On the Search for Queer Poetry in Rural America
Literary Hub shares an essay by Bruce Snider about looking for queer verse set in rural America. Snider grew up in "a small Indiana town famous for 70-pound cantaloupe grown by a man named Verlie Tucker." Although, as a kid, his poetry ruminated on cities' capacity to embrace populations of all stripes, he began longing for poetry that reflected his roots. "The earliest poems I wrote about gay love or desire were set in vague unnamed cities with subways and skyscrapers, club-going drag queens, strangers cruising in dark, cavernous bars," Snider writes. "This was, I assumed, what gay life was about, so I decorated each poem with the set pieces I’d found in the work of gay writers I admired." From there:
In addition to O’Hara, I’d read Mark Doty’s “63rd Street Y” (“The nude black man two windows over / is lying in bed . . .”). I’d read Tim Dlugos’s “Summer, South Brooklyn” (“gusher in the street where bald men with cigars / watch as boys in gym shorts and no shirts / crack the hydrant”) as well as James Schuyler’s “This Dark Apartment” (“I lived / on East 49th, first / with Frank and then with John, / we had a lovely view of / the UN building and the / Beekman Towers. They were / not my lovers, though).
Only years later would I read Mark Wunderlich’s “Take Good Care of Yourself,” but it captures much of what I imagined back then. The poem opens in The Roxy, Chelsea’s legendary gay bar, where the drag queen onstage is “all black lacquer / and soprano laugh,” where “the one bitter pill / of X-tasy dissolving on my tongue is the perfect / slender measure of the holy ghost.” What’s especially striking, however, is that, midway through the poem, the speaker suddenly imagines himself outside the club, outside the city entirely:
There’s no place like the unbearable ribbon
of highway that cuts the Midwest into two unequal
halves, a pale sun glowing like the fire
of one last cigarette. It is the prairie
I’m scared of, barreling off in all directions
flat as its inhabitants’ A’s and O’s. I left
Wisconsin’s well-tempered rooms
and snow-fields white and vacant as a bed
I wish I’d never slept in. Winters
I stared out the bus window through frost
at an icy template of what the world offered up—
the moon’s tin cup of romance and a beauty,
that if held too long to the body
Here—as in so much of the gay writing I read back then—the rural, if it ever appears, is fleeting. It’s the past, what’s left behind, full of emptiness and regret, where love and beauty can never last, where a gay man can never belong as the speaker belongs, if only briefly, to the dance club, “shirtless” in “a sea of men all muscle, / white briefs and pearls” while “whole cities of sound” bear down on him.
Continue at Literary Hub.