Anne Sexton was a beautiful woman—a fact we rarely neglect when we talk about the iconic confessional poet today. Appropriately, Maxine Kumin opens her 1981 foreword to The Complete Poems by remarking on her close friend’s appearance:

Anne Sexton as I remember her on our first meeting in the late winter of 1957, tall, blue-eyed, stunningly slim, her carefully coifed dark hair decorated with flowers, her face skillfully made up, looked every inch the fashion model. And indeed she had briefly modeled for Hart Agency in Boston. Earrings and bracelets, French perfume, high heels, matching lip and fingernail gloss bedecked her, all intimidating sophistications…

Later she continues:

In addition to the strong feelings Anne’s work aroused, there was the undeniable fact of her physical beauty. Her presence on the platform dazzled with its staginess, its props of water glass, cigarettes and ashtray.

Sexton’s beauty (along with the tragic details of her biography, of course) has proven just as captivating in posterity; few late poets stare solicitously from the cover of their collected works, or are captured in a candid yet glamorous exclamation of laughter on the cover of their selected letters. (I still remember seeing the cover of The Complete Poems for the first time: I was fourteen; the first boy I loved had just left for college, not before rekindling his relationship with his girlfriend; and I was browsing through the stacks of my high school library during a free period. I pulled the blue paperback off the shelf, took one look at Anne hugging her knees to herself, and opened to “You All Know the Story of the Other Woman.” I feel like I’ve never put the book down since.)

A quick Google search will yield dozens more stunning photographs of the poet, including a number from Sexton’s short modeling career. Though her time as a professional model was a virtual blip on what would prove to be a very impressive resume, this detail makes its way into even the shortest biographies, as if to remind us that Sexton was not only a poet beautiful enough to be a model, but in fact, both—the very model of a modern model-poet.

Which, really, she was: Sexton enjoyed (and some argue, was ultimately consumed by) a celebrity foreign to most contemporary poets, and few of her own contemporaries as well. Maya Angelou and Billy Collins might have similar name recognition today, but they are firmly literary celebrities, whereas Sexton’s fame went beyond her work. Allen Ginsberg perhaps loomed as large in the American imagination of the ’50s and ’60s, but for more explicitly political reasons, and with the momentum of the countercultural movement behind him. Sylvia Plath, to whom Sexton is most often compared, was not nearly as famous and certainly not as celebrated during her lifetime (Sexton, in contrast to Plath, was already mourning a career in decline when she committed suicide in 1974).

At her height—winning a Pulitzer for 1966’s Live or Die, followed by the commercially successful Love Poems and Transformations (poems from which appeared in Playboy and Cosmopolitan)—Sexton was a star, her readings famously standing room only and her fee among the highest of any working poet. “An actress in an autobiographical play” (as she once described her public persona), she had succeeded in a calculated move to market herself as the mad housewife turned poet, never forgetting the fact of her beauty, or how essential it was to her self-performance.

* * *

Full disclosure: Anne Sexton is my favorite poet. I love her work (even the later, critically unpopular poems), her shameless exhibitionism—and yes, what she looked like.

Recently I’ve been thinking about her a lot, as there’s a conversation about beauty happening today in the world of gay poetry. Mostly it’s a whispered conversation, conducted behind backs, reflecting a discomfort with a shifting landscape in which a gay poet’s self-presentation seems as important to his success as do his poems.

Of course, as Sexton’s own celebrity suggests, this is not a new phenomenon in poetry (I’d credit any feeling of novelty to the broader culture’s relatively recent acceptance of literature with explicitly gay content, and the subsequent proliferation of young gay poets). And, as Sexton explored in a 1973 essay for The American Poetry Review, aptly titled “The Freak Show,” every poem is, by its nature, concerned with a performance of the self.

There’s no doubt, however, that this is making some gay poets uncomfortable. In the past year, some of this private skepticism has started to appear in more public forums—on Facebook and in comments sections, for instance, as well as in interviews.

Just last week, guestblogging for Ploughshares, Michael Klein interviewed Eduardo C. Corral about his newly-released debut Slow Lightning, winner of the 2011 Yale Series of Younger Poets award (a bold and imaginative book I’d recommend to anyone). Asked how he was acclimating to life in New York, Corral had this to say:

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.

Though I’m impressed by Corral’s candor, and lament his experience of exclusion because of his appearance, I bristled when I read this. I found myself worrying that this sort of attitude, taken a bit further, could lead to the devaluation of something important to me—namely, fashion and beauty. Moreover, I’m afraid such an attitude sets up a false dichotomy: looks or talent, style or substance. I refuse to settle for one or the other. Silly as it might sound, I want to be beautiful and I want to write beautiful poems.

I’m not, of course, arguing poets need (or should) be good-looking, nor do I advocate exclusion within the gay poetry community on any basis. I’m certainly not claiming the hunger for celebrity I share with Sexton is noble. But this is the truth of my life: I’ve wanted to be famous longer than I’ve wanted to be a poet. And I’m apprehensive about what happens when we privilege one experience of the world over any other. I may be young, I may be an aesthete—I may one day recall my great longing to be desired as frivolous—but I don’t believe that makes my experience any less worthy of artistic representation.

* * *

Presumably, one of the clubs to which Corral was referring is the Wilde Boys, the queer poetry salon run in New York City by Alex Dimitrov. The subject of a front page story in the The New York Times Style Section last November, the salon has also received attention from The Atlantic, The Paris Review, BOMBlog, and a number of other websites and publications (including Lambda Literary Review). In keeping with the Style Section’s voice and point-of-view, the Times piece focussed primarily on the social climate of the salon, rather than the quality of the literary discussion—an angle which inspired considerable internet backlash when the article was published.

Dimitrov’s career hasn’t suffered for it, however: his first book, Begging for It, is forthcoming from Four Way Books next year, and this June will mark the release of American Boys, a gorgeous digital chapbook from Floating Wolf Quarterly. Not to mention that he’s featured in this month’s Out as part of its Hot List 2012, in a piece which describes him as “poetry’s next great gay hope.” When Harriet, the Poetry Foundation’s blog, picked up the story, it ran with the cheeky headline: “Alex Dimitrov is Hot.”

