I don’t know anything except my own body. When writing poetry, that’s the only place I can start from. Self-centred, maybe. But my body offers a continual redefinition of pleasure, of romance, of eros. All horrible words that deserve more, made horrible only by their limited definitions. It’s a funny thing to operate within a language that often serves to exclude, or even destroy you. You have to reinvent, find new associations, dodge logic. There are so many words I’m tired of, even words that I am, like trans. This body of mine that isn’t always mine, I have to bring it back over and over again.
In Cruising Utopia, José Esteban Muñoz explains that ‘queerness is rarely complemented by evidence’ suggesting instead that ‘the ways in which we prove queerness and read queerness is by suturing it to the concept of ephemera’. He tells us to ‘think of ephemera as trace, the remains, the things that are left hanging in the air like a rumour’. I like to be haunted by this phrasing. It means my body and I have to come up with solutions. The idea is to stay agile, to offer something tumbling and nonstop; to not let text get the better of us. I don’t want to fall into the trap of trying to prove I exist. Luckily poetry offers so much twisted recall, so much gorgeous fluke. There’s no need for technicalities, no need, as Muñoz says, for ‘evidence’. Something can be true just because I say it is! It’s fun to get dizzy with this temporary power. My lines are facts, just for a moment, before they fall apart.
In Margery Kempe, when speaking to an obsession for a lover, L, Robert Glück exclaimed ‘Nobody knows what I put into my waiting’. I think I use poetry to let it be known how I too, wait, how I break my own heart. And here are the shifting definitions of pleasure, of romance, of eros – my heart is broken because I love so much, and so many things love me back, not the opposite. Really, I’m in love with everything. It’s annoying, it’s exhausting. My sister once described me as a ‘wind-up toy’. Which might be the truest description of my ‘craft’ yet. It’s no surprise I treat poetry like a diary entry to begin with, something between a memo and an embarrassing revelation. Afterwards I’ll close it up for days, weeks, months. Go back to it in a different context, laugh at the audacity, chip away, feel the clang of the before and the now.
My prose is its own private life, too. And it’s a relief to move between the two. There are always different lessons to be taken from each. My fiction editor recently told me a typically brilliant and straightforward Hilary Mantel aphorism – when editing you must ‘hold your nerve’. I realised, while tackling the final draft of my novel, that I’ve probably been holding my nerve my whole life. As a kid, wasn’t it the gayest thing, to have your own back when nobody else did? To know, or even suspect, who you are and stick with it? I felt well-prepared for the lonely and exhilarating and horrifying task of sifting through my work. The sheer amount of selves! So much witness to bear. No surprise that I find deleting things such a thrill. All my body wants is to change, constantly.
Writing with heart about the Venice Biennale, a friend reminded me of something that the artist Marlene Dumas wrote in 1994, ‘there must be a way to make art about being in love, art that is erotic, sexy, tender and filled with a darkness that is awesome, but not sick.’ Dumas’ assertive desperation is what I fall for: there must be a way, there must. It dares to be hopeful. Which isn’t easy. But to bring your body back, to repeatedly move your body and in and out of text, you have to be very hopeful.
Image © Michael Dales