"My Sex Is Magic"
August 19, 2014 9:28 PM   Subscribe

Brenna Twohy, representing Portland, OR, performs her poem "Fantastic Breasts and Where To Find Them," about Harry Potter, pornography, and non-consent, at the 2014 National Poetry Slam.
posted by ocherdraco (67 comments total) 105 users marked this as a favorite
 
oh. my. god.

I love this.
posted by The Whelk at 9:48 PM on August 19, 2014 [6 favorites]


I saw this on tumblr earlier (ironically, cut up into little animated pieces) and was very curious, so I'm glad to see the genuine article! Great poem. Great poet. Great performance.
posted by mrjohnmuller at 9:53 PM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


"I know a slaughterhouse when I see one" — that's the kind of poetry that really sticks in my neural networks. Indeed!
posted by mbrock at 10:15 PM on August 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


I like the poem, and I'm fine with the message, but the style of verbal inflection and staccato delivery of poetry slam poems all seem the same these days. I'm seriously ready for something to break that flow up.
posted by bswinburn at 10:39 PM on August 19, 2014 [16 favorites]


You grow used to the sounds of the screaming

This is good stuff and I enjoyed it (though as someone who only watches videos of slam poetry when they are posted here, do they all have this same cadence and style or just the ones that go viral?).
posted by Dip Flash at 10:40 PM on August 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


I really liked this.

But yeah, it seems like all spoken stuff (good and bad) is done in that style. I stopped going to slams because it felt like cutting through thick weeds. It seems that with the viral ones especially, the poet fixes on a single gear and holds it to 11 no matter what. There's room and appreciation for subtlety and nuance, but the subtle ones get the lower scores.

Compare to some of my favorite stuff from Ani DiFranco: How soft and intimate, how almost whispery she sounds on The Slant. Or how Tiptoe starts so strident and bold and yet she reveals herself to be thoughtful, conflicted, yet resolute.

I hope we see more variety in these poems. The poets have a unique perspective and deserve a better mold than that sliding singsong.
posted by mochapickle at 10:53 PM on August 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


Good one! And I think I suddenly "got" what interests people about erotic fanfic.
posted by Harald74 at 11:00 PM on August 19, 2014 [5 favorites]


Uh, is this where I throw in a quick "Mefi's own"?

Thanks for posting this. I was really grateful to get to perform at NPS this year, and that my work was so well received.

Slam is weird, and "slam voice" is weird, and it's definitely a crutch. I'mma chalk this one up to this being a 4 minute poem being smushed into 2:49, but I DEFINITELY UNDERSTAND what PEOPLE are SAYING. (For some slam background, Portland is the only slam in the country that doesn't have time penalties. Or judges. Or scores. Fuckin' hippies.)
posted by frizzle at 11:22 PM on August 19, 2014 [156 favorites]


Hi! Yay for mefites making cool things! Is the full 4 minute poem up anywhere online? I'd love to see it.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:26 PM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


OH I FORGOT TO MENTION (which is actually the whole reason I was commenting in the first place!) that MetaFilter is actually what got me into poetry in the first place. It was this post from 2010 that introduced me to spoken word, and I listened to each of those poems on repeat for a few months before mustering up the courage to go to the slam in Portland. So THANKS.
posted by frizzle at 11:37 PM on August 19, 2014 [80 favorites]


Absolutely brilliant. I love it.
posted by shibori at 11:47 PM on August 19, 2014


Wow, this is all my interests smooshed into one. Nicely done.
posted by divabat at 11:54 PM on August 19, 2014


re slam voice: How To Write a Political Poem
posted by divabat at 11:55 PM on August 19, 2014 [5 favorites]


I really liked this.

But yeah, it seems like all spoken stuff (good and bad) is done in that style


I really haven't listened to much poetry in well over a decade, but I vastly prefer this to the cold wind moaning through the tilted and cracked gravestones intoning style that was de rigueur for so long.
posted by jamjam at 11:58 PM on August 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


And I'm very grateful I didn't go through puberty as the Harry Potter books were coming out.
posted by jamjam at 12:05 AM on August 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


Thank you for posting this. Outstanding.
posted by kinnakeet at 12:34 AM on August 20, 2014


Love it and love that metafilter had a role in frizzle's* development as an artist!

*or, if you are frizzle, your development as an artist.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:40 AM on August 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


I really dug this and felt it relied less on the slam cadence than a lot of stuff I've seen, but it's still there.

God, I love fanfiction. Fanworks in general. Folk art and amateur erotica for the internet age. The world is all kinds of fucked up right now but I'm glad to be in a world where all of us passionate-to-obsessive about fictional characters people can meet; looking at the sheer scope of AO3, the millions and millions of words on there, it fills my heart in that sort of proud almost-drunk I-love-you-guys way, because I've been reading fanfic for long enough that I learned how lesbian sex worked from fanfiction.net.

