Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Adding to the Archive: A Queer Collection

Queer Collection 2007: Prose & Poetry, ed. Gregory A. Kompes. Las Vegas: Fabulist Flash Publishing, 2007.

Queer Collection 2007 is the kind of production that causes ambivalence.

On the one hand, the editor of this recent anthology has assembled the work of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered writers, adding a new collection to that archive of identities.

Queer Collection follows a rich history of such anthologies including Carpenter’s Ioläus: An Anthology of Friendship, first published in 1902; numerous anthologies produced by Alyson Press in the 1980s and 1990s; Hidden Heritage, a 1981 reader with a focus on gay men; Faderman’s Chloe Plus Olivia (1994), which anthologized lesbian writing from the Seventeenth Century forward; and Lilian Mohin’s Beautiful Barbarians: Lesbian Feminist Poetry. There are anthologies dedicated to Asian lesbians, Australian lesbians, Black lesbians, and there are coming out stories. Numerous anthologies have originated from San Francisco and West Coast environs including the 1994 issue of Beyond Definition: New Writing from Gay and Lesbian San Francisco. Haworth Press routinely publishes its lesbian, gay and bisexual anthologies and places these in college and public libraries and in the hands of the reading public. These are just a few of the American-based publications.

Queer Collection rises from this history and regardless of its editor’s intent, discriminating readers will evaluate the anthology from the trajectory of its predecessors.

According to the Contributor Bios in the back of the book, Queer Collection will represent a fine sampling from the queer community. There are Pushcart Prize nominees, a Frank O’Hara Award finalist, a finalist in the annual Gertrude poetry award and other recipients of honors. There are novelists, reviewers, college professors. Many of the contributors have published in one of the Haworth Press journals. Blithe House Quarterly, Bay Windows and Bloom - three contemporary journals publishing accomplished and polished lesbigay writers - are included in the credits.

The author index reflects demographic diversity: all genders and orientations - over 40 writers - many living in California, a fair number sprinkled along the U.S. East Coast and Midwest, a self-identified Brit, an Italian, a “native” of Europe, an Australian, a Canadian and one who gave Egypt as a birthplace.

Collective honors and publication credits and inclusiveness of two major genres give hope to an enduring accomplishment, an anthology fully capable of standing strong. Perhaps the editor felt the beckoning aura of literary history when he chose the opening selection, “Hope,” by Barry Chametzsky.
like a delicious morsel to be savored
flows along the river of life
for Each to relish
But some gorge themselves
on despair,
doubt and regret instead.

This is where substance overtakes optimism. “Hope” is an excerpt from the author’s novel. Chametzsky, who describes himself as “an eclectic, creative person,” gives the anthology readers’ their first taste of disappointment. This is less a poem and more a run-on sentence sans a needed hard break. The careless capitalization of “Each,” and the glaring tropism announce the self-evident: this is a writer in need of a sharp-eyed editor.

Where was the editor’s red pen?

Or was Kompes’ following a hands-off policy where all submissions were treated with delicacy, no cliches forbidden, extraneous capitalization allowed, and punctuation settled comfortably in place according to author whim?

Kompes’ delivered an anthology of queer writing without the audience benefit of editorial activity. His lack of oversight is more pronounced where words on a line of poetry are bisected by hyphens (Joan Annsfire, “Descent”). The absence is found in Rebekah Miller’s alphabet poem, where the title “Frustration,” screams at the reader in bold-faced, all caps first line letters. Absence shows in the use of ellipsis and exclamation point (Heidi Hoge, “Anything”). More frustratingly, the one formal verse in the collection, a sonnet by Lucia Giansiracusa, has its format damaged by orphan words and hyphenations.

Where was the editor’s mind when reviewing the short story submitted by R. Daniel Evans (founding editor of Painted Bride Quarterly and Pushcart nominee)? He did not notice the humorous typo in “plates of friend chicken breasts” or the character’s trip to Puerto Rico which inexplicably transformed into Florida in the space of a few lines.

Kompes’ might have pondered a bit over Scott Wiggerman’s “Abortion Run,” a poem in which two gay males provide transportation to a woman in need of an abortion, an event coarsely likened to a “semiannual sale.” The editorial prerogative would surely have thought twice about the following lines, which crassly describes a woman in need of an abortion:
We relished the role of co-conspirators.
She was our ringleader,
our fetish, our Wild Turkey,
bouncing back each time
as though she’d lost nothing more
than a mole.

A prose piece by Dana Kaye describes the dance of a cocktail waitress as an “epileptic seizure,“ using an analogy that might disturb persons who suffer from epilepsy. Again, no intervention by the editor.

These instances of editorial absence tarnish Queer Collection and identify the anthology in the negative. No professional guidance or editorial oversight is apparent. No diligent screening or selective choice of contributions here. Instead, Queer Collection comes across as a crapshoot, an internet call for submissions that relied on the contributor’s self-identity, unusually-gilted author bios and submissions formatted as either poetry and prose.

Despite the lax editorial presence and the amateur efforts, there are some works in the anthology that merit attention and strengthen its overall voice.

Jean Roberta’s short story, “Lending Light,” is a focused character study of two women at a church retreat. Portraying moments of honest communication, the piece goes beyond description and touches inner motivation, the shape of individual experience. Stopping short of a tell-all narrative, “Lending Light,” reflects writerly discipline and attention to elements.

Julie Enzser’s poem, “First Kiss,” follows Roberta’s campsite setting albeit with a less optimistic conclusion. Two teenagers steal away from their cabin in the Michigan woods, zip their sleeping bags together under the stars and talk in free acquaintance. The poem reveals the covert desire of unconsummated lesbians.
I always wanted to kiss you.
I always waited late
into the night thinking
could I pretend it was just an accident?
Lay my lips on yours: mid-sentence,
mid-giggle, mid-teenage confession.

Who among us hasn’t the experience of that first crush of unrequited affection? Enzser retraces that memory and its bittersweet conclusion.
We always woke at sunrise
light piercing our eyes.
We unzipped our bed
and skulked back to the cabin
to awaken alone again.

While Wiggerman prefers sarcasm to sensitivity in his "Abortion Run," he effuses lyrical in "The Interview Date." His introspective point counterpoint is full of clever diction and inspired description, marking the date's "pink raft of tongue," his nipples "hard as a rocky coast," and continuing this unobstrusive maritime metaphor that so aptly sums up cruising.

Louise Moore's pictograph of Annie Sullivan, in a poem by that name, might benefit by added punctuation. But it is to be noted for its fresh subject matter, solitary among the entries as one with an external focus. Moore chose to write a poem without a lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgendered nameplate.

"Transitioning" traces the "unhappy scar" on the "happy boy" to enliven the transgendering process, carrying the reader in its short moments from present to past to future. Author Jays Janney shows how vivid detail and a quick remark can expand the dimensions of verse. This is how less is more. This is how to engage the reader's imagination.

The Australian poet and slam artist Barbara A. Taylor uses the image of a leaky faucet and a former lover's strength of arm to announce a post break-up discovery in "She's Gone, I'm Strong." Writing in a fast-paced rhythm suitable for voice, Taylor's poem includes a snapshot of native flora and fauna, iamges that often occur in her writing:
it's easy to distinguish veronica, the violets and
burnished reds ilumined in native birds' eyes;
close-ups of long, short or hooked beaks
and the strangest of beetles, bright butterflies...

Without the inclusion of these stronger pieces, this queer anthology would remain a draft quality collection. Let's hope that Queer Collection 2008 shows the benefit of an active editor.

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