Prime Edition

Sumana Roy
Free Verse

Bodies in pieces and a new discourse of erotica

s teenagers discovering new uses for different parts of their bodies, my friends and I often spoke about our preferences for erogenous zones. All this knowledge was, of course, only theoretical, the kind girls in a high school dormitory are limited to for want of experience. Our database, in life before internet, was old fashioned literature. Sometimes our claims were only for effect, again a teenager's creed — so someone thought a ponytail an erotic site, I claimed my hands my most private parts, and so on. But it was a roommate's words that have stayed on after all these years: she found a man touching a woman's earlobes terribly erotic.

A Strange Place Other Than Earlobes, an anthology of poems by five poets, Bini B. S., Binu Karunakaran, Ravi Shankar, Mikim Bizii and Sreelatha, brought that memory to mind. For the "earlobes" in the title is a giveaway to the other strange places we shall discover about human bodies. The overwhelming sense I had after reading this collection was of discovering bodies in fragments scattered through the poems. Take Bini B. S.'s seemingly innocent poem, Love Lessons from Carnivorous Plants, for instance. What arrives is epiphany, for one does not expect the intrusion of the erotic in such a poem.

Gaping enticement of the Venus flytrap

He dips a finger into her wet inside

And withdraws before she closes

Tells the woman:

"She is female, snap-trap of rapture

Moist lips asunder, vile clitoral bloom ..."

What we have in this poem, as in the rest of the collection, is the conscious creation of a new discourse of erotica — the juxtapositions are deliberate, they are meant to shock, even provoke, not so much the body as other by-lanes of

thought by making the woman's sex analogous to the Venus Flytrap's body.

Not plant life alone but also ordinary and everyday things are eroticised in this conscious defamiliarisation, as in Binu Karunakaran's poem, The Washerwoman.

Fused to a corner of the washing stone, the

yellow soap cake looks a stamp-sized photo

of the sun. Sticky note affixed to a black pulpit ...

An actor of great beauty, she rehearses her lines,

Switching with ease the roles of a gentle masseur

working lather out of soap & water and a thug —

fanatic clubbing her other to accustomed death.

hat happens in front of us are two kinds of transformation: the ordinary detergent soap becomes a photo of the sun and the washerwoman becomes an actor. In the process, the "bleeding" clothes and the "gentle masseur" turn an ordinary event into one with great erotic possibility.

What we have in this poem is the conscious creation of a new discourse of erotica — the juxtapositions are deliberate, they are meant to shock, even provoke, not so much the body as other by-lanes of thought.

Mikim Bizii's Womb Discourses works hard to turn a not-so-ordinary tool like the womb into something even more extraordinary. "The womb is a suspense thriller/tongues waiting with baited breath —/ a disputed territory, a community water tap,/the goody bag everyone wants to peer in." We already know so much and yet so little about the womb that the poem has to turn the womb into something not yet seen. And so the renting house of unborn children is changed into a "community" water tap — it is only this movement from the private to the public that will save this poem and our ways of seeing. This conscious new way of looking at the world and its bodies seems to be the manifesto behind this collection. Sexualise everything to save this world from violence — privileging one space as a sexualised site over the other seems to be the cause behind so much of sexual violence.

I encounter that thought in poem after poem. It's there in Ravi Shankar's Skin Poem, where the body-in-pieces becomes a surreal assemblage as it were. "Around your nipples I will draw a bow and arrow, around/your navel a snail, on your penis ... a rusted cannon ..." What are these poets trying to achieve apart from constructing a new optic of the body? Sreelatha tries to answer that question about the need for self-fashioning in her poem, Plastic Surgery. The biological phrase used to great cunning in the poem is "connective tissue", and Sreelatha gives it a metaphysical life by aligning it with the world of dreams. When I close the book, the last line of her last poem annotates the entire collection for me: "Anaesthesia ... Anaesthesia ...". Is the body in fragment, the body viewed in pieces, the body treated in pieces, a prelude to the unfeeling, the anaesthetised, the dead body, after all?

A professor of Bangla in a university in northern Bengal is known to have referred to poems as "corpses". It might have been the exhaustion caused by long years of watching young students spinning out poems with the casual tirelessness of spiders that made the professor say, "Kawta laash phelli aaj?" (How many have you killed today?), "laash" being the Bangla word for a dead body. Poems as corpses is not a very pleasant thought, and yet, when one reads poems about bodies in fragments or fragments of the body, one wonders what happens to the bodies in the poems after we've finished reading them. Do they rot on the page after we've abandoned them and moved on to the next page? For what exactly is the meaning of these last lines in Ravi Shankar's Skin Poem? "She said — I will rip off your skin and/write on it this poem, Damn You!"

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