New York fashion week was recently shocked by designer Rick Owens, who put on his runway men, as the news sources quoted, with no pants. Now, while I would argue that fashion week, and quote fashion unquote in general, has absolutely no relation to what real people on planet Earth would ever consider wearing in public, I think there is more going on here.
First, the feminist argument. We exploit women without thinking much about it, but GOD FORBID we should exploit men. Exploiting women is business as usual; exploiting men is news. Second, I can only assume that Mr. Owens is gay, since the bit of these skinny models he was emphasizing is not the thing that most straight women want to see. Think about, maybe, but see? Not really. I turn to Facebook for support of my claim.
First a picture.
Next a brilliant blog post: When Suits Become a Stumbling Block: A Plea to My Brothers in Christ*
I think a similar pattern can be seen in poetry. It helps to remember that many kinds of poetry that are now taken for granted were once revolutionary. I have talked before about those wild and crazy French poets writing prose poems, and the brave souls 100 years ago ditching rhyme and conventional rhythm patterns for free verse. The modernists, such as Gertrude Stein, tried to make their writing do for prose and poetry what Pablo Picasso was using Cubism to do for painting. The result depended largely on the talent of the writer, but ranged from revolutionary brilliance to word soup. I have met many students who think that poetry does not need to mean anything, which is harebrained if you ask me.
So the question is, as artists, when we want to shake things up, how are we going about it? Through shocking our readers or through seducing them? And actually, even seduction has its problematic characteristics even as a metaphor, since seduction usually requires, on one side, manipulation, and on the other side, ignorance, naiveté and a general lack of the conscious consent that we want to encourage as we attempt to turn the rape culture we live in into a culture of consent.
So if we want to win people over, ethically, whether it is to our physical selves or our ideas, perhaps a better word is romancing. I dunno. I just have a feeling that the language we use about everything matters, since we carry that language from one context to the next, often with very little thought about it. As the feminist post-Christian theologian Mary Daly said, “If God is man, then man is God. ”
So yes, fellow poets, let us stir things up and experiment with poetry. But for God/dess’s sake, let your poems keep their pants on.