……..Christopher Hennessy’s Homosexuality is a Poem, is a part-theoretical, part-historical examination of the relationship between post-war poetry and gay identity. Focusing on the work of poets such as Frank O’Hara, Jack Spicer, John Wieners, and the poets of the early Gay Liberation Movement, Hennessy contends that the lyrical form allowed gay writers the ability to theorize and imagine gay identity and desire in innovative ways. As they invented new forms of poetic expression that challenged lyrical conventions, they in turn used poetry to object to society’s marginalization and persecution of homosexuality in the 50s and 60s. This poetry, in turn, helped to imagine queer community and politicize gay desire in ways that inspired and vocalized gay politics in the pre- and post-Stonewall eras.
………In his first chapter, Hennessy lays out the structure of his investigation into how post-war gay poets reinvented the lyrical form to fit the queer experience of same-sex desire, the politics of sexual liberation, and gay identity. He identifies these as the principal aims of his study: “making sexuality central instead of peripheral” to the study of a gay poet’s corpus, understanding “postwar lyric as a form still influenced by the long shadow of The New Criticism” via its impact on minoritized gay poets, showing “how the lyric functions differently for the gay poet,” and beginning “new critical conversations” about gay poets in ways that “include taking seriously these eroto-poetics” and conceiving of their creators “as lyric theorists.” (pp.8-9) Hennessy’s approach toward analyzing the work of these pioneering poets is as much a historical project as it is a work of literary criticism. His readings of Frank O’Hara, Jack Spicer, and John Wieners stress the oppressive environment of the post-war social climate before the modern gay rights movement as a contributing factor to how they used poetry to theorize and narrate gay experience. Hennessy contends that “the experience of gay male desire, before it had emerged fully as a political and social identity, was a textual experience, a discursive identity rather than a set of acts. But perhaps more importantly it was a question, not an answer, the way in which the best of poems function.” (p.17) Poetry did not merely describe gay male desire; it helped men who felt such desire invent and define themselves.
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One thought on “My Review of “Homosexuality is a Poem” By Christopher Hennessy”
O’Hara’s 1954 poem “Homosexuality” has always intrigued me. It reads as if it’s addressed to someone in particular, but I’ve never seen any discussion of this poem.