Queer Poetics: Five Modernist Women Writers

Queer Poetics: Five Modernist Women Writers

Queer Poetics: Five Modernist Women Writers

Queer Poetics: Five Modernist Women Writers


A full-length exploration of the relation between poetics and queer theory, Queer Poetics presents a theoretical framework that can illuminate not only the ways we read the specific poetic innovations of the six major writers in this study, but also the ways we read literary modernism itself, by placing both in a different social and epistemological context--that of "queer" existence.


Make an effort to remember. Or, failing that, invent.

--Monique Wittig
Les Guerilleres, 1973

It was 1978 and I was 17. I had been craving poetry my whole life but had been fed only crumbs: a unit on Shakespeare, a day of funereal Dickinson, and periodically the Whitman who took a noble stance against war. When I moved from Catholic school to public school nothing was poetically different in the classroom, though among new friends, there were poems unearthed from the public library, and the expanding bookshelves of college-aged siblings. I was finally starting to find poems to chew on, poems that gnawed at me as being possible and real, poems that were not safe poems.

My head filled with Howl, and with the mostly white men a crazed generation before mine who forced their way into print and once there could curse and scream all they wanted. "Liberation of the word," Ginsberg called it. Next I encountered Nikki Giovanni, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Maya Angelou speaking of desire and hurt, of power and anger, writing themselves into strength and soul. White gay men, black straight women gave me the knowledge that poems that could sustain me were already written, were being written now. There was more than Carl Sandburg with his love of slaughter and industry to carry on from Whitman. There was a new Whitman emerging, and he had appeared to Ginsberg not long before in "A Supermarket in California." My first encounter with homophobia in an institutional setting happened that year. Creative writing for seniors, and we could write an explication of any poem we chose. But not Ginsberg. I asked, and was told, "Not Ginsberg, because of his overt homosexuality." The teacher didn't know I was deeply involved in my first lesbian relationship with her other star pupil. She didn't know she had just slapped me with her "overt homophobia." I recovered and with rage I pored through Ginsberg's books until I found one--a poem for Vachel Lindsay--which was not "overt." My explication was written and turned in and graded favorably and not a further word on the topic was said.

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