detail from Labels for Hair Ribbons by Manuel Ocampo a delectable selection of oriental appetizers
Monday, April 02, 2001

: . The Slaughter of the Innocents: So I’m trying to make sense of that unsolved mystery called Gay Conservatism (yuck) and what better place to visit than the vanity site of Andrew Sullivan—the HIV positive, Oxbridge educated, pro-gay marriage, Gay Conservative who once held court at the once liberal, now centrist The New Republic. (The Political Center in this age of the Third Way is no fabled Middle Ground approached through careful consideration of extreme Leftist and Rightist ideas. Instead it is a deeply conservative zone, the midpoint between right and right plotted by cowards: gutless Liberals who have scurried to the right to secure reelection, and gutless Conservatives in the thrall of bible thumpers.) To my surprise, I stumble upon this this article, with which I wholeheartedly agree, on, of all things, Britain’s heartless, profit driven measures to eliminate Foot and Mouth disease in the British countryside. Sullivan writes:

“Why are these hundreds of thousands of animals being slaughtered? At first I thought it was an emergency measure to contain a disease that could kill animals and threaten human health. But foot-and-mouth disease is not fatal in animals, although it can kill weak offspring. Most cows survive it and are well again within a few weeks. Nor is it even remotely dangerous to humans. The meat of these cows is perfectly edible and poses no threat to those who eat it. The only problem with foot-and-mouth disease is that it weakens the infected animals for a period of time, lowers their milk production and weight somewhat, and, because there are international bans on exports from infected regions and countries, prevents their sale for exportation. That's it. This isn't cholera or mad cow disease or HIV. It's a cow flu with cold sores…There is surely something deeply wrong in a culture that can witness these scenes of mass slaughter without searching for every possible alternative solution first. Our proper relationship with this earth and its creatures should not be one of simple exploitation. It should be one of guardianship. Why did it take a pointless animal holocaust to make us contemplate that more seriously?”

: . April is National Poetry Month and if you sign up at Knopf’s Poetry Center you can have one poem delivered to your inbox everyday for 30 days. Today I was sent a poem by James Merrill who is the reigning dead poet of the next few weeks since his Collected Poems has just been issued by, who else, Knopf. I never did care much for James Merrill’s work. His poems read like the very intelligent cocktail chatter of a rich, overeducated, idle queen (his father after all is the founder of Merrill Lynch). So each time I crack open one of his books my liberal guilt creeps in and scolds me for indulging in such elitist fare. But to round off the gay theme this evening, I did want to post a poem, Elizabeth Bishop’s Exchanging Hats that James Merrill describes beautifully in his memoir A Different Person. Sadly, after more than an hour’s search all over the house (on all fours digging through unpacked boxes in the basement and over, under, and behind every bookcase) I could not find my copy of Elizabeth Bishop’s Complete Poems. (I did find books I thought I’ve lost long-ago like Zora Neale Hurston’s Dust Tracks on a Road and Routledge’s The Cultural Studies Reader.) So here, instead, is Merrill on Bishop and newfound strategies on writing about the “blurring of identity and gender,” the profound transfiguration that occurs when one is under the spell of one’s lover or a “seductive book”:

“The poem begins by evoking the behavior of grownups—clownish uncles and spinster aunts—at a beach picnic, but through a number of delicate modulations, changes of tense and meter and tone, these figures grow ghostly, other- or underworldly, wise as that Ovidian Tiresias who at a more genital level than Miss Bishop’s also explored (in her phrase) ‘the headgear of the other sex.’ The poem ends:

Unfunny uncle, you who wore a
Hat too big (or one too many),
Tell us, can’t you, are there any
Stars inside your black fedora?

Aunt exemplary and slim,
With avernal eyes, we wonder
What slow changes they see under
Their vast, shady, turned-down brim.

“I never doubted that almost any poem I wrote owed some of its difficulty to the need to conceal my feelings, and their objects. Genderless as a figleaf, the pronoun ‘you’ served to protect the latter, but one couldn’t be too careful…Here, though, was a poet addressing herself with open good humor to the forbidding topic of transexual impulses, simply by having invented a familiar, ‘harmless’ situation to dramatize them. I was enthralled.”

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