Close reading Clare’s first paragraph on page 31
Clare uses intense words like ‘must’, ‘need’ and ‘restrain’ to highlight the challenges he faces writing a story about his identity. First, Clare says he ‘must’ acknowledge the feeling of longing for rural Oregon. He vocalizes how painful it is to talk about his hometown and how the words that come from his mouth ache like an “abscessed tooth”. He feigns that he is moving on from this topic for the sake of his writing by saying the word homesick is too overused, even after making such a chilling simile to a tooth infection. Clare’s pain seeps out from him even though it seems he wants to display vulnerability in the most objective way possible.
Clare’s desire to remain objective is displayed in his efforts to find the definitions of his identity which he lists “Queer. Exile. Class” (31). Clare says he ‘restrains’ himself from using the dictionary because he knows them already—he represents them. Even though he failed at discussing his rural upbringing, he is now able to describe his true intention as the pursuit in defining his identity to himself, as challenging as that may be for someone who feels like the layers of their identity don’t align.
In order to fully grasp his identity, he “needs to enter the maze created by dyke identity, class location, and white rural roots” (31). ‘Need’ points urgency to Clare’s mission to meaningfully reflect on his life experiences. This quote reminded me of Eli Clare’s “The good Body” lecture where he draws importance to recognizing the complex, complicated, and contradictory nature of our bodies. This passage suggests Clare feels the same way about identity in general: one must identify each layer of their identity and work to make sense of it all, without regard to textbook definitions and stereotypes.
The essay Loving in the War Years written by Cherríe L. Moraga had a big impact on me and especially the passage I am paying attention to which is the “Journal Entry: 2 de Julio 1982” that can be found on page xi.
The first thing that draw my attention was the fact that these journal entries are extremely short for a person who makes a living writing. However, Cherríe makes it clear: “It takes the greatest effort even to put pen to paper” (xi). Also, it is a personal journal, it is supposed to be private. Therefore, I consider the length of this entry is another way she has to let her emotions flow: with the lack of long descriptions we can appreciate this discomfort.
On the other hand, it’s precisely in her words from whichI can grasp the rest of her emotions: “effort”, “weighing”, “depression”, “face flat” (xi). From my point of view, with all these words of sadness, this journal seems to be a constant fight between two facets: her desire for expressing her identity and tell her story and the overwhelming feeling of emptiness that surrounds her when it seems that all what could be described and told about her own identity is already said but it is not enough, that the pursuit of this understanding is not over. That is why the expression “bankrupt of feeling” makes sense.
Writing is, apart from her profession, her way of giving her life and way of being meaning, her way of exorcising her demons. When she tells her lover she is depressed, her lover reminds her this is not a feeling but a state. And still, this depression she feels is “keeping the writing back” (xi). The contradiction of keeping something that gives her life meaning back because it does alter feelings inside her that are not pleasant is the key point of this search for herself.
All these elements that I have noticed led me to the conclusion that this passage is about the difficulty of finding or develop one’s identity, especially through telling your own story by writing, creating frustration and discomfort.
“I will never find home on the mountain.” (Clare 10). That sentence really stood out to me among the first chapter of Exile and Pride by Eli Clare. The first chapter of this book focuses on the metaphor of the mountain. The metaphor of the mountain in this chapter is described as the uphill battle that one faces to succeed. As Clare is disabled, the idea that “[he] will never find home on the mountain” (10) becomes more powerful.
There are many struggles that people that are able bodied will never understand in regards to succeeding in life. The disabled community will always face synonyms such as incompetent and unable. Society is determined to tear down the disabled and limit any sense of direction that they could have in their life. In other words, Clare is right; the disabled will never find home on the mountain. Society makes damn sure of that by crushing the hopes of the disabled.
Clare also references his queerness as a reason for why “[he] will never find home on the mountain” (10). On one hand, I understand where he is coming from. Queer communities often face discrimination in daily life, as well as the workplace specifically. If we maintain that the mountain is a symbol towards success, then it is easy to see how homophobia may limit the success of a queer individual. But, I believe that his disabilities play a bigger role in shaping his ability to find a home on the mountain, somewhere where he can succeed.
