Archive for the ‘Sexy sexy sexy!’ Category

Dating While Poet #4: First Day of Spring

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

Much like myself, this post isn’t really going anywhere but contains valuable information. You will likely find it of more usefulness than my other posts in the “Dating While Poet” series, because this one isn’t about me actually going on a date and therefore offers something beyond examples of what not to do that, although amusing, fail to be instructive because, unless you’re me, you already knew not to do those things anyway. (And if you are me, Chris, stop reading your own blog and do something constructive with your day.) As I’ve said, this post isn’t about me going on a date. It does, however, involve a beautiful woman asking for my number. Unfortunately, this was only so she could enter it into the computer at the bookstore and call me when the book I’d ordered arrived. In all fairness, I would like quickly to clarify that this was a book I’d already planned on buying when I walked into the bookstore, and that I wasn’t just ordering it because the girl at the Information desk was pretty. Although, in further fairness, I was just ordering it because the author of the book is pretty. I’m going to change the subject now.

It’s the first day of Spring and I woke up in a good mood, knowing perfectly well that you’re only supposed to capitalize the name of a season if it’s a poem and you’re addressing it, but not caring at all. That was how good I felt. Like with most people, when I find myself in a good mood I want to make it even better by doing something crazy that I don’t normally do. Unlike with most people, going outside in the daytime for a reason besides work counts for me as one of those things. I decided to walk to a bookstore and purchase comedienne Kristen Schaal’s The Sexy Book of Sexy Sex, which I’ve been meaning to buy because it has funny stuff on the inside and a picture of Kristen Schaal in her underwear on the cover. It’s been out for a year and a half, and I would have bought it sooner, but I had to wait until I was having a really good day so the funniness of the book wouldn’t be negated by my depression over the fact that I’m never going to marry Kristen Schaal, despite the fact that I’m an adventurous yet soulful lover and spell her name right more than half of the time.

      My idea of an unattainable Love Goddess

I felt so unstoppable that instead of walking all the way up to the Barnes & Noble in Union Square, I decided to throw caution to Zephyrus and go to the bookstore three blocks from my apartment that I usually avoid because everyone who hangs out there is so much cooler than me. Yes, I walked right into that cool bookstore with my head held high, and I kept it that way. There was a woman drinking coffee while wearing the biggest pair of sunglasses I’ve ever seen, and I didn’t start crying even a little. It was like there was some kind of cool forcefield around me, which I attributed to the fact that I was wearing my pants with the dried paint on them. I got them at Salvation Army, so there was already paint on them when I bought them, rather than the paint being on them because I was actually painting something myself, but I had spent the walk to the bookstore mentally preparing to lie about that if anyone asked.

The logical guess was that the book would be in the Humor section, except for the fact that it’s probably actually funny and no books in the Humor section of a bookstore are ever actually even a little bit funny. It wasn’t in the Sexuality section either, so I went over to the Information desk to ask. I did notice on my way over that the woman sitting behind the Information desk was gorgeous, but I made up my mind that this was definitely not going to ruin my day and force me to go home and write something about it. If you’re wondering why a professional writer would consider a day ruined if it results in him doing his job, don’t worry, I’m seeing my therapist tomorrow and I’m going to open with that.

When I say that the woman behind the information desk was gorgeous, I’m not exaggerating for effect. She was probably a model. Normally that’s just an expression, but when you’re talking about a startlingly tall and skinny woman who’s dressed uncommonly stylishly while working a part-time job at a trendy store in SoHo, it’s not. I mean she was literally almost certainly a model. And if that usage of literally made sense to you despite the fact that there’s no way for someone to figuratively almost certainly be a model, shame on you, you’re what’s wrong with America.

I’m not going to describe the woman beyond stating the fact that she was gorgeous, because if somehow she ends up reading this, the odds that she would be flattered are infinitesimal compared to the odds that I would get banned from that bookstore. So if you’re her, and you are reading this, don’t worry, I’m talking about a different woman in a different bookstore in the same neighborhood that I ordered the same book from on the first day of Spr—  fuck.

