Thursday, January 3, 2008

Craft: Writing the Body. Or, Let's Talk About Sex.

Now, for some juicy craft conversation. Let's talk about Sex. You know you want talk about it, and write about it. The good, the bad, the ugly. The slow, the fast, the languorous and the frantic. You know, deep down, you've had some experiences that you could write to bring a knowing/wry/sad/pleased smile to someone's face as they dredge up their own memory. So, what's stopping you?

I'll tell you what's stopping me, or at least frustrating me. It's the idea that when it comes to sex, there's nothing new under the sun. Despite Cosmo's monthly announcements of "Hot New Sex Positions," the Kama Sutra is an ancient text. People have been doing it for centuries. How do you make it refreshing and interesting in your writing?

Someone (I think I'll attribute this one to Jeanie Thompson, my current MFA semester mentor and executive director of the Alabama Writers' Forum) told me there are only three great subjects to write on anyway: love, death (and I have forgotten the other), so it's of little use to worry about coming up with a new topic. The key is to find a refreshing way to address the subject.

Writing a good poem capturing the essence of an intimate moment, that forceful pre-hurricane lull of foreplay, the full-on bodystorm of sex, the lazy, lolling aftersex feeling...that is a decent goal to have. And then there are those in-between moments to capture, when we wonder if, as our lover ran his hand down our side to our hip, if he noticed the bulge of our spare tire, or the fact that, when on our backs, our breasts make a beeline to our armpits...of course, these are all tinged with personal (female) experience, but I have had enough intimate conversations with good girlfriends to know that these things are pretty universal.

Now, if they're universal, can't we be sure folks will know what we're getting at? I mean, nearly everyone knows what we mean if we say "throes of passion." But how do we evoke this sort of universal experience while maintaining the unique moment we have locked in our own mind, without the crutch of the 'expected?' I tell you: make up your own words. Language is organic, it evolves and grows. I used the word "bodystorm" above, because I couldn't think of another word from the dictionary I preferred at the moment. Did you understand what I was getting at? Are you upset with me because I didn't follow what's available in the Oxford English Dictionary? Let yourself run wild. Use your energy to create, not just to re-state. If you end up running too rampant with yourself, well, that's what revision is for.

This doesn't make it much easier, I'll admit. I am still working on quite a few pieces where I am trying to recapture that one delicious moment I relive over and over with my eyes closed...and getting onto paper is a pain in the hind end. But the attempt in itself is useful: I can see what cliches come to mind, I can cast and recast my mental line looking for new ways to describe age-old things. And sometimes, surprisingly, I find that there really is no way to recast certain things in a way I like, and I find that a phrase like "belly to belly" is exactly what I was looking for in the first place, and it was everything around it I needed to change.

Now, because of certain publisher rules (such as sending only unpublished material as submissions, and anything posted on the 'net, including a blog, is considered 'published' for their purposes), I won't be posting any of my current sex-works-in-progress here. But hey - extra eyes and critique are always useful, so feel free to email. I'll show you mine if you show me yours! *grin*

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