The first question we ask upon hearing someone is pregnant or just gave birth: “Is it a boy or a girl?” The first question we ask in a game of twenty-one questions with our friends: “Was it a man or a woman?” Out of 46 microscopic chromosomes, one of those, depending on the development of either the Wolffian System or the Mullerian System, will determine the events from the first outfit we wear in public as an infant, to the pronoun placed on our gravestones when we die. For those without homes, memories, or control, Love Poem to Androgyny encompasses identity struggles supplemented with a theme of birth, and is dedicated “for those without names.” Stacey Waite stylistically brings emphasis to gender issues, subsequent feelings of disapproval, and unanswered but unavoidable questions regarding our notion of societal acceptance as she chronicles numerous occasions throughout her life.
As I was in Pittsburgh just a few months ago I also saw Waite perform a few poems from her award-winning Chapbook. And, as I had planned not to, I gave in and purchased her poems for a hefty eight dollars. Had I not enjoyed the book, or even enjoyed it but had been done with it with no subconscious desire to read it again, I would have invariably considered it a rip-off, and, as usual, been disappointed in yet another useless purchase.
Certainly not a household name, Waite really stuck out to me. Even the whole essence of poetry never seemed to me to be as strong of an art, especially in our modern consumer culture where metaphors and similes are as burdensome as commercials on Hulu and the abundance of pop-ups we encounter when downloading music illegally. We live in a world of immediacy, where the value of subjectivity dwindles faster than we are destroying our environment and artistic elements of life aren’t looked at enough to be over-looked.
In Waite’s seven consecutive “On the Occasion of Being Mistaken…” poems a vibrant monotony emerges. Through the repetition of those six words, she brings about a striking reality in her life; the primary categorizations we place people in, gender, are not fixed for Waite. I realized how inclined people are to figure out as much as they can about a person before they truly meet them. We like to believe gender is irrevocable, something that we are given and then stuck with based on one of the last few letters of the alphabet. Waite makes us realize identity is both something more and less than we make it out to be. Gender is by no means the end-all-be-all of our lives, but in an attempt to over-simplify who we are, we have neglected the natural complexities our species will inevitably maintain for years.
Perhaps it takes this – a professor at a large university who openly shares experiences of a childhood filled with a thick, viscous fog of having more follow-up questions than answers to the question “Who am I?” to bring out the importance of a secure sense of identity.
I read back and forth, in various orders, the entirety of Waite’s Chapbook about seven times. She manages to tangentially rant while remaining true to the intricately woven main lines of inquiry through what I perceive to be excellent writing.
Love Poem to Androgyny is relevant to people of all sexualities, gender, races, etc. As it is personal, filtered through the experience of a person who does not have a clear standing in the gender binary system, the conscious effort is required to make the poems more relatable—but the effort is undoubtedly worth it.
Written by: Tracy Sullive