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18 - Queer Mythology in American Poetry, 1855–1913

from Queer Genre

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 May 2024

Benjamin Kahan
Affiliation:
Louisiana State University
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Summary

Vivian Pollak begins with Whitman’s reputation as a sodomite and pederast in his time and ours. She traces the development of this reputation in his early fiction and in the first editions of Leaves of Grass. Although many of Whitman’s contemporaries agreed that the poet had a “sex handicap,” they disagreed about its nature. Pollak argues such “sex handicaps” open a space for thinking about queer community. She offers a close reading of three Dickinson poems that variously engage the concept of sex handicaps and shows that the heteronormative “Master” motif shrunk Dickinson’s erotic range. Eventually, however, even Robert Frost addressed the search for a historical “Master.” Pollak notes Frost’s early interest in “fairies,” describes his disidentification with his self-destructive father, and highlights his bond with his writerly mother, Belle Moodie Frost. Pollak reads Frost’s 1913 poem “Mowing” as a brilliant analysis of erotic conflict and its partial resolution. Although Frost is not usually recognized as a queer writer, Pollak suggests that a collective struggle with “sex handicaps,” however queerly defined, constitutes an important tradition in American poetry and poetics.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2024

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