Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Quentin Crisp's World War Two Gay Experiences in London: Poetry where you don't expect it!

Sometimes poetry comes at you from unexpected places and at unexpected times. Sometimes it offends, sometimes it shocks, but even then, if it's really good - it can make you think.

Like this summary below by Quentin Crisp, (effeminate iconoclast and author of, among other books, "The Naked Civil Servant"), of his experience of London during World War II - a perspective I've certainly never heard before.

A little background: Quentin (born 'Denis' but he explained to people that he had "dyed" his name) was told (because of his non-conforming appearance and effeminate mannerisms) that the army would never want him, so during the war he worked as an artist's life model...

[I]nto the feast of love and death that St. Adolf had set before the palates of the English - parched these long dark twenty-five years - Mr. Roosevelt began, with Olympian hands, to shower the American forces. This brand new army of (no) occupation flowed through the streets of London like cream on strawberries, like melted butter over green peas. Labelled "with love from Uncle Sam" and packaged in uniforms so tight that in them their owners could fight for nothing but their honor, these "bundles for Britain" leaned against the lamp posts of Shaftesbury Avenue or lolled on the steps of thin-lipped statues of dead English statesmen. As they sat in cafés or stood in the pubs, their bodies bulged through every straining khaki fiber toward our feverish hands. Their voices were like warm milk, their skins as flawless as expensive India rubber, and their eyes as beautiful as glass. Above all it was the liberality of their natures that was so marvellous. Never in the history of sex was so much offered to so many by so few.


Now I admit, there are parts of this that I find really offensive (so much so that I went back and forth over whether or not to include it in this celebration of Queer Poetry), but other parts are beautiful and evocative, and I find the whole thing thought provoking - almost like a time-travel machine into a completely different wartime London than the one I've heard and learned about (and I have spent years of my life studying this dark period of history.)

I love the notion of Queer souls brought together across national boundaries, but I hope for a day when it happens because of peace...



I found this quote in a great overview essay on Quentin Crisp, pgs. 261-264 of "The Gay 100: A ranking of the most influential gay men and lesbians, past and present" by Paul Russell.

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