Episode 20: Bill Noble: Poems and Stories about Sex, Love and Intimacy
Bill Noble: Poems and Stories about Sex, Love and Intimacy
Announcer: This program is intended for mature audiences only.
Chip August: Welcome! You're listening to "Sex, Love, and Intimacy." I'm your host Chip August. On today's show we are going to be listening to the poetry and prose of a very, very gifted writer named Bill Noble.
Chip August: Bill is sex educator. He is an editor at cleansheets.com, which I think is the premier literary erotica site online. He's a gifted poet and writer. He's won awards. He was a Pushcart Prize nominee. He won the National Looking Glass Award for poetry, in the collection of Best American Erotica Annual Anthology by Susie Bright. The readers selected him as -- what was it -- one of the best stories of the decade.
Bill writes soft and sexy, hard and fun, tender and sweet poetry that will make you think, poetry that touches your heart. Words and stories that I just think are unique and wonderful. So welcome to the show Bill Noble.
Bill Noble: Thanks Chip. Shall I just start out with a poem?
Chip August: I would love that.
Bill Noble: Here's one. It's the first poem, actually, in a book called "May Touch Redeem Us" that I wrote for my partner and lover, Desiree, as an anniversary gift. The poem is called "I Didn't Write You a Birthday Poem."
So I set off up the hills into the jaws of the spring storm to see if the weather had blown in one or two overnight. And what do I find? Hills, like the colossal, tangled bodies of lovers, and great half toppled towers of cloud. A green and white world with witch broom squalls scouring San Pablo Bay, and sun falling straight down the long meadows on the north side of the valley. As for poems, no luck, love's muddled my poor head to the point that any poetry has been cropped down to puppy eyes, exhausted moans, and clichéd repetition. You may regret it more than I do, tonguing your navel the morning of your grand party, feathering my breath into your ears, rolling your shrieking resistance around until you gave up entirely and let me have my way. That was as good as a hundred I am's, immortal or not. And, taking you like that, face first into the bed, grinning. Jesus woman, I emptied a years worth of poetry into you. I think you soaked me to the knees. Rhyme, not reason, we need poetry. Happy birthday.
Chip August: Well, I think it just got about ten degrees hotter in here. That was quite beautiful, quite, quite beautiful. I guess if you're listening you can guess why I invited Bill onto the show. Where in the world did that come from? I mean is that literally just a reporting of what happened, only in verse?
Bill Noble: You know before we started, as I was on my way over here today, I was thinking about what the hell I'd say about my poetry. Yeah, I think almost everything I write is biographical --autobiographical -- in the sense that I guess I have two goals. One is to communicate the truth about sexuality and love, and the other is to communicate the truth about fun. A great, large part of which, for grown ups, is sex. I guess that's where I come from. Maybe I'll change the pace a little bit and read another poem that kind of reflects the fun part.
Chip August: Oh yes, please!
Bill Noble: It's called "Nice Guys Finish Last."
There you go again and go again, you Amelia Earhart of sex. Stall, spinning all over the bed, rattling the poor neighbor's windows, revving up my bum, praising God in the ceiling, galloping your hips, believing every damn last thing I do, wet enough for the two of us to sail away, cursing, ready, opening you eyes, ballooning, collapsing, leaving eight long, red runways up my back. Howling in chords, going speechless, gaping, going breathless, red as cherry corvette, and going again. And damn it all to holy hell, it's time, it's time, it's time! Praise your sweaty thighs! I'm butt flung, brain dead, soaring, roaring, falling, done!
Chip August: [panting] H-h-h-h-h-h yeah! Yeehaw! [laughing] You have to know, listeners, that most poetry's completely lost on me because I have no idea what the poet is talking about. I noticed that when I listened to Bill's poems and Bill's prose, I always actually know what he's talking about. It's such a wonderful relief!
Not only do I know what he's talking about, but I've either experienced it or am really wanting to experience it. I noticed you turned the page here. You got another one?
Bill Noble: Sure, how about one more? This is actually the title poem of the book I mentioned. It's called "A Small Poem about Tenderness."