I talked with him a bit about beauty and poetry in preparation for this piece, and loved his take:

I think about beauty in my poems, but so did Keats and Rilke and Sexton. I think many poets are obsessed with beauty and its power, its allure, its danger, how fleeting it is. And when I say beauty I don’t just mean in the corporeal sense, like being at dinner or in bed with a beautiful person. Rilke wrote, ‘beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror.’ Yeah, definitely, I get that. I mean, why is beauty necessary? It makes life bearable. Even if it’s impossible to hold onto it, or enjoy it without being destroyed by it.

I think he’s exactly right, and that it’s only natural if poets’ preoccupation with beauty sometimes extends to their self-presentations. Content aside, poetry is a highly aesthetic form—as poets, we labor over how our lines look on the page and how the sound of each syllable affects the ear. Why shouldn’t we give some thought to the dramatic impact we make when we give a reading, or what image comes to mind when someone reads our name? (Anyone who’s read a chapter of Butler knows that we’re all performing all the time, even those of us who deny the importance of beauty).

Ultimately, the poems will always be the test. Sexton may have capitalized upon her looks to gain readers, but her gift as a writer remains singular and irrefutable. Likewise, Dimitrov (his attractiveness aside), writes tight, honest poems that interest me. I suppose it’s presumptuous to assume I can speak for anyone but myself, but as someone who thinks constantly about beauty, desire, death, America, and, of course, New York, Dimitrov is writing some of the most exciting poetry today. That he is young and pretty shouldn’t count against him.


Lambda Literary believes discourse is important. That being said, we also understand that opinions on aesthetics, exclusivity, and “beauty” in the gay poetry community are as contentious as they are varied and, even if unintentional, are terms that can be racially coded. Since Jameson Fitzpatrick, the author of the opinion piece, is also the poetry editor of the Lambda Literary Review, we feel it’s important that we apologize to anyone, including Mr. Corral, who was offended by this post– this was neither the author’s nor Lambda’s intention. Additionally, we intend to post a dissenting opinion during the upcoming days, and welcome further commentary on the content of the original piece.

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Tom Baker

74 Responses to “Anne Sexton, Aesthetics & the Economy of Beauty”

  1. Fag Poet 23 May 2012 at 8:42 PM #

    Oh dear lord I am so tired of these self-involved queens! News flash: you did not invent and you do not have a monopoly on “beauty.” Never mind the arrogance of Dimitrov, whose poems are anything but tight and interesting, comparing himself to Rilke, Sexton, and Keats (!), but Fitzpatrick might reflect a little longer on why a Latino writer from Texas feels excluded by the overwhelmingly white and socially well-connected cabal of gay poets in the capitalist capital of New York City. What some call beauty, others call skin privilege. The author might also trouble a little deeper the connection (not dichotomy) between aesthetics and talent, the beautiful and the good. This is a very silly bit of writing.

  2. Mark 23 May 2012 at 8:54 PM #

    Is this issue strictly about beauty or is it about the politics that dictate who is beautiful and who is not? I think this article should have addressed the racial makeup of this poetry scene, especially, in light of Corral’s ethnicity. Once again, as is so typical of gay men, race is the elephant in the room here.

  3. Emily 23 May 2012 at 9:01 PM #

    Full disclosure: you are friends with Dimitrov. Why does stuff like this get paraded as real criticism?

    There is a difference between writing about beauty and writing beautifully. Yeats and Keats and Nabokov and Joyce wrote beautifully. Dimitrov has yet to show the technical chops to bring his poetry to such heights of aesthetic bliss.

    Kudos to Corral for saying it like it is. Poetry is about words, not about what one looks like.

    • Whatisgoingon? 1 June 2012 at 2:10 AM #

      Agreed, a lot of what passes for criticism is just mutual backslapping.

  4. Collin Kelley 23 May 2012 at 11:44 PM #

    Alex Dimitrov didn’t do himself any favors with the interview in the Times. Whether Dimitrov intended it or not, it made him and the Wild Boys sound shallow and more concerned with style (and “hotness”) over substance. It turned off many queer poets, although most would never say it out loud for fear of rocking the po’biz boat. And while I admire Jameson Fitzpatrick for coming to his friend’s defense, drawing a parallel between Anne Sexton and Dimitrov/Wild Boys is not only a stretch, but folly. To quote Sexton herself, “Beauty is a simple passion, but, oh my friends, in the end you will dance the fire dance in iron shoes.”

  5. Andrew H 24 May 2012 at 6:57 AM #

    I wonder if the author would wriite better reviews if he were more interested in the world and less interested in self-involvement and personal beauty?

    • Rita 21 October 2013 at 10:33 PM #

      I can’t believe this “argument” is deemed new, and I don’t find it accurate or relevant. Did we miss the whole “Beauty and the Beast,” the ugly self disclosed, and the reclamation of what’s beautiful in Marilyn Haecker, et al, body of work?

  6. Michael Klein 24 May 2012 at 7:40 AM #

    No poet I have ever had a conversation with ever mentioned Anne Sexton’s appearance because we talked about the poems which, of course, is what really matters. This is a piece defending the right to be vapid and when that defense is held in the context of a particular poetry community, it’s sort of a non-starter. I come from the world in which gay men aspire to be Michelangelo, not David and my interview with Eduardo Corral had a lot more interesting things to say about beauty as it applies to the poems he writes.

    • Tony Leuzzi 25 May 2012 at 12:16 PM #

      I entirely agree with Michael Klein here. Being a poet is not about being a celebrity. As someone who has spent years and years writing and working towards a mature and responsible aesthetic, I am sickened by this article which not only diminishes Corral–it diminishes Sexton (if she had four noses it should not alter the way we see her work) and, ironically Dmitrov, whose own poetry is not actually attended to with the critical rigor any poet’s work deserves in a context like this.

  7. J. Clark 24 May 2012 at 7:40 AM #

    Dear Mr. Fitzpatrick,

    I notice you didn’t quote the part of Corral’s interview in which he mentioned reaching out to other gay poets in New York and being told, “You don’t look like us.”

    You also don’t mention that The Wilde Boys Salon is invitation-only, that their invitations include the injunction, “Don’t bring a guest,” and that according the NYT interview of Dimitrov, “cuteness” is an explicit criterion for getting invited.

    It’s one thing to aspire to beauty. All serious poets do that. That’s not the same thing as trying to build a world without people who you consider to be ugly.

