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Thinking outside the closet: queer poetics and me

July 8, 2011

I’m not sure why, but sexuality has never really been a focal point of my writing. I haven’t consciously shied away from it either; I’ve scribbled out more than my share of infatuated poems about unreachable boys. I even wrote an anti-homophobia poem during my brief and clumsy foray into performance poetry.

But these poems have always been relatively pronoun-free and ambigious with regard to the speaker. Even Bowerbirds, my biggest success to date, is written in a female voice (though I get the impression most people think I’m genuinely as crazy as the girl in the poem). I never saw the need to announce my orientation in my poems, even when I was writing lovesick sonnets to my boyfriend (yes, I have a boyfriend, it’s no big deal, I don’t even know why you’re bringing it up).

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always been fiercely interested in LGBTQ issues, more so than a lot of people I know in those communities. So when I was meandering through the archives of the excellent PANK magazine, my attention was immediately snared by last October’s online edition: the Queer Issue. Reading the guest editor’s mini-manifesto ‘Why Queer?’ I realised that the complexities and problems of the LGBTQ labels need to be interrogated in writing. I’ve always been of the opinion that where language can simplify difficult ideas, it should. Obviously everyone has the right to self-determination, but I’ve never understood why anyone should resist the general use of tags like ‘bisexual’ when there are others perfectly happy with them. I appreciate that ‘queer’ simultaneously rejects and assimilates this plethora of labels, and that owning any one of them can pose countless problems. I suppose I’ve just been lucky to sit so comfortably in the seat of ‘G’ in the acronym.

Poetry, too, has a role to play in navigating this minefield. Sexuality, more than any other marker of identity, is profoundly subjective. It’s a question of self-expression just as poetry often is, so the synthesis of the two seems only natural. In light of this, then, perhaps it’s time I let ‘queer’ and ‘poetics’ come together in my own writing.

The deadline for PANK’s next Queer Issue, seeking “fiction, poetry, art and unidentified or hybrid literary text objects”, is 1st September, and work can be submitted here.  So wherever you are along the LGBTQ scale (or outside this lettering altogether), if you’ve got something to say about it, get on it. It really is important, you know.

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