A Poem Called “Promiscuous”

It’s not often that you wake up to NPR to hear Garrison Keillor (above) saying “slut” over and over again, but today was a lucky day! His daily AM installment of The Writer’s Almanac — a five minute collection of tidbits from literary history and some poetry — concluded with the poem “Promiscuous” by William Matthews, from Search Party: Collected Poems (Houghton Mifflin, 2004), which is like Wheaties for feminist linguistic nerds who majored in English and keep deep-thought journals.

Here’s the first half. Read the rest at Writer’s Almanac:

“Promiscuous,” by William Matthews

“Mixes easily,” dictionaries
used to say, a straight shot from the Latin.
Chemists applied the term to matter’s

But the Random House Dictionary
(1980) gives as its prime meaning:
by frequent and indiscriminate

changes of one’s sexual partners.” Sounds
like a long way
to say “slut,” that glob of blame we once threw
equally at men and women, all who slurred,

slavered, slobbered,
slumped, slept or lapsed, slunk or relapsed, slackened
(loose lips sink ships) or slubbed, or slovened, But soon
a slut was female. A much-bedded male

got called a ladies’ man; he never slept
with sluts. How sluts
got to be sluts is thus a mystery,

One Comment

  1. I often don’t get poetry, and this is one example. What does the verse-like staggering of the words add to make that a better piece of writing?

    Except for paragraph 4, where the author gets all poety for a moment, I think the whole thing would just be better as prose.

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