After entering the cubicle
the door is bolted.
Unbuckling my jeans
I lower them past my knees.
There was no curtain or grill –
somehow I thought there might be.
In silence I sit
doling out dispensations and penances
to the shaky biro on the wall.
24 July 1979
I wasn’t raised a Catholic and so I’ve never sat in a confessional and yet I can’t pretend that it’s not something that fascinates me. As usual my memory fails me but it will’ve been about this time that I first read Robert Silverberg’s 1971 novel A Time of Changes set on an alien planet where the use of the first person singular is forbidden, and words such as I or me are treated as obscenities. The protagonist writes:
In our idiom a selfbarer is one who exposes himself to others, by which is meant that he exposes his soul, not his flesh. It is deemed a coarse act and is punished by social ostracism, or worse. Selfbarers use the censured pronouns of the gutter vocabulary, as I have done throughout what you now read. Although one is allowed to bare one’s self to one’s bond-kin, one is not a selfbarer unless one does it in tawdry blurtings of “I” and “me.”
The solution this society has come up with is draining. “We may speak our hearts freely to our drainers, who are religious functionaries and mere hirelings,” he explains. His friend, Noim, refers to this process as “soul-pissing”. The concepts discussed in this book have stayed with me for years.
I don’t regard myself as a confessional poet. You should be wary of any poem of mine that uses the first person singular. The ‘I’ is not always me and even where it is me it’s not necessarily a faithful representation of me; I edit; I distort; I don’t tell the whole truth.
I’ve never been one for latrinalia. Defacing school desks, yes, but I don’t think there’s a posh word for that. The question before the class today though is: Why do people write on bathroom walls? You might find this article Behind the Writing on the Stalls of some interest. There’s also the 1965 study Here I Sit – A Study of American Latrinalia available as a PDF which takes the whole thing a bit too seriously and was probably written by a Freudian. Actually there’s no probably about it. Alan Dundes described himself as “a Freudian folklorist”.
‘W.C.’ first appeared in Effie 7.