questions and examples in poetics
by Lonely Christopher
William S. Burroughs by Richard Avedon… No/Yes
The Ambiguities. What is a queer poetics? Alice Toklas does not answer. “In that case, what is the question?” That is queer poetics. This paradigm is architected on a foundational ambiguity. Example: Amy King writes herself out of taxonomy as introduction to her queer poetics. She begins, “I do not…” A negative impulse pushes the question farther and further: outside. This is an adventure in negotiating away from taxonomy. The engine of negative capability. Amy King writes about what doesn’t define her: “Such frames, these houses, do not hold, do not truly shelter nor constrain, do not even do good work as metaphor for the storehouse of my body, my language as system.” The sign vehicle crashes into a telephone pole. Ryan Doyle May promises: “We will burn definition’s home.” Queer poetics is a measurement of measurement’s failures, the unanswered question: a messy celebration of the unanswerable. Where do we put this? Gertrude Stein: “Next to vast which is which it is.” Is it? No/yes --- it is and isn’t.
A Thematic. Queer poetics doesn’t mean entirely in earnest, it’s an amorphous rubric, no incumbent constitutionality. That is, it is not shaped by a coherent/canonized value system that’s purposed ideologically against a heteronormative poetic tradition. A queer poetics isn’t implicitly correlative to any particular politics and/or politic responsibilities and/or praxis. It should exist outside the power structure that contains that discourse, but become accessible by readerly politicized positions. Example: a queer poetry is not the gay poetry. And yes it can be, but the latter has to solicit the former and only borrow it like a costume. That’s why there’s a lack of representative anthologies of queer writing: editors grasp out for queer and sculpt the material snatched from the far corners of definition into a shape conditioned by hegemonic discourses. This problem is recognized by CAConrad thus: “How queer was the poet?” The queerness isn’t in the poetry, the poetry’s in the queerness. And furthermore: “Queer poets are poets who need to create the best possible poems they have to offer, and need to do so without the policing of how many queer items appear in a poem to be considered queer. The fact that you are a poet who is queer is enough. The experience your body has carried into time will create the poem. And the experience of being queer WILL be in the poem, whether it's automatically recognizable or not.”
The Complications. Restatement: queer poetics is not predicated upon a culture; culture is differently articulated through the processes of a (descriptive) queer grammar. Amy King, here again, posits a behavior: “In its mercurial condition, queer poetry may throw a wrench in the cogs of the white male heterosexual default setting.” This, however, arrives with the caveat: “A queer poetry may offer a few common features [but] there is no single identifiable trait that enables the culture-at-large to recognize, absorb, contain, and imprison it.” Stein instructs us: the change of color likely, the difference prepared, and sugar is not a vegetable. Queerness haunts the machine, articulating differences. We don’t know what it means totally but we think it’s without totality. Stein: “Do you know by what means rockets signal pleasure pain and noise and union, do you know by what means a rock is freed when it is not held too tightly held in the hand.” The value generation of normative poetics functions like a statement with an empty subject: It is.. In this example, the verb is linguistically considered “avalent,” but that’s a misnomer insofar as the directness of the statement operates as the valent curtain over a surface of its essential problem (“it” also isn’t); a valence, in other words, is a length of decorative drapery attached to a frame in order to screen the structure or space beneath it. Queerness introduces existential arguments that complicate the conceptual valency of the definable/singular --- queerness pushes the structure centrifugally in other territories.
A Form. How do queer “values” form and operate? An opera: “He asked as if that made a difference.” Burroughs wanted to discover what was not human, instead of asking after definition, in his treatment of what we are and why we do what we do to each other. The monster tells the truth because of the difference, the difference makes it monstrous. The operational form of queerness works as difference, as a difference engine, processing values analytically, chewing up judgments. That’s an asking of questions as if that makes a difference. The grammar of a queer poetics is an anti-lesson in morphology. The site of an application of queer grammar becomes a living difference. When a queer poetics, in its liquidity, pours into an ideological shape --- the result doesn’t re-form queerness, it queers the form. Amy King writes: “A queer poetics is not only about what is but is equally about what is not. We live in relation to each other, regardless of our best efforts to divorce and secede. The human species is a community that communes even beyond its species. We do so violently, sometimes kindly and in multiple capacities.” The form isn’t divorced from the relationship --- the relationship as a question of differences. Photographer Richard Avedon’s motto: The No forces me into the Yes. “I have a white background. I have the person I’m interested in and what happens between us.” Queerness reads the naked surface of form, what’s underneath the drape of it is, and examples the structures that define by negative process. Andy Warhol isn’t dead.
The Distinctions. Bourdieu: “I believe it is possible to enter into the singularity of an object without renouncing the ambition of drawing out universal propositions.” Queer poetry is the rhizome lurking within the normative order. The monster attacking an institutional address, &c. The outlaw mode troubling the dominant definition: quietly infecting the postures of the cultural logic that states “it is” --- with problems, multiplicities of “it is this and it is not and/or this is not this this and/or it is this and this is not not this and/or it is not this not this and this is this and not it and/or this is it… not…” The value will explode and flower. Queerness hacks the cultural code with difference. “Social subjects, classified by their classifications, distinguish themselves by the distinctions they make[.]” Queer poetry happens in the negative space of the distinctions. Queer poetry is not verse by heterosexuals. Nor is it fundamentally verse by homosexuals, its chief practitioners. Its subject is subjectivity; its author is a performance artist and a scientist writing out emotional math in the theater of meaning. “There is no there there,” an absent voice rises. Amy King responds the we know “that there is no there there, there is only now and then now, there is no permanence, and that knowledge encourages the exploration of what now really is beyond the false fences of security, of a center, a normal, for higher dreams and greater privileges that can be shared between us, among us, in our constant becoming, however fleeting, however impossible […]” Queer poetry is questions and examples, is a problematic’s florescence. There: there is a question/problem floating in space, waiting to become what isn’t what is, waiting to grow into a black hole of others’ actualization[s]. “The result is that they know the difference between instead and instead and made and made and said and said. / The result is that they might be as very well two and as soon three and to be sure, four and which is why they might not be,” quoth Stein again. There is no queer history that’s not the history of disturbing our convenient and singular drapes. The anachronistic possibilities of queer poetics are hidden like land minds across our retrospection: ahistorical resonances waiting to blow up the surface area of meaning’s government. We attempt to write/inscribe queer poetry onto the ideological domain of a systemic totalization --- regardless of normative context, which we understand as a suppressive agent, we interrupt again and again the scripted conversation and hold up a dark funhouse mirror to institutionalized perspectives. A sonnet by Shakespeare is a queer threat if the reader makes the distinctions. The queer library hasn’t been written yet, happens everywhere, and is not going to be finished, ever.
“I do love roses and carnations. / A mistake […] / I call it something religious. You mean beautiful. I do not know that […]” All of this is a neologism meaning and not meaning love; love becoming its other, poetry’s description[s] blurring, this the flow of argot pushing and shoving the way “it is” out of itself, this a version of how queerness means not finally but now: when we pull back the decorative drapery obscuring this subject, this essay, and this terminally unfinished sentence […]
The Sources. The Ambiguities: Gertrude Stein’s last conversation reconfigured; “The What Else of Queer Poetry” by Amy King (Text); The Anatomy of Gray by Ryan Doyle May; “Patriarchal Poetry” by Gertrude Stein. A Thematic: “What’s a Queer Poem?” by CAConrad (Text). The Complications: Ibid by Amy King; paraphrased from Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein; “An Instant Answer” by Gertrude Stein; “Valence” definition paraphrased from the Oxford American Dictionary. A Form: “Four Saints in Three Acts” by Gertrude Stein; Ibid. by Amy King; Richard Avedon interview, source unidentified (found here). The Distinctions: “Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste” by Pierre Bourdieu; Ibid by Bourdieu; Everybody’s Autobiography by Gertrude Stein; Ibid by Amy King; “Patriarchal Poetry” (again) by Gertrude Stein. A Love: quote re-contextualized from “Lifting Belly” by Gertrude Stein. Further Reading: Amy King’s essay (online) “The What Else of Queer Poetry,” excerpted here generously and probably beyond recognized allowance, is an intelligent treatment of the liberatory indeterminacy of queer poetics qua general term (the above was fully inspired/provoked by her text); see also: “Patriarchal Poetry” by Gertrude Stein.