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Poetry: Gay Male  
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On the other hand, there are problematic major omissions from the collection. Of these, the most glaring is Hart Crane. Also compromising is the fact that of W. H. Auden's poems, Coote includes only the relatively trivial "Uncle Henry."

Coote's collection was widely reviewed because of its "Penguin Book of ..." status. More often than not, it was criticized for its inclusiveness, particularly for its inclusion of sexually celebratory verse of the post-Stonewall era. The problem is, of course, in the nature of canons: Do we make our choices of gay culture according to aesthetic or sociohistorical criteria?

The Anthologist's Criteria

Clearly, any book that unapologetically places the likes of Olga Broumas and Chuck Ortleb next to Homer and Shakespeare is likely to cause aesthetes to shudder, particularly if it appears to include the latter pair for thematic reasons rather than for the fact that they were "great" poets. But how else can a gay anthologist operate at all?

The main defense available to the compiler of such a broad survey must be located in the pleasure of the reader; and the reader in question should be assumed to be lesbian or gay. The gay anthology is addressed to the gay reader, both to induce enjoyment and to convey a sense of cultural solidarity.

Given these functions of the "pleasure principle" in the compilation of anthologies, academic-historical and academic-aesthetic complaints may prove irrelevant to the success or failure of the enterprise.

In a nutshell, it may be completely beside the point whether William Shakespeare was "gay" or "queer" or a "homosexual" or a "sodomite"; or if he and the male addressee of his sonnets were "just good friends"; or even if no such friend ever existed and the sonnets in question were--as so many heterosexually identified critics have claimed--mere poetic exercises, common to their time.

All this is irrelevant if any of the sonnets are amenable to being read by a gay reader as if they were "gay poems." If they work as if they were, they are. The reader's pleasure is paramount.

To this extent, anthologies like Coote's function well as capacious lucky-dips, in which any page one turns to will offer a potential gay text. And in the present context, at least, a potential gay text is a gay text. It is in their educational roles, on the other hand, that such collections really do raise problems.

For instance, Coote's hope that his book will be treated as "a record, a history" of representations of "homosexual people" is obviously compromised by the editor's--and therefore the book's--willingness to assume a trans-historical and cross-cultural unifying definition of gay culture.

This slippage has already occurred between the title's "homosexual verse" and the first sentence of the introduction's "poems by and about gay people." Add to this the fact that Coote's own translations of the gay classics incorporate such culturally and historically specific epithets as "faggot," "queer," and "queen," and one must reluctantly conclude that the academic uses of the book are limited; or, at least, that the book needs to be shelved next to a more skeptical volume of sexual history.

The Gay Liberation Movement

Of course, Coote's strategies are determined--or, to some extent, sanctioned--by the moment of their conception. The Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse was a response to a marketing need created by the growing currency of gay culture during the previous decade. In some sense, for all its faults, it represented the culmination of what some writers and readers had been working toward: the establishing of a canon; the continuation of a tradition.

Although published in 1983, the book had its origins in possibilities raised by Gay Liberation. Although in some respects already a rather dated concept in 1983, this anthology of "homosexual verse" nevertheless bore the stamp of 1969.

The latter date is the point in cultural history after which, at last, we can unproblematically speak about a certain kind of text as "gay poetry": that is to say, poetry about being gay, by men who identify themselves as being gay. It was then--in the industrialized West at the end of the 1960s--that a systematic renaming occurred, and "queers" and "homosexuals" became "gay." In much the same way as, shortly beforehand, "negroes" had become "black."

Such redefinition at street level, of course, cannot fail to have its impact on the cultural forms that use language as their primary matter. "Gay liberation" spawned "gay literature." Winston Leyland was not exaggerating in his introduction to Orgasms of Light when he spoke of a "Gay Cultural Renaissance."

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