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Poem, Category, Relationships, Gay

By Catherine Halley

As you might know, it’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender month here in the good old U.S. of A.  In the hope of promoting some quality queer poetry and some quality queer poems here on the poetryfoundation.org, we’ve got a section of our Poetry Tool dedicated to “gay” poems, whatever that means.

Let’s say we decide to include poems based on the subject matter regardless of the poet’s purported or claimed orientation. What’s missing from our list? I don’t mean to ask what are the best queer poems about love, though I’m interested in that too. I mean what’s in our Poetry Tool already that’s not tagged as a gay poem and should be?

You might start by browsing around what’s listed under the broader categories of poems about relationships or poems about love and desire. But we have over 8,500 poems in the archive, so we wouldn’t be surprised if you found them elsewhere too…

Comments (9)

  • On June 12, 2009 at 1:32 pm D. A. Powell wrote:

    Hi Catherine,

    Robert Duncan’s “Such is the Sickness of Many a Good Thing” would make an excellent inclusion.

  • On June 12, 2009 at 1:37 pm Cathy Halley wrote:

    Thanks, DA Powell. I was hoping we had “Interrupted Forms” in the archive but we don’t. I’m happy to add this to the collection.

  • On June 12, 2009 at 1:53 pm R.L. wrote:

    I honestly feel as if the category, itself, should be renamed either to read “Lesbian & Gay” or “queer.” If you should find the latter is chosen, that might open up your resources: poems that speak of or to non-heteronormative relationships, whether homo- or heterosexual; poems that offer alternatives, critiques, etc.

    Nevertheless, I do not take for granted the importance of having a separated section. I offer “Lesbian & Gay” for this because, well, historically “gay” has been used or considered to speak of only male-male relationships.

    You said: “Let’s say we decide to include poems based on the subject matter regardless of the poet’s purported or claimed orientation.” But I say: this is not an unhelpful place to begin.

    For instance, I haven’t noticed Henri Cole on the archives, or his poem ‘Homosexuality.’ It was published in his sixth collection, ‘Black Bird and Wolf.”

    I will continue to look around and see what I see.

  • On June 12, 2009 at 8:13 pm D. A. Powell wrote:

    Hi R.L.,

    The first instance I can think of where “gay” means “queer, homosexual, lesbian, and/or etc.” is Gertrude Stein’s “Miss Furr and Miss Skeene,” where it signifies a lesbian relationship. “Buggerer” and such terms are, to my mind, gender-specific. Where lesbians often got erased by labels was in legislation against homosexuality, which was often extremely gender-specific. But the coded meaning of “gay” was meant to be inclusive of a broad spectrum of non-heteronormative folks, and we should still consider it as such. No label is entirely correct, nor should it be. And while queer people who have worked through their identity issues might reject this or that label, I think it’s good to remember that for young people seeking information–or for non-queer people trying to walk a delicate balance of sensitivity and well-intentioned curiosity–“gay” is an accepted, non-threatening term.

    and Dear Cathy,

    Thank you for adding this category to the Poetry Tool in a spirit of inclusiveness.

  • On June 16, 2009 at 11:03 am Cathy Halley wrote:

    Hello again DA Powell–

    I have to admit that I didn’t add this category to the archive. It was here when I got here a few months ago. I was poking around it the other day and realized there were lots of things missing. Category tags aside, the quickest and easiest thing to do is to add the “gay” tag to some of the poems that already exist in the archive. We’ll happily do that, but I’m guessing there are lots of poems we’ve missed.

    Thanks to everyone for helping us mind the gaps.

    Cathy

  • On June 17, 2009 at 2:35 am Arthur Durkee wrote:

    What’s missing from the list? Almost everything.

    I’m baffled as to how to even address this in any sort of practical way, as it’s too large a question.

    Does one label every poem by an LGBT writer as “gay,” following the essentialist argument that anything a gay writer writes is gay? Or does one label such poems only if they contain explicit homoerotic (PLGBT) content. I for one resist labeling lesbian poetry as “gay” because there are often very large aesthetic differences; gender politics and identification issues make things even more complicated, once introduced.

    I have in my possession about three dozen anthologies of gay-written, gay-themed poetry, and about a hundred or so individual anthologies by gay poets. There’s been a lot published; obviously I’m a collector, being a gay-identified poet myself (and does it mean anything, or not, that I’m a gay-identified poet who’s had relationships in the past with women?). Of course it’s not all great poetry. I also have a few lesbian poetry anthologies, at least one book of poetry that’s fag-hag poetry written by a straight woman poet for her gay male friends; but what am I to label poetry written by gay men in which they wear a woman’s persona at times?

