Enszer, Julie. “Avowed”, Sibling Rivalry, 2016.
Most of us can agree that the tremendous progress that the LGBT community has been able top achieve in the last few years is something we would never have thought that we would see in our lifetimes. We soon realized that if we want these freedoms to work for us and for the overall good of America, me must take them seriously as these are very serious changes that usher in an entire new world. Julie Enszer is one of my favorite poets and I anxiously await every new verse she writes. What she does in “Avowed” is react to the new freedoms as she explores her own relationship with her wife, Kim,
Her relationship with the larger LGBT community and her relationship with her country. Enszer is a wise woman who sees things as they are and then shares them with a touch of humor, eroticism and compassion. Every time I meet a guy who then introduces me to his husband or a woman who introduces me to her wife, I find myself a bit shocked to hear this words and about the whole concept of same-sex marriage. But the shock I receive is indeed positive and so very welcomed.
What I so love about Julie Enszer’s poetry is that she never forgets who she is and uses that in her writing. She is at home quoting or paraphrasing Jewish sources and integrates them into her verse and I often sit back and think about the research she has done just to get her idea across to her readers.
Many of her poems allude to her marriage to and partnership with Kim in which she celebrates their union. They have been together for over fifteen years but could not become a legal couple until the Supreme Court decision.
“we sign a ketubah
break a glass, stand
before G-d and our
families, make promises.….
Only we wonder
Why does the state take
so long to catch up”?
I love the playful eroticism of ”Connubial Hour” of the wedding night— a night with “no bloodstain, no mystery, just relaxed intimacy of long-time lovers and a Thai meal afterwards. I doubt that there are many poets that can make “vaginal mucus” sound as poetic as it does here. In “Imperfect”, Enszer tells us that marriage is more than just a piece of paper, “things don’t always fit. Fold, adapt, squeeze into form. Make do”. In a sense, she even takes Judaism to task and changes one word in a prayer that I recite every morning thanking G-d for making me a man; “everyday/I thank God/I was born a woman.” We get a mixture of politics, religion, visibility and love throughout the collection.
In questioning the institution of marriage, we see that the lesbian bride understands and was part of the fight to make our marriages legal and in LGBT society, marriage is so much more than just a piece of paper. For the poet, it has been a hard and long battle and a journey.
I usually do not publicly choose a favorite poem in an anthology but I cannot leave writing about “Avowed” without mentioning “A Lesbian Fantasia on ‘Angels in America’”. I absolutely love this poem as it brings us back to one of the most important dramas in LGBT history while shifting its emphasis to women. Enszer looks at Tony Kushner’s work with the idea of finding hope but instead finds anger…
“and Kushner gives me no model
just anger at G-d
who has abandoned us”…
“we won’t die secret deaths any more
we will be citizens
the time has come
you are fabulous
each and every one
and I bless you
the great work begins”
I remember sitting in the theater and hearing those words and weeping openly. I have not read them for many years but there are still as vibrant as my first encounter with them. The “great work” began and is continuing and as a minority that has suffered so greatly, we need to pat ourselves on our backs but never lose sight of our journey.
I am running out of special places on my desk for certain books that I love but I will a place for “Avowed”. Julie Enszer’s partnership with Kim is personal while our partnerships with each other are now public and have created a very powerful bond and movement. I must thank Julie for reminding us of that.
This is a “bittersweet journey of a lesbian couple’s struggle through the happily ever after with an edgy and humorous perspective that dares to share deep truths about desire, sex, and love”. Those truths are for and about us all.