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Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Country Matters (Sonnet: "The orgasm completely...")


Farm girls and boys dancing to a jukebox at Mary's Place on U.S Highway 29 near Charlottesville, Virginia
: photo by John Vachon, March 1943 (Farm Security Administration / Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

The orgasm completely
Takes the woman out of her
Self in a wave of ecstasy
That spreads through all of her body.
Her nervous, vascular and muscular
Systems participate in the act.
The muscles of the pelvis contract
And discharge a plug of mucus from the cervix
While the muscular sucking motions of the cervix
Facilitate the incoming of the semen.
At the same time the constrictions of the pelvic
Muscles prevent the loss of semen. The discharge
Makes the acid vaginal lubricant
Alkaline, so as not to destroy the spermatozoa.

TC: Sonnet: "The orgasm completely...", 1967, from Stones, 1969

Farm girls and boys dancing to a jukebox at Mary's Place on U.S Highway 29 near Charlottesville, Virginia: photo by John Vachon, March 1943 (Farm Security Administration / Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

I wonder, by my troth, what thou, and I
Did, till we loved? were we not weaned till then,

But sucked on country pleasures, childishly?

John Donne (1572-1631), The Good Morrow, n.d. (after 1602), from Poems (published posthumously, 1633)

Lady, shall I lie in your lap?

Lying down at OPHELIA's feet

No, my lord.
I mean, my head upon your lap?
Ay, my lord.
Do you think I meant country matters?
I think nothing, my lord.
That's a fair thought to lie between maids' legs.
What is, my lord?
You are merry, my lord.
Who, I?
Ay, my lord.
O God, your only jig-maker. What should a man do
but be merry? for, look you, how cheerfully my
mother looks, and my father died within these two hours.
Nay, 'tis twice two months, my lord.
William Shakespeare: Hamlet, 1600-1601, III.ii. 112-127

country: 'I could find out countries in her' (Comedy of Errors, III.ii.112-113): pudend and adjacencies.

country matters , or, in Quarto I, 'contrary matters', where, clearly, the same pun is intended. Immediately after the Hamlet quotation at lap: 'Do you think I meant country matters?'

It is clear that Hamlet meant, 'Do you think I am referring to sexual matters?': matters concerned with
cunt; the first pronouncing element of country is coun. Ex. Old Fr cuntré (a fact not irrelevant): L. (terra) contrata.

Eric Partridge: Shakespeare's Bawdy, 1947

Well you know that it's a shame and a pity

You were raised up in the city
And you never learned nothing 'bout country ways,
Ah, 'bout country ways.

Country Joe McDonald: from Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine, 1967

It is, to a very large extent, the writers we discover at a critical juncture in our lives who influence what and how we write ourselves -- or, perhaps, even if we write at all. For me, it was Paul Carroll's
The Young American Poets that changed-- literally, or perhaps, literarily -- my life. I discovered it on a shelf in my not very well stocked high school library when I was, maybe, sixteen. I suspect that if the librarian herself, or certainly the principal, had read the anthology, it would have been promptly removed... But no one else in the school ever did read that particular book because once I'd checked it out, I kept renewing it over and over and over again, and, I must confess, failed (unintentionally, I swear) to return it before I graduated. I didn't know what to make of... Tom Clark's "Sonnet," a clinical description of a female orgasm that was arranged into fourteen lines but obeyed none of the other rules for sonnets... It was all a far cry from the Romantic poets we were reading in sophomore English, where Wordsworth's "Intimations of Immortality" made me (blame it on adolescent hormones or an early onset of that iconic nostalgia) weep openly in class. I wasn't sure I liked everything in Carroll's collection, but I was thrilled to know it existed, that there were young American poets out there doing strange and wonderful things with words.

Grace Bauer: "Baby Boomer Issue(s)", Prairie Schooner, Summer 2009

Stones (cover by Joe Brainard): Tom Clark, 1969


Delia Psyche said...

When I was an undergrad, one of my English profs called Tom Clark's orgasm sonnet "an attempt to defame the sonnet." Those were his words. I hadn't read the sonnet yet. Years later, when I was working on a teaching certificate and sitting in a room full of fledgling English teachers, the prof brought up "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird." I asked--knowing what the answer would be, since I was the only reader of poetry in the room--"Have you guys ever read Tom Clark's parody of that, 'Eleven Ways of Looking at a Shitbird'?" The prof, an anal retentive preppy, scowled. The other students were silent. I thought, "But I'm talking about poetry!"

ACravan said...

It's utterly fascinating to read this -- your poem from Stones, the other material, and especially Grace Bauer's memoir, which I might have written myself because I shared the same experience. Curtis P.S. Caroline and I both loved The Great Naropa Poetry Wars, which we read upon publication. C.

TC said...


It all comes back to haunt me. The Stevens parody infuriated Holly Stevens. (Surprise.)


That phantom apparition of TGNPW that drifted through here... well, I figured this post will get me in enough trouble as it is, without letting that particular ghost stick around for long.

I blame it all on centuries of sleep deprivation (said Dracula).

Perhaps I should hasten to add that this is literally a country poem. It was taken from a medical text of the turn of the last century, which I found on a book shelf where it had been collecting mould for... well, almost centuries. That was in the woods of Vermont, literally the country. There was little to do in the woods, no orgasms, nothing. Ron and Pat Padgett were sleeping in a room above. Pat was largely pregnant, so I don't know if any orgasms were happening up there either.

