Tuesday, October 28, 2008

From The Writer's Almanac, Friday, 24 October 2008

I just love this poem!

Welcome Home, Children

by David Shumate

In the early spring I get together with all the people I've been

in my past lives. We sit around the table at my grandfather's

farmhouse—mashed potatoes, creamed peas, cornbread. There's

the Confederate colonel with his mustache and battlefield odor.

The medieval peasant from Portugal with insects in her hair. The

Irish boy who died from the fever at nine. There's the patient wife

of the fishmonger. The petty thief from Cathay who's already

stuffed his pockets with my grandmother's paperweights. My

favorite is the Hindu monk. His orange robes. The sacred paint

across his forehead. He's never reconciled his lust for women and

steals glances at the dancer from Babylon—my first life. Her long

dark hair. The thin veils draped over her shoulders. She loves

to lean across the table for the marmalade, exposing her breasts

for him to see. After dinner she excuses herself and walks into

the garden. He follows. I'm not sure if it's just a natural kind of

thing… One incarnation of mine seducing another…Or an act

so vile even Narcissus would have gagged.

"Welcome Home, Children" by David Shumate from The Floating Bridge. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Queering the Color Line by Siobhan B. Somerville - Class Presentation

Queering the Color Line
Siobhan B. Somerville

Central argument of the book: “It was not merely a historical coincidence that the classification of bodies as either “homosexual” or “heterosexual” emerged at the same time that the United States was aggressively constructing and policing the boundary between “black” and “white” bodies.

In the introduction, Somerville indicates that her methodology comes from queer studies and that her theoretical apparatus is rooted in African-American studies and lesbian/gay studies. Through a brief discussion of the arguments that she builds in the book, I want to examine her methodology and consider the theoretical apparati at work in her book.

  1. 1.Scientific Racism and the Invention of the Homosexual Body

In this first chapter, Somervile review “expert” literature about sexuality, broadly defined to include the writings of physicians, sexologists, and psychiatrists (p. 15). She does this through close reading and contextual analysis in order to examine how “discourses of race and gender buttressed one another” and “shaped emerging models of homosexuality.” (p. 17.) Somerville reviews Krafft-Ebing and Havelock Ellis as sexologists; she then discusses scientific racism in the nineteenth century, comparative anatomy, and eugenics. She concludes this chapter with an examination of how sexual orientation and race were intertwined as the mulatto and invert and reads an analysis from a 1913 medical journal by Margaret Otis about “love-making between white and colored girls.” (p. 34.)

  1. 2.The Queer Career of Jim Crow

In her second chapter, Somerville takes A Florida Enchantment as an emblem of the imbrication of race and gender during it’s twenty-three year life from a novel to a stage production to a film. She traces the changes in the various adaptation to contemporary anxieties and beliefs about race and sexuality. Her primary methods in this section are both close reading of the performative texts and analysis of viewer/reader reception.

  1. 3.Inverting the Tragic Mulatta Tradition

In the third chapter, Somerville takes up the two novels by Pauline Hopkins which “reshape cultural constructions of race, gender, and sexuality.” (p. 75.) Somerville does close readings of Contending Forces, particularly Dora and Sappho’s eroticized friendship, and Winona. Somerville contends “Hopkins’s ambivalent engagement with emerging discourses of homosexuality become visible through figures who disrupt conventions associated with the mulatta heroine.” (p. 110.)

  1. 4.Doubles Lives on the Color Line

In this chapter, Somerville focuses on the book, The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man, and it’s initial publication as by an anonymous author to the unveiling of it as authored by James Weldon Johnson. She then moves to analysis the second publication in the context not only of Johnson but also Carl Van Vechten, a white “patron” of the Harlem Renaissance. She concludes that the “text mapped culturally taboo sexual desires onto the color line.” (p. 130.)

  1. 5.“Queer to Myself as I am to You”

In the final chapter, Somerville examines both the work of Jean Toomer and its reception by literary critics as well as Toomer’s biography to look at the ways Toomer’s transgression of race and his insistence on being seen as an American functions also as a transgression of gender and sexuality.

  1. 6.Conclusion

In the conclusion, Somerville writes about the 2000 census and Stone Butch Blues as a way to examine current anxieties and cultural contestation over identity categories.

Some overall things we can think about in this text:

  1. 1.Selection of materials for analysis and particularly how she puts different material into dialogue with each other.

