“Art = Beauty + Shit” by Devon Balwit

Devon Balwit


Art that avoids shit is kitsch, said
Kundera. Think proletarian posters, red
and black, the size of building facades,
muscular farmers, hoes and pitchforks lifted,
Stalin kissing babies, no sign of dead
dissidents anywhere, Putin, chest bared
atop a tank, Rockwell’s wholesomeness on steroids,
Saturday cartoons where the good win and the bad
apologize after being appropriately punished,
romance novels where desire finds its reward,
no error made as to the character of one’s beloved,
passion to continue unabated decade after decade.
We scrutinize such glossy surfaces, betrayed:
our holes for shit and jouissance are side by side.
It’s a shocker, the two holes side by side,
new life emerging along with everything else,
the new mother, from day one, prepared
by the rubber sheet. Thank you, good nurses,
for normalizing this. The doctors, of course, just
swoop in for the final catch, the push and stitch,
like old-timey husbands, who get a baby dusted
with powder, no poopy nappy to put a twitch
in their nostrils. At the other end, we have Napoleon,
who wrote in his famous letter—Home in three
days. Don’t bathe—wanting Josephine to ripen.
How bawdy. Was she as sanguine about his body?
From this first shame, some claim, comes culture—
liturgy and law hiding a fundament of ordure.
Liturgy and law obscure a fundament of ordure,
white marble for both cathedral and court.
So much gilt, you’re terrified to fart.
They might boot you out, priest and barrister.
Those who insisted drapes cover the muscular
nudes on the chapel ceiling, who’d have boxed
the ears of children who asked unorthodox
questions: Jesus drew in the dirt. Did he poop there?
And we know well the stink in the halls of power—
if not shit, then bullshit, despite the suits
and ties. Even if the camera never shows
our leaders entering or exiting such doors,
swiping still-wet hands on their thighs, we intuit
they, like us, are animals with fluxes and flows.
Animals with fluxes and flows, how dare we be
so high-handed with one another? Remember
the advice for overcoming performance anxiety?
Imagine everyone on the pot and your fear
will dissipate. That man sermonizing grunts
away at dawn as does your most dedicated
enemy. The beautiful sylph who disdains you isn’t
exempt (although s/he would rather deny it).
And as we age, the urge becomes more frequent
until, perhaps, we’re as diapered as when we began.
Best to say it plain, to abandon pretense.
We include but aren’t just this being on the can.
I’ve made too much and yet not enough of it:
To capture life, art = beauty + shit.

from Poets Respond
July 2, 2023


Devon Balwit: “A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of rereading Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which the news article quotes and from which this poem grows. In it, he writes that kitsch is ‘the absolute denial of shit, in both the literal and the figurative senses of the word; kitsch excludes everything from its purview which is essentially unacceptable in human existence.’ (web)

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