Actually I have learned several things about this poem, if not about orgasms, in the years since then. First, orgasms are strictly women's province, men ought never write about them. (Well, technically I hadn't, but who was to know that?) Also, I learned that the poem is not only politically but anatomically incorrect, in a huge way. Actually I knew all that back then, somehow. But recklessness is bred of youth.

And to give that musty old inaccurate medical text its due... at least it cannot be accused of romanticism.

I had hidden the poem away in a mental drawer for all that time, until that article by Grace Bauer prompted me to think I might be able to get away with this.

But just because John Donne, Shakespeare and my homey Country Joe could get away with it doesn't mean I get to have my own private Renaissance of sleep-deprivation and parody, now.

Does it?



Great! John Vachon's photos, your (so clinically racy) sonnet, Donne, Hamlet & Ophelia, Partridge, Country Joe, Grace Bauer, Joe Brainard's cover for Stones -- "go ahead, make my day" . . .


light coming into clouds above shadowed
ridge, whiteness of moon next to branch
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

what is to come, appearance
something else itself

evident, so to speak, which
might appear it seems

orange edge of sun above shadowed ridge,
waning white moon in sky across from it

TC said...


Go ahead, make my day by saying nice things like that... and writing gorgeous lines like these:

orange edge of sun above shadowed ridge,
waning white moon in sky across from it

That's a wonderful horizonal sweep.

Best I can offer in return is echo of traffic heading bridgeward, dinosaur road rippers lining on the freeway feeder to tear out the top two inches of pavement from the Circle all the way down hill, and rumours of battery on the bestial floor up at Sproul today. No es bueno. Dreams where hath thy fled.

But hey -- "clinically racy"! -- with that kind note, things are definitely looking up (if not quite standing up, but that would probably be too much to ask, at the clinic).

Anonymous said...

This post has resuscitated, with the breath of sex, the unmistakable spiced breeze of country air, my morning.

Nin Andrews said...

Ah, but if you write too much about orgasms you might find yourself forever beholden to them. I had a reading once in Indiana and had decided not to read a single poem my Book of Orgasms, and during Q and A, I was scolded and told to make amends asap.

TC said...

Yes, Brad, isn't it curious how the strange pull or dragweight of the poem mysteriously transforms the innocent-seeming, slightly gawky farm kids into covertly motivated packages of rampant glands, joined together in the common and mutual understanding that out in the truck later, or perhaps upon the bestial floor or in the actual bed of hay behind the barn out back of Mary's Place, a monster of shuddering temporary desire is aching to be born.

Something makes me think, if not actually remember, that the original medical author, or at least the book, came from Boston. That would about fit.

I've had occasion to pause and ponder the pressingly relevant question -- "Just exactly how did he do his research on this subject?"

To be honest, I'd never given a thought to the idea that someone might find the poem sexy, after, that is, the lovely and totally sexy first quatrain. The affect I get from the cold mechanistic diagramming that follows is of a somewhat smug confidence that a certain pre-specified procedure has been put into motion and will inevitably proceed according to plan.

But then, one remembers there are people who find computers sexy.

ACravan said...

I've always thought the poem had warmth, humor and personality. I associate it -- for obvious reasons, I suppose -- with the one called (as I recall) Nimble Rays of Day. I don't think computers (or cell phones) are sexy. HAL 9000 might have grown up to be sexy -- he was an extremely precocious child -- but you know what happened there. Curtis

Elmo St. Rose said...

essential education

TC said...

Curtis, Nimble Rays came a year or two later... and not out of a book (obviously). There are after all some blessings that lie, and even perhaps move around a bit, beyond the event horizon of medical literature. Still I get what you mean about the association. With the first quatrain, anyway -- hopefully.

And now we have an assembly of experts in the house.

Dr. Elmo, you're just the man we needed for a second opinion, here.

Nin, it's embarrassing to admit I am no rival for you in the orgasm department; actually not really embarrassing, you've got the title hands-down, and all that's left is the race for second place (isn't that supposed to be like kissing your sister -- no, that's a tie game). The extremely sincere straight-faced, at times all but uplifted (if not also uplifting) presentation is almost the perfect product-endorsement. Though if I'd been in the house, I'd have been quietly roaring. So what was it, a mortuary? (I once taught in a school that had formerly been a mortuary, and the rooms felt a bit like that one -- the chill of the dead, who will never get the joke. But we get the joke.) So, tell us, did you give in to those sighing and panting Hoosiers and say those magic words of assent they were waiting to hear?

TC said...

(You know, scooping through the ash-heap of burnt-out memory cells just now, there turned up a recollection of having written those first four lines myself. I think I tried to "cheat" a bit, all these years, by pretending to myself that I hadn't. And also by hiding the poem away in that drawer and never reprinting it.)

aditya said...


This is very fascinating. I ofcourse had to google for both Holly Stevens and the 'Eleven ways ..'. Plenty of Holly available but the latter nowhere to be found.

Please unearth!

And this is essential.. quality education as Elmo St. Rose says. The sonnet should be made mandatory for every one 'graduating' in English.

aditya said...

Thrice I had to put in the word verification and now the comment has disappeared into thin air!
I hope it'll appear sometime later quicker but than your recollection.

TC said...

Aditya, in the interests of public health, I have forsworn parodic waste management verse, at least until the termination of Lent.

It served a purpose once... that is, to help to ruin my reputation forever... but surely more of such, at this juncture, would be redundant.

In addition to which, my delicate Muse hath forbade it.

However, as you have been so kind as to pursue this, let me offer, by way of substitute, this other perhaps comparable (though happily somewhat more sanitary) specimen of Shoe Vanilla.