Updated: Jul 1, 2020
Much of the time it may be of no special use to be called "a gay poet" and many poems will speak to any audience: I agree with Neil Powell Limestone, say, or Gunn's Flying Above California' - which (PN Review 58, 1987) that this is not tied to the obvious subjects: there are poems about landscape Auden's "In Praise of display a gay sensibility". But does this “sensibility" get through to people who aren't part of it? Even clearly gay material can baffle heterosexual readers, as I have witnessed in workshops. An instance in this book is Steve Anthony's "Diskobolos", where “caught between envy / and desire" captures for me an essential homoerotic combination of wishing-to-be and wishing-to-have. I don't consider it a failure of the poem that some heterosexuals found this hard to grasp.
Most of these poems are directly about being a gay man, sexually, emotionally, politically. There is less outright polemic than I first expected: but whatever else happened to the ideas of Gay Liberation, the eighties certainly confirmed that the personal is political.
One reason for this has been AIDS. This is getting no easier, as an experience, or as a subject for poetry. It is so huge and so close, we can usually only focus on part of it at a time, and various agenda easily clash - political, scientific, ethical, educational. The personal as-political does not often enable one individual to cope with all the issues at once, and handle the private struggles. Often we write about AIDS through personal elegies, and several are included here. The commonplaces of love and death are still to be written about though every poet from the beginning has done them already, because every human being shares in them; while AIDS brings its own clemens into the picture, as the First World War, the Holocaust, and other disasters have done at other times in other ways. During the eighties, specifically gay men's writing and publishing developed its presence, but without the dynamism of the lesbians, especially in poetry. Lesbian cultural confidence seems to me of a piece with their political energy, especially in the Clause 28 campaign the famous abseiling into Parliament), and lesbian poetry benefits from the strengths of women's publishing, including a keen and demanding readership. It suggests that we need to consider gay men's poetry as part of something else, ubiquitous but unlooked-for. What is "men's poetry"? What do men want, and why do they write about it?
Taken from 'Take Any Train: A book of Gay Men's Poetry',
published by The Oscars Press, 1990