This Kamden Hilliard’s “A Clutch of Tony” reads terribly wrong: all that iffy spacing and whipped-round apostrophes, misspellings + elisions, it’s not looking handsome. I read it and said Lord! UberFraught!—but it’s using expletive to mashed effect. Does it ever throb and make the real incontrovertible fantasy of Queer desire—desultory / distant patterns as alien as its founts—seem near: ‘[it’s dangerous dunning],’ yes. And as real Lit must, it keeps back any apology for its terms. I said Lord UberFraught but have read and read again.
One can sense meaning, sure. A wracked and joyful desire for this Tony. This Tony of a certain fluid gender—’gender doing’; ‘dunno eff I hav / a b?oifriend but’—I think, this ‘clutch of Tony,’ what a singular way to put it. There’s something like a scene, a party and a ‘nite,’ there’s nonplus too for the whole matter, ‘subcutaneously purplin luv’—that grasping is in the poem, form and content, and such grappling moves me mightily. This is not a poem written from leisure but living-through; its form evinces struggle more readily than another good poem might—the gutters and slashes mark the medium—but it’s meet. Understanding is just one part of this encounter.
Let me say why I worry: the break at TRANS is very, very pat, it is opportune; ‘ball bearing hips’ is fooling no one with its cheek, ‘mysterious oils of the nite’ with its incongruous poeticizing (compare with the glorious use of ‘thee’ in line 17); the world of its invention is digestibly contemporary. To that contemporary point: I’m sorry to say “A Clutch of Tony” feels palpably directed towards a certain audience—the ‘digestible experimentals’ let’s say—and will resonate there for its abbreviations and lionized farLeft loving. That gesture isn’t nearly enough for the poem to matter.
It needn’t be. And why? Because there’s more to the poem than that gesture, much more. Because one recognizes a chatoyancy in the poem, a double-glowing, half of which is battery-powered by something too ‘of-the-moment,’ sure, but half of which is made by unreadable intent, made manifest in music that, playful though it may be, resonates in the stomach (doing / dunning / hardening in line 5; teas / entreats in 12; chipped syllabic control like ‘tryna’ ‘wreathsa,’ ‘ytness’). Also because of Hilliard’s strong phrasal gift, lifting reptile head from the water with quiet organic ceremony: ‘[t]he essential quality of 1 accustomed 2 offerin // the self’; ‘i got a critical race queering my pipe’; ‘i shower / in wreathsa pink ribbon’; the triumphant final declarative ‘i go out[.]’
Hilliard’s is a poem of perspective, I’ll sing that with the steel I’ve got. It’s a little lighter in my pocket than I’d like, oui. But O, I’m keeping it right here.