Though that fic did take some liberties with canon. There's no way vibrators would work on Hogwarts grounds.
posted by NoraReed at 12:56 AM on August 20, 2014 [5 favorites]


awesome! well done!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:49 AM on August 20, 2014


Yes. Excellent.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 1:56 AM on August 20, 2014


I've been told that brooms have certain oscillatory properties.
posted by knuckle tattoos at 2:19 AM on August 20, 2014 [15 favorites]


well done!
posted by angrycat at 3:42 AM on August 20, 2014


I love this and it gave me little tears. thank you for such a beautiful gift to the world.
posted by xarnop at 5:27 AM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


A poet should know what a backslash is, and how it isn't used in URLs.

GOSH.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:32 AM on August 20, 2014 [14 favorites]


This was a great poem. Well done!
posted by gauche at 6:42 AM on August 20, 2014


frizzle, absolutely spectacular - loved it! You lull us into thinking you're talking about one thing and then BAM, nope! Great setup, great execution.

Don't listen to the haters - your delivery fit the tone of the poem perfectly.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 6:54 AM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I'm a total fan of your work here, and I don't even like HP. ( 7 books, really? I'd suggest that was about the time Pratchett was hitting his stride.... )
posted by mikelieman at 6:57 AM on August 20, 2014


Now you're on BoingBoing as well, frizzle.
posted by Harald74 at 7:05 AM on August 20, 2014


Is anywhere one (specifically, one who has forgotten one's headphones) could read the text of the poem? Or is the value in the "spoken" part?
posted by AmandaA at 7:06 AM on August 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


I feel like complaining about slam voice is like complaining about rap cadences.

It's what slam sounds like. All sorts of things have their stylistic idiosyncrasies. So what?
posted by maxsparber at 7:14 AM on August 20, 2014 [4 favorites]


It's what slam sounds like. All sorts of things have their stylistic idiosyncrasies. So what?

I think that's a fair question, max. But to my ear, there's a lot of variety in rap cadences, with no particular cadence to rule them all. It's part of why that form can be so sublime.

What committee decided slam had to sound one particular way? How come Twohy's exceptional perspective and language has to shoehorn into a rhythm and manner of speaking that's not particularly one size fits all? The best part of the performance is the end where she breaks the cadence -- which I suspect was intentional as part of the theme.
posted by mochapickle at 7:40 AM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


I love slam poetry, cadences and all, but don't know how anyone listens to a whole evening of it; it's intense and exhausting and after one poem, I generally want to stop and think about it (if it's any good) so that I don't forget. I'm grateful when they get videotaped, so that I can go back and re-listen.
posted by emjaybee at 7:49 AM on August 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


For years I've heard the argument that porn is dehumanizing and I always thought yeah yeah, whatever, it doesn't bother me. This poem made me grok that argument. Nicely done.
posted by GrapeApiary at 7:58 AM on August 20, 2014 [6 favorites]


Yeah, this is fantastic. Great work!
posted by frenetic at 8:24 AM on August 20, 2014


I love this on so many levels. A perfect articulation of the thoughts I have been trying to explain for ages.
posted by Hopeful and Cynical at 8:27 AM on August 20, 2014


This is funny and tender and beautiful and so so powerful. Well done!
posted by incountrysleep at 8:32 AM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Poets have been experimenting with spoken cadence since at least 1915 -- it was one of the ideas that broke modern poetry away from classical poetry, in that poets started writing in cadence rather than an established meter, and was seen as restoring poetry to its oral tradition.

The cadences used by many slam poets are from the legacy of beat poetry, which borrowed its cadences and the rise and fall of its tones from jazz. I can allow that there might be listeners with a sophisticated ear for when it is done well and when it isn't, and that seems like a valid critique of slam poetry, but almost every single slam thread has people complaining about the way slam poets read, which is complaining about a tradition that originated almost a century ago and has been exploring what we think of as slam cadence for a half century, and if you don't especially like the tradition, fair enough. There are other threads about other traditions. But this is what slam sounds like, and discussing a well-established and longstanding form distracts from its content.

Speaking of which, I came up during a time when poetry had largely been consigned to academia. I went to a lot of poetry readings when I was younger, and there was a lot of preciousness to it, and a lot of gatekeeping, and as a result the movement seemed largely dominated by middle-class, white academics, and reflected their concerns and experiences. When I studied poetry in schools, the classes had also become, perhaps inevitably, academized, so that we learned of established poetry movements, but very little about the democratic history of poetry -- that for most of the history of poetry, it was something that was practiced by regular humans. We didn't learn about things like the prison tradition of poetry, toasting, that helped form the DNA of rap. We didn't learn about newspaper doggerel, or soldier poetry, or the various traditions of bawdy satiric poetry that has been a constant through history. I think we only learned of the beats because they were all grad school drop outs and had been thoroughly absorbed by the academic world.

