Thursday, May 24, 2012

On Jameson Fitzpatrick, Eduardo C. Corral, Alex Dimitrov, and the Lambda Literary Review

In a creepy faux analysis of Anne Sexton, Jameson Fitzpatrick's article entitled "Anne Sexton, Aesthetics, and the Economy of Beauty" deflects larger issues of race and power in the gay male community in favor of decontextualizing the published words of poet, Eduardo C. Corral, for more questionable ends.  I hope that the Lambda Literary review offers a corrective to an article that could be seen as a (clumsy) racialized attack against Corral.

It must be noted that you feel Fitzpatrick's eager desire to ditch talking about Anne Sexton, his "favorite" poet, and discuss about what he sees as larger issues (ie Eduardo C. Corral).  In fact, the entire article acts as a vehicle to express his self-confessed fear that the poetry world may be ruined by talking about appearance and by extension whiteness.   He uses the typical codified language to make the issue of race completely present and invisible at the same time: "beauty," "style," "substance," among other things.  Whether or not Fitzpatrick believes Corral's book Slow Lightning is "bold and imaginative" (which he tellingly puts in parenthesis) is insignificant.  But it is amusing that he conflates Sexton with Dimitrov: "...her gift as a writer remains singular and irrefutable.  Likewise, Dimitrov (his attractiveness aside), writes tight, honest poems...Dimitrov is writing some of the most exciting poems today."  It's comforting to know that "poetry's next great gay hope" (as stated by Out magazine) is already canonized without even having published a book.  But a poet, the first Latino who has won the Yale Younger Poet Prize, according to Fitzpatrick, is doing an admirable job, which receives a quick gloss.

What's predictable is that the way the article is structured.  Fitzpatrick's closing argument is that Dimitrov's poems are "some of the most exciting poetry today."  And we also have to receive this final imperative: "That he is young and pretty shouldn't count against him."

Who is attacking Dimitrov's beauty?  Who even named Dimitrov in print?  Certainly it wasn't Corral: there's no mention specifically of Dimitrov in the interview that launched this attack.

Here's Corral's words in the Plougshares interview:

"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."

Although never explicitly named, Corral may be talking about more than "weight" (as he does name in the Ploughshares interview) and "cool"-ness.   He's referring to the whiteness of the poetry scene.  He has mentioned in a variety of interviews about the marginalization of Latino poets in the white publishing world.  There's no way Fitzpatrick could not have seen that--he admits to having read the numerous articles about Dimitrov.  He no doubtedly may have scanned a few of Corral's unless he was too taken by Dimitrov's beauty.  Is there really any other way to translate Fitzpatrick's "bristling" at Corral's "experience of his exclusion" as a dismissal of the subject of race?

By pulling Corral's quotation, as Fitzpatrick does, especially decontextualizing it from other interviews and articles (he lists Dimitrov's entire CV),  he makes it seem like Corral's a self-hating Latino who wishes he was as good looking as the rest of the Wilde (white) boys.  I think that Corral's comment in the initial interview was much more nuanced in context and unaggressive--he doesn't name names.  At the same time, it isn't self-pitying.  There's a delicate balance there.

I think the issue of who is naming (Fitzpatrick) and who isn't (Corral) reveals the racial inequalities as well.  No matter how successful a Latino is, he always feels the pressure to be polite, be unaggressive, to not name as a result of power structures and individualized racial presumptions.  But the unknown white guy can swoop in and say whatever he wants and gain credibility and access to the conversation without any self-consciousness, all in the desire to claim truth and beauty.

I am not in any way claiming that Fitzpatrick is racist.  I don't know him.  I don't know Dimitrov.  I don't know Corral.  I've never met them in person.  The point is this: what may be a complete lack of self-interrogation on Fitzpatrick's part is reflective of the failure of white men to discuss the matrices of race and the publishing world.

But this article also points to the troubling nature of the Lambda Literary organization: they make token gestures towards racial equality, but, in a lot of ways, affirm a glass ceiling for gay writers of color.  You can see it in the nominations this year.  They need to solve the problem.  One of those ways is to immediately create a symposium directly dealing with these urgent issues.

9 comments:

  1. Thank you for your analysis. I found your third paragraph from the end particularly interesting, and something I hadn't thought about...

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    1. Yep, the heat/heart is in the third paragraph from the end.

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  2. Incisive and eloquent. The sort of piece that leaves us all looking at ourselves and our work a little differently. Thanks.

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  3. I am so gratified all this is being debated. I'd been fuming ...since I first saw Alec bragging on Facebook... about the gay white pretty community he has been building, and wondering why none of the big name poets who enjoy reading their work among his assembled select elite (not real elite--just configured) ever spoke up. Of course the big poets are white and either pretty-gay or so well known their looks are not called into question. I think Dimitov is more clueless than conspiring but that doesn't make him any the less reactionary or damaging. He's not really that cute, by the way, nice looking and well mannered, at best. When I read Sexton's biography last year I realized the impact of her beauty on her life but until then I hadn't thought about her looks...call me deep but I was taken by the content (& form) of her poetry. Not that anyone noticed but my poem, "White People Are on My Mind These Days," was published on Lambda recently.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. I think the psychology here is pretty easy to understand. It is kind of flattering for a poet to speak to a school of gaping guppies, all wagging their tails, all treating every word that flutters from your fingertips like fish flakes from the hand of God. A poet doesn't have to be young or pretty to be vain. If he or she has a name or a face that one person in ten thousand can recognize in a police line-up that is probably enough.

      The trouble with living in an aquarium, however, is that it distorts your perspective. You forget where you came from. You forget what you are. The world seems so civilized. You get used to regular feedings. You expect them to continue forever. But they don't.

      You see, when you stop being cute and amusing, when you embarrass your sponsors, when there are no more canapés to go around, you suddenly realize that something is wrong: you are a fish out of water. While you were sleeping, some vain and vengeful Deity has flushed you and all of your little friends back into the ocean.

      Now, you are surrounded by sharks.

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  4. So brilliant. Thank you for writing this.

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  5. Steve, thank you for this thoughtful post. I have been meaning to come to your blog to read how you weigh in on the discussion. I actually came today when I saw your post on The Boston Review, which I also appreciated. You are spot on in this post and I hope that Lambda considers how to respond to your call in the final paragraph. It is a good and material response to a concerning situation in the awards and more generally in the organization and on the website. Thank you for your thoughtful contributions to our literary lives.
    Julie

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