The problem with being in a good mood is, it doesn’t take much to screw it up. That’s why in general I advise strongly against it. The literal model explained that they were out of The Sexy Book of Sexy Sex but that she could order it for me and it would arrive tomorrow, and I managed to get through the conversation and give her my information to enter into her special model computer that probably does weird secret model stuff that normal computers don’t do without looking at the floor and mumbling so quietly that she had to ask me everything twice. I did somehow manage to forget what I normally do with my arms when I’m standing still, but that’s to be expected. It won’t ever happen again, though, because this time I made a mental note to notice what I do with my arms the next time I’m talking to an ugly girl and remember. So look out, pretty girls, because the next time you have a 30-second conversation with this guy, you’re not even going to believe how natural his arm movements seem.

Anyway, remember that useful information I promised you at the beginning? Here it is. Obviously, I wanted to keep talking to this woman. Also obviously, I couldn’t think of a plausible reason to do so and just left. And because of this, I finally figured out the correct answer to the age-old question of whether beautiful women like jerks. The answer is that technically they don’t, but it comes to the same thing. And here’s why.

Now, the reason you always hear people say that beautiful women like jerks is because beautiful women keep ending up with jerks, so you can’t really blame people for concluding this. But in reality, concluding that beautiful women are especially attracted to jerks is like concluding that lightning is especially attracted to golfers. It’s true that golfers are the ones who always end up getting hit by lightning, but there’s no inherent quality golfers possess that causes this. Lightning is equally attracted to all human beings, because our bodies are all mostly water and lightning is attracted to water. And even though, all things considered, it’s unlikely that you’re going to be struck by lightning no matter where you are, being on a golf course makes it considerably more likely than being anywhere else. And golfers are exponentially more likely than non-golfers to be on a golf course.

In other words, in order for me to end up dating this woman, I would have had to keep talking to her. It’s unlikely that I would have ended up dating her even if I had kept talking to her, of course—but it’s impossible that I would have ended up dating her if I didn’t, and unlikely outranks impossible. Since I had no valid reason to keep talking to her other than that I found her attractive, I would have had to make up some phony bullshit reason to keep talking to her on the spot. And in order to be capable of doing that, I would have had to believe at least one of the following two things:

A) She is so stupid she’s not going to figure out that my reason for continuing to talk to her is a phony bullshit one, or
B) I am so awesome she’s not going to care that my reason for continuing to talk to her is a phony bullshit one.

And in order to believe either of those things, I would have to be a jerk. Remember, I’m not saying I would have to be a jerk to believe that anyone would be interested in me. I would have no trouble believing that a woman who’s read my poetry book or sat through one of my brilliant lectures on Frankenstein would want to date me. To be perfectly honest, I would think she was crazy if she didn’t. But here, we’re talking about a woman I talked to for half a minute and who knew absolutely nothing about me. And for that matter, I knew absolutely nothing about her. So in order for either of criteria A and B to be met, I would have to be walking around in a constant state of thinking either that all women are stupid or that all women find me awesome based on absolutely nothing. And walking around in a constant state of believing either of those things is the definition of a jerk.

So, in conclusion, this is why all jerks play golf. No wait, that’s not it. But hey, isn’t it weird how that’s also true?

Dating While Poet

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

About six weeks ago, I had a first date that I was really excited about, with a cute young actress. Unlike most things I get really excited about, it went great. I picked the perfect spot, I didn’t get too drunk and, being something of an animation buff herself, she seemed to understand my lifelong desire to get married at the foot of a firefly-infested waterfall so as to perfectly recreate the love scene from Disney’s Robin Hood, if not necessarily to be totally on board with it right away. As I walked her to the train afterwards, we passed a little theater that she’d always loved, and I said I’d buy it for her if I won on Jeopardy!, conveniently forgetting that even if I won as many games as Ken Jennings, this would still take more than half the money. I kissed her, but didn’t try for more than that, and headed home feeling for once like I had spectacularly aced a first date.

When I got home, I sent her a goodnight text. No response. That’s cool, I thought. She’s probably still on the train. Or furiously masturbating. Or furiously masturbating on the train. Or she lost or broke her phone somehow, probably while furiously masturbating. I thought nothing of it, furiously masturbated, and went to sleep.

The next morning I texted again to wish her good luck at an audition she had in the morning—an audition, I might add, that was definitely totally real and that she had in no way made up as an excuse not to go home with me. Would a girl give an excuse like that to a man who had started crying eight minutes into the date while telling a story about the time he put out a mousetrap to catch a mouse but instead of being killed the mouse was only paralyzed and when he came into the kitchen after hearing the mousetrap noise the paralyzed mouse was being tearfully comforted by a little mouse friend (or possibly spouse) and saying in mouse language “No, go on, leave me, and don’t look back, I don’t want you to remember me this way?” Of course not.

