Asked by: Anonymous

Answered by: Poetry Clinic

Anonymous, Wala Wala, USA

Hi, there. This is going to sound so weird but here goes. So basically…

I keep getting yeast infections, and I’m trying to get to the bottom of why that is, but in the meantime, my boyfriend has been writing these poems about them–about my yeast infections! The trouble is, they’re actually really cool poems, but I feel so uncomfortable about him using my experience as material. I feel used! And on top of that, I already feel so icky (down there) that I don’t want to make things worse between us by bringing up my frustrations with him right now. Do you think you could give me a poem that’ll help me through this not-so-fun-gal problem??

Dear Non Fun Gal,

John Clellon Holmes, upon seeing the poems of Gregory Corso, dismissed them as “Green armpit poetry.” By that he meant poems, often written by beginners, about the underbelly, the underside, the underworld, of grossness and boogers and poop and stuff.  I don’t know if your boyfriend’s poems fit this category and I don’t want to be one of the glib internet types who dismiss everything with a cooler-than-thou vibe, but the interesting part about Green Armpit Poetry to me is its odd association with beginners and beginning. 

It is a well known fact that initiation often involves going through, what I’ll call, The Shit. Search “fraternity rushes” or “boot camp” and you’ll find endless examples. But one finds this in other traditions as well. Indigenous initiations that involve a trip to the underworld, or alchemical traditions where the beginning starts with the nigredo, prima materia, sometimes literally shit. 

For boys to leave mama and become…. whatever it is they become, they need to go through some shit. 

If all this talk of boot camp and frat houses repels you, here’s Jonathan Richman, not a fighter but a (modern) lover, saying the same thing:

When I first smelled the bus fume from the diesel motor
Well my two-year-old mind could only applaud such odor
The world is showing me it’s tricks
The world was showing it’s hand

Then an alley somewhere smelling of grease and piss
I was delighted that the world would wanna smell like this
The world is showing me it’s tricks
The world was showing it’s hand

Well the pond and the odor
The swamp and the sweat
Each smell is telling me a secret

So give me an alley
Give me an valley
Give me a Neapolitan night
Let me smell more of the world
And gain more insight
The world is showing me it’s tricks
The world was showing it’s hand


So give me a mowed lawn
Give me a old song
Give me summer rain
Let me smell more of the world
Then I might learn something
The world is showing me it’s tricks
The world was showing it’s hand

But we’re not done.

Green armpits are necessary for initiation, but one makes this primal contact in order to move on. The negredo needs to undergo transformation and become something else.

The solution to this, and the poem I propose for you, is also from someone who saw rock bottom. They saw bodies all fucked up and bloody, and endured shame related to their body as well. They may not have understood women perfectly but no one reached bottom and came back with more. I’m talking, of course, about Walt Whitman. At least he was no mama’s boy.

His return from the underworld can be summed up in one word he liked to use a lot: “And…”

I’m not trying to fix your poet boyfriend, nor am I trying to give writing advice. After all, it is good to lose innocence, it is good to learn secrets, it is good to be initiated into deeper levels of truth and soul and share that bond for the rest of your lives, but initiations are only meant for beginners and the whole point of initiation is to be able to find the road back and enjoy a richer world. One learns from initiation that you are all that gross stuff, you are green armpits, and you don’t need to ever pretend otherwise, but you also have gained the courage to see that you are more. You are all that and..?

from Leaves of Grass

Shall I pray? Shall I venerate and be ceremonious?
I have pried through the strata and analyzed to a hair,
And counselled with doctors and calculated close and found no sweeter fat than
sticks to my own bones.

In all people I see myself, none more and not one a barleycorn less,
And the good or bad I say of myself I say of them.

And I know I am solid and sound,
To me the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow,
All are written to me, and I must get what the writing means.

And I know I am deathless,
I know this orbit of mine cannot be swept by a carpenter’s compass,
I know I shall not pass like a child’s carlacue cut with a burnt stick at night.

I know I am august,
I do not trouble my spirit to vindicate itself or be understood,
I see that the elementary laws never apologize,
I reckon I behave no prouder than the level I plant my house by after all.

I exist as I am, that is enough,
If no other in the world be aware I sit content,
And if each and all be aware I sit content.

One world is aware, and by far the largest to me, and that is myself,
And whether I come to my own today or in ten thousand or ten million years,
I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness I can wait.

My foothold is tenoned and mortised in granite,
I laugh at what you call dissolution,
And I know the amplitude of time.

I am the poet of the body,
And I am the poet of the soul.

The pleasures of heaven are with me, and the pains of hell are with me,
The first I graft and increase upon myself . . . . the latter I translate into a new

I am the poet of the woman the same as the man,
And I say it is as great to be a woman as to be a man,
And I say there is nothing greater than the mother of men.

-Walt Whitman

Asked by: E., Somewhere, USA

Answered by: Andrew Whiteman

Asked by: Bubbles, Durban, South Africa

Answered by: Andrew Whiteman

Asked by: Anonymous, Santa Cruz, USA

Answered by: Andrew Whiteman

Asked by: Anonymous, Ontario, Canada

Answered by: Kristin Prevallet

Asked by: C.E.L., Tallinn, Estonia

Answered by: Kristin Prevallet

Asked by: L, Lenox, USA

Answered by: Kristin Prevallet