Tonight I would be the provider of solace, the caregiver in the face of all that afflicted you this day. But when you took me fully in your mouth, small, yielding, your encompassing warmth and sweetness without urgency or agenda, every door opened. Every hurt and hesitation was healed. I gave myself up to you, and you gave me myself, whole and at peace
"Would you like to be inside?" You asked, looking up from your giving. And in a moment you were above me, radiant, wordless, emptied of urgency and injury, and this soughtless joy rose in my bones. This joy conceived in love, refracted in your eyes, easy as breath. Each enfolding night, may we come to each other healed, jubilant, and patient. Each day, of all the days we may be graced with, may no hurt ever be ever be stronger than the simplest act of love. May touch redeem us.
Chip August: Wow! Wow, that is just so lovely. Just taking a moment here to breath that one in. I had a thought as you were reading of -- I imagine if I were take some of those tender moments in my life, and then put them on a page in black and white, I'd feel pretty exposed. I feel like I'd be kind of opening my heart and saying, "Here, look, see! This is me at a pretty deep place." Do you feel like the writing of these things strips away layers, as you feel more exposed in the world in some way?
Bill Noble: Yeah. I'm not exactly sure how to answer that question. I guess this is the "I'm not an expert" part of this interview, but yeah, it does. There's something very vulnerable just about setting the words down, never mind letting anybody read them. And then, of course, you let your lover read them, or maybe you let other poets read them. That feels several steps more vulnerable.
Then you stand up in a public place somewhere, or you commit them to print somewhere. They're turned loose on the world. They're no longer yours. It's no longer your sex or your poetry. It's whose ever encountering them out there, and whatever they do with them. Yeah, it's a very odd feeling. It's a very -- it's funny to give this small immortality to teeny little things.
Chip August: We're going to take a short. We want to give a chance to show a little support for our sponsors. When we come back, I'm going to have Bill read a little bit more. I want to hear some prose, so please stay tuned. At the end of the show, definitely we'll have an exercise, something you can do at home. This is Chip August. It's "Sex, Love, and Intimacy." We'll be right back.
Chip August: We're back! You're listening to "Sex, Love, and Intimacy." I'm your host, Chip August. We've been talking to Bill Noble. Bill's a very gifted poet and writer, award winning. We've been listening to some poetry. I'm wondering Bill, could you share a little bit of prose with us please?
Bill Noble: Sure! I thought I'd read you just a little bit of the beginning of a story called "Salt." It's the first story in a wonderful collection of erotica called "Wet." It's part of the aqua erotica series. They're wonderful little utterly waterproof books. Stores used to sell them immersed in goldfish bowls initially. You can get them now; it seems like in every airport bookstore I've ever been into. It's kind of wonderful -- very, very accessible erotica. So this is "Salt." It takes place on the Napali Coast of Hawaii.
The week Shoshanna left her, snow dust Napali for the first time in memory. It was so cold she hears the year's crop of mango plopping off the trees, green. And then, with white still clinging to the cliffs, rangers came and burned down her shack. And nearly busted her too, if she hadn't run. That was a big deal. And it was a big deal too, when some hippie in a homemade pigskin vest walked up and found her cold and crying by the ashes.
Mandy wiped her face on the back of a sooty hand and glared, but the hippie wrapped his jacket around her shoulders ‘til she stopped shivering. He didn't seem to need to talk much, and sure as shit, she had no need to talk to him. So they just stood, surrounded by guava and tangled lantana, listening to the embers pop.
"Nothing to salvage." He said after a while, and then, looking her nakedness up and down, "Warm enough?" Part of her wanted to say, "Fuck you" what, with the man smell and the pig skin stink, but she managed to keep her mouth shut.
"Got some food in my boat." Her belly cramped at the word food, so she turned and looked at him for the first time. He had a gray ponytail, a lean belly, and a pair of raggedy shorts that must have been white once. No underwear. Mandy could glimpse the crookedy tangle of a testicle.
Salt! That's the other smell. He's a paddler. She pulled the jacket tighter and grunted, "I guess I could eat." She fought some brief internal battle, and then looked up at him again. "Thanks."
"Hike back to the beach?" And then he seemed afraid he'd overstepped. "Or I could bring stuff up." "Nah." She said, and turned toward the narrow cane break trail that led down Kalalau Valley toward the ocean.
"You saw the fire?" She asked, half surprised that she was talking to him. She shook her tangled hair out and tied it back, shimmying her bare butt as she went down the trail. "Why the hell am I doing that?" And then her grief over Shoshanna slammed back.
"Saw the smoke, and I'd heard about the rangers rousting people all up and down the Napali, trying to make the world safe for tourists." He said. "How long you been living here?"
She stopped and handed him back the jacket. "What's your name?" She asked. "Uh, Prawna." He said. "Want a little bud?" He grubbed a small brass cylinder and wrinkled rolling papers out of his shorts. "I'm Mandy. No, I don't smoke. Um, I don't wear clothes much either." She said, gesturing at the jacket. "But I appreciate the help." The words tumbled out of her. She hadn't had much occasion to talk this last week.
They sat crossed legged when they reached the beach, and ate rye crisp and pineapple under the steady roar of the surf. The guy never sneaked a look at her snatch. Not once. It was making her wet wanting him to. "Gay?" She shrugged. "Ah, who gives a shit?"
Chip August: Oh no, no! I want more! I want more! [laughing] So wait, this is from an anthology called "Wet. More Aqua Erotica." It's edited by Mary Anne Mohanroj, and apparently is available all around. So if you want to know what happens with Mandy and Prawna, why I guess you're just going to have to get the book and read the story.
You are -- you have a way with words. You weave a story like a storyteller, and it's really nice to listen to. Do you find yourself, just in conversation with your family and lovemaking with your sweetheart, just spinning stories and using that same gift? Or does it only show up when you're sitting in front of a blank page?
Bill Noble: Yeah, you know, I think I'm addicted to words and to storytelling, and have been life long. I have to try to keep it in bounds. Writing fiction and poetry is a good way of sort of keeping myself from just confabulating way, way too excessively.
Chip August: I got it! So you're in recovery here, and we're listening to the recovery, thank goodness! I see you've got another poem lined up here. I'd love to hear it.
Bill Noble: Sure. This is actually a poem I wrote for some really dear friends who had this experience. When they told me about it, it just seemed so remarkable that it had to be a poem. It just had to be. So I sat down and wrote this. It's called "Where We Find Joy."
It's never this warm on San Francisco's fog bound streets, this perfect night to go hand and hand through the mission. Perfect too, for this tattered man waiting on the sidewalk, ministering his paperback miscellany and pile of clothes, to let go every lesser need and declare his solitary heart. Instead of pitching his poor wares to these passing lovers, he cocks his head and says, "You know more about the joy than I do." And you look down to see the book that lies between his knees, an old copy of "The Joy of Lesbian Sex." But not until the two of you drive away do you understand the gift he gave so freely, this man with nothing else to give. What if you had stopped and kissed for him, the long, unhurried kiss of two women deep in their discovery of love? What if you had bought this book? When he was collected at last from the gray streets, would they find the dollar unspent inside his patched shirt? And when you sat knee to knee in your high bed, reading aloud to each other from that book, would some small catch of breath, some hint remain of those stars, of that rare, warm night of that honoring of love?
Chip August: [sighs] We're going to take a short break, give ourselves a chance to let our sponsors support us and let us support the sponsors. We'll be right back.
Chip August: We are back. Welcome back to "Sex, Love, and Intimacy." I'm Chip August. We're talking to Bill Noble. Actually, we're listening to Bill Noble, who's an award-winning poet and author. We've been listening to some of his poetry and some of his stories. I want to remind you, if you would like to send comments to me about this show, or about any of my shows, you can -- I can be reached by email, [email protected] Also, if you want text or transcripts of this show or any of the Personal Life Media shows, by all means come visit us at our website, personallifemedia.com. If you would like to leave me a phone email -- a phone voice mail. I have a voice mail number. It's 206-350-5333, that's 206-350-5333. Please leave your name, leave the name of my show, which is "Sex, Love, and Intimacy," leave your question or comment, and please leave us a phone number and/or an email address. Just know that when you leave us voicemail, we take that as permission, as your agreement for us to potentially use it on air. I don't promise we will, but I don't promise we won't. If it's something you don't want on air, please don't leave it at that number.
I'm going to bring us back to Bill Noble and some of his magical and beautiful words here. Bill, I noticed you've lined up yet another poem for us, so tell us about this please.
