Jack Ross, ed.: Spin 36 (March 2000)
Although it does not have the word ‘fuck’ in it,
I hope you will find this poem
acceptable for inclusion in SPIN 36
– Contributor’s letter (10/11/99)
“Maybe it’s a haiku,” was my first thought. But no, there are eleven syllables in the first line, eight in the second, thirteen in the third, which makes thirty-two. A tanka, then? (No: 5 + 7 + 5 + 7 + 7 = 31.) But excessive formalism can be a mistake. Perhaps I should be scrutinising the content instead.
Well, yeah, I guess I have used the word “fuck” a few times in poems (poems included in Spin, too!) Certainly more often than, say, the word “miaow” – or, for that matter, “leafy.” But, you know, it does come up. In the circles I move in, at least. I’m sorry if that’s a shock.
Angela Carter put it rather amusingly in the preface to a collection entitled Expletives Deleted (1992):
I am known in my circle as notoriously foulmouthed … I blame my father … who bequeathed me bad language and a taste for print, so that his daughter, for the last fifteen-odd years, has been … conscientiously blue-pencilling out her first gut reactions – ‘bloody awful’, ‘fucking dire’ – in order to give a more balanced and objective overview.
In this case I must except my parents from any blame. Perhaps it’s my environment that was at fault. I am from Auckland, after all … Seriously, though, another subscriber (8/6/99) made the following complaint about Spin 33:
… your “from Evenings in the Blackout” is no different to the type of pornography that I read when I was a teenager. That kind of stuff was tremendously damaging to me as a person and warped my view of women ...
Sorry, I disagree. Obviously, or I wouldn’t have first written the poem, then printed it in the magazine. I think it revelatory of a real frame of mind, and therefore of potential value to readers. Not all readers, by any means, but some.
Nevertheless, I’m glad you wrote in and told me so. Other correspondents were very positive about the issue, but I don’t take such reactions lightly (despite the clowning above). I mean, bugger it, we’ve just had a nation-wide controversy about that word – do we have to worry about a few “fucks” here and there?
Basically, I’m still sticking by my rule of thumb from issue 33 [“If someone says: ‘That could never be a poem,’ that’s what your next poem should be”]. Some of the poems in this collection terrify me – Alice Hooton’s very grim “Angels are Weeping,” for example, or Raewyn Alexander’s walk on the wild side – but they were included because I thought them beautiful … in one or other sense of that word.
The idea of three issues of Spin, each with its own individual character, per year, has so far seemed to appeal to the people I’ve spoken to, but the nature of the magazine will remain the same: a publication devoted to good poetry in as inclusive a sense as possible. That means I have to respect the views of those who like traditional tropes and closures, and they in turn will have to put up with my own taste for dislocation and disorder.
As long as we accept that these are not frivolous choices but deeply held convictions, there seems no reason why we shouldn’t get on. As William Burroughs so sagely remarked:
Language is a virus from Outer Space
Unravel that, and all will become clear.