Dear Michael Theune,
Because I google myself at least a dozen times a day, I was happy when I discovered that my name and poem was mentioned in your review of issue #34 of Triquarterly, edited by Barbara Hamby and David Kirby. It appeared in one of my favorite magazines Pleiades --no joke, the only reason I don't have a subscription is you can't order directly from their website, at least last time I checked. I cannot tell you how many times I've sent work there and have never got in. So you can imagine my excitement that my work was singled out.
Here's the link:
I think it's so cool that you would write a review of an issue of a literary magazine. So few people rarely do that, and by complimenting you, I'm complimenting myself--I love searching the web and magazines for poems the world might not have noticed.
Because reviews are so rare, I have no choice but to celebrate that I received the sort of attention I crave. For my readers of this blog (and myself--I love to affirm myself that I am indeed beautiful and amazing, be gone, modest Midwestern upbringing), I posted the poem you talked about in the previous post.
Here is what you say about my poem "I am Known as Walt Whitman":
"There are excellent poems here, and there are very bad ones... Denise Duhamel’s “Lucky Me” is a 4-page confessional poem that goes nowhere; however, her “October 1973” is much more typically accomplished for Duhamel. Steve Fellner’s “I Am Known as Walt Whitman” is problematic, with lines like “…O, my dumb, dead boyfriend, / you are my expired muse. Because I know you gave so kindly to strangers, I imagine / your hole as raw as the material for this poem,”...
I have no problems with my work being criticized. Recently, a critic leveled several charges against my memoir. The thing that pissed me off was that they were right!
What concerns me, and why I'm going to address this criticism is I feel it's a vehicle to talk about something larger: the subtle ways in which homophobia presents itself in book reviews --intentionally or not--to marginalize already marginalized authors.
You are unkind in your solemn, wholly unfunny review (you're as guilty for lacking that trait as much as you accuse gay African-American anthologist Reginald Shepherd of being).
How irresponsible of a critic to claim that my explicitly gay poem is "problematic" without telling me why.
Or perhaps you do eerily tell me why by quoting a line that deals explicitly with homosexual anal sex? Because you easily allow this conclusion to be drawn, I would make the claim that this could be read as an act of aggression against a gay author dealing with R-rated (or you may think X-rated) sexual material.
I think there's plenty of criticisms to level against the poem: a pretty clunky beginning (the poem doesn't really become a poem until the second half), ugly, stiff diction choices ("resurfaced"?),etc. But you don't name those or even others. Instead the line is labeled as a problem and then later you reveal your obsession with the poem by mentioning it again (which made me happy--I think sexual humiliation feels way better the second time around.):
"Why these poems by these poets and not others? Why not take, say, just Duhamel’s stronger poem, and then solicit other poems from other poets, including, say, Kent Johnson, a poet rarely thought of as being in “ultra-talk” circles, but whose work in his amazing book of anti-war poems, Lyric Poetry after Auschwitz, and whose recent epigrams, filled with gossip about contemporary American poets, are the epitome of talky poems? Why Steve Fellner’s “I Am Known as Walt Whitman” and not a poem by former slam poet Jennifer Knox?"
I wished that you said I should have been replaced by a gay male poet who deals with explicit sexuality--there are plenty of them out there, and have written much better poems than mine. But you don't do that. Which makes me think one can translate "problematic" as "gay."
I don't understand the absurd arbitrariness of this comment. Through you admitted preoccupation with my poem, and a dangerously coy refusal to name the reason behind that preoccupation, you commit, perhaps accidentally, perhaps not, an act of homophobia.
There are some other things you say about a different poem of mine, but that's irrelevant. This reaction to this particular poem is what matters. I do hope that your editors Wayne Miller and Kevin Prufer had suggested that you explain yourself and you rejected the critique. Book reviewing is a moral act. They are powerful people; they should be challenging their own critics even if their suggestions are ultimately rejected by the author.
You choose to simultaneously criticize and withhold commentary of a gay male authored poem dealing with sexuality. These ostensibly minor, cryptic acts ultimately server as a gateway for larger ones, such as mandates like Proposition 8.
In spite of all this, I'm thrilled you mentioned my poem. (Barbara and David betrayed me, too --that poem shouldn't have been placed in the middle of the volume. It deserved to be plastered on the back fucking cover! You're all goddamned homophobes!)