Gregory Woods: On "Torso"

Robert Duncan's poem "The Torso" ranks with the most acute love poems of the century. Its shifting focus corresponds with that of a man kneeling to fellate his lover: the collar bone, chest, navel, and pubic hair are examined in turn. But the occasion of the poem involves the two men in reversed roles. While the speaker's mind moves down the torso of the lover, the lover himself is on his knees, fellating the speaker. The fantasy of the one duplicates the deeds of the other. The effect, even if only one man is fellating the other, is of a mutual act, and of simultaneous climax. The parts of each are superimposed on those of the other and the two are, if not identical, indistinguishable. Like the words themselves, which fall over a wide area of the page leaving gaps within as well as between many of the lines, physical fragments are strewn, or seedlike sown, across an undescribed landscape which is nonetheless, in its parts, particular and detailed.

Poem, body, and landscape are one, located directly in front of our reading and kissing lips (the reader shares the speaker's point of view, and is implicated in his sexual act), and in front of and immediately within the locked gates of Paradise, to which the lovers' hands turn genital keys: "His hands unlocking from chambers of my male body" . . . "my hand in your hand seeking the locks, the keys." The features of the poem's gardens, far from being wild, have been carefully landscaped. They include "the red-flowering eucalyptus, / the madrone, the yew," with which the poem begins; the entrance, associated with the lover's mouth; the 'sleeping fountains' of his nipples; the temple of his belly, at the centre of which lies his navel, possibly associated with the omphalos of Delphi, supposed centre of the ancient world; and the root and flower of his groin. Each part of the body's topography (typography) is associated with a point near the entrance to the spiritual domain. Physical and spiritual consummation are approximate, drawn closer together by love.


Title Gregory Woods: On "Torso" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Gregory Woods Criticism Target Robert Duncan
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 16 Jun 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Articulate Flesh: Male Homo-Eroticism and Modern Poetry
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