Poet Randall Mann: What Makes a Poem Gay?

by Ken Gonzalez-Day

Randall Mann, author of Breakfast with Thom Gunn and Complaint in the Garden, answers the question – what makes a poem gay? A special mix of same-sex tenderness, evasion, and lust.  For instance, Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Shampoo,” one of my favorite gay poems.  Here it is:


The still explosions on the rocks,

the lichens, grow

by spreading, gray, concentric shocks.

They have arranged

to meet the rings around the moon, although

within our memories they have not changed.

And since the heavens will attend

as long on us,

you’ve been, dear friend,

precipitate and pragmatical;

and look what happens.  For Time is

nothing if not amenable.

The shooting stars in your black hair

in bright formation

are flocking where,

so straight, so soon?

—Come, let me wash it in this big tin basin,

battered and shiny like the moon.

I love this poem because of what it does not need to say, the modesty of “dear friend,” the way it takes its time and zooms in from the celestial to the personal.  This is an evasive erotic celebration, where metaphor takes on the weight of code, and minutiae are a list of erotic lust—the syntax, the “explosions,” the “shooting.”  I’m no queer theorist, but this builds mightily to the final couplet, which I find gloriously erotic after all that linguistic lathering, where the speaker asks the unnamed woman to allow the speaker to submit to the speaker’s touch and care and intensity, and does so somewhat forcefully, with an abrupt dash, sexy right down to the punctuation.  This is so gay!  And numinous.


3 responses to “Poet Randall Mann: What Makes a Poem Gay?

  1. Here’s the only erotic poem I ever wrote:


    In fantasy, my fingertips
    know the texture of your skin,
    the warmth of your body,
    the silky heat at your core.
    My palms know the
    weight of your breasts.
    My tongue knows the
    secret folds of you
    My lips have savored
    the unique taste of you.
    My senses reel at the
    knowing and my heart
    cries out to grasp
    the reality of my dream.

    Copyright © March 2004
    Ann Perry

  2. Shampoo is such a classic poem!

  3. Pingback: What makes a poem gay? « ] Outside The Lines [

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