Wednesday, September 17, 2008


There is an online site called, and as you might infer, it's a massive compendium of poems organized by topic. The lists of topics themselves intrigue. Here's just a piece of the alphabetical list:


An arguably interesting writing-prompt would simply be to start with this list, begin making phrases, lines, and sentences (with additional words as needed), and see where the language led one. Richard Hugo advises this kind of approach (in The Triggering Town), when he advises poets to write "off the subject." His logic is that a poet's obsessions will out, one way or another, and that therefore one should concentrate on the medium (language), not the message. In fact, he advises that if you have a choice between conveying your "message" and writing language that is more pleasing than the language that contains the message, go with the pleasing language every time. Of course, much in writers resists such advice, which is counterintuitive because we are accustomed to thinking of language as transmission of message. Elsewhere Hugo humorously writes, "If you want to communicate, use a telephone."

At any rate, when I looked at the topics on, I realized I'd never written a poem, strictly speaking, about sex. Of course I'd written some poems that referred to sex, one way or another, but I'd never written "sex" at the top of the page and started a poem. Certainly, "sex" seems like a very good topic for a poem; this claims seems indisputable. At the same time, poets who've been writing for a while know that the so-called sex-poem can be simply graphic, pornographic, and/or surprisingly not-sexy--that is to say, boring. Nevertheless, I decided to write a poem entitled "Sex," although the poem itself seems to be as much about language as it is about sex, no surprise there.


is an excellent syllable, which
detonates meaning and is fillable
with much connotation. Of course
it conjures a deed done and conjugal
entanglements of bodies, when love
or lust gets down to earthy business,
when desire fires itself up and down
and on (and out of) the town. Sex
is also an implied question on a form

that may be answered M or F,
even if you’re in a mood to
answer Yes or No or Maybe So,
or "I'll get back to you later" or
"What about it?"Sex is not solely
one thing or two but more
than a few and human, too.

Sex at times is a semiotic nexus
(how sexual that sounds!) suggesting
bawdy, haughty, naughty, hottie
bodies, which touch and much more
in sex’s neck of the woulds and coulds,
the musts and lusts. Sometimes sex is
subtly intimated simply by the two-letter
syllable, it, as in getting it on, doing it,
making it, and even, alas, faking it. Oh

yes, there’s that other effing eff-word,
the one that rhymes with truck
and gets so often stuck in awkward syntactical
positions. Sex is life in frenzied love
with itself, all lips and hips, rounds
and flats, sultry strategies and tender
tactics, loads of lust and convoys
of cupidity, sensual consensual
congress. Sex can cause stupidity—
would you agree?—and vice versa.
Sex is a state of union, an exhilarating
expiration, a getting up, a getting with
it, a going down, a fear and fondness
of flying, a finding out and a knowing
about. It has been known to be
a bit of a chore, an occasional bore.
It’s mysterious and base, crude and holy,
much cause for consternation,
controversy, rules, and fools. Sex
is something else again. And again.

Hans Ostrom Copyright 2008 Hans Ostrom
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