    • Rita 21 October 2013 at 10:39 PM #

      Okay, now the stakes are getting just blatantly offensive–and “we” are using poetry as an means to gain access to what a Life of the Mind transcends. That such a “club” exists offends my humanity, but that any human would belong or would aspire to. . .is beyond me. Walk. Away.

  8. Jameson Fitzpatrick 24 May 2012 at 9:44 AM #

    Hi all,

    I’ll keep this brief.

    To begin: I wholeheartedly believe that beauty comes in a multiplicity of colors and shapes.

    Second, I have great respect for Mr. Corral and his formidable talents as a poet. Furthermore, I believe his stance should be voiced and is completely valid. In this piece, I merely wanted to offer an alternative perspective—one that I felt more closely reflected what propelled me towards poetry in the first place.

    Third, while I do maintain a social acquaintanceship with Mr. Dimitrov, I truly am not close enough with him that I feel my judgment about his work is compromised.

    In parting, I wrote this piece largely because I wanted to raise the level of discourse surrounding these issues in contemporary gay poetry. Such controversies, more often than not, are discussed in a mean-spirited, personally-oriented manner—or, conversely, only cursorily alluded to in essays and interviews, failing to do more than further stir up the muddy waters of gossip and resentment. Following Sexton’s example, I always strive to put everything on the table.

    • Matt 24 May 2012 at 3:39 PM #

      You actually lowered the level of discourse, which others then resumed at a higher level for you.

    • Justin 1 June 2012 at 2:40 AM #

      Dimitrov’s quote in the article is relatively harmless. The real problem is people think he’s now getting published in places like the Kenyon Review not because of the merit of his poems–which from what I have read are slight in scope and lack technical prowess–but because of his growing fame.  I am one of those people. Poets are notoriously egocentric. Editors want an invite to the Wilde Boys salon and to be fawned over. Dimitrov  smartly marketed himself in a way to make this happen. But he shouldn’t be surprised when other people rankle at the mutual admiration society he set in motion. His schtick is rank with cronyism.  Similarly, these editors, including those at Lambda Review, should be ashamed if they let Dimitrov’s weak work rise above the overlooked gems of their slush piles. I mean, that LR poem to Dorothea Lasky ( “You Are The Party I Want To Go To”) was absolutely embarrassing! Mr.Fitzpatrick, what made you think that poem was anything more than one narcissist blowing smoke up another’s ass? Has poetry been reduced to shameless name-dropping? Talk about cronyism and patting your friends on the back! American Poetry Review be embarrassed too. Unless Dimitrov sent them some hidden masterpiece I’ve not read,  he probably didn’t warrant the Stanley Kunitz Prize for younger poets. “Darling”, which they published, was quite weak. Somebody at APR must be fishing for an invitation to Wilde Boys. Dimitrov should worry less about cocktails and fabulousness and more about perfecting his art. He’s young; he’ll get better. It’s the editors who are making much ado about nothing who should _really_ be ashamed. Overblown success too young can sabotage talent.

  9. Collin Kelley 24 May 2012 at 10:08 AM #

    Jameson, didn’t you just publish a piece of Alex Dimitrov’s poetry right here on Lambda a few weeks ago? I’m well aware that nepotism and having friends in the right places is common in poetry (let’s put that on the table) but let’s refrain from parsing the facts of “social acquaintainceship.” This essay does not raise the level of discourse but further reveals the shallow, narcissistic, ugly vein that runs through the gay community in general. You’re only worthy if you’re “hot.”

    • Jameson Fitzpatrick 24 May 2012 at 10:21 AM #

      You’re correct, we did run a poem by Mr. Dimitrov, two weeks before running four by Mr. Corral.

      • Collin Kelley 24 May 2012 at 10:29 AM #

        Before Mr. Corral’s comments in Ploughshares made you “bristle.”

        • ericthomasnorris 24 May 2012 at 5:59 PM #

          I think it is a mistake to assume this article was intended to advance a discourse about beauty. It isn’t. It’s just a bitchy ad. You can tell from the way Jameson talks about Alex’s forthcoming publications and how he talks up Wilde Boys. We can find the internal textual evidence for how it was cooked up as an advertisement, when Jameson says,

          “I talked with him a bit about beauty and poetry in preparation for this piece, and loved his take.”

          It’s a pre-review. An ugly coming attractions reel, unspooled at the expense of Eduardo C. Corral for suggesting there is something superficial going on in New York. Jameson lets the cat out of the bag here. Comparing Alex Dimitrov to Anne Sexton is a total failure. “A bearded bobby-soxer” might be a more appropriate analogy, if they are still searching for an outfit for Alex to wear to one of his Wilde little parties. All Alex can do is drop names and repeat a string of bubble gum wrapper observations about the terrors and wonders of beauty, thus,

          “I think about beauty in my poems, but so did Keats and Rilke and Sexton. I think many poets are obsessed with beauty and its power, its allure, its danger, how fleeting it is. And when I say beauty I don’t just mean in the corporeal sense, like being at dinner or in bed with a beautiful person. Rilke wrote, ‘beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror.’ Yeah, definitely, I get that. I mean, why is beauty necessary? It makes life bearable. Even if it’s impossible to hold onto it, or enjoy it without being destroyed by it.”

          “I think about beauty in my poems.” Somewhere Anne Sexton is laughing, I suspect. So is just about everyone else who picked up a pen with the intention of writing a poem on planet earth in the last 5000 years. Jameson leaves me in total hysterics when he tries to explain the profundity lying at the heart of Alex’s sense of aesthetics with the following deep and dangerous thoughts of his own,

          “I think he’s exactly right, and that it’s only natural if poets’ preoccupation with beauty sometimes extends to their self-presentations. Content aside, poetry is a highly aesthetic form—as poets, we labor over how our lines look on the page and how the sound of each syllable affects the ear. Why shouldn’t we give some thought to the dramatic impact we make when we give a reading, or what image comes to mind when someone reads our name?”

          “Content aside, poetry is a highly aesthetic form…” Stop giggling now, for just a minute, Let us reflect on this remark.

          “Content aside, poetry is a highly aesthetic form,” In other words, “Look at me world, I am a punch bowl. I am so pretty: I may contain a turd or two, but you can still drink from me.”

          • Adam 24 May 2012 at 9:34 PM #

            The library is CLOSED.

          • joey 27 May 2012 at 6:48 AM #

            bahahah. yeah you are so right.

