‘Kiss the boot of shiny, shiny leather/Shiny leather in the dark/Tongue of thongs, the belt that does await you/Strike, dear mistress, and cure his heart… Severin, Severin, down on your bended knee, taste the whip of love not given lightly, taste the whip, now bleed for me.’  (The Velvet Underground)

‘Masochism’ –  after Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, author of Venus in Furs, famously abridged in the Velvet Underground song of the same name – is the tendency to derive pleasure from pain or humiliation. As such, it blurs the lines, loops one extreme back onto the other like a tail into a mouth. Carnivalesque? Oxymoronic? Perverse? The word ‘masochism’ voices an underlying ambiguity that entangles experiences we think of as opposites, at least in the light of day. We rely on this opposition like a language. But opposites often moonlight as lovers. What we understand of ourselves is always half in shadow. Want is a labyrinth, riddled with blindspots.

Suffer: hurt, ache, bear, tolerate, permit. Dominance: control over someone, or the state of being controlled. Severe: strict, unsparing.

S&M. Dominance & Submission. Bondage & Discipline. We think of sex. But what about elsewhere? What about our other pursuits of happiness and their grey areas? The contradictions of the erotic are easily marginalised (kinky, fantasy, ‘behind closed doors’), but pay attention: is sex ever separate? The mechanism of masochism refracts. Negotiations between pain and pleasure are dizzyingly complicated in many parts of our lives. Not just sexual: cultural. ‘Masochism’ represents – holds – a paradox, an abject muddling, a disorientating uncertainty that echoes about the dark corners of society. Sometimes it’s framed so close, so front-and-centre that we lose our capacity to recognise or question it. Discipline. Submission. No pain, no gain. Austerity. Penance. Catharsis. Torture porn. Game shows. Domination and suffering are not things we consistently avoid, and pleasure is not something we straightforwardly seek.

For instance: Why is it that an embrace of punishment still feels like an essential step on the path to redemption, religious or otherwise? Why can the smack of firm government offer comfort? Why are agony and achievement so casually intertwined? What does suffering – witnessed, endured, inflicted, ignored, idealised, or over-familiarised – do to the boundary between ourselves and others? What does accepting domination – whatever form that takes – relieve us of? How are our proximities to suffering and involvement systems of dominance (tiny and enormous) warped in the rear-view mirror of contemporary culture? And underneath it all, how much do fear and desire really have to do with each other?

Abridged is looking for poetry exploring the need to punish and be punished. Submissions can be up to three poems and  should be sent to abridged@ymail.com in Word or similar formats. Please also send a short bio. Please put your name on all submissions otherwise we might think it’s spam. Please make sure the attachment opens before you send it. Deadline for submissions is 25th May,

Image by Vassilis Konstantinou: http://www.vassiliskonstantinou.com/

Abridged is Supported by The Arts Council of Northern Ireland