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    AC Benus
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

The Great Mirror of Same-Sex Love - Prose - 3. J. D. McClatchy "Eros, the limb-loosener..."

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Same-Sex Love Is...

 

(Ever since 6th century B.C. poet Sappho linked Gay love to the drunk-like effects of Eros paying a visit, much of the love of equals has been framed in terms of desire. The Foreword to Love Speaks its Name, an anthology of same-sex love verse, builds on that with an insightful peek into the Queer mind. This is the 2000s version of Plato’s mental exploration of what it means to be a Gay person, or Saint Paul’s exploration of the same with his “Faith, hope and love” comments. Here are some excerpts.)

 

[D]esire can be a vague wish, a sharp craving, a steadfast longing, a helpless obsession. It can signal an absence or a presence; a need or a commitment; an ideal or an impossibility.

The root of the word "desire" links it to consider and to terms for investigation and augury, thereby reminding us that desire is often less what we feel than what we think. And the still deeper root of the word links it to star and shine, as if our desires, the bright centers of our being, were also like the fixed fates in the heavens, determining the course of our lives.

Indeed, our mundane experience of desire often coincides with this sense of something beyond our control, of something confusing, something driving us beyond the bounds of habit or reason. It is the heart of our hearts, the very stuff of the self.

Desire explodes past borders of time or law. It drifts through veils of propriety. It cannot be confined by social expectations or strictures.

 

****

 

Love is something else again. As mysterious as are the ways of desire, and as disconcerting its effects, love is desire raised to a higher power. It can be as consuming as desire, but it lasts longer. Love is the quality of attention we pay to things.

Love is both the shrine and the idol.

Love is what we make of other people, and what they make of us. It can be as dispassionate as a Zen monk's, or as wasting as the Romantic hero's.

Love affairs can be sentimental melodramas, bittersweet comedies, or five-act tragedies, but they are always dramatic, building from first glance to last goodbye.

Love has nothing to do with behavior or circumstances. Love doesn't require sexual expression, or even a meeting, just as it continues, often stronger, after the beloved's death. So, this is a book, in the end, about both desire and its higher power, about love in its tender or taunting variety. And the poems here have all been written by men and women whose desires for love, over the centuries, have been condemned and persecuted. In earlier days this forced them to learn how to disguise their desires. But then, that is what poems do as well. To hide something is to conceal it; to disguise something is to reveal it but only to those who know how and where to look. The very conventions of poetry were devised to encode experience, to make it less obvious and thereby more true. To make a metaphor, after all, is to describe something in terms of what it is not, the better to apprehend what it is. In ages when to reveal one's [orientation] risked imprisonment or death, the poet had better be oblique. A lesbian poet might address her beloved in the voice of a man. A gay poet might pretend to rhapsodize over a mythological boy or abstract figure. That anyone would be proscribed from celebrating love seems, from today's more enlightened but still fraught vantage, altogether shameful. Between classical times and the Renaissance, the poetry of [same-sex love] was largely underground, as indeed it remained for four more centuries, until a distinctive [Gay] culture emerged in the late nineteenth century. With such a history of persecution to contend with, it is no wonder that poets [...] turned their sense of exclusion into a source of poetic strength. Over the centuries, the [queer sensibility] has seemed especially suited to engaging the themes of bafflement, secret joys, private perspectives, forbidden paradises, hypocritical conventions, and ecstatic occasions. In fact, it would be fair to claim that our Gay and Lesbian poets are the wisest inquirers after love. Love, after all, takes the strangest forms. For the last two thousand years, for instance, the most vicious persecutors of [us] have all been huddled under a banner that reads "Love Thy Neighbor." Our Lesbian and Gay poets have been forced to learn love's harshest lessons the better to understand its sweetest instructions. They know more about what is disallowed in the pursuit of happiness, more about the false leads and wrong turns of passion, more about the emergencies of a double life, more about love's secret passages, its private mythologies, its defiant pride, its beguiling joy.

If love can be any life's true contentment, it is also a restless emotion. That is why this book circles love's stages. As it happens, the shortest section of poems here deals with love's blissful extremes. "Love," wrote Chekhov, perhaps a little too glumly, "is either the shrinking remnant of something which was once enormous; or else it is part of something which will grow in the future into something enormous. But in the present, it does not satisfy. It gives much less than one expects." Or more. In any case, it can begin with an ache in the heart, an emptiness only discovered by what will fill it. Or a slight fancy unexpectedly takes a complicated shape. As Mark Doty's poem puts it, longing "becomes its own object, the way/ that desire can make anything into a god." So longing yields to looking, the lover's rapt gaze, the eye both eager and shy. The poems in praise of love in this anthology have been written by many of the masters of the art, from Walt Whitman, Hart Crane, and Gertrude Stein to Elizabeth Bishop, May Swenson, and W. H. Auden. And there are poets from around the world or from ancient times — Sappho or Michelangelo. Cavafy or Garcia Lorca. Each brings an unusual lens to bear on a complicated subject. All these poems can be witty or heartbreaking, by turns or at once. Each is a mood, a moment, a meditation of what is abiding and evanescent.

 

****

 

Anxiety is sewn into the lining of euphoria. What makes the beloved so dear, what makes love so precious, is the realization that it may – no, in the end, it will – end. Always, as Djuna Barnes notes, "hidden underground the soft moles drowse."

Love's illusions are constructed in order to be undermined. Vulnerability, not music, is the food of love. Our fears are the black backing of our silvered hopes, and are as much a part of love as are the anticipation and the fervor. And when love evaporates or ends? Perhaps the most poignant stage of love is not its tender antennae probing the new surface, and not the glistening track of its progress. but the shell into which it retreats for shelter. Neither betrayal nor death can end our love.

The force of memory, and the heart's persistent needs see to that. “When I am dead," writes Muriel Rukeyser, "even then, I am still listening to you." Poems are meant to embody and eternalize the moment. So too are our memories of a love, just as love itself, when we are in the grip of it, throws off the shackles of time and makes us – for a moment that seems forever – feel divine.

All the poets in this book, like their sisters and brothers in ages past, were dealt an unusual hand. I don't mean just the fact that they were born with a particular set of desires, They were born with a particular set of ambitions to be poets: to take the flesh and make it a word. Their poems about love are among the most perceptive and exultant we have. Because their desires have been deemed dangerous, and their lives made difficult, they place a unique value on true love. There are no simple formulas in this book. Pleasure has been wrung from pain, illumination wrested from bitterness and fear, the moment of transcendence stolen from complacent hours. The results may startle or thrill. But here is the very life of love in all its complexity. Here is the art of poetry – daring, darting, connecting, consoling – at its best.

J. D. McClatchy,[i]

2001

 

 

 

 

 


[i] “Same-Sex Love is…” J. D. McClatchy Love Speaks its Name (New York 2001), excerpts from the Foreword, ps. 13-18

 

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Copyright © 2021 AC Benus; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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11 minutes ago, Parker Owens said:

Now here is reading to meditate on for a week, a month, a year and a lifetime. 

Thanks, Parker. I thought the author expressed some lovely ideas here

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