This time, there was a response. She texted back “Thank you.” I’d have preferred to see “Thank you from the bottom of my sodden pink panties,” but at least it was a response. I texted back something that I’m sure was too long, too soon, and not badass enough, because that’s how I roll.

Then I heard nothing back for a week. The pattern of “three texts from me equals nothing for three days and then one short, noncommittal text back” continued for a while. Eventually, I asked her point blank if she wanted to go out again. She said yes, but then reverted right back to the “I don’t text you back until you’re halfway home from the noose store, and even then it is three words if you’re lucky” M.O., so I naturally figured that the “yes” was just politeness and I was supposed to “take the hint” here, so as not to become that guy who keeps texting a girl who doesn’t want to see him again that you occasionally hear about every single time you talk to a girl, ever.

So, all things considered, I emerged with dignity intact. I never did anything dishonorable, and I knew when it was time to cut my losses and give up before making a fool of myself. Well played.

Then five weeks later, she texts to tell me I’m a fucking asshole for “disappearing.”

This confused me. I mean, I did pick up the valuable piece of information that when a woman ends a text message with “That’s all I wanted to say,” it means there are seven more texts coming in the next five minutes, but other than that I was confused. I mean, I was supposed to stop contacting this girl because she clearly didn’t like me.

…Right?

I asked a couple of my female friends about it. They told me she was crazy, and unanimously voted down my plan to write back to her and offer to ritually scar myself in some way. This made me feel 100% better right away. Or it would have, if “she’s crazy” were not the only answer anyone ever gets when they ask a woman about another woman. So it actually didn’t help at all, but hey, my fault for asking. If you don’t want to get told that the answer is in the Bible, don’t ask the Pope, and if you don’t want to just get told “she’s crazy,” then don’t ask a woman about another woman (who is thin).

Speaking of the Pope, although I am a nonbeliever, I have nonetheless had a longstanding agreement with the Catholic Church that absolutely everything is my fault, so I decided that this was too. Since girls tend not to text guys they weren’t the slightest bit interested in after half the summer has passed to curse them out for breaking contact, it must have been the case that this girl actually did like me at least a little bit. And that’s when I got really worried, on account of the fact that “dropping out of contact because the girl obviously didn’t like me” is something I’ve ended up doing approximately… always.

I quickly fired off a message to a girl I’d been out with a few times since I gave up on the other girl, but hadn’t contacted in over a week because… well, you know. But I was sure that this girl didn’t like me, and so I phrased my message accordingly: “It’s obvious you’re not interested in seeing me again, and that’s cool, but just for the sake of self-improvement, I was wondering what I did wrong,” etc.

Imagine my chagrin when she wrote back befuddledly wondering what I was talking about, asking whether she’d missed a message from me or something, and clarifying that she would love to see me again.

It probably sounds at this point like I just give up all the time because I don’t know anything about women. But that isn’t it. I mean, it can’t be it. Somehow, I’d always had a girlfriend—and a hot one, at that—virtually every second from late college until my early 30s. So how could it be the case that I suddenly didn’t know anything about women?

And that’s when it hit me. The problem isn’t that the women I’ve been seeing recently are crazy. On the contrary—the problem is that they aren’t crazy enough.

Until recently, virtually every girlfriend I’ve ever had, I met in school, be it in college, in grad school, or as a teacher. A few of them were other poets that I met through, you know, poetry stuff, but like everything to do with poetry, that still basically counts as school. So even though I’ve always had girlfriends, I’ve also met them all in a bubble that ensured all of them would be other writers. It’s only in the last year that I’ve tried dating women I met in normal grown-up ways—bars, dating websites—that have nothing to do with studying or teaching writing.

In other words, I’ve never dated a normal person before.

Sure, like anyone else, while growing up I’d heard references made to things like “playing hard to get,” “occasionally not being drunk,” and “having a first date where neither person proposes stealing a car and driving all night to get married in Vegas,” but I just figured those customs were relics of a bygone era. After all, they never came up in my undergraduate poetry concentration, or my graduate school for poets, or my subsequent jobs where I only met other poets.