Bill Noble: Well, this is actually sort of a fun story with this. I went to one of those California Hot Springs, one of those clothing optional places, for the first time years ago and spent the weekend immersed in warm water and naked people, and was so struck with the experience of just this mass of pink humanity that I got up at five in the morning and went into this cold, silent shower room and sat down on a hard, wooden bench and wrote this poem. I think I've hardly changed a word. It's called "Buns."
Buns like butter rolls, buns like rosy hillocks. A weltering of buns, a plethora of buttocks. Asses sagging, skimpy, sumptuous. Asses like the fundaments of civil discourse. Asses as a smirky cheer, blubbered butt cheeks flexing for propulsion. Jiggling to the collisions of the tryst. Salty bakers, derrieres, happy honeyed haunches twinkling on the way to love, to commerce, on the way to worship. Give praise to these mostly speechless of largesse, these twinned, these moon calved testaments, these meaty truths, these toothsome tubby tushes that serve us as our solemn, as our certain and unsullied seats of reason.
Chip August: Once again proving that there's no telling what will be inspiration for art. There's just no way of ever knowing. [laughing] I like "mostly silent." That was -- mostly speechless, mostly silent, yeah so...
OK, let's have another.
Bill Noble: This is a poem called "I Do."
Let your breath bell out my belly. Let your tongue tip dance its minuets. I want to shape new sounds from the satin of your skin. I want your heart to harp my ribs, my heart to press your plump old breasts. My spine to dangle like a necklace from your lips. Ahh, let your seed pearl whisper secrets we simply cannot keep, your hips upraised their praise in joining. Let my honey bear lap soft along your heat and swim your succor like a smile. I want your legs to loop my waist, your arms to hoop my kiss, like this. I want to cantor camel back, to saddle vault and sally. Yes, I do! Come, let my seed swing arcs. Come, let me slip and slide you. Woman, when your eyes roll, when I lose my spurt of words, I want our shatter seismic. I want the rush of mountains in our arms. I do! And then to laugh like tasseled bells, our eyes like spilling jewels, our plains on throats. I want, I do, a peace like horses running on the hills. I do, I do.
Chip August: Hmm. Yes. I like to invite my guests to have an exercise for my listeners, something that they can do to help the love, the intimacy, and the sexuality in their relationship. I'm wondering if you have something along those lines for the listeners?
Bill Noble: You know, I do. If you like erotic poems, or if you like poems generally, write one yourself. If you absolutely hate poems, then write a good one yourself. What the hell! When some sort of peak thing happens for you, some incredible connection with your lover, with your wife, with your husband, with somebody walking down the street that catches your eye -- or when somebody tells you of some transcendent thing that's just happened to them, that's just transformed them -- sit down and try to find words for it. Just the process of finding the words is a profound experience all by itself. You don't ever actually have to end up with a poem. Just sit down and play with words. It's as good as making love sometimes. If you manage to shape something that works for you out of that experience, then you get a double payoff, because you get to go and share it with your lover. I guarantee it will work for them.
Chip August: I think that's great advice. I think that's terrific advice. We want to leave on a one more Bill Noble note here. We want -- yeah, we're at the end. Bill's looking at me like, "Are we at the end?" Yes! We're at the end.
So, Bill, what's some words that you've written that you'd like to leave us with?
Bill Noble: This is a poem from many years ago called "Winter Visit."
Walking through the airy house, naked from the shower, a great commotion meets us in the kitchen, a fluttering of wings, a body beating and beating against the glass. A sharp shinned hawk too filled with youth and a hunger for juncos to find its way, or to understand what holds it. And we think of you, dear friend, timid, sunny, filled with hunger. Coming on a winter's day to this house you have not visited in a long time. Our hands gentle you, give their warmth, bring you with their touch to pleasure and release. Fragile bird among the jar of daffodils, the yellow sear, the black tipped beak, the golden eye that glows with life and light. We hold you without breathing and give you back to freedom. One stroke of wings, and you are gone among the endless rooms of air.
Chip August: And that brings us to the end of another show. Thanks for listening. You've been listening to "Sex, Love, and Intimacy." You've been listening to the poetry and the prose of Bill Noble. I hope you'll join me again. Good-bye for now.
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