Avowing Poetry: Celebrating a Fourth Collection

Last month Sibling Rivalry Press published my fourth collection of poetry, Avowed. The title became clear to me late in the process. Like my earlier work, Avowed explores what does it mean to be out as a lesbian and what are the stakes of feminism and sisterhood in the lives of lesbians today. (Poets often have persistent themes that we just cannot shake.) Avowed also explores what it mean to be in a long-term relationship—something that I could not explore earlier without the test of time.

Cover of AVOWED (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2016).
Cover of AVOWED (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2016).

Avowed as a title puns on these themes (like the titles of my other collections pun on the idea of Handmade Love and Sisterhood). The word avowed plays with both the theme of being out as a lesbian and being in a committed relationship. The phrase ‘avowed homosexual’ appears in many early news stories about queer people. ‘Avowed homosexuals’ are those men and women who did not deny their sexual orientation or their erotic desires; thus, there is certainty and bravery in the phrase ‘avowed homosexuals.’ Yet, in many cases, media used this phrase to describe gay men and lesbians luridly to heterosexual people.

Today, of course, being an ‘avowed homosexual’ is not daring, at least not in the ways that it was in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, even the 1990s. Being openly gay or lesbian, particularly to young adults, is quite ho hum these days. I still am adjusting to this condition and considering what it means for me as a lesbian and what it means for my work as a poet.

I welcome all of the advances the LGBTQ movement has made in the past twenty-five years, but living through them sometimes our daily lives give me pause: What changes are here to stay? What changes might be fleeting? What does this new acceptance and openness mean? What are we gaining and just as importantly what are we losing? As I try to sort out what the LGBTQ movement has achieved, I know that it is still quite revolutionary for two women to love one another and build a life together, forsaking men.

I confess I want both: advances and new rights and responsibilities of marriage and citizenship as well as the revolutionary spirit. I wonder how can we achieve both in the months and years to come?

So many of the poems of Avowed explore the implications of being an ‘avowed homosexual’ while other poems explore avowing love. Long-term relationships and, as we now can discover, marriages are a series of avowals. We avow love; we avow commitment; we avow devotion; we avow sharing; we avow fidelity. Many of the poems of Avowed explore these themes, particularly avowing love and fidelity before, during, and after marriage equality.

I admit: it is odd to be avowing things as opposed to repudiating or renouncing things. As a queer activist, much of my early work was engaged in the latter: disavowing homophobia, disavowing that marriage was only between a man and a woman, disavowing the diminishment of queer people, disavowing hatred, disavowing violence, disavowing murder motivated by hatred and derision of gay people. It was a pleasure to find myself avowing things, embracing things, even though I try to do it in a complex and nuanced way.

Ultimately, Avowed is my most intimate book. While I avow commitment and publicly embrace marriage to my beloved, it feels at times hubristic to reveal the intimate operations of a long-term relationship. As people in long term relationships know, two people often have multiple perspectives about what is happening. My beloved occasionally notes that she is flattened in my poems; she becomes the stable, beloved other while my internal state swirls with complexity, nuance, and humor. Which is to say, she often has a different perspective on the poems and the experiences that inform them. I only hope that these poems do justice to my love and devotion to her.

Thank goodness, Avowed is also funny! I’ve discovered that venturing out a bit and reading the poems in the collection. There are some funny and entertaining bits in the collection. Ultimately, I love the poems of Avowed. I would be thrilled if you would take a look at them and see if you love them too.

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