Whose Poem Is This Anyway? On Viewpoint and the Erotic
Viewpoint Character. The term comes from fiction. The viewpoint character is the one
through whom the action/narration gets filtered for the reader.
a prose narrative, the viewpoint character is almost
always the member of the story who has the most agency, a.k.a., the hero.
In erotic poetry, well, let’s explore that…
In the “come live with me and be my
love”/oh-how-I-love-to-watch-her-bathing era of poetry, the woman is most often
the recipient of the action of the poem: she is beloved, the beautiful object
of affection. So
tell me, precisely, how can an object speak…?
does a heterosexual
woman—how does any woman—write an erotic poem in which she is
not object but
does she find the perspective in which she is central? What tools make that
sort of poem fly?
Sharon Olds (p. 129) and
Ellen Bass (p. 140) do this brilliantly
by creating a poetry of witness, an eros informed by imagery that remakes the
world, birthing a woman’s gaze into it.
Olena Kalytiak Davis in "Francesca
Says More" (p. 192) has not only seized power and desire, and broken the role of beloved object but shattered the very
spine of syntax itself.
Other younger women poets recreate the world
in a different way: they use shock. They transgress. No romantic bard with his
“glimpse of stocking” kind of love, they go for the higher hemline of desire:
they unmake the world with sheer want, with a want that has to tear a structure
down just to begin it.
Women writing sex today are quite the unruly bunch. And
we have agency.
This issue of "agency" is another reason why I am struck by writing about
male or female, queer or other. In
a traditionally enacted Butch/Femme
paradigm, for instance, the viewpoint character (she whose biology, whose
arousal and orgasm, defines the beginning and end of the act) is arguably the
femme. In the most playful
fulfilled S/M, it would be almost impossible to pick whose is the narrative's
viewpoint character because each partner is taking something so selfish and
personal out of the role enacted. In "Misapprehension", I struggled with the unanticipated power dynamics in a relationship
between a younger woman and an older one.
Women poets, women readers, these queer women who write:
when next you find yourself in an erotic muddle, be the viewpoint character. Or be a voyeur to someone else’s moment
of passion, and puzzle for a bit how agency can carry over, across the power lines.
It takes so much courage to let our eyes keep being our
own, and not have them co-opted into the perspective of anyone else on earth—or
in the poem. That's the courage
of a viewpoint character.
But wait! Read the Best American Erotic Poems Guest Blog!