When I first read the piece by Jameson Fitzpatrick on Lambda Literary about Anne Sexton, beauty, and poetry:
It has been gaining attention because it's a rebuttal to a recently published interview with poet Eduardo C. Corral who said he felt unwelcomed in the gay NYC poetry scene:
The queer poetry community in New York City is full of beautiful people, which makes me an outsider…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.A New Yorker, Fitzpatrick felt he had to clear things up: Mr. Corral I'm sorry that you're ugly, and I'm sorry I like beautiful people, like Anne Sexton. (Well, that's the gist of the essay). In it, he claims that poets are naturally drawn to beauty, that beauty and poetry go hand-in-hand. Though in regards to Corral's comments, it feels like Fitzpatrick does not quite address the problem Corrall--a gay Latino--points to; it misses the mark completely. While Corrall seem to be talking about inclusion and exclusion and space, Fitzpatrick's reaction is more of an excuse as to why he feels the way he does and does nothing to talk about the problems Corral was pointing to. Poet Tory Adkisson rightfully points out:
Taken as a whole, Eduardo’s response condemns (in the most genial way imaginable) the focus on style over substance that characterizes an increasingly mainstream and monolithic aesthetic in the gay poetry community (in NYC, yes, but arguably elsewhere too), making a case for accepting queer identity of a much broader kind (he speaks of weight here, but race, gender, etc. can easily be attached to the list of things that keep men like him, like me, out of the “in” crowd.) It’s a swipe—make no mistake—but a fairly innocuous one. More than a purposefully nameless critique, it is an acknowledgement and celebration of difference, the only healty and positive response to a writing community that rejects you on the basis of your looks (not the words your body automates onto paper.)Corral and Adkisson are taking note of spaces which unfriendly to bodies of colors, differently sized bodies, differently gendered bodies.
While Corral doesn't mention any names, Fitpatrick is quick to think of the Wilde Boys, a gay poetry salon run by Alex Dimitrov, a poet who was recently listed on Out's Hot List. Fitzpatrick goes on the defensive:
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.To paraphrase: "Don't hate me cuz I'm beautiful."
I think this is a perceptive critique of the racial undertones characterizing the Wilde Boys set—in all the photos I’ve seen, and there are numerous out there across the blogs, it’s striking how homogenous the bodies of attendees are, not just along shape (CA Conrad notwithstanding) but along color as well. Obviously, I’ve never attended the salon myself (based on the pictures I’ve seen, I would probably need to lose between 20-30 lbs. to qualify for invitation); like most people commenting on this world, I’m an outsider and am reacting as an outsider.Poet Saeed Jones also chimes in further criticizing Fitpatrick's lack of understanding on entitlement and privilege:
There is nothing wrong with beauty. I certainly am quite fond of it, but we are doing ourselves no favors by pretending that beauty is what we are really talking about. Fitzpatrick’s article is in praise of a certain type of entitlement. It’s in praise of a certain brand of glamour that, more often than not in Western culture, is married to both race and class privilege. For Fitzpatrick to not understand how this supposed aesthetic could be perceived as “raced” is a perfect example of how blind a person can be to how culture works.Even, Dimitrov admits some of his prerogative; from the NY Times article:
“I invited the cute gay poets right away,” Mr. Dimitrov said. “I sort of had a list of gays that I wanted to come, and some of them that I wanted to sleep with.”This compared to his quote in Fitzpatrick's essay:
"I think about beauty in my poems, but so did Keats and Rilke and Sexton. I think many poets are obsessed with beauty and its power, its allure, its danger, how fleeting it is. And when I say beauty I don’t just mean in the corporeal sense, like being at dinner or in bed with a beautiful person. Rilke wrote, ‘beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror.’ Yeah, definitely, I get that. I mean, why is beauty necessary? It makes life bearable. Even if it’s impossible to hold onto it, or enjoy it without being destroyed by it."The problem we see here is a problem that has always plagued the gay community (I highly resent the word "queer" being thrown around here, these aren't queer spaces because of the very problem that faces it). Mainly, these spaces are gay and these spaces are predominately white, predominately fitting a certain body shape. It's the Castro effect all over again, but this time with poetry! Fitzpatrick is arguably reasoning that these places are okay because he likes beauty; "ugly people" can come, but just don't be expected to be paid attention to, or laid. Which is basically the same type of white guys on Grindr who hate say "No Asians, and I swear I'm not racist."
In this case (from Fitzpatrick's website): "I truly regret that he has not felt more welcome in New York."
It's like apologizing that racism and sizism exists without acknowledging that you are part of the problem.