“When I Was Straight” by Julie Marie Wade— Post-Confessional Poems

when I was straight

Wade, Julie Marie. “When I Was Straight”, A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2014.

Post-Confessional Poems

Amos Lassen

Whenever I get books of poetry from A Midsummer’s Night Press, I am reminded of something we have all heard since we were children—big presents come into little packages and I must say that Midsummer Press always proves that to be true. Their books are tiny; just the right size to fit into a back pocket but the size is all that is small about the books—they are consistently filled with large ideas and wonderful poems.

I had never read Julie Marie Wade before I got this and I was blown away by what I read here. Wade is quite bold as she gives us her post-confession that she divides into two sections—before and after. She shares with us what she finds as she examines herself and the culture in which she lives. Her poetry tells her story in all of its honest. In “When I Was Straight”, the first poem in the “Before” section she writes”

“I did not love men as I do now.

I loved them wincing & wanting to please.

I loved them trying to hard.

It was a world that pushed toward the usual, the “normal” that so many speak of. She gave fake smiles that were “often mistaken for happiness” but were actually “a fissure, a break in the line—the way

A paragraph will sometimes falter

until you recognize its promise as

A poem”.

“I did not love women as I do now.

I loved them with my eyes closed, my back turned.

I loved them silent, & startled, & shy.”

Then comes her awakening to a world where she, according to others, should go. It was terrifying at first and everything came to her “vicariously”. The vocabulary was different— a world where the word “straight” seemed to be ensconced in everyone’s mind. Wade tells us that she “thought so little of sex I thought of it constantly” showing a person torn who finally “resolved to enjoy not enjoying it”.  If ever there was a phrase that we can all identify with, this is it.

Then comes the second section, “After” and we read how her mother reacted when Wade told her that she was a lesbian: “That explains why you don’t wear makeup”—“We raised you with God’s laws; we told you to be pure”. And mother hears from Wade, “You raised me to love”; “You told me to be happy”. She continues telling us how Sharon at work felt, how her grandmother felt, how a police officer felt and so on. Some of this is very funny and some of it pierces us.

It seems to me that the appeal of this collection is that it is so universal and so real. Everyone will find some of himself here—the poems tell real stories about real people. I think we forget sometimes that we do not just come out once—-we come out several times a day almost every day of our lives and that is what  these poems speak to.

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