Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Leviathan | Poetry | Incest Porn




“Nine-tenths of the appeal of pornography is due to the indecent feelings concerning sex which moralists inculcate in the young; the other tenth is physiological, and will occur in one way or another whatever the state of the law may be.”
Bertrand Russell

“Those Romans who perpetrated the rape of the Sabines, for example, did not work themselves up for the deed by screening Debbie Does Dallas, and the monkish types who burned a million or so witches in the Middle Ages had almost certainly not come across ‘Boobs and Buns’ or related periodicals’.
Barbara Ehrenreich

What does Leviathan mean to you?

To me, it initially connotes the ‘overlord’ character in Hellraiser who gets to turn people into Cenobites.

Once my mind is done thinking about the minor character in one of the least consistent franchises in film history however… I think of a small Poetry Press, also named Leviathan.

Leviathan, which no longer exists, was run by the poet Michael Hulse. If you have never read anything by Hulse then pick up a copy of his most recent (and in my humble opinion, best) collection, The Secret History.



The name for the Leviathan press is clearly derived from the Biblical monster, rather than the 80’s horror monster, as the first page of each of their books bares the quotation ‘Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook?’ Part of me wishes the press was based on the Hellraiser character however, as I like the idea of a publishing house taking mere unpublished mortals and turning them into fearful, nightmarish monsters to be avoided at all costs.

As well as releasing some fine books in its time, Roger Finch’s Fox in the Morning and Kit Wright’s Hoping it Might Be So spring to mind, Leviathan had its own periodical called ‘Leviathan Quarterly’.

I thought that, for the purposes of this fine website which I am proud to be Poetry Editor for, it might be amusing or informative to have a little delve into ‘Leviathan Quarterly’ (or at least its first issue) and see what fancies filled the pages.



So, to give you a brief overview before getting into the topic alluded to by the somewhat dramatic title of this article – LQ is essentially quite a bit like Poetry Review, or perhaps in some ways like Polarity. Each issue has a theme, artsy images help accompany the mixture of poetry and literary criticism… and there is a bit of fiction. You will notice from the photographs I have taken that the typography is very similar to Poetry Review.

The topic of the first issue is ‘Dress and Undress’ (I know, right? Polarity!) and so the first 40 pages are donated to writing which fits this theme (with photographs of women in various states of undress, occasionally showing tasteful artistic pubes).

The prose-poem affair at the start of LQ, A Story of Headgear in Skopje by Peter Handke, has perhaps one of my favorite closing lines of all time: “A lad with ski-muffs covering his ears with the logo TRICOT. Etcetera. All the beautiful etcetera. All those beautiful etcetera.”

This is one of the rare moments of a non-sexual interpretation of the quarterly’s theme in this issue however. We have a beautifully lusty poem from Philip Gross called ‘Like Knives’ and Peg Boyers gives us a poem about being molested on the way home from school:

“Suddenly my hand, sweetly warming
in his flannel pocket, was pushed
to the hard, oozing center.

My hand recoiled.
But the ooze stuck.
In that minute my childhood ended.”

I wish I could say that this was the most disturbing thing I found in this collection. It’s not though. Frank Moorhouse’s short story, ‘Discovery, Obeisance, Renunciation’ is by far the most harrowing thing to be found on my bookshelf.



Moorhouse lets you know this story is going to be intense by how hard he tries to intellectualise the thing. Firstly, we have the most pretentious title in the entire magazine (which is often saying something in the context of a Poetry-Quarterly). Moving on, Moorhouse gives us a full page and a half’s worth of ‘preface’ in which he describes his short story as ‘a Borgesian experiment with narrative’.

Then we have a quotation from a Gnostic tract and a passage from Corinthians before the story itself even starts. All in all, we get the impression that Moorhouse is working incredibly hard to cover his ass with the way he delivers this story and, in ways I shall discuss, he sort of does.

Moorhouse’s introduction to his story uses the word ‘pornography’ a lot. “by publishing it in Leviathan Quarterly, I am displacing the pornography” he writes. The piece “becomes also a literary acting out of the “transformation” content of the pornographic narrative”. “Because I have written this standard pornographic fantasty with attention to matters other than pornography, in a sense it ceases to be pornography and should, if the exercise is effective, not work as pornography.”

Hold up Moorhouse… what’s your game here? What are you about to pull?

As it happens, Moorhouse is readying his readers for what can only be described as ‘incest porn’ (unless you’re going to let him get away with labelling it a ‘Borgesian experiment’).

‘Discovery, Obeisance, Renunciation’ is the tale of a young man, caught by his mother trying on her clothes. The next morning over breakfast she broaches the subject with him and …

have you guessed it?

… yes that’s right she dresses him up in her clothes and has a goodly amount of sex with him.



So, it’s a story about incest and abuse… where does the pornography come into it? Well, here’s a passage for you to decide for yourself…

“He reached out and touched her breast. She pushed her breast slightly into his eager hand. She took his hand and ran it over her brassiere, over her breast, and over its nipple, back and forth over the nipple, and it was obvious now to Sonny that she was using him to pleasure herself and that she was herself physically enjoying his bliss as she released his feelings and granted him her body.

She stopped him as his fingers began to play with her nipple. She held his hand, stilling it, but leaving it covering her stiffening nipple, her swelling nipple, letting him feel how it swelled beneath his fingers. Then she took his hand away.”

Moorhouse is, in fact doing something far more audacious and crafty than straight ‘Incest Porn’ here, however. With his preface, he is edging himself into a win/win situation. Let us re-read this passage from his introduction:

“Because I have written this standard pornographic fantasy with attention to matters other than pornography, in a sense it ceases to be pornography and should, if the exercise is effective, not work as pornography.”

You crafty bastard Moorhouse. By setting his own criteria for success, Moorhouse is telling us ‘if you can read this story and not be aroused then I have won!’ However, the only way of him not ‘winning’ in this experiment would be to have somebody openly admit that they were turned on by reading his story about a teenage boy in a night-dress having sex with his mother.

You’re a sly one, Moorhouse. You’ll make a fine Cenobite one day.

-Phil Brown
Poetry Editor

5 comments:

  1. The Secret History isn't a poetry collection; it's a novel by Donna Tartt.

    But then, I suppose, this is the standard of research one expects from a blog.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Man... we've been caught out again.

    Damn you, ever-vigilant blogosphere!

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  3. Everything about this article is perfect. The fact that leviathans exist, that disturbed pornographer poets exist, etcetera. All the beautiful etcetera. All those beautiful etcetera.

    ReplyDelete
  4. "We were waiting on the back-foot, waiting for the monster to drown."

    ReplyDelete
  5. Anonymous' comment here might be my favourite we've ever received.

    ReplyDelete