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The Pope's Penis

Sharon Olds

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Pope's Penis (timely poem in 2004)
Added by: Pamela Hurley
What a timely poem given the news that over 4,000 priests have molested little children since 1952. This poem says more than any CNN coverage on the topic.

Pam Hurley
Durango, CO
Added by: Even Steven
Actually, I'm pretty sure this poem has nothing to do with molesting children. Whatever you'd like to think though...
Added by: mike
I think its discussing the fact that the pope is still a man. the fact that he still has erections explains this
Added by: Bob
I think you're all just overanalyzing it, it's about his penis. That's right, it's just about an old man's penis. There really is no deep meaning, let's put our bongos and berets down and just back up.
Added by: Haley
I agree--it's simply proving that even one of the most religious men in the world is still a man. But I also think it's somewhat of a joke. After I read it, I laughed outloud... maybe just because of what it's about? Or maybe that's what she was going for? Who knows, but I laughed.
Added by: ct
He's a man. He's got a penis.

Yep, I think that's it.
Added by: Magoo
It is all about the shock value of the poem. Sharon is at home right now reading as many reactions to her poems to see if they worked. You kids need to read a little about her life and figure out why see became a poet in the first place. She is brilliant. That's Essex baby!
Read the poem!
Added by: red slider
My first thought after looking over the comments was, 'Where did you folks learn to read a poetry?'

'..the pope is still a man, that's what its about', oh really?

'Has a penis.' 'Yup, that's about it', ??

'Overanalyzing' - Are you kidding?

Listen, none of you have even started to analyze this poem. Your comments suggest you've barely read it, let along thought about it.

The writer who says Olds is brilliant is quite right, but shock is not what this piece is about either. True, Olds has provoked a few squeamish critics to wince here and there, but that's not what her poetry is for, that's just a little collateral damage.

And you don't need a biography of her to figure it out -- just a little more careful attention. She's not difficult to read, but she never trivializes either.

For this poem the only thing one needs to know, going in, is that Olds picks her words very, very carefully. Every word, every cadence, every image has a purpose. That's how she got her reputation, that's how she kept it. Once you get that, then read it as if everything your reading has a reason to be there.

Take a look at the first two lines. That's an incredible image to use - 'clapper', 'bell' -- not a rod, a stick, a sausage. Why a clapper at the center of a bell. 'clapper' 'bell'. how apt an image drawn from the fundamental ornaments of the church itself; the same things that sound out to the community, the call to mass, the celebrator of the holy days, of the sabbath, of the hours themselves. And not just a clapper, but a 'delicate clapper'. Can anybody tell me why? Why not, for instance, a cruel clapper (if we're going to be referring to child molesting or some other vileness) or maybe a noisy clapper (if we're making shock and contrast the centerpiece of the poem).

Consider if I wrote a poem called Jesus' Penis and wrote,

Precisely aimed, the carpenter's nail/on point, on target...

Would you say, oh that's about Jesus was a man and had a penis? Might you think instead something along the lines, uh, nail-Jesus-point-target and then consider crucifixion? nailed crotch? pain? redemption? ...

so consider, what do 'deep robes' suggest? Maybe the structure in which this penis is buried? The robe of the head of a church with a million pages of liturgy, 2 thousand years of history, the billions of tons of stone churches,...war, sexual taboo and hysteria, etc.

And then there's this fragile thing inside -- why 'delicate', why the suggestion of fragility? Something that has been the subject of endless oppression and cruelty, maybe? Something victimized? Something that is barely up to the job of withstanding the simplest affront or scorn.

How does it even survive? 'it moves when he moves (is a part of, integral to, inseperable attachment of...). Geesh, how powerful, how clever, how else could this very breakable, delicate part of our nature survive the power and crushing weight of the church?

It absolutely does not resist, goes along with all the attempts to emasculate, deprive, cast out - survives, seemingly through the practice of a perfect Aikedo, that uses the church's own 'movement' to avoid being destroyed.

what is the one natural element which the church itself does not permit in the ranks of its officers -- vows of celebacy, maybe and yet this little worm of an object refuses to go away, to be defeated. 'Yup! its a penis, alright. its still there!

So what is beginning to emerge? The compromised picture of our sexuality within (at the center) of a spirituality practically dedicated to destroying it, yet central to it, proclaiming itself like a clapper in a bell, yet surviving as a cloaked and unrevealed chameleon, taking on the color of the church itself?

You still think the Pope is just a man? The penis just a, well, penis? The poem, simply about a (Pope) -man having a penis -- or even the shock of that?

Pf course we're fond of taking on some nearby freudian and reminding them that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. But if you happen upon a body with its breasts cut off, covered with semen and having a cigar shoved up its ass, would you, then, think the cigar was just a cigar?

If you do, then poetry probably isn't your thing. try something else.

Otherwise, try reading this poem again and see if you can understand what's really being said, how its words open up questions and powerful ideas far larger than the Pope's manhood.

I think you'll find that there's a whole lot more going on here. In fact, The 'Pope's Penis' is probably one of the best examples of cynical irony there is in all of poetry.

After that you might like to read a little of Michael Foucault's 'History of Sexuality' and his demonstration that the history of the church's repression of human sexuality has not been to contain and diminish sexual interest and behaviour, but has intensified and empowered it beyond anything its natural role might have been. Indeed, that may even have been the intent of sexual repression as a mechanism of control.

Then go back and read Sharon's poem. Read the last two lines, especially. I think you may find a whole new poem awaits you. Not at all a poem about a man and his penis.

Still think it's being over analyzsed? Truth is, the analysis hasn't even begun.

Added by: spot the ball
is there no sanctaty in the world any more? is that all that gets our minds going? SAD.
Sharon's Poem
Added by: Kathleen
Red, thank you for your comprehensive breakdown. I got a lot out of it.


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