It started with this op-ed from Vida. Salt, which stopped publishing individual collections in favour of best-of anthologies, selected a poem entitled “Thank You for Swallowing My Cum” for its next poetry edition. The poem in question was originally published in a webmagazine called B O D Y, a magazine that made critical comments on a submitter’s picture and then forwarded it back to her, thus ensuring many women poets, myself included, would never submit to that publication.
It’s not really about the poem itself, or its quality, or the poet, or his quality. It’s about contributing to a cultural dialogue. Taking a poem with this title and publishing it in a year-end best-of edited by men is a propagation of the dominant discourse – but the discourse of British poetry is not limited to men’s voices. Taking it further, apply Caitlin Moran‘s theory on feminism from How to Be a Woman: “You can tell whether some misogynistic societal pressure is being exerted on women by calmly enquiring, ‘And are the men doing this, as well?’ If they aren’t, chances are you’re dealing with what we strident feminists refer to as ‘some total fucking bullshit’.” A poem by a woman about a man entitled “Thank You for Swallowing My Cum” changes the dynamic of the sexual encounter, and that is why Parker’s poem is problematic. A woman should be ‘grateful’ to a man for going down on her, so says the dominant discourse. She’s being done a favour. This is the same ‘total fucking bullshit’ that argues a woman smiles on her wedding day because she’s given her last-ever blowjob. That is not equality.
I am not a prude – hell, if I had a problem with strong sexual or graphic content I would have zero publication credits – but this isn’t about being a prude. It’s about saying enough is enough. If my 20something self could see me now I’m sure she’d have no idea what the hell happened to me, but I can tell you: I’m done with ‘learn to take a joke’. I’m done with this idea that *your* sexist joke should be the exception. I’m done with “more men submit to us than women” or “we publish quality writing” as though women don’t write with quality. I’m done with being expected to have a sense of humour, as though sexism is funny; I’m done with being expected to be the one who has to bend, or compromise; I’m done with taking the blame or being expected to shoulder the burden of what ‘men’ seemingly are not expected to be held accountable for. I’m done with the notion that women’s bodies are a point of public discussion. I’m done with women being responsible for preventing rape, with being ridiculed for wanting birth control, for being punished for having a period, for using their voices.
I’m done with sucking it up. And I’m not alone.
Poetry is a form of protest. So let this be another one, in the spirit of Against Rape, in the spirit of Catechism, in the spirt of Binders Full of Women’s Poems: if you’re done sucking it up, submit your poems. There are two requirements: your poem must be good and it must challenge the preconceived notions that hurt all of us, of every colour, gender, sexuality, age, religion, nationality and shape.