ll hurriedly agree with you that OK, sure, the human body is nothing to be ashamed of. (Ah, here’s my speedos) What I will say is I saw the poem on the front page to a novel by the Walter Tevis, the same guy who wrote the book they made into a swinging David Bowie movie, The Man Who Fell to Earth.

I appreciate Tevis. He also wrote The Hustler (Now a movie with Jackie Gleason and Paul Newman) and The Color of Money. (Now a movie with Paul Newman and Tom Cruise) If you want to read about a society that does a reverse Helen Keller, through forgetting how to read, try Tevis’es Mockingbird. (Remember how her face grew more intelligent as she gained literacy?)

You ask, “Don’t keep me in suspense, not when I’ve been raised on new technology, not when my attention span has gone the way of the vacuum tube: What book has the poem?” (The innocent poem that’s not about sex) That book is The Steps of the Sun. It’s told in the first person by one of the world’s richest men, a self-made man, an honest man… a man who as a boy once slept with his horse—in a clean way, that is—because he was so dreadfully unloved at home… a man desperately trying to get over his sexual impotence and to stop being not-nice to his girlfriend. I’ve read it more times than I’ve read Mockingbird. (You see, he buys this spaceship and…)

Like last week, today’s poem is by William Blake.
Ah Sun-flower

Ah-sunflower! weary of time,
who countest the steps of the sun:
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the traveler’s journey is done.

Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale virgin shrouded in snow:
arise from their grave and aspire,
Where my Sun-flower wishes to go.

Sean Crawford

~As I implied in my essay No Links is Good Links, (archived July 2012) one of my top ten posts, I trust you not to get dirty by furtively reading the web with impaired attention on company time; I trust you will cleanly, leisurely, enjoy looking through various search topics as you wish. No need, then, for me to do your search-linking for you.

~Although writer-wise I came up through practical, realistic journalism, with writing as a craft, I am transitioning to being a poet, with writing as an art. An artist grows: By this I don’t mean gets increasingly expert at technical craft. In The Writer magazine for October 1982 Josephine Jacobsen notes that for a writer “…the danger…(is that one will linger) on a poem which breaks no new ground, shows no sign of the discoveries that life forces upon us. Such work, however expert, has about it something sad, and limited.”

If an artist makes life discoveries then it is because artists are “spiritual warriors,” as my mentor Sheri-D Wilson notes, saying this is “very hard.” So if any artists see more than I, are more liberated from social conditioning, or confront more truths, then I won’t get jealous. I know that for their insight they have paid a hard price.

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