Thursday, July 03, 2008

Homoerotic Tanka

I'm pleased to have a solo show and interview at 3Lights Gallery online. Liam Wilkinson has done a lovely job as usual presenting my work. I like his conceit of the gallery exhibiting poetry as if it were art. The theme of the exhibit, homoerotic tanka, is one that I often write, but which people often fail to realize. With a gender-non-specific pen name like 'M. Kei' it leaves the poems open to interpretation with the reader filling in whatever gender suits his or her taste. Which explains why I have been mistaken for a woman online... poems addressed to male lovers are assumed to have been written by a woman.

rattlesnake love—
you gave me warning,
but I, entranced
by your desert heart,
wouldn't heed it

(Fire Pearls, 2006)

Full well do I know
that this transient pleasure
is like foam on the sea;
Yet even so I want it
to last a thousand years

(Simply Haiku, Summer, 2006)

his burlap skin
washed by the
diamond waters,
and everywhere,
jellyfish in bloom

(Modern English Tanka, Winter, 2006)

Persian carpet,
my denim leg over
your bare one,
my book resting
against your back

(Gusts #6, 2007)

The above tanka are all homoerotic poems that have been published in various places without drawing attention to the fact that they are poems of male love. 'Persian carpet' was inspired by a Tom of Finland drawing, and when I saw it published in Gusts, I realized that I had to do something to make the context explicit if I wanted these poems to be seen as I felt them. I am grateful to Liam Wilkinson for his openness to publishing a collection of this sort.

I have searched the Internet for other gay tanka and there aren't many, and even fewer that are good. My own style is an indirect one, so that makes it difficult to write poems which are frank in their appreciation of male love and friendship. There is also the perception that gay=pornographic, that anything gay must be full of explicit homosexual sex acts. I suspect the reason why the insistence of a gay extreme for sexuality is because the line between male friendship and homoeroticism is a slim one and easily crossed. People become uncomfortable if they suspect a relationship might be perceived as 'abnormal' in some way. They justifiably object to viewers reading something into a relationship that does not exist. Therefore they exaggerate the differences between male intimacy and homosexuality.

One of the reasons why the exhibit carries the subtitle 'homoerotic tanka of love and friendship' is to acknowledge this continuum of male feelings and to permit the publishing of poetry without building a wall between friendship and sexuality. My own experience with soldiers, for example, suggests to me that the emotional intimacy that develops in men who serve together in harsh conditions is not foreign to sexuality. This is not to say that soldiers' relationships are erotic, but to acknowledge that men are emotional beings as well as physical, and that the emotional intimacy that men can develop is very powerful. Whether a man is a soldier or a lover, the capacity for emotional connection is there. Not only there, but desirable and necessary if we are to be a civilized people.

American men in particular are deeply constrained in their self-expression to the roles of bad-ass action hero and buffoon, often at the same time (especially if he is black). More desirable and finely nuanced roles -- such as father -- are hard to sustain. Contempt for men is widespread. Teenage girls walk around wearing t-shirts that say, "Boys have feelings too, but who cares?"

I do. Part of coming out gay is not only a matter of coming out with regards to one's sexual orientation, but a coming out to demand to be perceived and respected as a whole person, not just a set of genitalia driven by hormonal urges searching for a compatible set of genitalia with which to mate. I don't want to have sex with men as much as I want to be able to hold hands with a male lover and walk down the street in safety. The most important reason I use a pen name for my poetry is so that I can write what I want to write and feel reasonably safe. I want the right to be a whole person, without being stereotyped, denigrated, channeled, ignored, assaulted, and discriminated against.



  1. M.:

    Congratulations on your exhibit. The tanka are very beautiful, as is the overall presentation by 3Lights Gallery.

    Fine, fine work.

    Don @ Lilliput Review

  2. M.Kei

    Congrats on a truly beautiful exhibit--your poems are exquisite and have truly accomplished what you have intended. Keep up the good work and you may just change the world's twisted perceptions of male love. You are indeed an artist. Thank you for sharing your poems and your comments.


  3. Interesting. I only know one gay male who writes haiku, and he does not believe that the haiku community is ready to accept this, if infact, he ever comes out of the closet. I do know one or two bisexual females that don't have a problem whatsoever. I don't get it, but being straight, maybe the problem?

    I would keep doing what you are doing M. Kei.