            I’m very confused that Fitzpatrick can’t tell the difference between beauty, as a poetic subject, and who white gay boys think is looking hot.

          • AintNuthinGonna 2 June 2012 at 4:37 AM #

            RE: “it’s a pre-view” of Dimitrov’s forthcoming book:

            You have a point.

            Fitzpatrick calls Dimitrov  a “standout” and a   “literary it-boy” on the basis of the poem  included in Divining Divas:   “Self Portrait as Brigitte Bardot in Contempt”. Read it at:

            I then ask you, is that poem good enough to be a standout? If so, it speaks poorly of Divining Divas, which has much better poems in it. So then. Does Fitzpatrick have questionable taste? Very likely. Is he a cog working the Dimitrov publicity machine? Probably. Should Fitzpatrick be a poetry editor at Lambda? No.

          • AintNuthinGonna 2 June 2012 at 4:48 AM #

            BTW, the review of Divining Divas by Fitzpatrick is here. Again, it reads more like ad copy than a review.

            (Granted, Next is not the NYT Book Review).Still, one sees the PR machine at work there….

      • Justin 2 June 2012 at 3:24 AM #

        Jameson, can you tell us how you select the poems you print in the journal? I see no link for how a poet submits a poem to you. Does that mean you choose from your friends, from books you have read, or what? Some, I notice, are previously published. How do you select the poems? Are you looking for who is “hot” like Dimitrov? Can newer poets send you work? Just what is the process? Please make the process for selection of poem of the week transparent. I would appreciate a response to this. I don’t have high hopes you will tell us, but you should. I hope you will.

  10. marc 24 May 2012 at 10:39 AM #

    It sounds like a lot of people are unloading personal baggage here rather than dealing with what is actually touched upon in the piece. The Wilde Boys piece in the Times was in the style section for a reason (that is, it certainly isn’t called the substance section.) And yes, it did sound shallow. And some people will use their social capital merely to try and get laid – wasn’t it stated in the article itself that Dimitrov first started the salon to try and get dates? I also agree that Fitzpatrick would have done better, as Mark said, to address the construction of beauty rather than take it for granted that everyone agrees on what is beautiful. However, with all of that said, there are some really nasty responses here. There is, if you’ll notice, nothing in the quotation from Dimitrov that is inherently contrary to the quote by Corral. No one is suggesting that we should focus on looks over the letters. But that the relationship between beauty/aesthetics and a more baseline “physical” beauty exists cannot be ignored – no one should be suggesting that someone is included/excluded based on such shallow criteria as looks, but on the other hand, should someone be blasted if they _do_ attain a sense of beauty that may include more than poetry? Cultivating a sense of style and image alongside the self – artists have been doing that for a long, long time… and as we’re seeing, it takes a certain amount of finesse that is, apparently, hard to attain without being see-through. But that point is, on its own merit, I think, what the article was trying to get at, even if fumbling to the point.

    • Adam 24 May 2012 at 12:09 PM #

      “There is, if you’ll notice, nothing in the quotation from Dimitrov that is inherently contrary to the quote by Corral.”

      This! Why this article assumes some contradiction between Dimitrov’s musings on beauty and Corral’s critique–then adopts that assumption as its operating premise–is beyond me.

  11. […] night, a piece I wrote about Anne Sexton and the relationship between beauty and poetry (among other things, including […]

  12. Adam 24 May 2012 at 12:20 PM #

    If anybody’s looking for some coherent, interesting thoughts on beauty, they should read the long poem “Beauty” by S.E. Smith, in her amazing collection “I Live in a Hut” from Cleveland State University Press.

    Full disclosure: SHE IS MY FRIEND.

    • Misti Rainwater-Lites 5 June 2012 at 10:53 AM #

      I finished reading I Live in a Hut last night and just reviewed it at goodreads. What a gorgeous collection!

      I enjoyed reading this article. I have utilized YouTube, Model Mayhem and flickr to promote my poetry. I have no problem using my tits and ass to sell my books. Disclaimer: I’m from Texas.

  13. A reader 24 May 2012 at 1:19 PM #

    Having just read your personal blog post, Fitzpatrick, in which you say you are “disappointed that the critical argument [you have made] has been misconstrued as a manifesto on why poets should be beautiful,” I have to really wonder if you actually believe this piece published here on Lambda is in fact ‘critical’. You can’t possibly think that these collection of words in which you loosely piece together a (frankly very old and tired) argument amounts to critical investigation? At all moments of the piece, you’ve taken for granted what “beauty” is and never at one moment come to explicitly define the term, let alone begin to complicate or expand it. The article seems to be function by way of nostalgia: by way of a longing for a kind of “poetic glamour” that, apparently, is unavailable to us today or, if it is available, you suggest is chastised. But this nostalgia, as most nostalgia is, is extremely romanticized and anything but critical, for even the novice reader of Sexton’s poetry and biography understand the tragic fate that became of her. Clearly, for Sexton, beauty wasn’t enough and didn’t exclusively equal a “happy life.”

    We can’t come to this understanding in this article because we aren’t given any poems by Sexton to review for ourselves. We are, in fact, given no poem, no single line of any poem (whether by Sexton, Corral or Dimitrov), to review. This seems all together strange. You decide to quote Corral’s comment about his sense of exclusion in NYC, particularly within the gay poet community, but labor to ignore the very real and material reasons that might inspire that sense of exclusion in the first place (e.g. how race, body type, region, ethnicity, etc., play into our cultural understandings of beauty and historic practices of exclusion, whether intentional or not). The very fact that Corral is brought up in this piece is never very critically explained, beside the fact that the quote personally left you feeling “bristled.” (And what a telling choice of words there: to bristle: to take on an aggressively defensive attitude [as in response to a slight or criticism]).

    That you come later to describe everyone’s comments — useful critique that, if you truly are interested in criticism and theory, from which you can learn — as “vitriol” reveals the degree to which you are, in fact, not interested in a conversation or exchange of ideas. Rather, you seem more interested in “defending your turf”—a particular site of aesthetics that (and here is my opinion) has been for a while revealing to us its cracks in the foundation and all but ready to collapse.

    • Alex Cherry 24 May 2012 at 1:39 PM #

      It’s funny that the writer feels entitled to offer criticism over Eduardo Corral’s words and feels “sad” when he isn’t allowed the same freedom to criticize that Corral is given (not that the two criticisms are the same, Corral’s was far more tasteful and thought provoking). But then when people offer the writer insightful and valid criticism to his own work, it is “vitriol.”

