Register Sunday | June 16 | 2019

The Poetry Scene's Insidious Manlove: A Case Study


What the fuck? Here’s the deal: I like men. I like women. I am in love with several men; not any sexy love… not yet. I am in love with several women; not any sexy love, either… not yet. But there are major differences in how I perform my loves for men and women, which I think is normal, which is to say, average, i.e. common but not necessarily proper. What I’m getting at is this: it’s not that I engage in women-disloving, but that, like some other young male poets today, I admit, I suffer from gratuitous manlove (and it’s recently started to bother my soul).

What I’m talking about here is that tendency between male writers and artists (and maybe athletes and business dudes and all men?) to engage in outward displays of affection and adoration with one another. Some examples as a fuller confession of my trespasses: I have “wooted” hyperbolically at the start of more than one friend’s reading; I called one of my manloves “Teddy Ruxpin” in public; I have kissed many a bald poet-head at after-reading bar parties; I regularly use the acronym “bf” to refer to my closest friend.

Ever since the grossly masculine nature of such gestures was brought to my attention by a fellow poet during a reading many weeks ago, I’ve been haunted by my manloves. And, as in most concerns of my life/thoughts, I have no answers/absolutisms, but only an inventory of my so-far consideration of the matter (madder, manner, men err):

a) Are such semi-sincere, explicit and gratuitous public displays of affection—from hugging and cheek-licking to butt-grabbing and penis-tapping—homophobic? Maybe the answer’s obvious, but I always kinda thought that kissing another man’s face on stage worked at least a little against homophobia (I know it makes my Dad beautifully uncomfortable). Or—talk about obvious— maybe as a hetero, I have a severely privileged perspective on what constitutes as “homophobic”? Or maybe I should just shut my face-hole. Or maybe I shouldn’t be considering specific acts here as much as the whole genre of boys’ club?

b) Why don’t/can’t/couldn’t I engage with female writers in the same manner at readings? I think/hope that my reserve isn’t misogynistic. It’s unclear to me how to traverse that broad line (no pun intended, of course, maybe) of sexual politics. Am I allowed to touch a women-poet on the cheek? With my tongue? If so, bring it! And please don’t mistake the enthusiasm of that exclamation mark for sexy-time antics, but that’s just it. Why am I “allowed” to touch/fondle/kiss manloves? Who gives me permission? And how do I ask for such permission from female colleagues (maybe I just fucking ask)? But maybe that’s the shitty binary of patriarchy: sued-if-you-touch, misogynist-if-you-don’t? Or that’s the problem—nobody needs to give me permission to touch a man because I’m a fucking man and I make the rules, unless you’re a woman (or a judge). So I should be able to just make/defer to new rules, right?

c) So, as a dude, I can reciprocate affection without fear of them being mistaken as sexual? Therefore, it’s a mockery of male-male sexuality (because men are never objects)? Homophonic! -obic! That is, if I were to engage in “manlove” with a woman, might she be disinclined to reciprocate for fear that I take her reciprocation as though she actually means sex-face? But how do I know? Dammit, or maybe it’s all so simple—why don’t I just ask female writers about all this? Or maybe I just did: respond!

AND SO! How to proceed with my life? Honest! Here’s where I think I’ll throw my puppy: towards being more self-eyeing when engaging in manlove with male friends and, instead of ceasing public displays of over-affection altogether, dial it back from a 10 to a 3 or 4, while initiating manlove with more women colleagues and friends, aiming for affection without groping, which will require some practice—trial and much error! So watch out ladies and gents, and beware heterophobia! I’ll try this for a bit, and if it doesn’t work, well… I don’t know. Tell me what’s really going on—I need knowledge and rules! You be the judge, but not the jury (or hangman)! Please teach me the politics of poetry sexy champion proper!

kevin mcpherson eckhoff lives in Armstrong, BC, with his non-poet human-love, Laurel, and his canine-love, Daisy the pit bull. Get this: he once wrote a book called rhapsodomancy. Wowie! Currently, he is exploring the meaning of "lorem ipsum."

(From Lemon Hound.)

Related on

—How to Make it as a Writer? Be a Man
—Why Are Literary Readings So Excruciatingly Bad?
—True Gender

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