The Queer Sonnet in America
Let’s suppose the sonnet’s one form desire takes, a particularly self-conscious desiring always aware of the sociality of precedent literary tradition. From Dante to Petrarch to Wyatt, for instance, straight men re-enacted many aspects of the Roman erotic elegy: desiring but not having, “Sithens in a net I seek to hold the wind,” as Wyatt so memorably put it. For centuries, both frustrated and satisfied male desire, largely heterosexual, channeled itself into fourteen lines, into octave and sestet, into the volta before a final couplet. It meanwhile also channeled itself across bodies of water and languages, and eventually from English into American vernaculars of all kinds, where the sonnet opened up to other kinds of identities and desires as well. Assuming that the sonnet as a form of queer desire necessarily responds to seismic shifts in the relation between disciplinary laws and civil freedoms, this talk will look at two pre-Gay Liberation sonnets and two post-Liberation sonnets, and examine the ways gender and race both reiterate and rethink the function of the sonnet’s constraints.
Brian Teare is the author of six critically acclaimed books, most recently Doomstead Days. A current Guggenheim Fellow, he’s an Associate Professor at the University of Virginia, and lives in Charlottesville, where he makes books by hand for his micropress, Albion Books.