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PN Review 276
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This report is taken from PN Review 92, Volume 19 Number 6, July - August 1993.

James Kirkup and Gay Poetry Gregory Woods
Reviewing The Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse, Alan Hollinghurst, of all people, once claimed that 'the increasing self-segregation of gays has had an enfeebling effect on their art' (TLS 22 April 1983). This view is not uncommon. It reappears whenever books by openly gay authors are reviewed. I take it to be implicit in James Kirkup's recent review of my collection We Have the Melon (P·N·R 90). Despite his claim that my poems are 'generally sexually discreet', his concentration on sexual diction at the expense of ideas reduces the book to a question of physical acts in much the same way as homosexuality itself is so often conceptually reduced to the sum of its private parts.

While I am pleased for Kirkup that my 'pulsing images of homosensual desire' occasionally 'prompt an erective stir', I cannot help feeling that other readers - women in particular - will be seeking a broader range of responses from a reviewer. Of what interest is his sluggish erection to them when he says so little about intellectual or emotional reactions?

He correctly states that I make 'frequent use' of what he calls 'the ugly little word "cock"'. It is interesting to see a poet claiming that some words are intrinsically better than others and even, apparently, that big ones are better than 'little' ones. Has Kirkup forgotten, à propos of the cock, that size is not everything? Moreover, does he need to be reminded that in what remains his most famous ...


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