As an openly gay man, I think everything in my life—including my writing—is queer at some level. Everything I do is necessarily a reflection of my sensibility, of who I am inside. But having said that, I also believe that queerness is only one aspect of identity. There’s gender, there’s race, there’s nationality, regionality, the degree to which one is or isn’t a sports fan, a foodie, etc. When I walk my dog, I presume I’m a gay biracial man from Massachusetts who has lived in Missouri for a long time—but I’m also “just” a dog walker, and it’s likely that none of the identity markers I mentioned are going to occur to me, unless something happens to make them occur—someone yells a racist slur from a passing car, for example.
The same goes for how queerness works in the poems. I was once told that I stopped writing gay poems around the time of my third book. The comment came from a frustration that I was writing about wrestling with ideas like fidelity and mortality, as opposed to my two earlier books that specifically looked, here and there at least, at sex between two men. I think fidelity and mortality are also issues that pertain to queer people. And always, when I write of these subjects, it’s through my sensibility as a queer man, that’s always the context. To say that these aren’t queer subjects is reductive and demeaning. Why should we assume that our queerness is grounded entirely in sex? Surely queerness is as multifaceted as being human, itself—queerness is a manifestation of being human.
I’ve also been told that my way of writing is queer—that I have queered language in some way. I think what’s meant is that I tend not to adhere strictly to the demotic mode that governs most contemporary American poetry. Rather, I have a fondness for sentences that deploy syntax in more complex ways, which is to say that I make use of complex sentences characterized by dependent clauses and inflected syntax—not always, but in part. I can see how this can seem a queering of the reigning mode, yes. But it’s a kind of sentence-making that’s straight from the Greco-Roman rhetorical tradition, a tradition that governed most sentences in English and American literature up through Modernism. Which is to say it’s a very old tradition, but like many things old, can seem radical when so many have forgotten it. I’m oddly queer—an outsider—because of upholding tradition. I think queerness is a little like coolness. The truly cool don’t think they’re being cool, they’re just being themselves. Most of the time that’s how I feel about myself as a queer man—by whatever name, I’m just being myself.
To All Appearances
What We Did, Who We Did It With