So I read the very short “Queer” by Courtney Bassett and was drawn to the “idea” of it, best expressed — I thought — through prim lips:
People tell me how lucky I am
It was not forty years ago I was being declared
Never mind the lobotomy
I would rather have my body violated once again
Like all queens before me
By men with blunt instruments
Than declare myself
A medical homosexual
I loved the simple concern of the poem. Of course a person should be allowed to naturally bloom instead of being violated or “corrected”: her sexual orientation must be cherished for the ways it can enshrine our humanity and diversity. However, coming from South Africa and a history of political slogans passing for poetry, I self-righteously winced at the plainness of the language. It came across as axe-grinding, waving banners, intrusive. Oh, and this nonsense of not using punctuation.
Then I discovered that the poem was written by a high school student here in New Zealand. It received a high commendation in the local Cape Catley Poetry Competition and was published in a Kiwi literary journal for young writers, Signals.
That a teenager, Courtney Bassett, could write such a poem, be encouraged to do so at school, and have permission to express sexual identity appropriately, rewrote the poem in me.
Now the poem is smiled through an open mouth, or hissed through clenched teeth. The poem is saddened on the lips of choristers, in remembrance of those — “forty years ago” and more — who were violated.
I am glad to have a teenager point out to me my self-righteous ideas about poetry and remind me that poems can still change people.
And yeah, to hell with intrusiveness.