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Essay by Anna Hetzer: Is there a queer-bodied poetics?


Queer-Bodied Voices

Let me make a confession first. I am 35 now. I am a proud lesbian. And I am proud to call myself queer. I’ve known that I am gay since I was 12 when I first fell in love with a woman. And after that it has always been women. So that never changed. But it took me 16 years to come out. 

My favorite theatre play as a teenager was Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”. Olivia falls in love with Viola who is cross-dressed as Cesario. They kiss at some point. And I remember that I was always very fond of that moment. However, the disguise is lifted, making way for two heteronormative couples to put everything back into patriarchal order. What Shakespeare actually intended to be a comedy, from my perspective, turned out to be a tragedy. 

Literature is packed with these tragedies for queer life and desire. Not appearing at all being a tragedy in itself. It makes a significant difference what kind of stories are told and from whose point of view. 

Yet, I don’t think that there is a specific queer-bodied poetics. 

Instead, I would rephrase the question and ask whether we are ‘expected’ to write differently. Queer-bodied writers often seem to be confronted with an external desire for them to be different. Which is much unlike the desire for a proud self-attribution as queer. 

So, it’s important to recognize individual poetics and to stress that they are individual in order to escape external attributions, external expectations of queerness. 

In short, it’s to say: I don’t want to be regarded as a freak or a curiosity. And I don’t want to perform to that expectation. 

However, to identify as queer, as a queer voice, has, of course, a strong emancipatory power. Following the thoughts of Audrey Lorde, it’s about breaking silences. And it’s with an obviously political impetus when she remarks that “there are so many silences to be broken”. 

Poetry has a vast range of tools, a tool box, from which we can choose. Be it the reversal of narratives, the configuration of new images, or the powerful gesture of saying “I”. 

Taking this into account, I do believe, that queer poets often have a different ‘approach’ to literary traditions and to the stories that are dear to us, the stories we want to tell. 

I have the impression that some works of literature are connected to me in a way that others aren’t necessarily. But those usually weren’t the ones we talked about at school. And, at that point, I didn’t have queer friends or a queer mentor, a fairy gaymother. So, I started to look on my own for any books or movies related to queerness that I could find. 

At first very shyly, very secretively. I didn’t dare to approach the so-called “queer” shelves in the bookstores or libraries, for example, because I feared the gazes around me. It was easier to look for Sappho or Arthur Rimbaud or Elizabeth Bishop who were in the classics section. But once I finally took pride in being queer, I continued collecting my queer canon. This allowed for a better understanding of the historical complexities and differences within the all too general term “queer”. 

In my own texts, I often use references from this canon, playing with the irritation when they are unknown to the audience. Or simply feeling a moment of joy, when people do recognize these references because they share that knowledge. 

When writing, I focus my view on the exclusions a language produces. The gaps and blanks. And the blind spots in my own thinking. Poetry is a very good place to reflect on the shortcomings ‘and’ the possibilities of language. 

Think of the considerate use of pronouns, for instance, of inflections and conjugations.

Think of English words like ‘gay’, ‘dyke’, ‘queer’ that have settled in many languages. 

Think of various concepts of queerness in different languages that amount to specific queer cultures. 

Think of translation. Think of exchange. 

In general, I believe, that queerness is playing the opposing part within a community, as long as this community is based on the ideal of a patriarchal family. 

History has taught me not to be lulled into a false sense of security as a lesbian in Berlin. 

And I will never ignore the authoritarian ambitions that grow in strength and direct their forces against diverse ways of living. 

Poetry works on the nuances of language, and it’s a way to express life, to express existence, moreover, it can help build a network across boundaries, through acquaintance, through translation, through listening to each other.  

None of us can speak for all queer people. And queer poetics is in itself an inexhaustible topic. So, let me finish by making a wish. Let there be an entire literature festival on queer poetics to account for the differences and to allow for its plurality of voices to be heard and seen.  

About the project QUEER-BODIED VOICES.