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What becomes of the romance of being young and queer when one gets older? In her first collection, Julie Enszer—poet, activist—echoes this question over and over, illuminating the nostalgia and perplexities of a queer life grown up. A slim volume published by A Midsummer Night’s Press, here is a collection that speaks of lesbian sex, politics, art and icons with original love. It’s the kind of book that would be put on proud display at Madwimmin Books, the fictional bookstore of Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For. Anyone who’s loved Dorothy Allison’s early chapbook of poetry, The Women Who Hate Me, will recognize the same brash confidence and articulation in Julie Enszer’s work.
The collection’s opening poem, “When We Were Feminists”, pits the fresh fever of being a young radical with the strange complacency of everyday adult life. Brimming with colorful metaphors, Enszer paints a portrait of life then and now: “When we were feminists, we spent Saturday mornings at / women’s clinics…Now we spend Saturday mornings walking our dogs and / eating brunch.” With aching nostalgia for a life when things were new and the promise of change was fresh, the poem goes on to illustrate what life has become: “Now, I can rarely find an afternoon to read. I cannot remember / the last trip to the grocery store / when I spent less than ten dollars.” So many poems have been written about the intoxication of being young and full of hope. Enszer takes a successful risk when she colors in the flip side of such ideals, the reality of ten or twenty years later.
“Swagger” is a poem that pays homage to qualities of youth that can transcend age. On watching a young butch woman saunter across a room, Enszer observes: “It is not a posture of youth / though youth wears it well.” There is a tender wisdom to these poems, reflection entwined with satisfaction, marveling at how life is now. The collection’s final piece, “Making Love After Many Years,” warns playfully, “It isn’t easy. I can’t tell you how many times, young and single / I thought married sex would be the best—available, reliable, / heck, even guaranteed.” Enszer goes on to detail the surprising obstacles in a relationship and life addled with responsibilities, before closing the poem with a scene of spontaneous desire and affection:
…this is why, when you take me into your arms
on a particular Thursday night, and we even have a guest in
and the sheets are somewhat dirty…
…I am surprised, not shocked, but
because making love after many years isn’t always easy.
Easy it is not, to both savor the past while reveling in the nuances of the present. Here is a poet whose tangible passion remains the same, from the streets to the suburbs, from one night stands to stable marriages. In this collection, Enszer gives all queers something to look forward to at any age.
by Julie R. Enszer
A Midsummer Night’s Press
Paperback, 64p, $11.95