Fortunately, this was as anomalous as it seemed to me. One of the thrilling things about slam is that it has so effectively redemocratized poetry. And as a result, people who might not have made it past an earlier generation of scholarly gatekeepers are able to use the form to express their own experiences and concerns. They used to say blues was the daily paper of the black community -- slam serves a similar function for a variety of communities that are otherwise marginalized by mainstream media. Harry Potter slash fiction? Most of the mainstream media wouldn't bother to touch the subject, or, if they did, would treat it as an amusing oddity. They certainly wouldn't present it as an alternative to the sort of porn that a younger generation grows up consuming, which is beset with all sorts of unspoken misogynistic assumptions and representations, which the poem articulates and enumerates.

I guess if you hear something like that, and think the form is a more interesting discussion than the content, and don't start out asking why that form developed, why people choose it, and if it is chosen because it benefits or adds counterpoint to the content that we may not be aware of ...

Well, it seems a funny priority.
posted by maxsparber at 8:36 AM on August 20, 2014 [37 favorites]


I very much like the idea of poetry (or any expression) about the perception of women as human beings as opposed to bolted together useful collections of sex toys, don't get me wrong...but I was a little disappointed given the title that this wasn't more about fan fiction and how people love it (that's just the intro).
posted by trackofalljades at 8:56 AM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


maxsparber, I would love to know more about these alternate histories of poetry (never heard of toasting...how interesting!). Is there anything out there that's good to read about this topic?
posted by emjaybee at 9:07 AM on August 20, 2014


but I was a little disappointed given the title that this wasn't more about fan fiction and how people love it

I was a little disappointed too, but I really identified with the poem and what it was saying about the contrast between oft-derided porny fanfiction and mainstream porn. Fanfiction was basically my introduction to porn, and it straight up ruined me for pretty much all other forms of porn, precisely for the reasons frizzle lays out in the poem. I thought the shifts from the fun and joy of erotic fan fiction to the comparative emptiness of porn to the problems of rape culture were well-executed and thought-provoking.
posted by yasaman at 9:24 AM on August 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


maxsparber, I would love to know more about these alternate histories of poetry (never heard of toasting...how interesting!).

Here are some introductory resources:

Toasting:

Article from Louisiana Folklife; nice selection of book recommendations at end
Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me: Terrific recording from the oral tradition

Newspaper doggerel:

Article, unfortunately behind paywall, of the tradition; there has been little academic investigation into the subject
I have just started republishing Irish-American newspaper doggerel, so there is a small collection on my page

Soldier poems:

Article on poetry section in Stars and Stripes magazine
The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry

Bawdy Satiric Poetry (NSFW):

Russian chatushki
History of the limerick
Ribald poems in England
posted by maxsparber at 9:43 AM on August 20, 2014 [11 favorites]


You know, while I agree with everything in the poem, I'm wondering about the differences between what men and women find erotic. There is the old saw (true or not) that men are primarily visual, while women's turn-ons tend to be more thoughtful or context-based (i.e., "the brain is a woman's best erogenous zone"). So I wonder if this explains in part the distinction between the generally-male audience of "regular" porn (being primarily visual) and the generally-female audience of erotic fan-fic (existing primarily in one's own head).

None of this is meant to contradict the very real sentiment expressed in the poem, and yes, these are stereotypical generalities, but I wonder if there's something to it.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 10:34 AM on August 20, 2014


I'd note, however, that all the messed-up visual pornography things she mentions are more contextual than visual.
posted by Zalzidrax at 11:12 AM on August 20, 2014


A good point, and I agree with her criticisms.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 11:15 AM on August 20, 2014


I really haven't listened to much poetry in well over a decade, but I vastly prefer this to the cold wind moaning through the tilted and cracked gravestones intoning style that was de rigueur for so long.

Heh, I remember being enthralled when I first encountered Sylvia Plath's poetry because it sounded like fucking hip-hop. Then when I heard a clip of her reading it I was like "who let the Victorian ghost in?"
posted by threeants at 1:06 PM on August 20, 2014 [5 favorites]


I avoided listening to it (for a number of reasons) and I was SO pleasantly surprised by the lack of cadence issues that I was sort of shocked. Usually it's something I fight through to get to the poem but this delivery was good, felt raw in a way the cadence sometimes elides.

The visual vs intellectual is a red herring - as Zalzidrax points out the criticisms aren't about unreal bodies, they're about context. It's not about the age of the characters, it's about the way that age is fetishised around the spectre of illegality. It's not about lesbians, or BDSM, but the way those are fetishised until meaningless. It's the way mainstream porn is BDSM maledom porn, sans negotiations and boundaries (the safety or the sanity or consent or risk-awareness or any of the buzzwords). Because, really, fanfic does all of those things, including the awful things, but there is a culture of consent that is missing textually and subtextually from mainstream visual porn.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:23 PM on August 20, 2014 [7 favorites]


Not particular to the slam cadence either. That said this performance overcomes by preference both in style and content.
posted by xtian at 5:12 PM on August 20, 2014


Because, really, fanfic does all of those things, including the awful things, but there is a culture of consent that is missing textually and subtextually from mainstream visual porn.

