Poem of the Week | March 29, 2021

This week’s Poem of the Week is “Dirty Talk” by Liz Robbins!

Liz Robbins’ third collection, Freaked, won the Elixir Press Annual Poetry Award; her second collection, Play Button, won the Cider Press Review Book Award. Her poems have appeared in Adroit Journal, Beloit Poetry Journal, Denver Quarterly, Kenyon Review Online, and Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac; her poems are in recent issues of Five Points, Rattle, and Salamander. She lives in St. Augustine, Florida, and works as a poetry screener for Ploughshares.


Dirty Talk

Always cock, which implies
                         a saucy attitude.
Or dick, meaning       jerk.

Always cunt, a mean woman,
Or pussy, meaning fearful.

Never penis or vagina, clinical
terms suggesting too much
the impersonal.

We want it in your face. We don’t
want                 polite parlor talk.
We want                         low-down.

Penis and vagina reminds us
of when we were unsure,

We don’t want purity. We want
someone                       who’s taking
responsibility                 for what
they choose.

Or no.
We don’t want responsible, exactly.

But close. What we want is
a response. What we want is
Down there. Responding.

You and me, together.
You and me. But not wholly.
Broken.                         In parts.
Playing                         our parts.


Author’s Note

Sex is a more brainy entertainment than we often give it credit for. Consider the layers some of us plow through before demonstrating a sex act. Sexual fantasy alone is a dense, private, highly-subjective exercise. So is slang, which has been hard to track throughout history, due to its nature of being spoken long before being recorded. This poem begins with slang terms—and with emotional associations to various labels we’ve given private parts; it expands to show how complex our expectations can be of sex acts with a partner. I’m currently working on a collection of poems in the voices of sex workers, and this is one of the pieces that steps outside individual narratives, tries to speak about the act more collectively, through shared language.