If you’ve ever known any poets, then you already know we’re bad at two things: quitting smoking, and not randomly marrying each other. I went to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, for Christ’s sake—every time I snuck out of the bar to go home and take a dump, when I came back someone was married. Then by the time someone inevitably punched the bartender for refusing to sell us a take-home after closing, they were divorced. More of us got married than got fired from teaching positions for sleeping with students or showing up drunk, and that happened to all of us, so the first thing shouldn’t even be mathematically possible. Once a week we all got together to praise Ross from Friends for how infrequently he got married.

So by the time I entered my last relationship of any duration, with a girl who said “I love you” on our first date and then sang me Regina Spektor songs at the top of her voice in a crowded sushi restaurant, the problem wasn’t so much that this seemed normal to me—it was that anything less than this made it seem like the girl would be happy to see me step in front of a bus.

And you know who does less than that on a first date, even if she really likes you? Every woman who is not ovaries-to-the-wall out of her skull, that’s who.

But I’ve never dated any of those women. And at this rate, I never will, not as long as I keep expecting every encounter with a woman who feels the slightest bit of human emotion for me to end with the two of us strewn with garlands of psychoactive mushrooms, rutting in an abandoned field by the light of a church we just set on fire, while seventeen of our closest friends sing Anglo-Saxon translations of Gilbert & Sullivan songs, spattered with uncooperative bartender blood.

It’s not just that I’ve never been around women who pretend not to like you. I’ve never even been around people who are remotely psychologically capable of pretending not to like anything that they like, regardless of the consequences. When a poet likes you, you know it. How? Because you’re either not also a poet, in which case you’ve already called the police, or you are, in which case you’re already married.

But that’s just not what normal women do. Normal women pretend not to like you, and then flip out on you when you believe them. Apparently.

Fuck that. I’m reapplying in fiction. Who wants to get married?

Guaranteed to Blow Your Mind: Karyna McGlynn’s “I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl”

Friday, March 19th, 2010

Karyna McGlynnThe epithet “eagerly anticipated” where poetry is concerned is often assigned but almost never true.  With Karyna McGlynn’s major-press debut I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl (Sarabande, winner of the 2008 Kathryn A. Morton Prize) it was, at least in my case.  McGlynn’s 2008 chapbook Alabama Steve was the only collection by a poet of my generation that I genuinely could not put down (if you’re having trouble imagining how that could possibly be the case with poetry, read it for yourself).  Where IHtGBt1994&KaG is concerned, Alabama Steve devotees expecting another volume of sex-drugs-and-pop-culture wisecracking from McGlynn will be disappointed—at least, in the same sense that Beatles fans expecting another album of radio-friendly power pop were “disappointed” by Rubber Soul.

In other words, everything you liked about McGlynn’s indie stuff is still here, plus.  The “plus” is, as implied by the title, a murder mystery of sorts: although not every poem “advances the plot” per se, the book is a narrative, at least in the way that Borges’s Garden of Forking Paths was a narrative.  McGlynn has more than one self here: a childhood version, and an adult version that, whether by growing backwards Merlin-style or time traveling Terminator-style, is hanging around to watch the former and, eventually, kill her—just as, one concludes, we all effectively “kill” the child we once were by growing up.  The first poem begins:

I wake up somewhere in Ohio.  Or, that’s how it smells—

There’s a phone in my hand.  I’m thirty years old.
No, the phone is thirty years old.  Its memory’s been erased.

I’m naked but for one of those hollowed scarves.
It keeps peeling off like a seedpod.

I’m afraid my sense will fall out,
get lost in the snow and make more of me.

The suddenly appearing somewhere else in time naked may be a deliberate Terminator nod, and if so it’s brave and hilarious, but since McGlynn’s pop references are far more subsumed here than they were in Alabama Steve, we can’t be sure.  And it’s hardly the last time we won’t be sure about something.  There is that section of a horror movie about a quarter ways in, where things have stopped being conspicuously normal but have not yet become horrifying—the stretch where close-ups of everyday objects linger too long while music starts and stops and then starts again more quietly.  McGlynn effectively establishes a textual version of this early on (even appropriating horror-film symbols, as in “A Red Tricycle in the Belly of the Pool,” one of the standout poems), and sustains it agonizingly well.  Hitchcock’s definition of suspense was, duh, you suspend something, and does she ever.  The ominousness is ominous of even more ominousness.  This being contemporary poetry, and in a book where futzing with chronology is half the point, there is not a payoff exactly—we go from something’s gonna jump out right to something has evidently already jumped out, and just what the hell jumped out and when and who it got is a matter for subsequent readings (which will occur, which is after all the bottom line).