  14. W 24 May 2012 at 1:37 PM #

    What I find pathetic is a 28 (27?) year-old man who thinks that high school social cliques (Wilde Boys) need continuing in the adult and that adding Grindr pictures to a chapbook is a daring or age appropriate. You’re not even that young, Dimitrov. At 28-27, Auden was only a year or two away from “Musee des Beaux Art”. Dimitrov is posting Grindr screen caps. Dimitrov appeared extremely vapid in the NYT’s write-up. His gay-only (quoting Alex from the article, ‘ “And there are a lot of ‘heteroflexible’ boys here, which is annoying,” ‘), cute-only invitation policy would kick out the majority of the canon. We don’t need another field dominated by physical appearance.

  15. Glenn Ingersoll 24 May 2012 at 2:34 PM #

    “I found myself worrying that this sort of attitude, taken a bit further, could lead to the devaluation of something important to me—namely, fashion and beauty.”

    Seriously? I mean – uh – this reads as camp. Classic!

  16. Celeste Mendoza 24 May 2012 at 4:00 PM #

    I think Fitzpatrick completely missed Corral’s point about exclusion and exclusivity based on one’s looks as opposed to one’s substance. Corral was not saying one cannot be joined with the other. He was being candid about what HIS experience has been in terms of being accepted into certain groups of poets in NYC. He wasn’t, like Mr. Fitzpatrick, trying to comment on the quality of anyone’s work but merely sharing what has been his experience. Fitzpatrick doth protest too much.

  17. Ricardo 24 May 2012 at 4:34 PM #

    I hope this writer is enjoying his fame. Not a pleasant 15 minutes but hey, notoriety counts. When I think of Eduardo Corral I think of his poetry.

  18. B.A. 24 May 2012 at 5:40 PM #

    This passes for critical observations and prose? Poet up people—don’t stand for this please—this is your Jewish mother taking.
    This reads like one too many appletini has climbed onto the bar to serenade us with (off key) Karen Carpenter. Better to have asked: Why do birds suddenly appear? Which would require more thought than a poem by Alex Dimitrov. Hot or not, the bottom line he does not even play a good parlor games on the page. While Mr Corral’s interesting language and narrative spirit coupled with actually having something to say makes for literary. That he should feel anyway slighted saddens me.

    The notion of beauty—a just a tad fraudulent, sounds like a goose honking? Does this have to with culture, race, and money? Seems so. Only a rich white boy would have enough audacity or delusions to imagine that this makes an intelligent argument. But I could be wrong. Let me see if I got it: “Fashion and beauty are very important,” okay, working through the insight, unpacking the idea—maybe in other words, they really matter a lot. Am I right? Please say I am right.

    Make a note to self. Re important: having something intelligent to say.

    Too bad, Mr. Jameson says he only a passing acquaintance of Mr. Dimitrov because a real friendship might excuse this, could even be admirable. A tacit agreement– will say nothing of any critical value for a friend—a one for all kind of thing.

    Finally, I invite you to bristle some more. Such a trite understanding of Sexton is not only superficial, which you admit to, but misogynistic. Very. You might wanna work on that. Otherwise, I would urge you not try to don the mantel of critic, or avoid attempting to discuss women in the arts or the art they produce. Sexton is over your head—complicated, really really complicated (words, ideas, all that stuff). I am sorry that your first love at 14 went away to college—heart wrenching—it made you a deeper reader though. Maybe not.

    • Rj 25 May 2012 at 10:36 AM #

      Jewish-Mother, I think we can challenge ourselves even further when responding to this. The queer scene in New York City is a powerful machine and if Dimitrov wants to steer the boat we should be sure he’s putting it on a course for positive social change. So a room full of beautiful gay men get together once a month to discuss beauty as an ultimate. But what kind of role models are they? How many of them wrote their city council members and state legislators about the constant threat of gay teenagers losing their beds in homeless centers? If these men want to help build the community these children are literally dying to be a part of then we better be sure that they are there when the children fall. I’m not saying that every member of Wilde Boys should be an activist or even actually care about the 4000 children who are going to sleep on their streets tonight, or that Dimitrov or any other community organizer isn’t already doing this. I just feel that if these pockets of queer poets are going to continue the perpetual strive for beauty they could also use that organization and motivation for something even larger than poetry itself.

      • B.A. 25 May 2012 at 12:45 PM #

        I understand your point and it is a good one. These guys would not be my first choice as a role model for our youth gay or straight. And no, you don’t need to be an “activist” to represent a deeper set of values, ideals or an aesthetic. Trivial, I suppose, a once of month salon in a well appointed rooms but ah it seeks more–to privilege these rich white boys over all others. Which would be fine because we both know how much they need the privilege but it impacts others in some publishing and voice. For example why is it that poems I write under the completely fictions name and identity of a rich gay white get published? That guy that does not exist yet recently he has quite the CV. I send him to Italy, Greece. In that voice I am young, and hip, and have in the poems lines that show, I did not expect to see “him” so I did not shave—that deep emotional edge. And I get it out there by the second line—and editors love it. I mean how is that to compare to a crib death or breast cancer—no way. And BTW I only send to journals that ARE NOT GAY. In addition, trust me on this, the craft of me as a gay guy is well below my own craft.

        I will say it again—misogynist, classist and more. My point being my crap alongside theirs get published while real poetry does not. They are frauds and so am I but I have a point to prove and some self-realization. BTW it started as a total accident. I wrote some fiction in the voice and the editor assumed and began a flirtation and I thought uhm, this could work. And boy oh boy it has. Yet I know that Jameson should not be allowed to even utter Sexton’s name and certainly not competent to write about her. Do they realize it?

        You want them to work in a homeless shelter–but what would they wear?

  19. Nels 24 May 2012 at 7:54 PM #

    Well, how embarrassing. About the time I came on board as a writer for Lambda Literary, I friended or was friended by several queer writers on Facebook, including Alex Dimitrov. It’s Facebook, and having such a wide network led to lots of links with lots of great writing. Dimitrov posted notices of Wilde Boys gatherings with dates and times. Having never heard of them before but not living in NYC, I thought nothing of it.