“The dress is an oil slick. The dress\ ruins everything. In a hotel room\ by the water. I put it on when\ he says, I want you to take it off.” (Jones 29)
These are the opening lines to Saeed Jones’ poem, Drag. Immediately as readers we are placed close to the author’s experience through his use of the first-person perspective. Just in these few first lines we see immense contrast. The image of a dress being an “oil slick” it a hotel near the “water”, is one of repulsion and separation. This accompanied with the contrasting “I” vs. “he” that is presented in these lines creates the image of things being pushed away from one another. This could serve to represent a multitude of ideas including that Jones himself could be somewhat repulsed by what he is experiencing, which further contrasts with the image of the dress, which is symbolic of beauty and desire, the opposite of repulsion. This relationship between desire and repulsion is one that I see throughout Jones’ poetry that we have read. The idea of desiring something but being simultaneously repulsed due to shame or trauma is one that I see in several of his poems.
This section is separated into Jones’ thoughts and words and the other man’s words. Since Jones is whose thoughts, we experience we are on his side, in his corner. This is another theme seen in Jones poetry where he will incorporate the words and actions of other entities to contrast with his own words and inner thoughts, I am specifically thinking of the poem “Prelude to a Bruise”. This brings up closer to Jones and creates an intimate poetry experience.
“I have so wanted to ignore my own homophobia,” (Moraga, 49)
If as a gay person, you have never felt homophobia in any way, I would genuinely be surprised. Being apart of the LGBTQ community is a risk and always has been. People commit heinous acts to “destroy the gay.” Even, as Moraga bravely admitted, oneself. Homophobia is a dangerous road. Homophobia too oneself is even worse. Hating yourself for something you cannot control within you is suicide. Through her literature, Moraga accepts that she doesn’t accept who she is. Her irony is soothing. She’s saying its okay to be gay and not like it at times. It’s normal, it’s a part of the journey. In my life, I spent years convincing myself that I wasn’t gay. That it was immoral and against God’s will. Now I have rainbow gay stickers on my mirror and I came out to my mom. Moraga and many of the authors we have read so far stress that “being gay” isn’t a one way journey. Being queer means having different experiences, thoughts, and goals as the queer person next to you. This world loves to put all gay people in one category but there’s more to being queer then just being gay.
Where (say it)
Are we going? — Jasper, 1998
The repetitions of three “Where” here are definitely noticeable. Even without putting them in the context, they by themselves express a strong feeling of uncertainty and anxiety from one who keeps going but doesn’t know the destination. The question “Where are we going” itself implies passivity: the one who lead the way couldn’t ask this question. It must be someone that passively follows the group that asks this kind of question. The words in the parentheses are also revealing. “(say it)” here gives me a feeling that the author maybe once fails to speak out this question in the real life, and it is a question that is hard to ask. Accordingly, “(louder)” shows that even if someone is brave enough to speak out, their voices are still not loud enough to be heard. “(louder)” here, contradicting the word “quiet” that shows up repeatedly in previous lines, shows the author’s strong will that doesn’t want to keep silent and be represented.
When I consider these words in their context, they are the emotional apex of the section, even of the entire poem. In section 2. There are a lot of hints that “I” in the poem is on the road that “I” am not willing to go, that “I” am following others, with a “smile” on face but feel loss inside. Given Jones’s identity as an African American Gay, it reminds me of what Dennis said in the interview as an Asian American gay “there’s such a societal instinct to try to act white, to act straight, or to act gay”(15). As Gloria Anzaldua said in her letter to 3rd world women writers that “we cannot allow ourselves to be tokenized. We must make our own writing.” (168), the author also says in this poem that he doesn’t want to just follow the “white men” and he wants to speak out his own voice.
The poem “Body & Kentucky Bourbon” describes an unhealthy relationship, with Saeed Jones looking back on the relationship with new understanding. The poem reflects on the deterioration of a relationship that was broken from the start, liquor filling in the cracks of the foundation. The lines “How to name you:/farmhand, Kentucky boy, lover” and “…do I wince at the jokes:/white trash, farmer’s tan, good ole boy” highlights the two tones of the poem (42, 43). In the first line, the names are pleasant and affectionate, conveying a time filled with happiness and love. On the other hand, the second line has a much darker tone, insults that mirror the love in the pet names from earlier in the relationship. The theme of internalized homophobia runs through all of Jones’s poems, and “Body & Kentucky Bourbon” is no different. The line “To realize you drank/so you could face me the morning after” illustrates the internalized homophobia in the narrator’s partner quite clearly (42). With the revelation of the narrator’s partner’s homophobia, the unhealthy relationship becomes clear, as seen in the shift in names. The pet names transitioned to insults, a joke in bed became broken glasses laying on a counter. As the narrator reflects on the memories left behind, traces of the relationship come to light in the bottom of the shot glass, especially similarities between the ex-couple. The narrator and his partner came from similar backgrounds filled with hate, but only the narrator was able to overcome the internalized homophobia and heal from some of the trauma in his past.
