Pushcart XL: Dorothea Lasky, “Porn” (poetry) from Paris Review, #208

I watch porn
Cause I’ll never be in love
Except with you dear reader
Who thinks I surrender
But who’s to say this stanza is not porn

There’s a tumblr out there called Bookshelf Porn: photos of grand libraries where whispers echo, tiny dusty bookstores that start the allergic sniffling, bookcases of insanely clever or astoundingly banal design, people reading books in cars, on skis, upside down… lots of books. A few of the images have a sexuality to them, but mostly it’s about a love of books, provoking the viewer to say, “Oh, I want to go there.” Cooking fans routinely refer to “food porn”, those images that make your mouth water, images you can smell, that make you ready to eat the page or screen. Maybe that’s the fundamental definition of porn: it makes you want.

As uncomfortable as I am with the notion of the poet “surrendering” to the reader – I can’t think of anything I’d want less from a poet, or a lover, for that matter – I’m intrigued by the idea of poetry as porn. And though just about everything can be referred to as “[domain] porn”, I’ve never seen an article on “poetry porn”.

What would poetry-as-porn be like? Stimulating, intriguing, tantalizing. Lasky discusses it in an LA Times interview, in what she calls a “demonic” element of poetry, the desire to know a reader and turn itself into what the reader wants as a lure:

That’s what I’ve always wanted poems to do. I want them to be attractive and entertaining and seemingly simple, using language and imagery that people can easily understand. But once you’re in the poem you’re trapped. It locks the door and tells you what it wants to say. I don’t think the persona in “Porn” wants to hurt the reader — it just knows that porn is something that will make everyone listen, and even if they’re disgusted by it, they’re still fascinated by the scene. So it’s a way to seduce the reader into an intimate place.

To me, porn is about surface pleasure rather than deep gratification. It’s second-best. If that’s what any particular reader wants from poetry – or if that’s what I want at certain times or from certain poems – sure, poem porn might work. But I think of all the “invitational” poetry I’ve read. “Let us go then, you and I…” “I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.” “Loafe with me on the grass…” Poetry, writing, and for that matter drama, music, art, explanation, persuasion, nearly any creative activity, needs to be a communication. It might be pleasurable. Or it might be discordant, disturbing, confusing. But it has to affect you somewhere other than the pleasure center of your brain. It has to nourish, not just stimulate the appetite.

I do like the notion of the seductiveness of poetry, its ability (in some cases) to command attention and keep us riveted to the page; the ability of a title to attract; and above all, the pleasure of reading just-right words. And if those words change you, make you more of who you were meant to be, alleviate the intrinsic loneliness of the soul encased forever in its body, to me that’s more than porn.

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