Edge(work) and beginnings: towards a trans- and gender non-conforming poetics
Bay, Jonathan Hayes
The poems in Edge(work) traverse and ponder the strangeness of memory; an often pluralized speaker invites the reader into an opaque world of grief, loss, slow-burning desires and maternal connection. I am a trans- writer and, like the poetry I analyze in my critical essay, my creative work engages – sometimes playfully, sometimes painfully – with the challenges of gender categorization, probing and seeking to overcome apparent boundaries of identity and selfhood. At times acutely political, at times lyrically elegiac, these poems conjure, address and interrogate loss and estrangement in dream-like terrains, articulating personal and geographical journeys through gathered moments of intensity. My work is often short form; as a manuscript, the poems weave – from brief, immersively felt and thought encounters with self, other and world – a tapestry which depicts the struggle to understand being trans-, multiple, in love, and a traveller between homes. The critical thesis, “Beginnings: Towards a Trans- and Gender Non-Conforming Poetics,” explores shared motifs and individual approaches in the work of Qwo-Li Driskill, TC Tolbert and Eli Clare. While the thesis presumes the centrality of gender to the manner, viewpoint and imaginative insights of this writing, and traces connections between the three poets’ oeuvres, I have written on individual bodies of work; I have not wanted to propose that trans- and gender non-conforming poetry is some kind of uniform quantity which contains x ingredients or takes y approach. Nonetheless, through close readings of the collections of my chosen poets, I have sought to elucidate some key features of this emerging field. The three poets whose collections I explore are very different, both as people and as writers: Driskill, Cherokee Two-Spirit, writes from the interstices of race as well as gender; Tolbert, genderqueer, is a highly experimental poet who pressurizes form to unearth destabilizing questions about self and authenticity; Clare, genderqueer, is a gender and disability activist whose writing engages sharply with the treatment and representation of the non-normative body. Each chapter in the essay therefore has a different focus, in terms of theme as well as author: in discussing Driskill’s poems I have explored the textual performance of hybridity; when considering TC Tolbert’s work I have foregrounded form; I have centered the discussion of Eli Clare’s The Marrow’s Telling on metaphor and representation (specifically, representations of the body). Throughout the thesis, I contend that these writers open doors to new, and newly expansive, realities, creating languages and structures which effectually express and articulate trans- / queer / genderqueer experience.