This poem talks about the idea of rural homosexuality, it’s interesting to see an approach from this perspective as many people from rural communities would never be tied to the idea of being queer. The rural rules that are set in place are often set in stone, they are Christian rules of people being strong, straight, and always following the bible. Jones states in his essay that he often felt the only way to write was to pretend he wasn’t him, to dissociate himself into female or mythological characters. This is the same idea in his poem, he talks about this man who is clearly gay but cannot accept that fact of himself. Jones says on page 42, “To realize you drank so you could face me the morning after, the only way to choke down rage at the body sleeping beside you”. It’s clear this man drinks to allow himself to be homosexual and the alcohol is what disassociates himself from his sober reality that he can never be true to his sexuality or at least not without the judgement of others. His father seems to be someone who especially enforces this closeted reality. The next line states that his father abused him for either being gay or the assumption of gay tendencies. Jones says how could he understand this man’s life, how can he judge a decision to drown himself to hide from his sober self when Jones had done the same thing. His imagination of being a beautiful woman so the desire of men wasn’t homosexual to avoid the fear of being murdered like the countless men he had seen killed because of their sexuality.
In the poem Prelude to Bruise, there are many instances of repetition. There is especially a lot with the words broke/broken, boy, and with the letter B in general. Even the setting of this poem takes place in Birmingham. The word boy is also repeated numerous times and led me to think of how for many years, and even for some still today, black men would commonly be referred to as “boy” as yet another implicit way of white people expressing their feelings of superiority to them. The words mine and your(s) are also repeated many times and, I believe, are a focal point of the poem. This wording emphasizes the “us vs them” mentality even more and expresses the division between groups. An overall feeling of “your pain, your suffering, and your submission is what I profit off of and how I stay in power” is prevalent throughout Jones’ poem and a crucial idea I interpreted after my first reading. At the end of the poem, the “begin, again, bend”(22) made it seem like this is a cycle that will continue over and over again and will not break, whether that be from lack of control by the speaker or the overly inflated amount of control by an external force. Overall, I think these lines are about the division and constructed assignment of superiority and inferiority instilled in society’s views of race. This poem vividly portrays the extent of which physical, verbal, and emotional violence were used against Black Americans in an attempt to keep this order.
“The dress will survive us. The dress will be here when men come in boats to survey the damage.”
In his essay “A Poet’s Boyhood at the Burning Crossroads,” Saeed Jones speaks about how he used to write “Sad, rough little poems written in the voices of lonely, mythic people,” (Jones) specifically in the voices of women from Greek mythology, such as Medusa and Penelope. Jones wrote from the point of view of these women of legends because writing from their perspective allowed him to distance himself from his harsh realities. The passage “The dress will survive us. The dress will be here when men come in boats to survey the damage,” (Jones) comes from his poem by the name “Drag,” which paints the picture of a man wearing a dress that acts as if it is a living thing. The title itself along with the sentient nature of the dress in the poem invokes an image of a man living in the breathing disguise of a woman, which is reminiscent of how Jones used to write his poetry.
The specific line “when men come in boats to survey the damage” cites another story from Greek mythology: the ferryman of the dead, Charon. The other half of the passage, “the dress will survive us. the dress will be here,” illustrates queer survival and strength even in the face of adversity. Overall, this line of Jones’ poem tells the story of how the legacies of queer people will continue to live on, even when death comes knocking, similar to how Matthew Shepard’s devastating story lives on in Saeed Jones’. Jones states in his essay that when he heard the horrific tragedies that befell James Byrd Jr. and Matthew Shepard, he could only think that “being a black gay boy is practically a death wish,” (Jones) but his poetry shows he has learned that death cannot silence a legacy.
While reading “Drag,” there was another line that stood out to me: “the dress slides with my body floating inside.” (Jones) This dress that acts as the centerpiece of the poem represents armor, something meant to symbolize the weakness of femininity in a patriarchal society made into a shield for someone who does not fit in. Jones uses his poetry to turn things that exhibit weakness, like a lovely dress and turns it into strength. He takes something as dreadful as death and transforms it into something beautiful.