Friday, November 17th, Stacey Waite read to a full room on the University of Pittsburgh campus at a book party for her latest chapbook of poetry, love poem to androgyny. I’d had the pleasure of having lunch with Waite, once, and asked her if she liked to read her work. (I was selfishly looking for good, local writers that I might pair up in readings with my writer friends from out of town, should any of them dare to brave the Pennsylvania Turnpike.) Waite’s reply (essentially,“not very often”) led me to believe that she would perhaps be an adequate reader of her poems but perhaps also best enjoyed on the page.
Not so. Waite blew me away with her powerful, powerful reading by which I mean every cell of her being knew exactly what she had written, knew exactly how to read it, and even if she was nervous (you often have to look at the hands holding the book or the papers to find this out), she was the diametrical opposite of shy.
In my former stomping grounds, Stacey Waite (who is a native of Brooklyn/Long Island but a resident of Pittsburgh for eight years) would be by now a superstar of the downtown New York lesbian performance art scene, working at WOW Theatre or sharing a stage with the Backdoor Boys or being introduced by drag king variety show host, Murray Hill. Or she’d be a cross-country spoken-word favorite, touring with Michelle Tea and her troupe of outraged women writers, Sister Spit. I will admit that Stacey Waite and her insights about gender and feminism and identity, and her top-notch writing, and her absolutely contemporary poetic voice, are not what I expected to come to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and find hidden in a PhD program on the 5th floor of the “Cathedral of Learning.” (But don’t ask me, I knew nothing of what might be found in Pittsburgh.)
I shouldn’t forget to tell you that Waite’s poems are daring and accomplished; they are never boring and they’re not trying to swallow their own meaning as too many poems are. She writes indeed, about androgyny, about being mistaken for a boy by an umpire; for a delivery boy by two high school girls; for a man by a gay man, a waiter, and a security guard at Newark Airport. She has titles like “Dear Gender,” “XY,” “Butch Defines Feminism Under the Following Conditions,” and“On the Occassion of Being Mistaken for a Man by the Cashier in the Drive-Thru Window at a Wendy’s in Madison, Wisconsin.”
You should read Waite’s work not just because she writes so well about the masculinity of her womanhood, but because we’re all part yin and part yang, and Waite so deftly traces the roots of each of these in herself. Along the way, she draws a map of her longings and heartaches, she introduces us to the characters who validated or violated her developing sense of self, and she finds an eroticism that bridges the gaps.
Stacey Waite knows herself well, as a person who has lived in (the contradictions of) her body and as a writer who has learned to excavate and articulate; if I suspected this from reading her writing on the page, I know it for sure after seeing her show up with her work, after hearing her poems in her strong, sure voice.
In the acknowledgements for love poem to androgyny, Waite thanks the “gender warriors” who came before her, and I wonder if anyone outside the politics-of-gender community will ever thank Waite as a writer for being a gender warrior who came before us, who wrote to us so that we could know the history of lost parts of ourselves. Not because we are all oppressed butch lesbians but because we are many of us repressed human beings fitted into productive human citizens; because it is scary to delve into our own histories, alone; because our daily distractions bury the developing selves we were and are and perhaps have no words to lead us back or into the who and the why and the how. Until the right writer comes along.
I wish Stacey Waite a long and prolific writing career, a wide audience, and many more books.
Some of Waite’s poems are available for reading on the web: