Sally Van Doren on Sexy Poetry

H. L. Hix: If “common sense” says that experience shapes language, critical investigations in disciplines such as linguistics (esp. since Saussure) and philosophy (e.g. in Wittgenstein) suggest the reverse.  Still, sex seems one subject we’re reluctant to release to this reversal.  Is your book in any sense an overcoming of that reluctance, an experiencing of sex not as described by language but as constructing it, and of language not as describing sex but as animating it?


Sally Van Doren: There is no question in my mind that sex exists without language, but I have been interested on and off in literary attempts, both others’ and my own, to describe the experience of sex through the language of poetry.  As much as it would be thrilling to write a poem that encapsulates the experience of achieving an orgasm, I have concluded it is impossible.  Best to leave a good thing alone.   While I have conceded that poetry can never be a physical substitute for sex, I do think poetry can be sexy, and that it is often arousing, both intellectually and physically.  Poetry has the power to cause emotional transformations that in turn sometimes create physical reactions.   I would agree with your suggestion that the language of poetry might animate or even construct sex, because it suggests that sex as the referent is generating responses through the form of poetics.  Maybe writing about it is the next best thing.



Sally Van Doren.  Sex at Noon Taxes.  Louisiana St. Univ. Press, 2008.


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