    Then, when I was in residence at NYU last semester and saw another post for a gathering early in the semester, I wrote to him and asked about the location. I had no idea of its exclusivity and simply thought it was held at a regular location everyone knew. I heard nothing back. Now I know why! My Facebook photos were clearly not appropriate and my note was more purposeful than poetic or flirtatious.

    It’s so sad but not surprising that these facile discussions of beauty continue. I remember them from the 1980s as our friends died of AIDS. I remember them from the Outwrite conferences in Boston in the 1990s. A fiend and I thought of starting a Tumblr of photos of gay male writers whose author photos depict them in black t-shirts with arms crossed, a tattooed bicep and no glasses even when the man wears glasses whenever he’s in public.

    Instead, I recently started a fashion and style blog with the tagline “Balding, fat, middle-aged guys wear clothes, too.” No, I won’t force any self-promotion on anyone here. But reading this, I feel more purposeful in starting that blog (ironically, I read this post after writing today’s post for my blog). Balding, fat, and middle-aged, I am more beautiful and my writing is more beautiful than ever before.

    But thanks at least for reminding me I should plan a post on Sexton. She actually taught me to see beauty beyond the surface and past superficial standards.

  20. The Poet In The World 24 May 2012 at 8:56 PM #

    This entire article seems like archaic narcissism at its most dramatic. “I’ve wanted to be famous longer than I’ve wanted to be a poet” is perhaps the epitome of the NYC queer poetry culture right now, — but also of the American culture! Everyone wants their 5 minutes, or longer, of fame. Haven’t we all? (Look at the colonization of Reality TV) And we are jealous of those who get it before us. It is ego centric. And, at the end of the day, causes more suffering.

    But I salute you, Jameson, it’s about time someone exposed the raw truth of the egomania happening in our culture, and in the poetry world. I just hope that the grasping and the wanting and the longing for more attention, more youth, and more fame are met with kindness to oneself and to others, and that compassion will save the day.

  21. marc 24 May 2012 at 11:57 PM #

    Wow, the nastiness and bitterness of some of the posters here is astounding. Dimitrov’s quotation is utterly harmless, and as someone pointed out in response to what I first wrote, it is not in contrast to what was first quoted, and it is not just about the corporeal. So, that’s that.

    And you can’t attack Jameson for caring about the notion of the image of the poet (as if this is such a big deal), so you attack him for his rather clumsy insight. But let’s get something straight. Regardless of if you like it or not, artists are concerned with beauty, in all forms. Not all artists subscribe to the idea that beauty is a one hundred percent socially constructed thing – some of us view it as an essence, an objective truth. I don’t agree with the way Jameson failed to mention in his analysis that Corral’s criticism makes a good point about various elements of privilege, or the way that he assumes that Dimitrov is universally considered beautiful (side note: he ain’t that cute, we’re just maybe not used to poets being somewhat cute/so obviously focused on that, or not used to them being socially hip and well dressed, I don’t know). There was way, way too much focus on him finding his contemporary attractive, yes. But the basic “stuff” of his point – that it’s okay to care about the poet as icon (ie, someone with a public persona, public image, a “look”, and so on) – this is not something worth attacking him over. He was worried that Corall’s criticism taken to the extreme would exclude these concerns, as much as his ideas taken to the extreme would exclude what’s actually on the page. We should be aware of things like body-fascism and how privilege interacts with beauty, but that doesn’t mean we have to abandon it – I shudder to think where are would be without the celebration of the muse and the theme of the body-beautiful. With that said, there is good reason to criticize elitism that extends largely from class, geography, appearance, etc. – but Jameson wasn’t advocating that elitism, so get off his dick, so to speak.

    • Collin Kelley 25 May 2012 at 1:18 AM #

      Stop pulling ours, Marc.

      • marc 25 May 2012 at 1:34 AM #

        Sweetheart, you could never be so lucky.

        • Fag Poet 25 May 2012 at 8:15 AM #

          @Marc: For someone who is “astound[ed]” by the “nastiness and bitterness of some of the posters here,” you sure can be.

    • joey 27 May 2012 at 6:57 AM #

      “He was worried that Corall’s criticism taken to the extreme would exclude these concerns… “

      Now there’s the sign of a sharpened intellect… it really does seem like a worry these days that we might stop being concerned with image and looks and start thinking too much about content.

      I shudder to think where we would be without the body beautiful… free of the body fascism, maybe avoiding some manifestations of racism, transphobia, fatphobia and ableism.. talking about things that matter more. Yeah, I shudder.

      • marc 9 July 2012 at 9:18 PM #

        @joey – oh please, you sound like such an overtly politicized robot. an activist, not an artist. get over yourself. get out of the art world if you don’t like it, go sign a petition. anyone who can dismiss the concept of the “body beautiful” in art is seriously not worth talking to. you’re talking about hundreds of years of a tradition, a concept, an idea, an inspiration. the body as a reflection of what is divine. but of course, you don’t know anything about that stuff, because you’re a philistine. poor you. what a fool you are – oh yes, worrying about fatphobia and ableism is “much more” important than the classical, central theme of the body. i’m sorry you’ve never experienced the personal sublime force of beauty/the body, but there is no way you will stop me from celebrating it, and i think many gay poets would agree with that – so it’s a good thing you’re a nobody.

        • Cuit 29 December 2013 at 8:36 AM #

          Wowwwww…. talk about a rude remark from someone attempting to defend the obsession with physical beauty. I think you just proved everyone else’s point but your own. Everyone else here has been nice and fair, and you just come here, insult people, and snap, “Oh, please.” Oh, please, if you don’t take posters here seriously, why should we take you seriously? It’s clear that you don’t.

  22. Wally 25 May 2012 at 12:11 AM #

    Collin Kelly has a great response to this misguided essay, the vapidity of Wilde Boys, and Dimitrov.