Sometime in the Night a Naked Man Passes

the foot of my bed in a beekeeper’s mask
con permiso, he says, they like to lay eggs in my face
where are you going, I say
the women in my life, he says, stroking the bedpost
who let you in, I say
I watch for expressions in his belly, his cock
both curve out, back in, his even breathing
a bee enters my open window & lands on his thumb
I’m sorry, he says, I was just leaving
where were you going, I say
to finish what they started, he says

As in Alabama Steve, McGlynn is still being rained on by culture both pop and poetic.  But while Steve’s shout-outs were rapid-fire and comic-chaotic, like one of those Dylan songs about a goofy dream, IHtGBt1994&KaG is all about the tease.  In the above, the reader is doubly shocked by both the scene and by McGlynn’s ballsy borrowing of Plath’s nefarious beekeeper.  She knows she’s earned him, and keeps him around for the duration of the brief poem, neither she nor he doing much of anything.  It’s poems like this, incidentally, of which there are many (i.e., equally good and equally creepy), that have prompted other critics to interpret IHtGBt1994&KaG as an obliquely confessional book about abuse or molestation or whatever.  As many contemporary readers of poetry are so obsessed with victimhood that they think the leaves are being molested when the wind blows, this is not surprising—but I disagree.  The book is a psychosexual chiller, certainly, and McGlynn is starring, but also directing—she’s Hitchcock just as much as she’s his imperiled icy blonde, if not more so.  The abuse theorists are seeing less than half the picture.  IHtGBt1994&KaG is a whole horror movie in the head—because growing up is one—and as the head in question is McGlynn’s, she naturally plays every part: the doomed slut, the virginal Final Girl, the red herrings, and the killer h/im/er/self.

The trappings of girlhood are omnipresent and ironicized, in a very Liz-Phair-ish sort of way.  But as this is horror (Liz Scare?), said trappings are those of the girlhood occult: mirrors, Ouija, light-as-a-feather-stiff-as-a-board.  It’s a Slumber Party Massacre with only one guest.

But it’s not like this is some Joycean puzzle where you have to keep scrupulous track of symbols etc. to get anything out of the book.  There are plenty of radio-friendly standalones, e.g., how can you not love a book with this poem in it?:

“Would You Like Me to Walk Your Baby?”

I said to the couple on the airplane.
Don’t worry; I won’t drop him.  I’m a dancer;
I never drop anything.  Besides, I’m good with babies;
………………………………..I have big breasts and big eyes.
He’s just having a little altitude earache.  I’ll bounce him
on my huge breasts and sing something underneath my breath.
We’ll just take a little stroll down the aisle;
let you two get some shut-eye.
Sure, it’s narrow, but so am I.
………………………………..I have no hips to speak of.
Give me your baby, I said with my widening smile,
my enormous breasts, and my pointy pointy shoes.

Conversely, there are poems here that one must figure out how to read—as in literally, on the page, figure out how to read: in two columns, then three, then cross-hatched, tending to get more fragmented as the book progresses (as the, what, tear in the space-time continuum gets bigger?).  Some critics will be tempted to say that this is “vaginal” or some junk.  Whatevs.  Theory aside, these poems effectively heighten the trippy alienation at well-timed moments in the book’s progress.

They Shared Her on a Chicken White Sheet

and called her erin
winter……………………………who once was a soprano II
but moved to Minneapolis instead……………….in spite
…………………………………………….of her ankle tattoo
made a sound like filigree in fresh
powder…………………………..when they ratcheted her up
to their level and one boy said………………….you see this?
…………………………………………….and the other said
can it dance?  what with her whorl
of black…………………………..egg hair she’s ductile as a shoat
no sleigh of hoarfrost on the swiss…………….sloped roof
…………………………………………….and the sweetest
thing she wasn’t full
of parting shot…………………..and at least they still had her
pom socks to look forward to……………………that’s one thing
……………………………………………..about swing dancers

This is a formally experimental poem, and one of the best in the book.  It reads like Anne Sexton in a blender.  But it bears mentioning that, this one aside, the experimental poems in IHtGBt1994&KaG are less good than the less experimental ones—by which I simply mean that, in most cases, if I were showing the book to someone unfamiliar with McGlynn and they opened it to one of the chopped-up poems, I’d grab the book and say “No, not that one.”  But certainly, IHtGBt1994&KaG would not be IHtGBt1994&KaG without them, just as, say, The Unforgettable Fire would not be The Unforgettable Fire without the jams that swirl around the radio songs.  Karyna McGlynn has written a book of poems that is to be taken from start to finish like a concept album, and this is as impressive as it is risky.  Without all the opaque mindfucks, the book would be a less impressive achievement as a whole—but, on the other hand, it might contain even more individual poems that I really, really like.  But it was McGlynn’s call, and she made it.

