Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Yes, She Is!

Something in me wants to climb up on the roof and yell, "Our new American Poet Laureate is a Dyke!"

It seems to have escaped hysteria.

That's the only reason I feel reluctance to go blathering it all over the place.

Oh, there have been circumspect references to "her life partner, Carol." But I haven't seen the L word anywhere. Am I glad or am I disappointed?

Shouldn't I be proud? Well of course I should be proud! I am proud of Kay Ryan the way I am proud of my old friend Dorothy Allison: For sheer blood-soaked triumph. For their head-down resolute by-god dedication to that clear interior best of self that all the world seems brought up just to doubt or to ignore. Out of that comes the only thing worth having, the way a jewel green blade of grass pokes through no matter what I put on top of it.

"Outsider." That word appears in all the stories about Kay Ryan, but nobody ever says what she's outside of.

I think I know.

Of all the things about her that I've read, this is my favorite:

"Q. Whose books are generally shelved next to yours in bookstores? How does it feel to be sitting between them? A. 'I like the assumption of this question, that I am sitting between other poets on a shelf. That I am my book – or if it’s a really good bookstore – books. Because this is pitifully true. Sometimes I go to look for myself in inferior bookstores – at airports, say – and I find I don’t exist. Sometimes my entire people does not exist. From the condition of not existing, I have no way of mustering the self importance necessary to bring myself into some future being by asking to speak with the book buyer. I am unpersoned. I can barely buy gum.'"

If there's ever been a better expression of what it feels like to be erased, I haven't found it.

Sad as it is that it applies to GLBT people, it's sadder still that it applies to anybody whom those with the power to bestow notice decide not to notice: immigrants, day laborers, women of a certain age, mentally ill people, poor people, people caught in cultures of genocide. . . . I sometimes wonder what would happen if all the We Unnoticed gathered in one spot and decided not to notice them, for a change. Would we have just rebalanced the world, or would we have just perpetuated the status quo? It's a conundrum.

Like Allison before her, and Minnie Bruce Pratt, and Audre Lorde, and Adrienne Rich, and so many others, Ryan kept her eyes on the real prize: the within-person. Here, then, ironically, is the way to personhood.

It is good that nothing much is being made of her lesbianism provided that it is acknowledged up front. This is essential, otherwise there is no way to distinguish between enforced invisibility and mere ordinary personhood.

That is most of why I scream it out loud: "Behold! See who is our Poet Laureate!" The rest of the reason why is because I want the Christianists, the generals, the Republicans, the little-town judges and their little-town sheriffs, the galvanized-righteous African American and White Baptists preachers, and all the rest to know that they live in a country whose Poet Laureate is Kay Ryan, the Dyke.

Selected poems. Better yet, go to Amazon.com