Betty & I
We went to one of those swingers’ parties,
Me and my blow-up doll: Betty.
She wanted to add a new kink to our lives.
I just went there to get sweaty.
Our relationship was at a low point.
And it had been that way for a bit.
But I still tried to treat her with flowers or clothes.
Or a bicycle puncture repair kit.
Yet for months my Betty had been silent.
And our love life had skidded off track.
I didn’t know if Betty had stopped loving me.
Or was just missing the string from her back.
I pumped her up full before leaving.
She looked as good as it claimed on her box.
I adorned her in lingerie, perfumes and makeup.
And then I put on some clean socks.
We looked perfectly suited together
We each were the cream of the crop
But that didn’t stop people from laughing
As we waited beside the bus stop.
I should really have waited to inflate her
Onlookers can say horrid stuff
But we were both going off to a sex party
And I didn’t want to arrive out of puff.
So we stood and endured the torment:
“You sicko!” “You effing buffoon!”
“You pervert!” You wanker! You dirty old git!”
“Don’t you know she’s a bloody balloon?”
When the bus came I grinned at the driver.
But I could tell that he wanted to tease.
I held up my hand, gave him the right change,
And said, “Two, to the sex party, please.”
Which was how we ended up at the party
And Betty seemed glad we were there
She looked radiant in her new lingerie
And her hundred percent nylon hair.
When the hostess sidled between us
She caught Betty’s leg with her fag.
And, although she said sorry profusely,
My Betty soon started to sag.
The air hissed from her like flatulence
And may I just say at this juncture
It’s hard to deny that you’ve farted
And explain that your date’s got a puncture.
I called for some help but got laughter
Everyone thought I was having a jape
As I stood holding up my poor Betty
And screaming for some sticky tape.
Looking back on that time is a milestone
As the air gushed from Betty’s right knee.
But it did bring a new and clean meaning
To the phrase: she went down on me.
I took hold of her leg with my fingers
Around the burn hole I gave her a pinch
And while it stopped air from escaping
She still lacked the right pounds per square inch.
Deflated, we both left the party
And I vowed I would never return
We expected a night of fresh frolics and fun
But all Betty got was a burn.
Betty and I have now parted
And my love life has hit a new low
But I won’t try those personal ads or blind dates
What do you think me? An effing weirdo?
My name is Ashley Lister. I’ve written a handful of pseudonymously published erotic fiction titles (well, two dozen novels, but who’s counting?). I’ve written several short stories and a couple of non-fiction titles exploring the UK’s alternative sex culture. Currently I teach modules on fiction writing and poetry writing at degree level. And I’m the author the poem “Betty & I.”
On the surface “Betty & I” can be read as a whimsical exercise in the absurd. A lonely man takes his blow-up doll to a swingers’ party. It’s a silly idea. But the poem also explores loneliness, as well as the inscrutable societal rules that reinforce loneliness with particular regards to maintaining and enjoying sexual relationships.
The unnamed narrator begins the poem in a parody of a conventional relationship, where he is involved with a blow-up doll. The blow-up doll is an icon of female sexual oppression. The blow-up doll represents the apex of misogyny: it’s a three-dimensional image of crude feminine sexuality, commodifiable as a mass-produced tool for male mass-consumption; comprising of an ostensibly attractive surface with nothing substantial – literally nothing but air – beneath that surface.
But the focus of the poem lies with the lonely and dysfunctional, unnamed narrator. We understand he’s lonely because he’s presented to us in a relationship with a blow-up doll. In the real world that would be called ‘not having a relationship.’ We understand he’s dysfunctional because his relationship with this inanimate object is proving unsatisfactory and it is suggested they are struggling to stay together. As a solution to this dilemma of loneliness and dysfunctionality, the narrator elects to explore alternative-sexual culture.
I write erotic fiction to explore these taboos, and to pursue the prospect of sexual variety and experimentation within fictional relationships. I research and write sexual non-fiction to discover and share the experiences of others who have tried to expand their boundaries and their knowledge and experience of sex.
We live in a world where sex remains a taboo subject. Admittedly, the taboo against sex and the discussion of sex is not as strong now as it was during the Victorian era. But it’s still true to say that, for the majority of us, our knowledge of sex comes from our own limited experiences.
Sex, like poetry and fiction, is a solipsistic practice: it’s something that we all experience on our own. It’s true a reader can share a book with the person they love. A couple can read the words to each other or sit down together and listen at a poetry reading or to an audio book. But, ultimately, we all experience poetry and fiction on our own. In the same fashion, we all experience our responses to sex on our own. And the worry as to whether or not our responses are the correct ones is what invariably reinforces each individual’s loneliness.
The concept behind “Betty & I” is that the reader can laugh at the absurdity of the narrator’s situation as he attempts to forge a comparatively conventional solution to a mystifying and seemingly irresoluble relationship problem. The reality is that the reader can empathise with the narrator’s plight because, to some extent, we’re all struggling to find a conventional solution to our own mystifying and seemingly irresoluble problems.
Ashley Lister is a UK author of fiction and non-fiction. When he’s not writing he’s either teaching Creative Writing or working on performance poetry.