Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

Our Review of Air Schooner co-host Stacey Waite's first full-length poetry collection "Butch Geography"

by Jordan Farmer

I value troublemakers. This shouldn’t imply that I enjoy any kind of troublemaker. The causeless troublemakers, the ones just looking for something to rally against, don’t much interest me. I like productive troublemakers. The sort who locates a problem or an ideal that seems to corral them in, to stifle their ability to reach a goal, and decide to tear it down. The sort of troublemakers I value as a person and as a reader are the sort that don’t want to dissent for the enjoyment of rebellion, but who are genuinely concerned with social change. Stacey Waite is that sort of writer and troublemaker.

The fact that I have attached the moniker of troublemaker should be taken as a compliment. Waite is constantly challenging the representations of gender in our society, and the poems of Butch Geography are troubling only in that they force readers to consider why our culture places certain standards and constraints on gender. The poems force us to stop and consider exactly how we view gender, sexuality, and our own bodies. The poems allow readers to evaluate whether their own bodies adhere to the conventions of their assigned gender, and how they feel about being assigned a gender in the first place.

When I first encountered the poems in the lake has no saint, published in 2010 by Tupelo Press, I was struck by their ability to articulate the discomfort our culture has created out of gender. In poems like “when the chalk of androgyny” Waite discusses the oppression created by something as innocuous as a public restroom door.

“there was always something about the public bathroom doors, always the chalk of androgyny sticking in my throat as I’d walk towards the women’s room with my mother. somehow i knew she wasn’t bothered by the stick figure triangle skirt that indicated the path we were to take, the ways we were to interpret our bodies.”

Such poems are a tool to subvert the binaries our culture has established regarding gender and sexuality, but they are not blunt tools. The lyrical music of her language transcends argument or speculations and digs straight to the truth of our experience of gender.

Waite’s latest collection of poems Butch Geography, published by Tupelo Press, is a continuation of her stunning work.  In poems such as, “The Kind of Man I am at The DMV” and “The Clownfish,” Waite revels in the troubling of gender, in examining our fascination with classification, and the remarkable ability for humans, and clownfish, to elude it.

"The scientists call it 'sexual

plasticity.' The scientist say

the clownfish and their ray-finned

friends change their genders

to maximize fertility. But

fuck the scientists. They’re clown-

fish after all, making gender

into their honking rubber noses."

The poem asserts the absurdity of gender and the ridiculous human struggle to control and classify it. Waite’s poems, like the clownfish, are too wise to dwell in absolutes.

Prairie Schooner Editor-in-Chief Kwame Dawes writes, "Waite is a pathfinder, charting with disarming honesty, humor, pathos, and willful perplexity the uncertain terrain of gender in ways that shatter assumptions, unsettle easy presumptions, and yet, through the sheer grace of craft...open us to the beauty of our strange human enterprise."

Waite is also an Air Schooner co-host with Scott Winter. Listen to them anytime on the Schooner website.