On a similar note, the best poems in IHtGBt1994&KaG—“Amanda Hopper’s House,” “‘Would You Like Me to Walk Your Baby?’,” “They Shared Her on a Chicken White Sheet,” “We Both Dyed With Feria Starlet, I Couldn’t Dispossess a Girl,” “I Show Up Twelve Years Late For Curfew”—happen to be the ones that have the least to do with the overarching plot about achronological self-murder.  They explore the same emotional territory, but beyond that are simply excellent poems that happen to be in this book.  (This is not a flaw, just a technique—most of the songs on Sgt. Pepper don’t have anything identifiable to do with Sgt. Pepper, but who cares?)  At least, as far as I could tell.  For all I know, the fourth time around I’ll finally realize that these poems give away giant clues (or something).   In any case, I mention this in order to implore McGlynn to remember that, as hard as she can make blurbers cream themselves by experimenting, what she does best is write excellent stand-alone poems that are more-or-less comprehensible.  As many of my ten favorite Karyna McGlynn poems are in Alabama Steve as in IHtGBt1994&KaG, and any critic who doesn’t tell her the same is either afraid to say so, or has not read Alabama Steve, or is just a shithead.

This will continue to be an issue for McGlynn.  Having had some experience in the Slam scene in addition to her formidable academic resumé, and clearly someone who enjoys writing enjoyable poems, she has chops as a cackling pro-domme of pop, which at least to my way of thinking is a compliment.  But she is climbing the university ladder fast, and will face increased pressure (especially, sad to say, as an attractive woman) to distance herself from the pop fireworks and produce more work that will endear her to the Deludez & Fucktardi crowd.  She is said to be at work on a book-length poem for her follow-up, and I sincerely hope it is a fun book-length poem, as I feel it would be a mistake for a book by Karyna McGlynn not to be at least a little bit fun.  Too many poets who produced rockin’ first books in the late ‘90s and early ’00s bowed under academic pressure and crapped out subsequent volumes of passionless nonsense, and it would be a legitimate tragedy if McGlynn fell into the same darkness.  Especially since, if she sticks to her guns, she will likely wind up credited as one of the poets chiefly responsible for finally bringing the Academic Age to a most welcome end.

I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl is a deft and twisted little book about death, and it will reap academic accolades for its formal innovations, and anyone who has any sense about poetry will like it very much—but its author must not abandon the elements that made her indie stuff so dynamically alive.  As she has just plainly shown us, Karyna McGlynn has no trouble producing books that will please nonacademics and (reasonable) academics alike—but so far, her poems have always had to choose who to please more.  Someday she will produce a book where not only the book, but every poem in the book pleases both equally.  And that book will be one of the defining poetry collections of our generation.

The Great “Silm” Hoax?

Monday, March 1st, 2010

….Has a former Poet Laureate of the U.S. been punk’d by nerds?

.

Robert Hass is my favorite living poet.  I’m not trying to start a critical argument about whether he’s the best, but I enjoy reading his work the most.  When I was a junior in high school, I performed his “Berkeley Eclogue” (from Human Wishes) as my poetry piece in forensics-league oral interp, and years later I had the privilege of taking his workshop in my final semester at Iowa.  He even taught me my favorite word—or at least, I used to think so.

I first heard the word silm when Bob explained it from the podium at a reading in Iowa City in late 2000, before reading (perhaps an early version of) his poem that contains it, which later ended up in 2007’s Time and Materials:

Etymology

Her body by the fire
Mimicked the light-conferring midnights
Of philosophy.
Suppose they are dead now.
Isn’t “dead now” an odd expression?
The sound of the owls outside
And the wind soughing in the trees
Catches in their ears, is sent out
In scouting parties of sensation down their spines.
If you say it became language or it was nothing,
Who touched whom?
In what hurtle of starlight?
Poor language, poor theory
Of language. The shards of skull
In the Egyptian museum looked like maps of the wind-eroded
Canyon labyrinths from which,
Standing on the verge
In the yellow of a dwindling fall, you hear
Echo and re-echo the cries of terns
Fishing the worked silver of a rapids.
And what to say of her wetness? The Anglo-Saxons
Had a name for it. They called it silm.
They were navigators. It was also
Their word for the look of moonlight on the sea.

