Poetry is for Beautiful People?

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Here is a fascinating interview with poet Eduardo C. Corral, who touches on the beauty paradigm (which in this case also means thin paradigm) in the queer poetry community in New York City. It’s sad that fat seems to automatically equal not-beautiful, or that physical beauty is a requirement to fit into an arts community.

A quote from the end of the interview with Corral:

EC: Beauty is on my mind these days. The queer poetry community in New York City is full of beautiful people, which makes me an outsider. I’m not beautiful. I’m overweight. I’m unfashionable. I live in the wrong neighborhood. But let me add: I’m happy. I love myself. I love my life in New York City.

I’m disappointed in many of my queer peers. So many of them want to be part of the hipster crowd. So many of them value looks over talent. The cool kids form clubs, become gatekeepers. So many of my peers are clamoring to be let in. I don’t want in. I want to write poems, I want to read, I want to support others. I believe in community, but I’m hesitant to reach out to some of my peers because I’ve already been spurned by a few. One young man told me, “You don’t look like the rest of us.” But I’m not going to let narrow minds ruin my time in the city. I will continue to show up at readings, at poetry events. I’m here. I’m queer. I’m big. Get used to it! (bold mine)

The interview started a firestorm of sorts when  responded to inform Corral that beautiful poet Anne Sexton is awesome and it concerns him when people in the poetry community want to devalue his beauty and style…or something:

Though I’m impressed by Corral’s candor, and lament his experience of exclusion because of his appearance, I bristled when I read this. I found myself worrying that this sort of attitude, taken a bit further, could lead to the devaluation of something important to me—namely, fashion and beauty. Moreover, I’m afraid such an attitude sets up a false dichotomy: looks or talent, style or substance. I refuse to settle for one or the other. Silly as it might sound, I want to be beautiful and I want to write beautiful poems.

I’m not, of course, arguing poets need (or should) be good-looking, nor do I advocate exclusion within the gay poetry community on any basis. I’m certainly not claiming the hunger for celebrity I share with [Anne] Sexton is noble. But this is the truth of my life: I’ve wanted to be famous longer than I’ve wanted to be a poet. And I’m apprehensive about what happens when we privilege one experience of the world over any other. I may be young, I may be an aesthete—I may one day recall my great longing to be desired as frivolous—but I don’t believe that makes my experience any less worthy of artistic representation. (bold mine)

Fitzpatrick is calling out Corral for privileging the lives of non-beautiful, non-stylish poets over the lives of beautiful, stylish poets. In so doing he cleanly misses the point of Corral’s critique: that men like Fitzpatrick are already privileged and that Corral thinks that’s a problem. Fitzpatrick’s is yet another (albeit beautifully written) example of the privileged biting back when someone has the temerity to point out their vaunted social status.

Fitzpatrick wants to be his version of beautiful and stylish and a poet — fine. But acknowledging a poetry community privileges one version of beauty and style over another isn’t about taking away one’s ability to be whomever he wants, but an attempt to broaden the space for other interpretations of what it means to look like a poet. Fighting against broadening a space is fighting for the status quo, the existing definition that privileges one set of people over another.