    Check it out here:

    • marc 25 May 2012 at 1:33 AM #

      This is a great response? You people wonder why poetry is always attacked for being culturally irrelevant or worse, dead. Dimitrov, without a single collection, has managed to get attention outside of the poetry world… whereas the name Collin Kelly has about as much resonance as crickets chirping. He claims that Dimitrov’s hype must be because of his looks – this is absurd, considering he is not really that cute (my subjective opinion, but surely not the only one) – he just looks good standing next to people who pride themselves, for some odd reason, on “only wearing T-Shirts and baggy jeans”. Give me a break! Jameson never said that people who fall outside of the glamor-notion are “not welcome” – he never said anything even close to that. He said that people who DO care about that stuff shouldn’t be chastised for it – which is exactly what is happening in these reactions – which says more about you than it does about the piece itself. “Fitzpatrick has managed to dispel the notion that similar young men are welcome in the gay literary scene, at least in New York, unless they are skinny-jean wearing, hipster, starfuckers.” Oh, this sounds so pathetically threatened and insecure that I actually feel bad for you. When did he say that anyone falling outside of the “starfucker poet” isn’t welcome? On the contrary, I think he was suggesting that there is room enough for all kinds of poets, even ones who want to cultivate a sense of self. This is just rehashed, typical hipster-hate making its way into the poetry world.

      • Matt 25 May 2012 at 1:48 AM #

        hey marc. boo!

      • Collin Kelley 25 May 2012 at 2:42 AM #

        And you are?

      • Wally 25 May 2012 at 11:03 AM #

        I’m younger than Dimitrov; I’m what would be called a hipster. There is a disconnect between Dimitrov and Jameson’s alleged acceptance of all types of people and the New York Times article where Dimitrov brags about Wilde Boys’ exclusivity, about the need for cliques, about how annoyed he is by the straight (gay-friendly) boys who go. And there is Jameson, in the picture, sitting in the front row.

        Dimitrov is not particularly well known. He is mostly known in the poetry world (but I don’t think that, say, Richard Wilbur or other formalists would know or care about his work), and he is known in gay circles. Poems about smelling his father’s jockstrap or going to a party with Dorethea Lasky are not going to win the affections of mainstream America. I am not saying that one must or should aim to be mainstream, but he is the exact reason why “poetry is always attacked as being culturally irrelevant” as you say.

        It’s nice to see a backlash against this article and Dimitrov’s high school antics. Now can poetry return to being about, you know, poetry?

  23. Bradley Harrison 25 May 2012 at 1:05 AM #

    I agree with the sentiment of the backlash, but would like to request that we all just calm down a bit. While it’s certainly fair to call into question the issue at hand, it’s also important that we do our best to not take personal shots at Mr. Fitzpatrick or Mr. Dimitrov. Clearly it’s difficult (impossible even?) to completely separate the personal nature of the issue from the discussion, but some of the accusations on this thread have gone way over the line. Let’s try to be professional here, granting the author a bit of respect even as we disagree with his perspective. Let’s not get caddy and lower the level of the discourse even further.

  24. […] and it concerns him when people in the poetry community want to devalue his beauty and style…or something: Though I’m impressed by Corral’s candor, and lament his experience of exclusion because of his […]

  25. Snooks 25 May 2012 at 11:16 AM #

    Oh, Lil’ Alex, a flash in the pan who is a dreadful “poet” by any measure. It will be curious to see if he presses on once he advances into middle-age (and life is no longer “bearable” because of his faded “beauty”), or kills himself out of embarrassment over the ridiculous reputation he’s created for himself. Just like Anne, he seems completely daft, shockingly unaware of how those glam images were a bad idea.

    Reading this creed / essay, it’s wonderful to see the lookism-ageism that abides in the larger LGBTQ community come full circle and land on the doorstep of LAMBDA, an organization that has had its own well-documented issues of transphobia. Reading this essay (and comments, the first article in years to have elicited any) was a delight, as it underscored the various ism’s now in full flower at LAMBDA, specifically an exec director who proactively privileges those who conform to his tiresome notions of policy-political correctness and systematically exclusion those who don’t.

    • Disturbedbythiscommentsection 25 May 2012 at 12:21 PM #

      “or kills himself out of embarrassment over the ridiculous reputation he’s created for himself.”

      This “discussion” has gotten entirely out of hand. It clearly is no longer about a misguided article but a lame excuse to make nasty digs at people, namely Mr. Dimitrov and Mr. Fitzpatrick.

      Have some dignity people.

  26. Bradley Harrison 25 May 2012 at 1:19 PM #

    I would also like to add that it’s pretty cowardly to come on here and make comments under internet pseudonyms. The author of the article has put himself out there, as have some of his critics, but hiding behind a false name and then proceeding to make outlandish personal attacks on real people is pathetic and sad.

    We’re all (or most of us?) practicing poets with real names. If you have something to contribute to the conversation, stand by it. Don’t hide behind a name like “Snooks”

  27. Sarah Sarai 25 May 2012 at 1:19 PM #

    So glad the infuriating Wilde Boys pretty clique is being debated here. And for the record, my poem, “White People Are on My Mind These Days,” was published on Lambda not too long ago. I am fabulous though not conventionally beautiful nor am I male, conventionally or otherwise; but since you (all) are in part chatting about racism, well… White People Are On My Mind These Days (first published in Mary: A Literary Quarterly)
    Yrs. in utopian love,
    Sarah Sarai

  28. Brett Ortler 25 May 2012 at 3:31 PM #

    I wanted to address the racism issue, as I think it’s at the center of this hubbub. Jameson’s omission of race, in my view, doesn’t imply racism, but it does imply racism’s little brother, privilege, which often manifests itself in thoughtlessness.

    (As an [incredibly, almost translucent] white straight dude from the Midwest, I can certainly say it’s easy to lapse into, as you simply forget that you’ve got it easier–often far, far easier–than others.)

    Thoughtlessness often stems from vanity, so to send thoughtlessness, end vanity.

    (Dear Lord, I’m starting to sound like the four noble truths over here.)

    Jameson’s line about wanting to be famous does bespeak vanity. In my view, that’s a misguided goal.

    With that said, seeking fame is understandable, as our society is fame-centric. From a young age, it’s what we’re told we should seek (see also, pro -athletes, Jersey Shore, American Idol, all that). We might be the first generation with an entire class of people who are famous simply for being famous.

    It should be no surprise that poets and writers also fall into the same trap. (We’re not immune to bad ideas.)

    But I don’t think either trait is damning for Jameson. We all take advantage (or become thoughtless) because of privilege, and I’m assuming that all of us have wanted to be famous at some point or another. You just have to learn to progress, I think.

    I think the Internet is turning us all into utter jerks.

  29. Brett Ortler 25 May 2012 at 3:31 PM #

    Damn it, the last line should have said: P.S., I think the Internet is turning us all into utter jerks.

  30. Ricardo 25 May 2012 at 7:02 PM #

    Fame is a bee.
    It has a song—
    It has a sting—
    Ah, too, it has a wing.

