Sunday, 14 February 2016

Romance is Dead

Believe it or not, there’s “a thing” in literature called the Bad Sex Awards. When I say ‘literature’ I use the term loosely since this might include eel-vomit novels such as 50 Shades etc., which would win every category of Bad Writing Awards. Passages of writing depicting romantic, sensual, or sexual encounters are notoriously difficult to write without them sounding naff, ridiculous, or gross – conversely or otherwise.

In cinema, badly scripted/filmed scenes leave less to the imagination. This is almost worse. The best movies use ‘the kiss’ as shorthand: a symbolic depiction is always better than explicit action. In the novel I’m working on, since cinema is a running theme throughout, I have a useful get-out. When things get steamy, I simply bring in the swirling violins and fade to black-out.

Things aren’t like this in real life – as Tom Dexter, in Woody Allen’s Purple Rose of Cairo, realises. As he steps out of the silver screen to join Cecilia, when they kiss he is baffled that the background music doesn’t fade out five seconds later.


Tom:            [pauses after kissing Cecilia] Where's the fade-out?

Cecilia:        What?

Tom:           Always when the kissing gets hot and heavy just before the lovemaking, there's a fadeout.

Cecilia:        Then what?

Tom:            Then we're making love in some private, perfect place.

Cecilia:        That's not how it happens here.

Tom:            What, there's no fade out?

Cecilia:        No, but when you kissed me, I felt like my heart faded out. I closed my eyes, and I was in some private place.

Tom:            How fascinating. You make love without fading out?

Cecilia:        Yes.

Tom:            Well, I can't wait to see this!


Even so, we are still left to imagine what happens – after all, the entire conceit, that an actor can walk out of a film, is in Cecilia’s imagination. As Cecilia says: ‘I just met a wonderful new man. He's fictional but you can't have everything.’

When someone has an affair, it is very tempting for the cheated-on to want to know what happened in the “other man’s” bed. The film Closer – a dangerous ménage à  quatre concerning Alice/Dan & Larry/Anna – undresses this with ferocious bitterness.  When Larry asks Anna about her affair with Dan, she leaves nothing to the imagination.

Anna:          We do everything that people who have sex do!

Larry:          Do you enjoy sucking him off?

Anna:          Yes!

Larry:          You like his cock?

Anna:          I love it!

Larry:          You like him coming in your face?

Anna:          Yes!

Larry:          What does it taste like?

Anna:          It tastes like you but sweeter!

Larry:          That's the spirit. Thank you. Thank you for your honesty. Now fuck off and die, you fucked up slag.
But Alice claims to know the 'truth.'

When I recently found myself to be a pawn in an affair, I made the mistake of confronting the cuckolded husband and telling him what had been going on. At that point, I didn’t know that the person who I’d been seeing had just got married: all I knew was that she’d apparently lost the baby she was expecting. It turned out this was a miscarriage of Love. The child now exists, and I suspect its biological paternity remains dubitable.

I imagine that when she was confronted about this affair, she passed it off as the wild rambling of a deranged poet; a fantasist with a complicated personal history. How she explained her miracle pregnancy to him is another mystery. Undoubtedly, as often happens with difficult or traumatic situations, her husband will have cloaked the truth in a pall of denial and attempted to bury the whole thing.

It would have been sensible if he had done this straight away and kept quiet. This would have saved him, and many other people, a lot of distress. Instead, he decided to publicise his complicity with his new wife’s recent duplicity and – perhaps attempting to render me impotent – he tried to silence me with slander, libel, threats, and abuse. A cuckold, and a fool.


Here, then, are three poems which – against my usual practice – are explicit and more-or-less autobiographical. The first takes poetic license over the wording of her tattoo, although her request to have lines from my poetry sequence, The Olive Box, permanently inscribed on her skin is no fabrication – no matter how much she may deny it.



You wanted lines of my poetry
   tattooed somewhere on your body.
I dismissed the idea as absurd!
   Even so, I kissed the words
already etched in time and place
   upon your shoulder-blade
as we conjoined in an intimate embrace,
   wondering why or what had made
you want to ink that writing
   on your soft, white, delicate skin.
I found it strangely inviting
   and yet, equally appalling:
quirky, quasi-legalise cod-Latin.
   Still, as your body was enthralling
mine, I ran my mouth along
   the lettering, embossed, scripted
like sensual braille for the tongue.
   Our sex was interrupted
then by something humdrum
   and domestic. Was I blind?
I cupped your left breast
   in my hand as we remained
engaged, but failed to notice how
   that writing, burnt on flesh,  
was also written on the wall.
   It was with more than your skin
that, lying, your body took me in.                  
   Had Love been put to trial
it would have been found wanting;
   lacking any sense of truth or evidence,
like your skin-deep graffiti,
   a case deserted pro loco et tempore.

It is a given that, when an affair with a poet goes awry, that poet might use the most intimate details available to fuel their pen. If the cuckold of this sordid affair is still in denial of our sexual encounter, this poem contains a few facts that only he and I (and her previous sexual partners which, despite her claim were none, I suspect were very many) will know.