At the time, he identified silm as his favorite word and, mature poet that I am, I promptly stole it from him.  We need an elegant word for… well, pussy juice (you see how hard it is to refer to at all without being offensive?) in modern English, and silm fit the bill.  That “moonlight on the sea” double-meaning bit really made the ladies swoon.  It is not every poet who can make the ladies swoon by stepping up to a podium and saying “Here’s a new word I found for pussy juice,” but that’s Bob.

While working recently on an essay about offensive vs. inoffensive words for female sexual equipment and/or functions over on my other website, I was planning to bring up silm, and thought I’d go research it a bit first.  It’s a good thing I did.  Because I consulted multiple Anglo-Saxon dictionaries and, as far as I can tell, the word just straight-up never existed.

Unless the Anglo-Saxons omitted silm from their records but then privately sent Bob an e-mail about it, there was no such word.  One might assume that the word for pussy juice was simply left out of the dictionaries, but this doesn’t hold up, because if “It was also / Their word for the look of moonlight on the sea,” then it would be in the dictionaries with that definition.  The closest word they seem to have had, and the one that probably was their word for pussy juice (the Anglo-Saxons were notoriously blunt in their naming habits), was slim, with the “i” before the “l”—whither our modern slime, and pronounced the same way.  Presumably, a word that is effectively indistinguishable from “slime” (indeed, one that is technically the same word) does not have the same chances of catching on as the 21st century word of choice for pussy juice among the debonair of the Humanities building.

Plus, there’s nothing in there about the “moonlight on the sea” bit.  As far as I could tell, Hass just up and pulled that out of his ass.  Until I did a bit more research.  Once again, I’m glad I did.  Because it turns out that silm is actually one form of a word that does mean moonlight.  There’s only one problem…

…That word is not Anglo-Saxon.  It’s Quenya.

Quenya, as in the freaking language of the Elves from Lord of the Rings.

In case anyone who doesn’t follow poetry somehow stumbled upon this blog, be aware that this Robert Hass guy is a big deal.  He was Poet Laureate of the U.S. from ’95 to ’97, and he won the Pulitzer for the book that the silm poem is in.  I don’t know anyone in the game who wouldn’t name him among the top five living American poets, and really anyone who puts him outside the top three is probably just being contrarian (if you’re looking to get into him btw, the book to start with in my opinion is Human Wishes).  You may have had a poetry instructor in college with several acclaimed books out who you thought was a big deal, but Bob Hass is more important than that person to the same degree that Bob Dylan is more important than Alice In Chains.

And he has, apparently, been bullshitting the poetry world for ten years based on a made-up language from Lord of the Rings.

This may have been an accident, of course.  It’s not like one would have to be a giant Tolkien nerd to come across silm, as it appears in the title of The Silmarillion (which name comes from silima, the shining substance used by Fëanor son of Finwë to forge the silmarils from the essences of the Two Trees of Valinor before Melkor, later Morgoth, could send the giant spider Ungoliant to oh who gives a shit).  Hass could have assumed the root was valid Anglo-Saxon, as much of Tolkien is, and accidentally conflated it in his memory with a very similar word for pussy juice in which the two central letters are transposed.  Or someone else could have made this mistake, and then Hass heard it from that guy and didn’t think to double-check his research.  Or some giant nerd could have deliberately played a prank on one of the greatest living poets.  Or said poet could in fact secretly be a giant nerd himself, and playing said prank on us.

If it is the last option, of course, then Robert Hass is an ever greater genius than I thought he was.  He made up a word for pussy juice that was actually a word for glowing magic tree soul from J.R.R. Tolkien’s most impenetrably nerdy book, tricked women into thinking it was elegant and romantic, tricked tons of English geeks including me into using the word for a decade thinking they were so suave, and then put the word in a book and won the Pulitzer Prize for it.  Only Hass knows for sure, and I hope you will join me in a public call for him to come forward.

But one thing is sure: the word silm is not Anglo-Saxon, and means none of the things the Hass poem purports it to.  Which means that, after ten years, the most elegant English word for female sexual fluid is once again “femme-spooge.”

Sóðlice.