  2. 2.Organizational schema which is broadly temporal and progressive, but less nuanced in relationship to time than say Wolcott.

  3. 3.How Somerville is using the words sexuality, sexual orientation, race, invert, mulatto in different places of the text.

  4. 4.Is the overall argument well-done and convincing? What has she left out or elided to produce her analysis?

Queering the Color Line

Siobhan B. Somerville

  1. 1.What are the strengths and weaknesses of the selections of materials and methods of analysis that Somerville uses? How does she integrate literary texts as a site for historical analysis? Is this “literary historiography” compelling?

  1. 2.In some ways Somerville's project is similar to Wolcott's project in that both are writing an intersectional analysis that positions marginalized people in relationship to dominant discourses. Wolcott is writing about black women in regard to respectability in interwar Detroit and Somerville is writing about the interrelated construction of sexuality and race at the turn of the 20th century. At the same time, the books are quite different. How does comparing the two books further illuminate each?

  1. 3.Is the analysis that Somerville mobilizes an “intersectional analysis” as articulated by Dill, Collins, Nash, and McCall? In what ways does it fulfill that vision and in what ways does it confound it?

  1. 4.Somerville and Halberstam are both literary scholars and both Queering the Color Line and Female Masculinity include close readings as key parts of their overall arguments. In what ways do the analysis of each resonate together? In what ways do they differ? Are Somerville and Halberstam constructing sexuality in consonant ways?

  1. 5.Somerville makes an interesting move at the end of the book in her reading of Stone Butch Blues that works to point to contemporary applications of her analysis. What do we make of that? Is it compelling?

  1. 6.Robyn Wiegman in the chapter “Sexing the Difference” takes many of the same sources as Somerville yet she mobilizes a different analysis which centers the emergence of “blacks and women” and the feminist response of centering “black women” as a response to this cultural/discursive conundrum. What do we make of Wiegman’s analysis in light of Somerville and vice versa?

  1. 7.Queering the Color Line seems to have received only consistent laudatory reviews. The only thing reviewers mentioned is that at times the analysis didn't go far enough with fond hopes that Somerville and others would continue this work. What new possibilities for historical writing and research does Queering the Color Line open? What sorts of projects would be in sympathy with the arguments that Somerville makes?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Don't Be My Valentine - Call for Contributors

OCHO February 2009 edition
In response to the 2008 Vice Presidential Debates when the question of gay marriage resulted in a moment of national insecurity. In response to the uncomfortable shifting in the room. The squirm on Palin's face when she insinuates that she has gay friends and family. The awful burst of laughter from the audience and the candidates to be relieved of talking about us, the gays. And that cold, sure, resonant NO, when Biden firmly responded that he does not believe in gay marriage.

In response to hearing the pat "well at least you both agree on something"--so that the ONE point that both parties can agree on is the ridiculous idea that gays should be able to be together, to make promises, to make a kind of monument as ceremony, and to have the same economic rights recognized by the state as our neighbors, family, co-workers and employees,

This is a call for queer poetry, essays on poetics, and reviews of works by queer poets for the February 2009 OCHO edition: DEAR AMERICA, DON’T BE MY VALENTINE.
Your work does not have to address the politics of this post.
The purpose of this issue is to highlight and bring together a strong sampling of diverse work by queer authors in the contemporary American poetry scene.

Friends and Stangers: Fags, Dikes, Trannies, Transvestites, He-she's, She-males, Tomboys and Mamas-boys, Lesbos, Fudge-packers, Muff-divers, Bears, Twinks and Closet Freaks, Butch and Lipstick, Hairdresser or Harley-rider, Republican, Democrat, Independent, Green--Dear family, dear people of color and other,
Please submit your work as a single word doc. attachment, pasting your cover letter and bio in the message itself, to:


Sunday, October 12, 2008

S as in Sam, Z as in Zebra

Dear Friends,

It's been a long time since I've done an email update. Things have been busy. I completed my MFA in May of this year and commenced the PhD in Women's Studies in August. It's a delightful course of study, and I'm thrilled to have the opportunity, though like most first-year PhD students daunted by the work that remains ahead. I'll focus on poetry by lesbians, particularly during the lesbian-feminist movement from 1969-1989, but with lots of stops before and after. Lately, I'm reading Angelina Weld Grimke and Genevieve Taggard from the early twentieth century and enjoying both of their work.

Three poems at Babel Fruit

Babel Fruit, a wonderful international journal, just published three new poems of mine, "Durio Zibethinus," "Altun Ha," and "Meeting the Dictator." You can read them online here: http://web.mac.com/renkat/Autumn_08/Julie_R._Enszer.html

"My Father's Mimeograph" in MiPoesias

One poem of mine is included in MiPoesias from July 2008. You can download it here:

As a bonus, there's a photo in the journal from my first trip to Australia.

Poems Forthcoming

I'm thrilled to have two poems each forthcoming in Feminist Studies and the Women's Review of Books. Keep your eyes peeled for them!

Columns in Edge

The Edge network has run a few of my columns. You can read them at these links:


Other than that, I'm reading and writing papers. For fun, you might want to check out the photographs of our summer trip to Australia, which are online here: http://julierenszer.blogspot.com/2008/08/photos-and-postcards-from-australia.html
It was an incredible trip and one that I heartily recommend.

I'm always blogging at http://JulieREnszer.blogspot.com though it's quite dry and academic these days and I have updated my website www.JulieREnszer.com so it's now advertising-free!

I hope this finds you well and settling in to a beautiful new season, whatever that may be where you are.

All best,


Thursday, October 09, 2008

Article on Lesbian Poetry at After Ellen

This is a great article on Lesbian Poetry from AfterEllen.com. Go and check it out here.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Three New Poems at Babel Fruit

Babel Fruit, a fabulous magazine edited by Ren Powell, has three poems of mine in the new issue.

Durio Zibethinus
Altun Ha
Meeting the Dictator

Read them here and let me know what you think.

Monday, October 06, 2008

This week we read Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home for my intro to Women’s Studies class. One of our assignments was to create a cartoon or graphic image about our own lives.

Here is mine.

MFA Reflections #5

One of the most powerful mini-lectures from Stan Plumly in a poetry workshop was about time in poems. I cannot now recall the poems he used as samples, certainly one was a Bishop poem, but the impact was to look at how time is used in poems and controlled by poets to create the experience of the poem. I remember being astounded by it and having it open my eyes to how tension and resolution were created using time in poems. I think about it with every poem that I write. While one strategy I use regularly is to place the poems in the present tense, Stan’s reading and explication of how time works (and his sardonic comments on when it doesn’t work - I’m sure my poems were the subject of those comments) was much more complex than that. He talked about the way particular words signify the progression or regression of time in the poem as well as the importance of making time explicit to the reader. It’s a framework that I find myself returning to in my current writing practice.

Another element of time, however, has also become important to me since completing the MFA. That is the time of distance from a poem and aging of a poem. I could never be a dedicated wine collector. If I find a wine I like, I want to drink it right away. But the joy of a wine that has been laid on its side for a number of years. The aging process for wine brings greater complexity. The aging process for poems brings greater perspective. This is true not only of the experience within poems - experiences that happened longer ago have another layer of perspective, but also of the craft of a poem. I’ve added time as a new part of my process of writing. One of the things I learned in putting together my thesis was that there is an incredible perspective and clarity on poems when they have been set aside for six months to two years. (As I write this I realize that this is critical advice from Donald Hall as well.) When I put together my thesis, I was able to easily select the strongest poems and set aside the poems that didn’t work as well. If I engage in that activity with poems that I have just “completed” I am too in love with the poems to have that perspective. The most recent ones all seem like the best poems and perfect in the moment. After six months have passed, however, it’s easier to see where they trip in particular spots and where they don’t work as all. I can set aside the ones that don’t work and work on the trips in the ones that do.

So time is one of the things I’m thinking about these days; time both within my poems and how it is working and not working and time in a linear perspective in my life. I’m finally able to put poems in a folder and let them be quite for a number of months before returning to them to see what works and how they might or might not work in a manuscript.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

This is a project that I have worked on for a long time and finally posted it as a website. Check it out.

My Lesbian Herstory
A Calligram Series

I was prompted to do it partially because AOL is ending Hometown. I’m hating on them for that. I’ve used the FTP space to store papers and now need to migrate them all elsewhere and fix all the blog links. I hate dead links. I have until the end of the month, but what a pain. I am also facing the possibility of not having enough space on my mac.com account. What happened to the free internet?