AWP: Outsiders Writing the Outside
Recapping Queer AWP
Keetje Kuipers’ AWP panel, “Outsiders Writing the Outside,” featured a number of queer writers, as well as a partly queer-focused theme.
Described as a “Reading of Wilderness Poetry by Women, Queer, and Minority Writers” the panel featured Aimee Nezhukumatathil, G.E. Patterson, Paisley Rekdal, Brian Teare (whose work Michael Klein recently reviewed), and Ross Gay.
Below we’ve included Kuipers’ intro remarks and photos from the panel.
My home is in Montana where a relationship to the land—whether as steward or conqueror, cultivator or tamer—is at the heart of most people’s lives. As a woman poet, I’ve mostly been expected to cultivate a sense of wonder in the face of the natural world. As a queer writer, I’m not expected to have any relationship with the land at all. But in my experience of writing the wild, and in particular the West, I’ve found that the female gaze and the queer gaze that I apply to such issues as water rights, land appropriation, and hunting—all of which make appearances in my work—provides a perspective that has kept me on the outside of many of the ecopoetic conversations that are taking place right now.
In the book of essays “The Practice of the Wild”, one of America’s great contemporary lovers and writers of nature poetry, Gary Snyder, defined wilderness as “a place where the wild potential is fully expressed, a diversity of living and nonliving beings flourishing according to their own sorts of order.… When an ecosystem is fully functioning, all the members are present at the assembly. To speak of wilderness is to speak of wholeness.” Unfortunately, this communal definition of wilderness that straight, white, male writers like Gary Snyder have long championed has not generally been one where the poets at this table have been included. That “wholeness” Snyder speaks of has been seen as one that includes animals, plants, and other familiar wilderness creatures like fishermen, loggers, and mountain climbers. They clear the land, own the land, name the land after their fathers, and write it all down for us.
Camille Dungy, in her introduction to Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, wrote that “for years poets and critics have called for a broader inclusiveness in conversations about ecocriticism and ecopoetics, one that acknowledges other voices and a wider range of cultural and ethnic concerns.” She explains that the poets in Black Nature, much like the poets at this table, “have engaged the conflicts and confluences between their environments and their daily lives.” I would argue that here the exchange that occurs between the poet and wilderness is no longer a simple transaction of either exploration or ownership. Instead, these poets see the natural world as a complicated landscape fraught with issues of power, belonging, and identity.
In the poem “Creation Myth,” the lesbian poet Elizabeth Bradfield begins by telling us “Hormonally imbalanced females of all deer species have been known to grow antlers. This is what I choose… Forget the in-vitro, expensive catheter of sperm slipped passed the cervix, the long implications of progeny. I am more suited to other sciences, other growth.” She writes, “I’ll graft it to my clavicle. My cheekbone. Ankle. Coccyx. Breast. At last visible, the antler will grow. Fork and tine. Push and splay.” In Bradfield’s poem, the deer is not an animal to be hunted, and it is not one to be wondered at from a distance either. There is no removed worshipping or untethered reverence. As a woman and as a queer writer, Bradfield makes it clear that she is of the natural world, that she is the wild.
In honoring the complexity of our relationship to the wilderness and what each individual experience of gender, sexual orientation, and ethnicity might bring to it, the writers gathered here today show that not every blank page that enters the woods is white or straight, or male. Women, minority, and queer writers are the “new” nature poets, not limited to domestication or colonization.