In answer to the never-ending discourse about what is OK, and what is verboten for us to explore as writers, and how morality can quickly turn perverse, I penned my short piece Writing for God.
As if on queue, about a week after the piece was published over at the provocative Literary Orphans, one of my finer LinkedIn writing groups began a discussion titled: "How do you feel about sexually explicit/graphically written material appearing on LinkedIn literary threads? Is this art or pornography? " The poster elaborated on a particular piece that was submitted for a poetry contest--I have not read the piece. As you may have guessed, the resulting comments were largely indignant. Ranging from a man who loathes erotica, to a woman who quoted OSCAR WILDE in defense of "taste," to finally someone saying, "if the words offend, by all means stop reading!"
I thought I'd share what I wrote in response to the topic of art or pornography:
"I'm going to add my voice to the chorus of folks who avoid declaring what is appropriate or inappropriate in art. I have not read the poems, so I'm also not privy to the actual piece, but here is how I feel about writing in general: It is an art, and esthetics in art are very subjective. I am so, so bored with poems and fiction written without any nuance, without taking chances, ignoring all the tough, edgy, dirty and/or painful aspects of life. I often see the same people in these LinkedIn contest groups winning over and over again with poems that would quite frankly never be published in literary journals. I believe I'd rather be shocking than trite. I am a little surprised at how many of these LinkedIn groups seem to be colonized by a particular esthetic, genre or level of conservatism that is presumed to be global, and it's a judgmental one that has a very "red state" feel to me. IMHO if you consider yourself a literary writer, and you aren't taking chances with your writing, exploring form and content in new ways, and if you aren't exploring the gritty edges of what it means to be human, then you are writing relatively pat stuff.
"If you are writing for a genre, like YA or children's, then of course there is no place for a certain level of vulgarity. Is sex inherently vulgar? Not in my opinion. Is delineating the experience of addiction or rape or homelessness or criminal activity vulgar? Well, maybe, but it's also life. It's the stuff that shakes up our humanity, that questions our mores, that rocks our foundations and our sense of what it means to be alive, and THAT is what many people find memorable. There are loads of wonderful writers who never go into that territory, but smashing up against the tough stuff is also worthwhile in both poetry and other forms.
"That said, as the managing editor of a literary journal, if someone writes explicitly about elements of sex, drugs, violence or other transgressive moments, then they'd BETTER give me a good reason to read it, and the context in which to process it. The core principle that resonates with me is humanity--does it touch my humanity?
I'm not a fan of the frat-boy genre or reading ad nausea about bodily fluids, and in my book great care should be taken to orient transgression with the existential."
If you have thoughts on censorship, I'd love to hear them!