    Is there in fact a useful overarching label? “Queer” or “LGBT” or “homoerotic” might be the best one can do.

    Compiling a list of poems from my library, following any of these criteria, even the simplest and most exclusionary criteria, would take me simply more time than I have to offer. I am interested in the project, but I also am somewhat annoyed by it. At root of my annoyance is the question I see asked by many LGBT-identified poets, “Am a I gay writer, or am I a writer who happens to be gay?” If one were Allen Ginsberg, one would probably answer yes to the first clause; if one were May Sarton, one would most definitely answer yes to the second clause. Yet both wrote same-sex-identified poetry. So I find this entire project frustrating. It means well, but it raises more problems than it solves.

  • On June 17, 2009 at 3:14 am D. A. Powell wrote:

    Hi Arthur,

    You might go to the “Poetry Tool” referenced above and look at the category in question. It’s not a list of poems by gay poets. It’s a subset of “relationship” poems that are gay-themed. They are not all by gay people. Or lesbians, non-gay, etc. Anyone can write a poem about a gay relationship. The category isn’t trying to ghetto-ize or un-ghetto-ize anybody. Would that it were–I’d stick my recent ex-partner in the ghetto and chop off his philandering balls. But there’s also no category for “eunuchs,” emotional or otherwise.

  • On June 17, 2009 at 10:29 am thomas brady wrote:

    Arthur,

    “So I find this entire project frustrating. It means well, but it raises more problems than it solves.”

    Yes, I must agree.

    Gay and straight are exactly the same. All gender issues (normative or not) are ruled by gender difference, whether it is the excitement a man feels for a woman, or the excitement a woman feels for a man, or, a woman (lesbian) excited by the male quality within her, or the man (gay) excited by the female quality within him. If a man (gay) is excited by the beauty of men, he is excluding the female (seeing the beauty of the female as it already exists in the male) or, if a woman (lesbian) is excited by the beauty of women, she is excluding the male (seeing the beauty of the male already existing in the female); gender exclusion is occurring, which still resides in the domain of gender difference. There is no combination which does fall under the rubric, gender difference. There are a greater number of heterosexuals simply because gender difference is more prominently and obviously expressed and celebrated heterosexually. Gays are rarer and more socially sly and subtle, and thus generally more intelligent, but this does not change the fact all partake of gender difference universally.

    The following poem demonstrates a reifying “subversion” which illustrates the philosophy articulated above.

    Is This Normal?

    To want you for your lips
    Because your lips are large,
    To want you for your face,
    So beautiful, you seem naked,
    Trammeled by disgrace,
    Not from my lust, hidden
    By social fear, secretly slaked–
    No, because your beautiful face comes to me, unbidden?

    To want you for your sighs,
    Which say more than words?
    To want you for your eyes
    Which triumph over words?
    Is it normal to feel wordlessly
    Lewd? To know what is impossible to say?
    Impossible tomorrow! Impossible today!
    Is it normal for a poem to say this perfectly?

    We tend to simplify the gay issue in areas where we should be more sublte, and over-analyze the issue in areas where we should be more direct. But of course this is not surprising when we are dealing with an issue which has much to do with social slyness on one hand and human rights on the other.

    Thomas

  • On June 17, 2009 at 2:42 pm Cathy Halley wrote:

    You all raise important points. I’m torn about this more than you can imagine, which is exactly why I decided to start the dialogue.

    We are always acquiring more gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer love poetry and will spend time deciding how best to label it, but I want to start by making sure we’ve identified the poems in our existing archive that address, describe, and embody this love as such. This means, literally, checking a box that includes it in what is now known as the “gay relationships” list. Right now there are only 33 poems in the category. Of the 1,300 poems about love and desire, I’m guessing there are more than 33 that aren’t “straight”. I guess I was asking for help in identifying the missing ones because sometimes, as Thomas Brady implies, it’s hard to tell.

    About the labeling: The Poetry Tool is by nature a pretty rudimentary tool. Heterosexual relationship poems are culled in a category called “men & women”. You might argue that we should replace the “gay relationships” category with “men & men” and “women & women”, but that begs the binary-gender question.

    Plus which, there’s one thing that’s useful about the term “gay”–it’s search-engine friendly. In other words, if there’s a gay or lesbian person out there looking for poems that might describe his or her experience, s/he can Google “gay poems” and find us, right there on the first page. I think that’s the point DA Powell is trying to make. But I agree that the term “gay” has often effaced lesbian and bisexual identities.

    I hope this discussion continues.

    Thanks for input,
    Cathy


Posted in Uncategorized on Friday, June 12th, 2009 by Catherine Halley.