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The trouble with Pitt-Kethley’s poems is
They’re written in a line that jogs along
With the required amount of syllables
Like those I’m writing without effort so
That every line comes plunking to an end:
De dum de dum de dum de dum de dum
Until the ear aches to the tramping sound
Of flat-footed Fiona’s soulless feet.
She lacks the ghost of anything resembling
Talent for verse. The fact that she writes poor
Iambics, to my mind, is more important
(And more revealing, too) than that they are
Nasty and brutish. Thank God they’re short!
Fiona Pitt-Kethley’s poem ‘Blow Jobs’ (LRB, 11 October) so alarmed me that I was moved to write a poem about blow jobs so that there might be another woman’s voice crying out in the darkness about fellatio. For all I know, Pitt-Kethley’s work sent scores of women to their desks to write about them; I hope so, as the tone in P-K’s poem is so presumptuously authoritative. Authoritative, disempowering, reductive and just plain bursting with hate – of course, it’s hard to imagine a woman who hasn’t had her share of tedious sexual encounters but it’s dangerous to generalise about this business, particularly as it is rare that a woman is given an established forum to speak plainly about sex. If I were a man reading these poems and I hated and/or feared women either secretly or openly, I’d feel vindicated to the max.
We made love in a hurry almost fully dressed because company was due in twenty minutes. When he was about to come, he removed his member from my mouth and, having very cleverly shaped his fist into a vial, laboured for a few moments, and let go. You could tell from the way his fist expanded ever so slightly that it was filling with semen. It was, in its way, a comical sight. When it was all over, he plugged it with his thumb and lay back with his sealed mitt raised over his head. You could tell that he wasn’t going to spill a drop, and I thought him the most ingenious man alive. So civilised and so crude.
My husband had just completed his arrangements to leave the apartment; all that remained were his desk and favourite brass lamp which the movers would pick up the following day. He was, as usual, exhibiting a kind of control one could easily mistake for coldness or smugness. Naturally, there was a great deal of tension between us: nine full years of tension, certainly enough tension to fuel a homicide or a sexual act and since we were not psychopathic, we chose the latter. Although we did not speak of it, we knew that this would be our last encounter of this kind, and I found myself seized by a frenzied desire to take him in my mouth. I ripped at his clothing with an enthusiasm I had not exhibited during eight of the nine years that constituted our union. Did I reflect that it was this particular act that had dominated my fantasies about my future husband nine years earlier? I did not. I applied myself to his member that I knew as well as a parent would its nine-year-old child. I coaxed, I cajoled, I petted, I praised, and, as he released himself with a high-pitched whine into the interior of my face, I punished. No, I did not bite or abuse him in any obvious way. But wiping my future ex-husband’s come off my face as he lay helpless and exhausted on the hardwood floor we had sanded ourselves, I felt a kind of confidence so strong as to resemble clairvoyance that I had just ruined him for anyone else.
It was taking a long time for him to come. He knew it, and I knew it. Just as the cramp in my jaw was beginning to distract me, he reached down and massaged either side of my mandible with his beefy forefingerpads. I was touched by his sympathy; no man had ever thought to massage my jaw before and none has since.
As my last lover had been silent as a tomb during the act of fellatio, the unabashed, seemingly heartfelt moans floating out of my fresh lover were a great relief. Not only did they lighten the mood of the act in general, but they also provided me with musical clues as to what to do next. There developed an unspoken agreement between us that I would apply myself with ever more delicate variation and as I did so and as his pleasure intensified, I felt grow in me a pleasant mix of pity and arousal: pity that such a large and sophisticated creature could be so moved by such a small, primeval act; and arousal, well, why not arousal – we were, after all, having sex – and this mix of emotions, this pity and this arousal, mimicked exactly the sensation of love.
I know that a travesty and a transvestite tumble out of the same bed, but Danny Karlin’s hairy-legged attempt to pee on Fiona Pitt-Kethley’s feet (Letters, 8 November) can’t be let pass. There’s none so deaf as those that won’t hear. I suspect that Karlin’s ‘argument’ against Pitt-Kethley’s poems actually works the other way round: that is, because he doesn’t like them, he persuades himself they are metrically dead. Well, to this ear at least they certainly aren’t. As for the two poems that evidently lifted his leg, in LRB, 11 October, I’d agree that ‘Bed Time’ isn’t one of her best: it is somewhat tired and flaccid (and I wouldn’t go for the fallacy of imitative form as an excuse). But ‘Blow Jobs’ is as lively, imaginative and offensive as one could wish from her. And as for the metre: only a metro gnome could read ‘watery nothingness’ as in any way ‘tramping’; and even the projectors in the Academy of Lagado would have some difficulty in extracting the iambs from ‘pureed cucumber’. Is it not a case of ‘I shrink, therefore I amb’?
But Karlin reflects on ‘Pitt-Kethley’s poems’ generally, and needs to be generally answered. Opening Sky Ray Lolly more or less at random, therefore, I chance on ‘Night London’. Not one de dum line in 31 (perhaps this was too long for Karlin?). Indeed, on closer scrutiny the metre is remarkably flexible; the iambic stress never more than a necessary ground-base. There’s only one closed line – ‘The balding plush soaked Cyprus sherry up’ – where the relative metrical deadness is clearly intentional and effective. The rest of the poem is a model of dramatic description, subtly inflected, which works up to an impressive atmospheric conclusion:
Next day’s papers
lay in the great old stations, fresh with print.
Outside, the streets were bare, light, free,
the Tubes all latticed shut.
I could go on (take a look at the thoroughly Larkinesque architecture of ‘Gala Day’ from Private Parts, for example) but won’t; and really needn’t. If Danny Karlin wants to make an exhibition of himself, he should perhaps apply to join the ‘Sunoak Ladies’ Clog Dance Team’, who put in a hypermetrical appearance in this last-mentioned poem.
One thousand and one nights in the pleasure garden to Damian Grant (Letters, 6 December 1990) in defence of the ‘offensive’ Fiona Pitt-Kethley. I look forward to her next appearance – a Valentine, perhaps.