- Kathleen Fraser and the Transmutation of Love
Erotic-emotional innovation is comparatively rare. H.D., “Notes on Euripides, Pausanius, and Greek Lyric Poets” Falling into the page. Away from every other. Kathleen Fraser, Translating the Unspeakable
Kathleen Fraser’s poetry has been much celebrated for an evolving experimentation and innovation over the course of her career.1 An equally important, and related, trajectory is Fraser’s commitment throughout her work to love writing and to erotic response. Fraser changes from writing through a poetic speaker as lover addressing her beloved to a transpersonal love writing, or a libidinized “field poetics” (Translating 176). In the course of her career, Fraser comes to write an erotically charged prosody through a “projective” poetics that rejects individuated poetic speakers and cathects directly with her poems’ others and languages—engaging material aspects of language and of the page itself.2 While Fraser [End Page 532] has been much lauded for her experimental writing, this writing is inseparable from her love writing. A distinguishing feature of Fraser’s poetry is her “continuous” “examination” of “life practice and poetic practice,” as Eileen Gregory has put it (15). Fraser does not subordinate either “life” to “poetry” or “poetry” to “life,” as she registers her erotic response through her writing and alters written forms to create the very possibilities of that response.
Love poetry has been defining for poetry, beginning at least as early as Catullus.3 And repeatedly, throughout diverse historical times, poets have testified to the synergistic relationship between being in love and writing poetry.4 Ovid, initially setting out to [End Page 533] write an epic about war, is overcome by the experience and writing of love. He complains to Cupid, “Is it true that everything everywhere is yours?” (qtd. in Kennedy 44; Ovid 1.1.15). Dante, in La Vita Nuova, tells how his own poetry is based on his supreme love for Beatrice. Initially unable to speak in her presence, he finds a solution in writing her praises, reporting how at first he is “afraid to begin” (54), and then “an urge to write came over me” (55). As he writes in The Divine Comedy, “‘I am one who, when / Love inspires me, takes note, and / goes setting it forth after the fashion / which he dictates within me’” (qtd. in Agamben 94; Dante, Purgatorio 24: 52–54). Or as H.D. puts it in Notes on Thought and Vision, “We must be ‘in love’ before we can understand the mysteries of vision” (22). She postulates in HERmione, “Love is writing” (149).
Yet despite claims for universally generative relations between being in love and writing poetry, Western love poetry has largely been the province of white male poets, mainly because of the dominance of lover-beloved forms. Not only are these forms based on masculine lovers and feminine beloveds, but they are radically constitutive of the masculine speaking subject—for it is through the feminine beloved as foil, as love object, that he creates his poetic agency, his poetic speech.5 While lover-beloved forms have been subverted by poets who are not white, male, or heterosexual, by far the most renowned practitioners of these forms have been aligned with their basic raced, gendered, and sexed positions.6 Centuries of love writing have resulted in a rich trove of love plots and semantics which are available to white male lovers. Moreover, the most basic rhetorical form, the dynamic between a desiring lover and a desired beloved, is hostile [End Page 534] for many other poetic lovers—among them white heterosexual women. Most simply put, in lover-beloved writing, it is the lover’s agency and speech that command attention—not those of his beloved. When a woman takes on the role of lover, she immediately encounters a problematic dynamic, for in making her masculine beloved her beloved (don’t we almost always call them our lovers?), she threatens to overpower him, making him, within commonplace decorum, an unsuitable object for her love writing.
Kathleen Fraser begins her love writing through lover-beloved forms, changing to a projective field poetics—a mode of writing eros that finds precedence in the poetry of H...