This semester I have been given the awesome opportunity to organize and lead a monthly event called “Queering Poetry” run by the LGBT Equity Center on campus. Last week we had our first meeting (as we had to cancel February’s for some reason) and while there were only a few of us there, we had a great time. We began by reading some poetry out-loud, including an Audre Lorde poem from “Sinister Wisdom” a lesbian fiction/poetry anthology, “Practicing” by Marie Howe, from What the Living Do, and a poem each from Handmade Love by Julie Enszer, and Survivable World by Ron Mohring (who was my creative writing at Bucknell my freshman year). There is something wonderful about reading poetry out-loud, even in a small informal setting.
This reading was followed by a discussion of what “queer poetry” might be. Is it written by LGBT writers, and “queer” is just another way to say LGBT? Or is there something different between LGBT poetry versus queer poetry? My very broad definition of queer is non-normative, not only in regards to sexuality, but other things as well. Furthermore, I would add that my definition of queer is anti-identitarian, and that is one reason that I love Marie Howe’s “Practicing” which is about her first experiences kissing girls when she was 11 or 12, “practicing” as they called if for boys. While I am pretty sure that Marie Howe is straight, there are no assumptions about sexuality/sexual orientation in the poem and yet these girls are breaking the normative bounds of what might be considered the path to heterosexuality. What I love best about the poem is that no labels are placed upon what they are doing, or what they might become or what the future might hold. Rather is a tribute to those early experiences and relationships as well as a statement of preserving the memories of that as important and something that should not be considered shameful.
We also talked about forms. Might we apply the definition of queer poetry to look at different forms, for is example is e.e cummings poetry queer? (Margaret, you did your senior thesis on him, didn’t you? Am I completely off the mark with this suggestion?) In musing about that I wondered out-loud about what that means about sonnets written by LGBT writers. Even if the form is traditional, aren’t they queering it by changing the assumption that sonnets are about heterosexual love? Can we have a traditional form with queer subjects? And that brought us back to the question of whether LGBT poetry is always queer? And what might queer poetry look like if it was queer in form and subject? It was quite an interesting conversation and I am not sure that we came up with any answers, but we definitely exchanged some neat ideas. We also agreed that Walt Whitman was a very queer writer on many levels!
Finally, we did a writing exercise, using several books, including some Young Adult fiction novels that my friend had brought, to write erasure poetry. This was also a ton of fun, and I loved hearing everyone’s poems. It was cool to see the very different poetry that was produced by each of us, particularly from the three that used a book from the same series of YA novels. I was quite pleased with the poem that I wrote, using a children’s biology book called “Animal Time-Keepers” that I found at The Book Thing, a free bookstore in Baltimore. And I am eager for the next Queering Poetry in April, where we will be discussing and trying to write some queer slam poetry. It is always nice for me to get together with other creative writing folks and be able to be nerdy about writing and poetry, and I’m excited about continuing the conversation about queer poetry. 🙂
the border between
shadow and sunlight
into twilight air
we are tilted away
traveling to escape
a special kind of sleep
the pull of moon’s gravity
this monthly journey
that is the time when they feed.
go back, keep the rhythm
of the moon, the earth.
figure out your own kind of life.