Pride Month Poetry by Brenda Shaughnessy & CAConrad – A Review

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The idea that Pride celebrations can inspire ambivalence rather than celebration or contempt is unexpected. CAConrad’s ‘Glitter in My Wounds’ dissects the stereotypes of queer people that distract society from focusing on the persecution that they face. Brenda Shaughnessy captures a queer couple’s slice of life, presenting us with the people behind the fight that Pride exists for in ‘Gay Pride Weekend, S.F., 1992’. These poems expertly provide a rounded view of the loves, laughs, tears and fears that make up the life of real queer people today.

Pride Month is a growing celebratory time around the world for LGBTQ+ and allies alike. It’s a time to look at the progress achieved for the social equality of LGBTQ+ people. However, in more recent years it has also become a time in which Pride Month has become full of capitalist slacktivism and empty charitable platitudes made by companies promising to lead social change for queer people. Plastered anywhere and everywhere on adverts to merchandise, rainbow imagery during Pride Month has somehow swallowed up the meaning behind the celebrations with consumerism. Brenda Shaughnessy and CAConrad are both queer poets who tap into the breadth of lives that Pride fights for. These poems look at a celebration of queer lives and their achievements which promise to be unforgettable.

Brenda Shaughnessy is a bisexual, biracial poet and author from the United States, born in Okinawa, Japan. Her poetry often blends comedy with melancholy. ‘Gay Pride Weekend, S.F., 1992’ reads quickly, like eyes over a nostalgic family photo album, filled with snap-shots of a beautiful relationship. The poem paints a picture of a couple’s experience of magnetic attraction to each other at Pride. The speaker reminisces, “I forgot how lush and electrified / it was with you. The shaggy / fragrant zaps continually passing / back and forth” revelling in their instant bond with each other. Their connection is like a drug. Their communication as exciting as invisible shocks of electricity bouncing between them, strengthening and emboldening each other.

Brenda’s approach to poetry is lively. The couple who “purred like dragonflies” is deliciously vibrant aural imagery, whisking the reader back to Pride 92′. Her quirky language exemplifies the way that this new infectious connection creates a new “creature” between people when they are free to be and love exactly as they are. The couple’s love “leapt / to life like a cat in the space / between us” is a crafted example of Brenda’s sublime genius. This clever conceit throughout the poem stands to symbolise the new ideas, concepts and values that can be formed by bringing likeminded people together at places just like Pride.

person with blue and red manicure

Brenda’s poem also explores an alternative view of Gay Pride. Collocating “that being/ fierce and proud and out and / loud was just a bright new way / to be needy” gives us the implication that the bright colours, loud music and performances at Pride can serve as a distraction. Pride has become such a normalised fixture of Western culture that images and videos of its celebration can be used as a false example that advances for queer people have already been met, won and the fight is over. At the end of Brenda’s poem, she toys with this idea. Wondering where that bright creature, created by the loving couple, has disappeared to.

She suggests that even in one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world, “San Francisco”, the problems that queer people face is an ever-present threatening undercurrent to daily life. Brenda’s “creature” disappears into an unknown future, a “fog” leaving a foreboding atmosphere. The progress of the LGBTQ+ doesn’t remain stagnant, as evidenced by the world around us, and the threat that social advancements cannot be promised to a foggy future is daunting.

Mainstream media promotes images of Pride that are cleverly polished. CAConrad juxtaposes the violence directed at gay men with the stereotypical image of effeminate glitter in ‘Glitter in My Wounds’. CAConrad is an American poet, professor and author of seven books, perhaps best known for creating the Somatics system of poetry. This veteran of provoking poetry reminds us with their poem ‘Glitter in My Wounds’ of the horrors that queer people have faced for being themselves and why social progression is needed. CAConrad orders us to “first and most important / dream our missing friends forward” remembering the sacrifices of queer people and activists before us for those living today. Their commanding tone is abrupt and directive.

CAConrad claims to be no “pansy mascot” for queerness and their language is unflinching. The contrast between the slur aimed at gay men back towards the unfair standards of manhood is assertive and confident. They declare that “heterosexuals need to see our suffering” imploring sympathy and turning the focus of his poem momentarily towards potential allies. CAConrad’s words fall across the page like words being moved by a type-writer, in a confessional manner. CAConrad’s bold statement “to know glitter on a queer is not to dazzle but to / Unsettle the foundation of this murderous culture” acknowledges the reality that to simply be one’s self in a society that demands otherwise is a radical act.

people holding happy birthday banner

Being yourself is unwittingly a protest in a world of heteronormative values. CAConrad uses italicises to mock potential retorts to his arguments “you’re not like my / gay best friend who tells me / jokes and makes me laugh” they bring attention towards microaggressions and the part they play in developing harmful stereotypes. Throughout this poem, CAConrad systematically assesses stereotypes of queer people and seeks to expose how they are also a form of persecution.

CAConrad taps into the pressure gay men face to not be a stereotype of queerness to protect themselves. They challenge the idea that “Oscar wild was funny” implying instead “well darling I think he was busy / distracting straight people / so they would not kill him” which is a powerful assessment of the literary hero. CAConrad looks at the way creativity is used as a shield, a form of self-therapy and an escape from the threats that are present to queer people throughout their lives. It’s easy to raise up gay heroes retroactively, without wanting to talk about the awful experiences of persecution that often cut short these many lives.

There are so many LGBTQ+ people who cannot be themselves because of the threats constantly directed their way. It is easy to forget why we celebrate Pride and allow it to become a month we celebrate for celebrations sake. But the lives mentioned in Brenda Shaughnessy and CAConrad’s poems serve as a sobering reminder of the people we celebrate at Pride and why we’re able to in the first place. So that we’ll never forget the sacrifices made by queer activists before us and know that the sacrifices we make today will lead to love, life and celebration for others in the future.

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