A Vow

Like many her age
(but not, I thought,
her gender) she learned
about it from the internet.

Claiming her ingénue,
her sighs and cries
were dubious; as fake
as the words ‘I do.'

I wanted to ask her,
‘Why, when we make
love, you never say,
the words “I love you?”’

Calling out my name
in throes of ecstasy
again and – oh – again
enough to convince me

our love was true.
On the first of many
hoped-for times

I took her curiosity
as a given, just like
the assumption that
we’d have children.

And as she explored,
wide-eyed as she lied,
the gift I gave her
soon her behaviour

grew experimental.
She’d tell me ‘Your…’
(feigning coyness,
she left an ellipsis)

‘Is the most amazing
thing I’ve ever tasted.’
Her flattery, naturally,
I foolishly trusted.

After all, the vows
we’d taken secretly
were real: who was I
to disavow her? Now

years later I realise
it wasn’t the presence
of any human eyes
or God as witness,

but a false testimony
of the cock-and-ball
bullshit of the internet
that fuelled her passions.

She wanted to know
about other positions,
out of pure curiosity –
it all came naturally –

and, as she straddled me,
took my hand and tried
to make me slap her behind.
Taken aback, I refused.

‘Why are you imagining
that’s even “a thing”?’
And then I realised
it was not her but I

who was the innocent;
was simply being used
for the sex she meant
as romance, abused

thanks to a culture
that, failing marriage
promises or reverent
intent, responsibility

or meaning; a token
solemnity given in
exchanges unspoken
without any ring,

was the pornography
she’d gleaned and come
to see as normative:
to get sex was to give.

‘For better or for worse’
I said, ‘You understand,
I swear I’ll never curse’
or raise my hand

'against the one I love.’
She understood, and
as I placed my palm
upon her softest cheek –

the one with a similar
beauty-spot to that
on one of her feet –
(I thought it familiar

although I now fail
to remember which)
and as we engaged,
again, in copulation –

an act I regarded
as symbolic or perhaps
a celebration of
what comfort, honour

and protection
I afforded her
her false promises
little rewarded a

love that I intended:
one that should have
lasted for a life ended
in cessation as abrupt

as hers when she declared
my passion 'too intense.'
Subsequently it appeared
her love was but corrupt,

yet worse: was fraudulent.
But she had, by then,
achieved her full reward.
A husband. Or a Cuckold?

I’d like to say, who knows?
But of what’s lies or truth,
or false, or genuine abuse,
more years will only show.

This, our final sexual encounter, happened only days before she got married to her poor, deluded fiancé – having deluded me too. She told me she was attending the funeral of her mother who had killed herself (how sick a story is that?) A week later, like a teenager she ended our intimate relationship by text, from her honeymoon location.

On her return, we met. I foolishly begged her to re-consider. I could sense there was something wrong; something far more than her having to overcome the loss of two lives. Our final rendezvous took place in a more-than-ominous location.



Because I feared our love was dead
(if it existed in the first place)
we met up in a cemetery
for our final assignation.
Seeing in your face
the first tremor of recovery,
sitting on the sun-warmed steps
I longed to kiss your lips
but you refused –
said it would give the wrong idea
(although you craved it too);
let me kiss your neck, your ear,
allowed me to caress
your favourite breast.
I placed my other hand
between your thighs,
soliciting familiar sighs.

Tempted to return my passion,
you added to your catalogue of lies:
when I stroked your arm you claimed
as you shivered at my touch
a post-traumatic flinch,
reacting from a former wound.
A new one to me.
So I touched you tenderly,
avoiding the crook of your arm
while you convinced yourself
of your latest fable,
thinking yourself able
to hook me as you’d managed
well so far. I’d caused no more harm
than Love’s moronic damage.

A spider scuttled across the lichen;
you elaborated upon the web you’d spun.
Though self-deceived, I had begun
to unravel your deceit,
while clutching at the straws of…
was it love? For sure I’d longed for yours.

I watched my hopes diminish
and fade between the graves.
And as we stood to leave,
I tried to resurrect a death-wish.
How pathetic I must
have sounded as
I begged you reconsider.
When you embraced me,
it was then I figured:
this wasn’t love but lust.
And as you pressed
your body into mine – a gesture
purely sexual – your words
‘I’m so ... attracted to you’
corroborated what your
body had already told me:
that, whatever was in your mind,
your heart was cold and empty.

Whatever the truth behind these stories, and of the poetic licence I have taken, the fact of the matter remains: this young woman was – and probably still is – a deranged fantasist. On Valentine’s Day, the Romantic in me wants to say that all sex without love is Bad Sex. Perhaps the same could be said of the poems that have come out of this ghastly encounter.

While much of what I have written about this episode of my life has been published, I suspect these poems will only be available on this blog. Unless someone creates a Bad Sex Award for poetry… in which case there will be plenty of competition! Just keep scrolling down for more.
Or wait for the next instalment...