Well, let's not be too black and white, though. Didn't Fifty Shades of Grey begin as fanfic? And doesn't that have some serious consent issues? (I haven't read it, so it's a sincere question.)
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 5:57 PM on August 20, 2014


I like the poem, and I'm fine with the message, but the style of verbal inflection and staccato delivery of poetry slam poems all seem the same these days. I'm seriously ready for something to break that flow up.

Anything
can be a slam
poem
if you say it like this

posted by azarbayejani at 6:13 PM on August 20, 2014


Good content, good delivery. Thanks frizzle.
posted by evilDoug at 6:17 PM on August 20, 2014


This is fantastic.
posted by sparkletone at 10:47 PM on August 20, 2014


Here's something on why people read poetry
with that certain poetry cadence.

The audio on top of the page is
better than the text,
for the obvious reason that you can hear what's being
talked about.
posted by ShooBoo at 11:36 PM on August 20, 2014


I loved this so much. I'm really flummoxed about how you can watch that and come out of the experience grousing about how she said it.
posted by Kimberly at 4:57 AM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Excellent. Well done frizzle.
posted by glasseyes at 10:33 AM on August 21, 2014


That was fantastic, frizzle!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:41 AM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Well, let's not be too black and white, though. Didn't Fifty Shades of Grey begin as fanfic? And doesn't that have some serious consent issues? (I haven't read it, so it's a sincere question.)

I said culture not 'every single thing written ever'. Just like you can find visual porn with excellent consent structures, you can find fanfic devoid of them. But on a subculture level? It's 'tagged for dubcon because one character is drunk but they are both consenting' vs 'drunk bitches get banged'.

Are there problems in fanfic? Yes. It's written by people so it follows. But if 50 Shades of Grey is what you're gonna bring out as a 'well, don't be too hasty with your praise for fanfic' in comparison to visual porn then your argument is invalided by even the most cursory glance over mainstream porn titles.

(And 50SoG is an outlier in fanfic, and owes a lot more success to marketing than quality)
posted by geek anachronism at 1:48 AM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


That was great. I feel this poem takes on sexism today like "Your Revolution" by Sarah Jones took on sexist rap lyrics in the 90s.
posted by yoHighness at 2:41 AM on August 22, 2014


If we're going to compare fanfic culture to porn culture, may I remind you that feminist queer porn exists and is generally more active about consent and fair representation than a lot of fanfic is (especially around woman/woman relationships).
posted by divabat at 4:28 AM on August 22, 2014


Heh, I remember being enthralled when I first encountered Sylvia Plath's poetry because it sounded like fucking hip-hop. Then when I heard a clip of her reading it I was like "who let the Victorian ghost in?"

The best poetry is on the page. You read it in your head. Eventually, you just memorize it and hear it in any voice you like, any time you like.
posted by pracowity at 12:05 AM on August 23, 2014


I think it's kind of hilariously ironic that in a post about a woman talking about porn, so much focus is on *how* she delivered the message, not on what she said… I swear we've had this kind of conversation before.

I think the real problem in terms of the subject raised by the poem is people criticizing her for the kind of porn she looks at. One of the benefits of fanfic is that the subjects are fictional entities written on paper, so unlike the movies no human being is actually being degraded or abused.

Also, you can just say slash. You almost never mean backslash unless you describing a file path in DOS or escaping special characters.
posted by Deathalicious at 11:12 PM on August 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


so much focus is on *how* she delivered the message, not on what she said...

Well, it is a poem, and a performance.
posted by Segundus at 1:23 AM on August 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Every time y'all mention "slash" this thread it takes me a minute to realize you're talking about the punctuation mark and not gay fanfiction
posted by NoraReed at 11:33 AM on August 24, 2014


considering the topic it could be both
posted by The Whelk at 11:35 AM on August 24, 2014


hetero fanfic should be heretofore referred to as backslash fiction
posted by NoraReed at 11:55 AM on August 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


And where does barebackslash fiction live?
posted by Hermione Granger at 4:56 PM on August 25, 2014


idk I don't seek out heterosexuality as a rule, with or without protection
posted by NoraReed at 6:11 PM on August 25, 2014


A poet should know what a backslash is, and how it isn't used in URLs.

What's especially frustrating is that the correct word, slash, in addition to serving the utilitarian purpose of verbalizing a URL, would also work perfectly as a toe-dip into the butchery motif.

That is my only criticism.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:57 AM on August 26, 2014


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