Gay poet: breaking taboo subjects can be revelatory


Angelo NikolopoulosVia G(&)LIT: “It’s naughty, I know, to talk about the ass,” writes gay poet Angelo Nikolopoulos, “but why should the lowly—the seemingly base—be exempt from our attention, when they provide such coordinates for discovery, when they offer enchantment?” He goes on to write, “Yeats says that love has pitched his mansion in the place of excrement. And I wanted to write a poem about that mansion, high up there where the sun don’t shine. That backdoor and prison purse. My rear stable. Whatever you call it.”

Nikolopoulos, whose debut book of poems Obscenely Yours recently came out amid much buzz, writes about “the ass” for The Poetry Society of America’s website, as this particular body part (zone even?) relates to one of the daring and tantalizingly subversive poems in his book. (Porn never got such literary treatment as Nikolopoulos gives it, among his many subjects.) You can’t get more ‘traditional’ and socially acceptable than the PSA, and here we have a gay poet waxing lyrical and philosophical about the asshole, his relation to it as a site of desire and how language changes how we see it. That Nikolopoulos is having this conversation in such a venue brings me no end of delight.

I’ve long been making the argument that it’s gay and lesbian poets (and women poets, and other traditionally marginalized writers) who can speak about the unspeakable and break down barriers—-and access greater and more profound truths in the process. (I always think of lesbian poet Muriel Rukeyser’s oft-quoted lines “What if one woman told the truth about her life? / The world would split open.”) Yes, straight writers break boundaries all the time, but there is a certain zest and fearlessness I like that comes from gay writers.  If we fear a topic, even a little, we let it have power over us and prevent ourselves from revelation and discovery. In my experience, gay and lesbian poets have long understood this (granddaddy Whitman certainly understood this!)—-and have gifted the idea to American poetry.

If you want to know more about the ass in particular, look to a distinguished tradition of gay poets: Allen Ginsberg, Edward Field, Dennis Cooper, Wayne Koestenbaum, and now Angelo Nikolopoulos. Each has written at least one poem about the ass. (Oh, and don’t forget the French: Rimbaud and Verlaine co-authored a poem about the ass, called simply “Sonnet of the Asshole” or “Sonnet du Trou du Cul.”)

What poems by GLBT writers do you think push the boundaries?