John Reed has a healthy interest in porn as both an art form and a cultural phenomenon—last year he interviewed Seka, the iconic adult film performer, for VICE. He’s also a prolific writer who’s penned (along with numerous novels, essays, and mash-ups of Shakespeare plays) dozens of sonnets, and these two passions dovetailed nicely in his new project, which is having the women who perform on webcams for money read some of his poems, in the outfits and settings in which they’re usually stripping, dancing, or otherwise titillating their viewers. John’s wanted to do this project since 2008, when he filmed one of his sonnets being read by Canadian performer Carrie Moon. We think these short videos put both the poems and the webcam models in new contexts—beyond that, they’re terrific readings of some great sonnets. We’ve included the text of each sonnet beneath the corresponding video, in case you want to read along.
Sonnet 66, read by Miss Emily
Ok, you didn't need to break something.
When people come into this china shop,
they tiptoe around, they oo and they aa,
and then when they walk out, they slam the door.
I spend my whole life sweeping up the glass,
rethreading crystals onto chandeliers,
trying to crazy glue the porcelain,
telling myself that it was just an accident,
and I'll crawl around and find all the gears
to reassemble the two grandfather clocks,
which maybe needed cleaning, and then I'll
fix the doorknob, which didn't even lock.
Tomorrow, I can reattach the sign.
Sonnet 64, read by Jesse Quinn
I'm not mad, beautiful, that would be
like blaming the sun for casting shadows,
like cursing the ocean with a threat of rain.
The worst gift of sin is hypocrisy.
The better gift is stinging forgiveness,
like the peckings of pigeons in vomit,
because wrong to wrong, all of us are leaders.
A few more hours of my silence—
you won't be bothered to think about it.
And why should you? There isn't any we.
But that look of yours hurled me from heaven,
me, who for your grace trades to live below,
who for a glimpse of sky, lives in the sea.
Sonnet 16 (a long night), read by British Ruby
A long night, my love, my sweet sick sunrise,
my drunken dawn, my pearly, priceless doom.
Who but you? Waiting in my blinking eyes,
churning in exhaustion—my reckless fume.
Dirty feet, white thighs and somebody's bride;
divorcee, chapped lips and laughter to lie for.
We had no shame but we both had our pride.
Never were you mine, never was I yours.
Never came the nevermore, the sorrow
for the lost cold war, the bickered, battered
bedroom sores, mascara charred and marrow
bored. I hate how they knew we would shatter.
And whoever invented the promise
had no love, made no concession, for us.
Eleven years later she comes to me
and remembers she said "in ten years."
I remember I said we'd never speak,
but two children since I've nothing to fear.
She tells me she has a story to tell,
about the dream I gave her, which she lived:
there was wealth, a poor girl and art to sell,
and a rich man, an artist and a shiv,
and an engine left running at LAX,
and leaving behind a new way to live.
She wears high leather boots and shakes with sex,
and decides that we'll write it as a script.
Will it be all right, she asks, with my wife?
She knows that it's something her boyfriend won't like.
Sonnet 41, read by Miss Tayler Texas
All I really want to do is stab people.
Once, I got a chance to do it.
But the guy kept trying to get away,
and I'd stab him where he was moving.
He'd reach out a hand, a foot, I'd stab it.
After a while, he moved less often,
so I stabbed him a few times in the back.
I talked a little about the woman,
but I wasted the opportunity.
It's just an accident to hack, hack, hack.
To stab, stab, stab is intentional, will.
Resort to speculation is a shame,
but the point, I'd suppose, is intention.
Sonnet 26 (more Ann), read by Tuesday Von D
How is it you would rely upon me?
I would lie at your command, relied upon.
The words of the promise, I read, writ large,
to meet the larger vow to the larger read—
and provisos and riders shall rest in peace,
assured safe keep, and devotedly prayed upon.
Rely upon me and the harder reads with ease,
hour on hour shall be reliably free.
Rely upon me to honor my wards,
to be to you doubly true, or true to none,
to undertake the blest and the holy.
Rely upon me as if the ice age
moaned the vow in a chorus of moraines.
Sonnet 20 (John John), read by Jesse Quinn
John John automaton, born to never,
never learn. John John automaton, born
to never never learn. Born to ever
ever urn. Born to burn and born to scorn.
John John automaton, got nothing,
nothing, nothing done. John John automat,
nothing winning, always spinning spinning
spinning. John-a-folds his wrinkles flat.
John John automatic. Panic panic
panic panic. Needs to needs to needs to naught.
Needs machined, by house mechanic.
John-O-John, ought-to-John on auto ought.
Not John-o-ton. John John, not John-o-ton.
John John, not John-o-ton. John John, not John
Thanks to all the models who participated, and special thanks to the folks at mygirlfund for helping to set this up.
Want to read one of John's sonnets in front of a webcam? Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
The five videos that are hosted on Vimeo were originally hosted on YouTube.
Also by John Reed: