How to Survive in NYC: Two Young Gay Poet Versions
If you don’t know about it yet, here’s a primer: Eduardo C. Corral said this:
“Beauty is on my mind these days. The queer poetry community in New York City is full of beautiful people, which makes me an outsider. I’m not beautiful. I’m overweight. I’m unfashionable. I live in the wrong neighborhood. But let me add: I’m happy. I love myself. I love my life in New York City.
I’m disappointed in many of my queer peers. So many of them want to be part of the hipster crowd. So many of them value looks over talent. The cool kids form clubs, become gatekeepers. So many of my peers are clamoring to be let in. I don’t want in. I want to write poems, I want to read, I want to support others. I believe in community, but I’m hesitant to reach out to some of my peers because I’ve already been spurned by a few. One young man told me, “You don’t look like the rest of us.” But I’m not going to let narrow minds ruin my time in the city. I will continue to show up at readings, at poetry events. I’m here. I’m queer. I’m big. Get used to it!”
One young man told him “You don’t look like the rest of us”? I mean, really, where did this movie get its script? This, I’m guessing, was said to Corral by a real live poet in NYC?
So anyway, it ends there right? We say to ourselves that this sort of After School Special outtake folds under the rug and Corral finds a better group of friends. That’s what I thought would happen. Eduardo C. Corral needs better friends.
But then I just, through facebook, came across this essay at Lambda Literary. It’s all about Anne Sexton’s beauty, and her selling her beauty as part of the Anne Sexton Experience ("Are you experienced?"):
“Sexton was a star, her readings famously standing room only and her fee among the highest of any working poet. ‘An actress in an autobiographical play’ (as she once described her public persona), she had succeeded in a calculated move to market herself as the mad housewife turned poet, never forgetting the fact of her beauty, or how essential it was to her self-performance.”
“Recently I’ve been thinking about her a lot, as there’s a conversation about beauty happening today in the world of gay poetry. Mostly it’s a whispered conversation, conducted behind backs, reflecting a discomfort with a shifting landscape in which a gay poet’s self-presentation seems as important to his success as do his poems.”
OK, so this is going to support Corral in some way, right? Make a claim against this kind of theater? Well, no. Instead, it goes here:
“Though I’m impressed by Corral’s candor, and lament his experience of exclusion because of his appearance, I bristled when I read this. I found myself worrying that this sort of attitude, taken a bit further, could lead to the devaluation of something important to me—namely, fashion and beauty. Moreover, I’m afraid such an attitude sets up a false dichotomy: looks or talent, style or substance. I refuse to settle for one or the other. Silly as it might sound, I want to be beautiful and I want to write beautiful poems.
I’m not, of course, arguing poets need (or should) be good-looking, nor do I advocate exclusion within the gay poetry community on any basis. I’m certainly not claiming the hunger for celebrity I share with Sexton is noble. But this is the truth of my life: I’ve wanted to be famous longer than I’ve wanted to be a poet. And I’m apprehensive about what happens when we privilege one experience of the world over any other. I may be young, I may be an aesthete—I may one day recall my great longing to be desired as frivolous—but I don’t believe that makes my experience any less worthy of artistic representation.”
So, go here for the full essay:
It’s a window. Or maybe it’s a door. But I’ll stick with window: