Red Winged Black Bird on a fence post in a field.

On Dirty Poems


Category: poetry

I?ve encountered, in my day, a fair amount of naughty poetry, dirty limericks, bawdy songs, and the occasional joke or two. The best of all of them had one thing in common; they were not overtly dirty. That?s right, the ones I thought were more worthy of respect were the ones that were only dirty because we, as a people, already lean that way.

Take the following poetic snippet:

In some parts of Africa, you should be aware,
the locals call their monkeys "bush meat",
And in these parts, where food is so rare,
They consider bush meat a real treat.
Though foreign interlopers admonish them soundly,
"If you eat it you will get a disease!"
You'll still find the folk all gathered around,
The cooking fires, stooped to their knees.

I?m sure most of you (who are native English speakers, at least) probably figured out the possible sexual meaning of those eight lines. The fact that starving people are actually experiencing long, miserable deaths from eating monkey meat tainted with the simian form of viruses that can usually affect humans doesn?t pop as easily into your minds. That?s because you?re all naughty. Most dirty poems don?t have such horrific backdrops as this one, but it serves well as an illustration of the point.

I recall a story called ?Stone Soup?. I don?t remember who wrote it and a quick Internet search turned up nothing useful. Anyway, in the story, a traveler enters a village during a time of famine. He miraculously agrees to feed the entire population there. He does this by dropping a small stone into a pot of water in order to make stone soup. Though he claims the soup is good, he also says it would be better if it had a little of something food like. One of the villagers offers him a small amount of the needed foodstuff. The traveler repeats the boast that the soup is nearly perfect but could use just a little more. Before long, all the villagers have contributed something to the soup and everyone eats well that night.

I prefer to think of the poems as working that way. My job, as a poet, is to drop that stone into the pot in such a way that the ?thunk? made when it hits bottom makes you salivate. Then it?s the reader?s turn to bring along all the things they like to make my soup complete. Poetic skill, then, is knowing how to drop that stone just the right way to make the reader hungrier. This is more important, and usually easier, in the case of dirty poems.

Humans are strongly driven by the breeding imperative. The breeding imperative is, essentially a reference to sex. As a result, everything one encounters is processed through the naughty bits of the brain to see if it applies to one?s own likelihood of breeding. That?s why I can describe starving people choosing one horrible death over another and everyone will think about the alley behind a 1970?s Disco or possibly something recently seen on cable television.

So, all of you get your mind out of the gutters and try to read this simple little bit about a man and his monkey.

The organ grinder trained his monkey,
in hopes it would impress the ladies.
He put that thing through all its paces,
Practicing with the thing daily.
In frustration he spanked it one day,
Though this wasn't the norm,
But that night when the ladies came by,
His monkey wouldn't perform.

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