Thursday, August 12, 2010

On Emanuel Xavier's "If Jesus Were Gay"

With a title that recalls the brouhaha over Terrence McNally's play Corpus Christi and is obviously meant to engender controversy, you wouldn't expect performance poet Emanuel Xavier's book If Jesus Were Gay to be shy. It's generally not, though at times, it can be surprisingly, steadfastly reticent. As a gay Latino poet, Xavier reveals his anger at the homophobia of distant relatives who "don't give a flying cono about me/because blood is supposed to be thicker than arroz con dulce..."

His undeniably necessary and significant rants at a white supremacist society comes through most vividly in his throw-away lines: "TO THAT GUY FROM PHILADELPHIA WHO FELL IN LOVE WITH ME AFTER ONLY ONE KISS AND WISHES HE NEVER MET ME/Why is it that white people can't deal with adversity?"

Yet from time to time, his poems suffer from a limp didacticism: “...what you create/thrives on your self/destruction, I pray/with your dreams bloodied on my hands.” Amidst all the broad claims of loss of innocence, drugs, hustling, it seems Xavier has sometimes yet to fully realize the power of his poem’s quick comic tangents.

In contrast, in a longer piece, “Dear Rodney,” his thumbnail sketches of his tricks enliven: “...He also happens to be a yoga instructor. This is definitely one of the pro’s of gentrification.” And: "The next evening, we crashed Cumalot's "Rocky Horror Picture Show" party by showing up with hoodies and pretending we ended up at the wrong party." Perhaps the expansiveness of prose allows him to surprise himself in interesting ways.

It's probably not fair, but whenever I read work of a performance poet, I hold them to incredibly high standards. How many David Antins-- one of the most important poets in the latter half of the 20th century-- can we have? (He's not gay, but he does look like a daddy bear on stage!) Using an occasion and an audience he creates a "talk poem," thinking aloud, creating a long, ostensibly rambling poem in simultaneously controlled and spontaneous ways. Here's a link to one of Antin's poems:

Xavier's anger towards Latino culture, homophobia, white society can occasionally be ultimately too polite, reigned in. But when he exchanges self-pity for a silly egotism, his poems become more energetic and appealing. In a poem called "The Mexican," Xavier writes:

When a legendary wordsmith introduced us for the first time
It was as if the Virgen de Guadalupe
and all the orishas
Had sanctioned the meeting

...Until I met your vato
This poem could have been epic

And indeed, with a greater inflation of his own self-importance, a more precise tracking of his reckless consciousness, he will transform himself into a unique paradigm of wonderful poetic immodesty.

For more information on Emanuel Xavier's "If Jesus Were Gay" and Queer Mojo/Rebel Satori Press, visit:

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