Christopher Schmidt, The Next in Line, Slope Editions, 2008.
Reviewed by Arin Fisher
A LESSON IN GAY
Translate the following sentences from Gay into standard English and arrange in a chronological order:
Form small groups of two or three and share answers.
To adore Christopher Schmidt's The Next in Line doesn't require an undue appreciation of the same sex, though it surely wouldn't hurt. Schmidt uses trans-sexual words like "unctuous," which is enjoyable for all people. Other words, however, like "bottom" will be tougher for some readers to interpret.
The more ambitious and slightly naïve readers might search "bottom" in the Oxford English Dictionary, but they would leave either disappointed in their interpretation of the poem or slightly confused: "Todd grunts, tough to bottom [To put a bottom to; or, to set upon a foundation; to base, found, ground upon]." Suddenly the poem becomes frustrating—not delightful.
The less ambitious but more culturally aware readers might search "bottom" in Urban Dictionary, and they would leaved terrified after clicking the link to "power bottom": "Todd grunts, tough to [power] bottom [Gay Male Term. Dominant Bottom. While a bottom is usually submissive to his partner, a power bottom enjoys maintaining control over the top and/or the penetration, the normally dominant role in gay male sex. Power bottoms supposedly have skilled tongues. (They give the best blow jobs fellatio and rim jobs, analingus.)]." Suddenly the poem is grossly vulgar—again, not delightful. Clearly Todd doesn't power bottom because he grunts, and power bottoms are too hollowed out to notice the difference.
The Next in Line reveals an intricate and tightly woven memoir, a coming-of-age-gay in America story. As Schmidt and I are both queens, I feel a sexy and slightly surreal tangibleness to his poetry in the form of shared gay experience or déjà vu.
The déjà vu comes in a few varieties:
These awkward contrivances culminate in "Unprofessional," which has inspired me to grow additional appendages. I'd like especially to grow an extra half-digit beside each thumb. The stub shouldn't be attached by phalanges, but rather by a slight "isthmus" of skin. This kid Nathan in the poem has two extra finger-things, and he flips them around deliciously, and the speaker likes them. These flippy fingers and the speaker's dubious attention to student/teacher decorum wrangled me into that strange world of opposites:
Schmidt cleverly prepares readers for the strange relationship between the speaker and Nathan with both the title of the poem and the first eight lines:
The preparation comes from the inversion and confusion of roles. We're not sure who is who is who, and this uncertainty intrigues and satisfies, forming questions of identity, which thematically unites the book. Schmidt poses readers his question of identity in the person of Franz Kafka, whose name titles two poems in the book. Kafka is a little out of place in a couple different settings: a Black Party and a Bathhouse. It is indeed intriguing to imagine him at a bathhouse, assuming he's there of his own accord:
It rings Genesis to me. It rings Anderson Cooper to me. Why was Kafka at a bathhouse? At a black party? Who is Kafka? The speaker never tells us.
The Next in Line poignantly delivers the gay point of reference: guarded, initially distrusting self-disclosure, but slowly opening, allowing sympathizers to sympathize and educators to appall (or glory).