On Valentine's Day, we collectively celebrate romantic love. The giddiest, most wine and chocolate soaked day of the year is also one of the most widely reviled holidays. The lonely are either depressed or cynical, and many of the amorous reject being told when and how they should express their love.
Even so, who can resist the annual ritual of Dollarama red crepe hearts and love poetry from the Barret-Brownings? The tangled roots and history of this holiday lie partly in the mists of mystery, partly in the brutal and bloody orgiastic sex rites of Roman Lupercalia, and partly in the Church's hopeful holifying of pagan sex with new emphasis on matrimony and committed love. Today's version is utterly dependent on tacky trinkets, and fuzzy red handcuffs, but it's also a chance for couples to rekindle their romance and commitment.
Whatever one's thoughts on Valentine's Day, its themes have been important to writers and artists from the beginning- and all year around. Love, romance, marriage, relationships, erotica, lust, sex, loneliness, and loss are evergreen themes of literature, right up there with life, death, and God. What poem or book or painting or film or song would be possible without love? A paltry selection, to be sure.
Sex is everything: it is life and death, it is all that is banal and all that is profound, it is all the children we have and all those we don't.
It's about memories of parking with dashboard dice and Meatloaf, about the men we've married, and the men we've locked in jail. It's about women, our mothers and daughters and lovers. It's all the big stories from the Bible and from classical mythology, and it's our petty and profound fears, and our need for beauty, for which we will live and die and kill.
It is the risks men take and sacrifices they make, and their biggest mistakes; it is the ultimate fulfillment of being a woman and also the worst and most painful stories of her life.
Your ekphrastic challenge up until Valentine's Day is to write about art about sex.
It takes courage to write about love and sex. It's easy to fake it...a few dirty words, a tawdry joke, an insipid romance scene with shallow characterization. But what if we find the courage to write honestly, what if we write from the heart, or from the most religious part of our loins? What if we write about the deepest betrayal and grief we have experienced in sex and romance? What if we write about our most ecstatic unions and truest loves? What if we mourn a marriage or menopause or a violation, or try to encapsulate the beauty of the strangest relationship you've ever had? What if you release your anger, recall an unexpected kiss?
As usual, the rules are lax. Try to write about all the artworks, for the full immersion into the exercise. But if you can't commit to that, write about a few. Study the picture. Research the artist and the image if you like, or take the image at face value as a flight of fancy.
Write poems of any kind, or short prose.
I can't wait to see what you are inspired to write. Send your best only, and send them on or before February 14, the sooner the better.
VALENTINES in email subject line please!
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