Suppose a Poem Walked into a Prose Bar: Queering the Essay and Poem

In LGBTQ studies, Gender Theory, and Queer Theory, to “queer” something is, according to American Heritage Dictionaries, turn it strange or unusual and/or deviate it from the norm. Once a slang term of offense for gay or lesbian people, it is now a reformed word to cover the umbrella of sexual identities. Aside from people, what if a poem were to have a gender or sexual preference?

In my humble opinion, and of course through logic, the poem can be either/or in many aspects. Most poems are measured by the unit of the line whereas prose is measured by the unit of the grammatically correct sentence. What if you were to oppose these norms? Could an essay be a poem? Could a letter become a poem? Oscar Wilde, in his infamous sodomy trial, claimed he could not separate his love letter to his paramour from art as it too was a poem. The point I’m trying to make is that, with the advent of innovation in art going forward with the 21st Century, expect to see a lot of blurry forms, many slurred lines in nonfiction, and also expect to be unable to decisively define what an essay or poem is in general.

My thesis in graduate studies for an M.A. in Writing is focused on this “queering” of norms. I myself am queer (I consider myself under the wordy but accurate term of hetero-romantic bisexual) and can see into the margins and marginalized and see the usefulness in a lack of “visible” form. I have a couple of lyric essays and poems coming out into the world soon which do this and I will be able to post them once they are published. However, I can supply a reading list of my favorite poets and writers who already lead the field in this idea today:

  • Anne Carson (Glass, Irony, and God and The Beauty of the Husband)
  • Eula Biss
  • Amy Leach (Things that Are)
  • David Shields
  • Michael Ondaatje (The Collected Works of Billy the Kid)
  • Albert Goldbarth (The Great Topics of the World)

A quick google search can yield more; however, when a poem doesn’t act like a poem or an essay considers itself measured by the line, it is only doing something more extraordinary and subverting the tradition in which it was once forged. It knows itself by way of unknowables and surprises are its greatest affections.

Check out online journals such as Brevity, Lockjaw, Narrative, Muse/A Journal, and others that will be provided in my next post along with a few samples of my own work in this vein.

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