An Offensive Conversation
I have recently read both your chapbook and your self titled book and have a question.
What is your intended tone/purpose of using words like “cunt” or “nigger”? How do you see words such as those? Do you believe if one uses them more they lose their power or that the dead bodies hanging on such words make it too heavy to ever lose the offense that may come along with them? I notice that you use a lot of “offensive” words and wondered why, just curious.
thanks for your patience on this one. And thanks for taking the time to not only read, but think about my work. The real answer is probably: I don’t know. In the same way that the old bards felt like they were just scribes for muses–vehicles for something else’s voice–I feel that way too. And, to be honest, there are lots of times when I feel like it would be a great relief to be rid of the office of transcribing their dictations, especially when they’re ugly, ugly dictations. But then I think of the old prophets having to report to rulers and say “Well, basically, I portend that your kingdom will fall to rubble,”–which of course they would then be killed for, or something– and I think maybe I got it kind of easy, in retrospect.
It is a hard question to answer, though, either way. I will say that in a strange inversion of sense, one of the things I find most offensive is the resistance to profane language. Like the recent version of Huck Finn that was published with all instances of the word nigger bowdlerized from it:http://www.economist.com/blogs/johnson/2011/01/sanitising_huckleberry_finn That scares me and disgusts me way worse than any words…but that’s not to say that I’m not offended by words also. I’m pretty sensitive, honestly. I use these words very little in my daily speech, more just when I’m in some sort of prophetic possession. Sometimes I worry that the people who know me best might just see me as some kind of open wound, actually, because I’m so sensitive to things, but I feel my sensitivity (even if some think it’s an oversensitivity) is a great gift. I’m offended all the time, pretty much constantly, which makes for a heavy burden. I think part of what I’m doing in my writing is trying to recreate that for others that have been desensitized. But, usually, the thing that seems most immediately offensive in the poem (the nigger, the cunt, whatever…) is really the least offensive thing in the poem, or maybe just the most superficially (as opposed to profoundly) offensive thing in the poem. I’ve actually made a term up for this literary strategy I’ve imagined: “decoy offenses.” Those curse words, or the lines that use them, would be the decoy offenses, distracting us from the much much much more horrible things inhabiting the poem right before our very faces.
One more thing I’ll say–I’m not usually offended by things people do when they realize they’re offensive, or are even intentionally being offensive, like I am in the poetry. I’m usually profoundly offended more by people when they think they’re being perfectly civil and humane.
This is a really worthwhile question, to me. I’ll post it on my blog, along with my answer, and that way whoever wants to chime in on this conversation with us can. And definitely feel free to add more questions, or just your own reflections on this, too, whether publicly or in a message just to me again.
And for real, thanks for taking time with the work. I hope it heals us both.