    Emily Dickinson

  31. A reader 25 May 2012 at 8:00 PM #

    Also: who said Anne Sexton was beautiful?

  32. […] arisen about beauty, style, race, and privilege in contemporary American poetry.  Over at Lambda, a piece by Jameson Fitzpatrick has come under fire for championing the self-presentation of NYC poet Alex Dimitrov, the organizer […]

  33. Ricky subjunctive 26 May 2012 at 4:17 PM #

    and we wonder why there is a faux glass ceiling between us and the straight community. why we are constantly the talk of the town, the freak show to be gawked at. how truly divided and uninterested in one another’s mindsets we are. we’ll never rise up because we secretly love our divisive, self-loathing tail chasing.

  34. Shane Michael Manieri 29 May 2012 at 11:35 AM #

    I am glad this thread is happening…. It — fame beauty, community, integrity — has been on queer poets’ minds ever since the NY Times article came out….

    As far as the comments that follow Jameson’s post goes, and in defense of Alex Dimitrov and the Wilde Boys, I think this ( is a very heartfelt and humble essay—and one that everyone should read. I know, as the former leader of an LGBTQ Buddhist outreach group, which I helped create, that people, community (those not doing the organizing and hard work that group gathering entails), have a lot of expectations of what leaders ‘should do’ and ‘should say’. Sometimes intention gets misconstrued due to language and projection, and dreams… Human nature.

    I also know this, that that Wilde Boys is more than what the Style Section made it out to be (though it made me feel robbed of integrity, in some way). The WB salon has meant a lot to me. It has helped me build great friends, who also happen to be poets, writers, and artists — that is priceless. I have always thought the work Dimitrov is doing — inviting established poets, and community-building — (whether we like, or agree with, how it’s being done — or not) to be of quintessential importance to the group. The rest is perk—or maybe it isn’t.

    As I write and think about it, I suppose I have a wish… which is for gays in society to be considered more than a simple fashion. We are not a trend, though we may be trendy. As another poet friend and professor brought to my attention, seems every time queers get an article in the New York Times it’s in the Style Section. And though nothing is wrong with that, it trivializes our lives, we are more than a fashion statement…. As Alex alluded to in his blog post, We are human… And I might add, that is more than a fashion statement..

    • Ricardo 29 May 2012 at 3:12 PM #

      With all due respect to the comment above, Dimitrov’s defense (and this one too) are (fashionably) late to the party. If that article in the NYT was so misleading, then why wait until now to refute its portrayal of that organization? If Dimitrov had responded immediately, as he should have to this article as well, instead of just thanking the writer, then his mortification would have come across more genuine. Damage control is a more convincing effort when a timely response is made. P.S. The queer poetry world did not start spinning when that article on the NYT came out and the gay community has made many appearances on the NYT, other than in the Style section–have you read the rest of the newspaper? Are presumptuousness and blinders merit badges at this organization? It sure must feel nice to be inside and all of us outside will have to take your word for it that it’s a great place to be.

      • Collin Kelley 29 May 2012 at 4:25 PM #

        Dimitrov really addressed nothing in his personal blog post about the controversy caused by his friend Jameson Fitzpatrick. I was hoping for a more passionate defense of his position, perhaps refuting or contextualizing some of Fitzpatrick’s comments and associations, especially the insane comparison to Sexton, but it was, sadly, just more “me, me, me, I, I, I.” On the other hand, all this publicity and attention is sure to be a boon to Dimitrov’s forthcoming chapbook — and much closer scrutiny about the poetry it contains.

        • Ricardo 29 May 2012 at 7:13 PM #

          What is also sadly lacking from Dimitrov’s blog post is empathy for Eduardo C. Corral. Dimitrov doesn’t even mention him although the Fitzpatrick opinion piece attempted to blame him entirely for this alleged hateration against pretty and thin people. I will be honest, I never even heard of this organization, the Wilde Boys, until now. I had never heard of Dimitrov either, though I did see that issue of OUT Magazine last week and I thought to myself: another white face representing a vast and diverse field. I did read about Corral in Poets & Writers Magazine, and I did read his book and Carl Phillips’ flattering introduction. It occurs to me that I know so much about Corral’s life and his work, and I only know what Dimitrov looks like. Conclusion: No wonder he feels affronted, then. That is all Dimitrov has to bargain with for now. I will now seek out his poems in online journals to discover why it’s been said by an editor who is off to college in the fall, that Dimitrov is “writing some of the most exciting poetry today.” TEEN STEAM! Now I feel like an idiot for giving this Fitzpatrick any credibility. But like many on here, I had to come to the defense of a poet I admire. Does Dimitrov, as per his defense, not understand that it’s not all about him?

  35. […] Literary, Jameson Fitzpatrick, who has such an awesome name, wrote a very decidedly unawesome oped. You can judge it for yourself, but I found it to be rushed, misleading, and generally all over the […]

  36. Ricardo 30 May 2012 at 11:21 AM #

    A great piece from Darrel Alejandro Holnes, the program director of the Poetry Society of America:

  37. […] for physical beauty.  I want to put aside that aspect of  Jameson Fitzpatrick’s argument in “Anne Sexton, Aesthetics & the Economy of Beauty” (a mayor player in beauty-gate) for a moment, and admit that I was struck by the extent to which […]

  38. Bob Smith 1 June 2012 at 12:11 AM #

    I’m disabled, over fifty, have gray hair, have ALS/Lou Gehrig’s disease, occasionally drool and have attended several Wilde Boys events and have always been treated kindly and with patience as people tried to understand my severely slurred speech. The Wilde Boys’ events I’ve attended have always been about literature: fiction or poetry. I also saw Alex at an Occupy Wall Street protest standing with the crowd during a downpour. At any gay event, we’re all checking out the hotties but to say that is the main purpose of the Wilde Boys is wrong.

  39. KF 24 September 2012 at 5:28 PM #

    How come no one acknowledges ugliness as a topic? Susan Sontag said that the need to ignore ugliness plays into a kind political correctness and consumer driven society. If aesthetics are the ultimate subjective statement shouldn’t we acknowledge the other side of the coin? In the aftermath of AIDS gay men need to take into account ugliness. No one wants to be ugly but it definitely exists. if you read the 1992 biography, of all poets Anne Sexton seems to have definitely felt ugly.

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