From Poetry Wales Spring 2016, Volume 51 Issue 3
‘There is something very unsettling about unconscious desire’ said Tamara Dellutri to me when I discussed the topic of this issue with her. We learn desire in our earliest moments, when we learn to love, to be with and apart from someone else. So a manifestation of adult desire is in some obscure way an expression that takes us back to the love of our caregivers in the earliest part of our lives. Not a very sexy place to start from. It’s the one put-off in sex. Thinking of your parents. And the other horrifying thought: your parents in coitus. But in this taboo, the moment that made us.
And yet it is difficult to deny the importance of those earliest moments of life in the formation of ourselves as human beings. ‘Our first experiences of desire inevitably come from our mothers and caregivers, with whom our relationship with language is first kindled,’ Melissa Lee-Houghton points out in her essay on desire and poetry in this issue. So in amongst the formation of desire is also the beginning of language. Is this why poetry can unlock something secret about desire and why the poetry of desire can touch upon our most excruciating taboos?
Much of the work in this issue touches the skin of such uncomfortable zones. Chrissy Williams quotes Kim Gordon in her poem: “Remember mother? We were close … very very … close” and continues – ‘I allowed my lust to deprioritise her and I ask forgiveness. / I never wanted to be killed with kindness.’ Later Amy McCauley invokes Jokasta (perhaps the original fucker-mother):
If only you would touch me
like a / shriek / good
girl / thank /
got a heart / it’s here
somewhere / how it // feels
Good girl. Thank fuck I’ve got a heart . In the place we experience desire we find demanding paradoxes: we want to be good or bad so the other will desire us, we want to be wanted, and in wanting learn how others want to be wanted. It is the instance we learn to be good to others, in order that we may be good, thank fuck , to be as good as mother requested, even, to be just what mother is to father… Into this confusing territory go the poems of Williams and McCauley as well as Nicky Arscott, Malika Booker, Jasmine Donahaye and others in this issue. Poetry for dodgy desirous waters, the taboo-zone. The poetry here gestures to the real, the real sex, the fucking that goes beyond language. The realness of contact with another person or a confrontation with the physical reality of desire can be overpowering, dark. We see the girl on the body board in Nicky Arscott’s poem-comic, but we’re not sure if we should see her, possibly she is dead. We, the narrator and reader, look anyway. Unconscious desire is at odds with our normal grammar and syntax. This is possibly the reason human beings don’t often start complex discussions before orgasm.
I would say that poetry – especially the poetry in these pages – somehow arches towards that Real. It gets some of the way there, touches its flesh briefly. The inexpressible and obscured place can be gestured towards unconsciously and the language that materialises – the non- or beyond-sense – may sound like, or is in fact poetry. This, as Tamara Dellutri explains in her piece in this issue, is the material the psychoanalyst deals with. And the analyst is very like the poet, charting through the slips of the tongue, the language beyond language, expressions of desire and jouissance beyond sense, beyond communication.
In curating this issue I was interested in the paradoxes writing desire entails. Writers who are not classic heterosexual ‘cis’, male, straight, white etc, have had their desires dismissed or demonised many times over; often as too bodily and physical, all hormones, no rationalism, no reality . These desires have also been shamed and prepresumed, packaged and marketed back at us.
So there is a huge power dynamic stacked against the desire that is not the desire of the dominant gaze. ‘A cry from the ovaries’ is how George Barker dismissed Elizabeth Smart’s poetry written out of passionate love of him. In her essay ‘Erotic tendencies’ Lee-Houghton explores this poetry and that of the desiring confessional mode – a mode often dismissed, probably as it is seen as pertaining to women. Lee-Houghton also calls for more interesting poetry of desire from men. I have to say this issue does not include very many cries from the testicles though they are there if you look hard. I approached women writers for the most part because they were the ones I wanted to hear from most keenly. I was interested in the undertold poetry of desire.
Desire is also an urge to the future. Fantasy, for example, is a testing of the ‘what do I want’? ‘What would it be like if I wanted XYZ?’ Writing desire is a kind of futurism; it is speculation, it brings about the future and calls it forth. It is the opposite of the death drive, the repetitive deadening reflex of destructive compulsive want, of jouissance as described by Lacan and as illuminated by Dellutri in this issue. Poetry is a forcing, Lacan wrote, a bursting through barriers, a creation of a new language of desire, a new path out of the old.
So I would request that before you dismiss this poetry as a cry from the sex-organs also remember that it is a cry for the future. For what we might want, for the relationships, the communities of relationships and societies we want to live in.
Alice Entwistle: Can we talk about Wales, rather than Welshness? What is Wales for you? Somewhere – anywhere – where Welshness can be found? Or is it perhaps imaginary?’
Menna Elfyn: ‘It’s imaginary. It’s a desire.’
Cambrofuturism/Cymruddyfodoliaeth – what future do we desire for Wales or for any community of the future? That is a theme for a future issue.