free verse

March 6, 2020

free verse is language structured by the predictable repetition of a single language element: the line break. The definition of a poem as language structured through repetition allows us to see poetry as a continuum rather than a conflict between the two separate camps of formal and free; it’s just a matter of what the repeating element is. In the process of editing An Exaltation of Forms, I formulated it like this:

Any text that is structured through repetition is a poem. The more physically conspicuous (palpable, audible, tangible) the repeated language element(s) that structure the text, the more “formal” the poem will feel to us.

A free verse poem doesn’t feel very formal to us because the line break is such a subtle language element, which can only be reliably detected by the individual reader’s eye reading a poem on the page. But a free verse poem is a poem just the same, because it is structured through the repetition of a language element. Any language element can be repeated to create a poem, as long as the “structured, not decorated” distinction is maintained. So, as you will see from the chart below, our definition encompasses any type of poem: free verse, sonnet, slam performance poem, haiku, Paradise Lost, procedural poem, blues poem, pantoum, erasure poem . . .

Annie Finch
What is Poetry?

I am a collector (and a purveyor) of Vulvic Art. My home is adorned with sumptuous silk and velvet vulva pillows, fluffy vulva purses, vulva pens, vulva jewellery and more. Some people are shocked when they see my collection, some are delighted but most ask “Why?”. I tell them that I believe the vulva is a wonderous and magical place, worthy of the utmost respect and the most beautiful artistic representations.

Anyone who has witnessed the natural entry of a child into this world would find it hard to deny the incredible qualities of the vulva. From a purely physical perspective her ability to stretch to accommodate the head of the newborn is nothing short of awe inspiring. Alas few of us have had the privilege to attend such a moving and fundamental event.

This was not always the case. Respect for the Vulva as the portal between the worlds was widespread in ancient times. And so was Vulvic Art.

Reclaiming the Magic of the Vulva

So I stayed in this house with its windows full of sea: a molten-metal sea, very bright in the low November sun. Looking back from here and now, I see myself then, as if caught in a clot of time, in that place, that house of shadows with its dark pockets of corrosive emotion and its ancient ghosts.

The night of the storm we lay in bed listening to a roaring Armageddon of wind and sea. We took on the rage of that sea at the cost of sleep. And in the morning, the sun-bright morning with its stillness like death, we looked out at the beach, at the now calm sea, and the wreckage of thousands of silvery bodies, stretching for miles – some psychopathic God had slaughtered these fish in the night and dumped them on the sand with the empty coke bottles and the used condoms, a wrack of carcasses for the swirling gulls to pick over.

And by evening, the day having slipped silently away from us, the beach was totally clear. The gulls had done their work well. Not a solitary fish scale remained as evidence of this fearsome atrocity.


…new printing techniques made it possible for pornographic engravings of gatherings of nude witches to become best-sellers from about 1500 through the height of the witch hunt Terror. This art drew on the repressive sexual fantasies of the demonologists, inquisitors, and learned professors, who were obsessed with the notion of witches having sex with devils, and with punishing women. They developed a whole story about the painfulness of this sex, the devil’s member being ice-cold, and its involuntary nature, the witches being nothing more than slaves of the demon. The demonologists also drew on ancient stereotypes of heretics holding orgies which involved ritual humiliation, especially kissing the devil’s anus. This they claimed was the confirmation rite of a satanic cult. It was all purely the invention of elite men.

This highly sexualized diabolist ideology drove the witch hunts. The old witch persecutions which had gone on for centuries at a lower rate were escalated by a papal decree in 1256 allowing the Inquisition to use judicial torture. This then spread to secular courts. It was this practice of torture that fueled the witch craze, and slashed the ability of accused witches to resist totalitarian force. A key feature of torture-trials was compelling the accused witches to parrot back the diabolist ideology with all its violent sexual fantasies. The torture would not stop until they did. The trials are full of interrogators barking, “Say it! Tell the truth! Tell how you went to the witches’ assembly and had sex with devils!” Most resisted at first and eventually gave in to stop the terrible pain, although some held out unto death.

The torture quickly went beyond the rack and strappado and water torture to torments of iron and fire directed at the sexual parts. Since the judges and torturers assumed witches were guilty of apostasy and whoring with the devil, they were beyond any protection and could be subjected to anything their captors pleased. This certainly included rape and verbal abuse, but new mechanical refinements were devised, such as the Pear, a pointed metal implement which the torturers heated, thrust into a vagina or rectum, and then screwed open inside the victim’s body. Breast-rippers were another form of torture, often carried out in public, just before the burning of a convicted “witch.”

By the late 1500s a new doctrine of devil’s marks provided a pretext for “searching” women’s bodies, especially their female parts, for marks which were taken as “evidence” of a diabolical pact. Sometimes the witch-finders stabbed suspected witches with needles or bodkins. Or they called a flap of the inner labia, or skin tags which are common on older women, to be a “witch’s teat” suckled by the devil. Unofficial forms of torture would of course include rape by jailors, torturers and officials.

The woman-hatred of all this is obvious. What we have to remember is that this history of dungeons, chains, sexualized torture, ritualized rape and coerced submission had a massive impact on European civilization (and then on its colonies and slave-states) over centuries. Why should we be surprised to find that this deeply violent sexual conditioning has burrowed deep into the cultural unconscious?

 Max Dashu

Interviewed by Gariné Roubinian for
Rain and Thunder Feminist Journal (December 2007)

Nightmare #22

March 6, 2020

All of the blood has run out of your body
and onto the floor
and out
into the hall.
And I am still
preparing the tourniquet.

Barbara Ruth

How many fairies had to die?
when the Hawthorn bushes fell?
Homeless they scattered around the countryside.
How many were run over by cars?
Poisoned by insectides?
Died by heartbreak
knowing they were loved no more.
Money became the new power.
It drove property values sky-high.
It steered farmers off land.
Ripped the fairies from the bushes.
While the farmers enjoyed the gold at the end of
the rainbow,
the fairies sat by the roadside and cried.

Frances Avnet