Thomas Fink


[jump to Timothy Liu's poetry in this issue]

In 1992, at 27, Timothy Liu won the Poetry Society of America's Norma Farber First Book Award for Vox Angelica. In his Foreword, Richard Howard, one of Liu's major professors during his time as a University of Houston M.F.A. student, asserts that the poetry in this volume registers "the shock . . . of estrangement" and makes the "unfamiliar . . . claim of apostasy" (x).  Such a "claim," he suggests. might stem from Liu's "circumstance as a young Asian" - Chinese-American - "of conflicted Christian (Mormon) faith, the conflict deriving in part from a flagitious homosexuality and in part from an alienated maternal bond - indeed an acknowledged bondage to what we have learned to call the Devouring Mother."

In the preface to his M.A. thesis, Liu writes of turning "to the Mormons" after realizing that he "couldn't please [his] parents any more," but finding that this could not "wash away the abuse [he] suffered at [his] mother's hands, or" keep him "from [his] own emerging sexuality" (Qtd in Tabios 106).  He served as a Mormon missionary "in Hong Kong from 1984 to 1986."  Upon his return, he was simultaneously "attending temples and paying tithes to the bishop on the one hand, while fornicating in tea rooms' on the BYU campus on the other."  Liu happened to read the "confessional" poetry of Sylvia Plath, and he credited the story of "her pain" with being "able to trick [him] and get past [his] defenses" so that he could learn "a secret about [his] own condition" and act upon it.  Coming out and leaving the homophobic Mormon Church were intertwined: he grew unable to "deny" his "existence for the sake of some other person or group."

Much of Vox Angelica, as well as Burnt Offerings (1995), involves an exploration of the poet's mother's development of psychosis, her abuse of him, and its consequences in his life, questioning of (and fascination with) Christian consolations and strictures, and depiction of gay male experience in tender, wistful love lyrics, hard-edged reports from the front, elegies for AIDS victims, and poems that blend tenderness and toughness, sincerity and irony.  (As Liu acknowledged in an interview with Eileen Tabios, he has thought "a lot about being Asian American" but has found, curiously, that "it's not available to [him] as poetry . . . " [Qtd in Tabios 72].  One poem in Burnt Offerings, "The Size of It" (11), humorously addresses this issue in connection with Liu's sexuality.)

What Howard calls "apostasy" - turning against heterosexual norms as much as the institution of Christianity - is an ongoing process that may affirm Liu's actual "existence" and personal choices but does not abolish every trace of traditional religion's influence.  For example, the impulse toward confession, which implies the investigation of possible guilt, may not dominate the scene of poetry, but it exerts force.  One poem about gay experience in Liu's first book is entitled "Sodom and Gomorrah," and it is not entirely clear that he is using the allusion ironically, to deflate it:

                 No other world than this.

                 When I close my eyes, cities

                 burn. The men I cannot touch

                 I name. When strangers knock,  

                death gathers at the door   

                and flies out of our mouths,  

                that swan song in our throats 

                a falling cloud of ash. (53)

This poem implicitly alludes to the terror of AIDS in relation to urgent desire.  Perhaps the opening line is a critique of the belief in a Christian afterlife.  However, as he does in later poems, Liu does not take pains in his poetic rhetoric, which seems anything but ironic, to distance suffering gay PWAs from the fundamentalist Christian view that their situation is a repetition of the divine punishment of the people of "Sodom and Gomorrah."  This dramatizes how gays' internalization of the doctrine proclaiming their sexual practices as a sin cannot be eradicated simply by coming out.  Demystification might be a long, painful process.

For Liu, the purposes of writing poetry that explores his gay identity, his family's dysfunctional aspects, and his vexed relation to Mormon Christianity may begin as primarily personal quests - for example, "to know [his] own grief" (Qtd in Tabios 107) and yet also engage in "a redemptive act."  However, his work shows that such explorations have sociopolitical consequences. Gay poets of both genders have long demonstrated that affirmation of their sexuality is inherently defiance of homophobia and heterosexism and a critique of religious institutions.  In some of Liu's most powerful work, it is useful to read the representation of what Howard terms his "apostasy" and "estrangement" as acts of transgression.  A reader needs to ask what effects such acts produce, and to examine the interplay of transgression and confession, which checks or actively opposes it.

The title of "The Prodigal Son Writes Home," the most blatantly transgressive poem in Say Goodnight (1998), "writes home" a double meaning: the speaker literally writes to his father's address, the home from which he has "prodigally" strayed, and he articulates unadorned truth.  He does not return home to the father's values, as in the original Christian tale of the prodigal son.  Instead, especially in the poem's first half, scriptive exhibitionism is further rebellion, a violation not only of the parent's likely belief in what Adrienne Rich has called "compulsory heterosexuality," but of his overall sense of "decency" - including separation of sexual practices and other bodily functions.  It seems to involve ironic pleasure in the sudden power that he exerts over a (former?) authority figure, and the "Father dear" addressed may also refer to a Mormon priest, a representative of institutional prescriptions and proscriptions, or even "God the Father."  ("Dear" could signify the expensiveness of external authorities for the gay man as much as it involves an archly situated endearment.)

To maximize contrast, Liu writes this shockingly transgressive rebellion in the classical "patriarchal" measure of blank verse.  The one variation, two iambic trimeter lines at the midpoint and end of each of the poem's two twelve-line stanzas, contracts the meter for emphasis, almost the way George Herbert did in devotional poems.  Here is the first stanza:

            I want to tell you how he eats my ass

            even in public places, Father dear,   

            the elastic round my waist his finger hooks  

            as it eases down my crack (no classified  

            ad our local paper would run, I'm afraid,

                                            but that's just as well).

            We met in a bar that's gay one night a week -

            teenage boys in cages, men on the floor,  

            but that's not what you want to hear, is it?

            How he noses into my cheeks on callused knees,   

            lip-synching to the rage of techno-pop,   

            that ecstasy of spit. (Say Goodnight 50)

The graphic reportage of the son's private cavity being invaded, the "incarceration" of "teenage boys," etc. itself deliberately invades the father's consciousness, and the rhetorical question in the ninth line anticipates and hence may heighten rather than assuage the latter's discomfort.  Assonance linking the final words in the first and fourth lines - and, in fact, the existence of "ass" in "classified" - underscores Liu's mockery of how "polite society," exemplified by "our local paper," would keep this information about "ass-eating" "classified" and not allow its representation in a "classified ad," much less the news.  Then current bar music's "rage" signals that behind the pseudo-genteel tone ("I'm afraid"; "but that's just as well") and matter-of-fact presentation of imagery is rage against those who condemn the sexual practices detailed or homosexuality in general.  Either "father" that I have mentioned may stand as a synecdoche for any homophobic reader and perhaps even gay men who criticize other gays for "ass-eating" and similar activities.

The poem was published and probably written around the time of the debate on gays in the U.S. military involving the "Don't Ask; Don't Tell" policy during the Clinton administration. One might say that its fundamental transgression, as in the work of various other gay poets of the time such as Dennis Cooper and Justin Chin, is to combat gay invisibility with aggressive imagistic representation.  However, the poem's second half complicates matters.  It "writes home" differently:

                          He's after me to shit into his hands.

                          What should I say? (I told him I'm afraid

                          he'd only smear it across my wide-eyed face,  

            hard as it is to tell you this.) How plans  

            have gone awry is more than apparent here -

            this sty he calls a home  

            tender as a mattress filled with our breath, 

            our sex unsafe. Oh stay with me, he croons, 

            my eyes clenched shut, head trying not to flinch  

            as he makes the sign of the cross on my chest  

            with a stream of steaming piss, asking me  

            if we were born for this. (50)

Fulfilling what might be termed the lover's masochistic desire ("to shit into his hands"), the speaker tacitly affirms the process without hesitation; however, soon he describes a possibility that the other's masochistic reception could turn into a sadistic gesture ("smear it across my wide-eyed face").  It may cross the threshold of injury and humiliation for him.  The question to the "father" in the second line is mockery, a fake call for advice, but, in the sense that it is addressed to himself and is answered right away, it is also serious.

Is a limit to transgression marked here?  If it is not merely evidence of an ironic pose or an easy pun on "hard," the clause ending the poem's second significant parenthesis evinces a suggestion of religious confession, thus risking the impression of legitimizing institutions that would draw a bold line between good and evil regarding consensual sex.  This reading is reinforced by the poem's final image, a "piss-cross."  The father's "plans" for the son "have gone awry"; perhaps the son, while cherishing "tenderness," has not planned to make a "sty" his "home" or to expose himself to physical harm.  Ambiguity remains at the forefront: how "hard . . . it is to tell you this" could be influenced by the reasonable fear of unwarranted persecution rather than shame at the confession of "sin."  Further, the phrase, "our sex unsafe," seems to confess that the lovers are acting irresponsibly in eschewing protection against HIV infection, but, when read in light of much of Liu's poetry, it might reflect that gay men are not "safe" from homophobia in our culture.  (See, in the same volume, "The Presence of an Absence in a Midwestern Town": "This too is America, two men / in bed reading late at night, dirt / beneath their fingernails as they ruminate / on a Klan Watch Report: Nine Neo-Nazis / slay two men walking hand in hand / down a Sioux City street. Should we/ take up arms? . . . We deserve it, ministers / say, all of it foretold by doomsday prophets" [89].)  The cross image could be a gesture of parody designed to lessen the hold of moralistic Christianity on the "prodigal" through humorous, profane recontextualization, even if the cross still provides not so subliminal advertising for a restrictive ideology.

The poem's ending keeps these matters intriguingly unresolved.  Ironically, the "father," one half of the speaker's genetic origin, is told about a urinating lover who asks the final question concerning causal origins of his son's use of abjection in sexual behavior - or, generally, their gay identity.  Paternity is no more of a qualification to answer the question (made ambiguous by the poem's final "this") than the lovers' possession of their own life-experience.  The question of whether someone is born gay or becomes gay because of environmental factors can be seen as an attempt to push "confession" (as opposed to affirmation or simple positing), hence surveillance of gay identity to its (il)logical end-point.  As Foucault asserts about surveillance in general, a "total" explanatory framework, even if used to take the heat off gays, enables co-optation of transgression and an ability to regulate gays' experience and "help" them govern themselves according to that understanding.  While the lover's final question may seem to reinforce unwittingly the confessional element, the fact that Liu saves this "big question" for last, where and when it cannot be answered, empties confession of force.  Nothing earlier in the poem provides material for an answer.

Here, transgression and confession "contaminate" each other.  Liu draws on widespread awareness that elements of suffering derived from religious imagery are fuel for sexual fantasy, and religious "ecstasy" (like St. Teresa's in Bernini's sculpture) is seen in psychoanalytic discourse as having a libidinal component.  But fundamental evidence of mutual "contamination" is found in the poet's ability to utilize images, almost always tropes, that, overdetermined, keep dramatizing the conflict/ confusion that I have been illustrating.

In his 1997 interview with Eileen Tabios, Liu anticipates a trend in his work that was to become prominent in the new decade.  He was "paying attention to language and syntax - a language that will not shield itself from emotional experience bur rather make it more available" - in the linguistically exploratory work of poets like "Arthur Sze, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge [and] Aaron Shurin," perhaps to "build [his] poetry into a new direction" (70-1).  About half of the poetry in Hard Evidence (2001) features such an experimental development.  Various short and long poems, often with single-lined stanzas, that do not seem to tell a single "story" or develop one lyric perspective, encourage an expansive consideration of ambiguities of reference and of what is inside and outside an individual subjectivity.  This stylistic change, which also characterizes a good deal of the poetry Liu has written since Hard Evidence, complicates ways in which the poet stages a confrontation between transgressive and confessional impulses.  Here is the book's title poem:

            A room walled-in by books where hours withdraw.

            At the foot of an unmade bed a bird of paradise.

            Motel carpet melted where an iron had been.

            His attention anchored to a late-night glory hole.

            Of janitorial carts no heaviness like theirs.

            Desire seen cavorting with the yes inside the no.

            A soul kiss swimming solo in an open wound.

            The self as church where the whores now gather in. (49)

The punning title establishes that this poem concerns male sexual desire.  While the first sentence conveys the potentially insular protection of reading, it is tellingly unclear whether the subordinate conjunction "where" refers to the "room," an actual place, or "books," which may permit a "withdrawal" into fantasy.   The "bird of paradise," a flower, may also be a figure for a lover whose passion has helped "unmake" the "bed," and the next sentence is probably an unsettling trope for quick damage that one can do to another's psychic "skin" or "carpeting."

"A late-night glory hole," referring to a hole between two bathroom stalls convenient for anonymous sex, can be a trope for gay male transgression against social architecture that separates men from one another, but the notion that someone's "attention" is "anchored" to this "hole" to anticipate opportunities for sexual contact might be a confession about desperation.   Mention of "janitorial carts" in relation to emotional "heaviness" seems to confess the difficulties of cleaning sexual passion's mess and carting away its detritus.

The problem of interpretation in seduction - whether there really is a "yes inside [a] no" that "desire" can "cavort with" or only a "no" - has been the crux of the "date rape" controversy, but it is complicated in gay relations by heterosexism, which, for gays, has often implanted a "no" inside a potential "yes."  From this angle, seduction positively defies the repression of desire rather than restricts the other's agency, but the second possibility is not effaced.  Further, it is not clear whether the "soul kiss swimming solo" is a reflection of the "soul's" "open wound" or a means of healing an afflicted spirit.  And how should the reader take the modifier "solo"?  If the image is onanistic, is that empowering or debasing?

Although white space between lines seems to deny any sure connection (or flow) between one line and another, perhaps the terms "paradise," "glory," and "soul" in earlier lines have led the poem (which began with a mere "room") to reach a "church's" religious territory in the final line and an allusion to Mary Magdalene.  When "whores" enter the "church," whose "self" is being entered - their own, a lover's, the unifying impact of a gay community, or some, or all of those?  Do they seek a secular "paradise" through finding "authentic" selfhood, including uncloseted homosexuality, or would they confess their "whorishness" and renounce sin to reach a more restrictive "paradise"?  Could they, instead, use their "impurity" in penetrating the "self as church" to subvert it and demonstrate that it coercively closets an actual multiplicity of selves within a (socially constructed) unified self?  Could they contest the spurious, oppressive binary of purity/impurity?  No "hard evidence" helps a reader say "yes" to one question and "no" to others.

Another experimental poem in Hard Evidence, "To Calamus," Liu's longest poetic sequence, consists of 20 sections of 14 one-line stanzas each.  Individual sections depart from the sonnet form, traditional vehicle of love poetry, by putting dilatory white space between heavily enjambed lines.  Liu's text can be read as a millennial revisiting of Whitman's "Calamus" poems.  In a "postscript" to his Whitman-derived collage-poem, "City of Men" in Word of Mouth: An Anthology of Gay American Poetry (2000), which Liu edited, Aaron Shurin identifies "Calamus" as the bard's "collection of homoerotic love poems, emotional, tender, idealistic, radically political, prophetic, obliquely erotic, but - alas - not sexual," unlike 'Children of Adam,' Whitman's putatively heterosexual songs" (260).  According to Shurin, "the call of the closet . . . forced Whitman to sever his love poems . . . into two mutually exclusive - and incomplete - halves."

In writing "To Calamus," Liu did not have to go through the contortions that Whitman did, but lingering effects of the closet and of aggressive homophobia continue to make the contemporary poet's representation of gay male experience a challenge.  In the first section, "Psalm," the problem for the cited collectivity ("we") is how to bring forth their praise-song, linked with "fire," the accustomed trope for erotic desire:

            A slow smoke through the barest twigs.

            Flint and steel strewn on that tinder path.

            Fear not the days the nights the leaves

            dissolve. Or faint resolve. So what

            if bellies of winter geese fly overhead

            as we begin to forget our lines . . .

            Others come to take our place. A sign

            to hurl our hoard of stones against

            when schools let out with their screams

            and bells. Take heart. (27)

Flexible iambic tetrameter and pentameter tend to go along with the sonnet-like structure. This departure from Whitman's expansive, rather abstract Biblical versets spotlights linguistic concision, imagistic concentration, and psychological tension.  (Interestingly, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, another Asian-American poet who has long employed single-lined stanzas and who uses abstraction daringly, tends to use extremely long free-verse lines.  "In Flagrante Delicto," the other long sequence in Hard Evidence, has one-line stanzas that extend to the right-hand margin, but unlike Whitman and Berssenbrugge's work, never past that to an indentation on the next line.)

Liu here presents, not a "cinder" but a "tinder path" where "the barest twigs," as well as "flint and steel strewn" (rather than consolidated for use) seem insufficient to produce a powerful conflagration.  Nevertheless, the speaker wants to give courage to those afraid of their vulnerability to natural and social forces.  Even "faint resolve" in the face of, say, gay-bashing and the peril of AIDS, as well as fundamental human mortality, is not to be feared, because he asserts a continuity of gay male community that Whitman sought to name in Calamus' valorization of "manly attachment" (113) and "the institution of the dear love of comrades" (128).  Yet the pun regarding sexual potency in the verb of the simple declaration, "Others come to take our place," can be a depressing reminder of individual impotence.  The relationship between this short sentence and the longer fragment that follows it is unclear.  Perhaps the stone-throwers vent anger at the sign (the coming of others) of their own frailty, mortality, and displacement; on the other hand, the fragment can be made into a sentence if one supplies "There is," suggesting that the "sign" does not refer directly to words in the previous sentence, and that the sign to be "stoned" is marked "homophobia" or "closet."   Linguistic ambiguity dramatizes an dilemma among members of many oppressed or emergent groups: whether to assume the responsibility of political defiance or to focus on exorcising one's personal hurts.

"Psalm" concludes: "A fountain pen // runs dry in the middle of the road. // As pages of some Promethean text riffled // by the wind. By evening it is gone - // everything that we own less than the moon" (27).  To take a "middle of the road" stance about one's rights might detract from potency, but Liu also reminds us that many harsh societal "winds" flare up to stymie "Promethean" efforts to disrupt reading/enactment of an emancipatory gesture's "text."  Whereas in "Calamus," the closeted Whitman gave little space to threats against his ideal of "adhesiveness," Liu shows that the restoration of "fire" (desire) on "that tinder path" to those who have an inherent right to use it, though logical, is not easy.  If the poet in the AIDS era holds that a particular generation's "treasures" are lost by nightfall, the phrase, "less than the moon," can signify that what persists - and is passed on to "others" who "come to take [their] place" - is an ideal of sublime erotic illumination.

Various sections of "To Calamus" continue Liu's abiding preoccupation with the vexed relations of gay sexuality and Christian institutions. Section V, "The Poem as Incarnation of Bodily Want," places the theme of suffering for the fact and practice of one's sexuality in an ironically familiar Christian context: "Eden we never knew but Calvary. // Nailed into place as the ravens // dove down" (31).  Although the "nailing" imagery alludes to men being passive (sacrificial) recipients of anal intercourse, experiencing pain before pleasure, the larger significance is the sacrifice of general approval and personal safety in living an openly gay life in a society where rabid homophobia exists. The verb "dove" provides a stinging reminder that these diving "ravens" of "Calvary" are eclipsing the "dove" of peace - in this case, between gays and bellicose straights.

Asserting at this section's end that "copious ejaculate" could be "a sign // of Being. The whole room lit with it," the poet suggests that the physical concealment of "ejaculate" in heterosexual intercourse leading to procreation, a different signifier of "being," is traded here for illumination. Further, he views gay men's sacrifice of ordinary security in a quest for affective intensity as an ontological stance.  Expression of actual desire transgresses prohibitions of a religious institution in order to function, ironically, in the way that religion itself originally offered: as a purveyor of "Being" and as redemption from the "sin" of emotional mendacity.

Liu even suggests - and this would horrify the Mormon elders to whom he once gave tithes, including closeted gays mocked in "To Zion" (Hard Evidence 65-66) - a parallel between gay males and Jesus in the notion that sinless transgression eventuates in arbitrary punishment ("Calvary").  However, thus far in Liu's work, even if transgression in itself is seen as redemptive, gay men do not enjoy a parallel for the concept of resurrection, a permanent victory over the punishment.  Section XIII, "A Song of Experience," ponders the ongoing threat of this "Calvary" in the midst of a partial acceptance of gay visibility:

            a sword now comes to disturb the peace    

            as school desks bolted to the ground

            shake loose where rhinestones on tiaras

            fall a kind of disgrace while drag   

            queens preen down hometown parades  

            in sequined spandex shorts on asphalt  

            runways running through the heart    

            of the bible belt where billy clubs  

            swing between our legs as we rise  

            to that chorus of is our voices nothing   

            without go-go boys and belly jewels

            strummed on a harlot's zither burning  

            roods blazing into view where viral 

            crusades ram steel rods into our doors. (39)

In this single-sentence section, as phrases and clauses pile up, and as one perception supplants another, the complexity of the situation of the "hometown parade" asserts itself.  At first, the reader does not know what "sword" (phallic sexuality? criminal violence? religious combat?) will "disturb the peace"; this knowledge is deferred until the last two lines.  Meanwhile, loosened "school desks," a trope of the relaxing of oppressive authority that appears in "The War" (Hard Evidence 17), introduces the "disgraceful" (unconventional), carnivalesque pleasure of "preening" "drag // queens" whose "runways," unlike those of supermodels, are "asphalt."

The parade routes are "running through the heart // of the bible belt," a Christian fundamentalist enclave. The noun "belt," recalling the sound of "bolted" in the second line and standing as the middle word in an alliterative line that ends with the ominous adjective "billy," also evokes the secondary meaning of a verb connoting violence and even the use of an authority figure's makeshift strap for spanking a naughty child.  One expects "billy clubs" to be instruments of potentially homophobic police.  They are, instead, "swinging" penises of gay parade-viewers who not necessarily "rise" in an erection at this spectacle but are psychologically uplifted by a sense of communal identity ("is") in their "people's" theatricality in the spotlight.  Drag queens transgress divisions of straight society through public appropriation of what Judith Butler would call traditional female "performance."

However, the poet's dark phrase, "nothing // without," recognizes that this parodistic representation, along with other relatively frivolous images of gay club culture, is too fragile a basis for serious identity claims.  How helpful is the concept of "harlotry," reversing the binary of evil and good?  This pessimism about some forms of gay visibility is particularly apt when the image of "burning roods," trope of the white Protestant supremacist Ku Klux Klan, "blazes" into consciousness, even if it, like the "rammed" "steel rods," may also be interpreted as a phallus "on fire."  Knowing that gay-bashers justify their "crusade" against "Sodomites" through biblical injunction, Liu names murderous intolerance and violation of basic human rights, including privacy ("doors"), as "viral," as the AIDS pandemic is literally so.  This "Song of Experience" does not, any more than William Blake in his milieu would, give up on the possibility of socially useful transgression or articulation of "is," but it considers what modes are ineffective and, implicitly, which ones might function more effectively.

In "Felix Culpa," a brief lyric in Of Thee I Sing (2004), Liu concisely treats the potential benefit and problem of gay transgression of heterosexist norms and its relation to confession:

                           Down on all fours.

                           The breaking of rules 

            the only rule.

            Cut off from clear lines    

            of retreat.

            Beguiled by excess.

            By like-minded folk


            in ever tinier courts. (25)

In Christian doctrine, sin ("culpa") is only happy ("felix") because of Jesus' redemptive powers - Milton's Paradise Regained.  Here, men are not redeemed from the "sin" of homosexual behavior, but from "rules" that prohibit it and label it "sin."  Yet the paradox in the poem's first couplet suggests that programmatic transgression can become mechanical. "Retreat," not always cowardice, can save lives.  Although "excess" is an antidote to repression, its pleasures can "beguile" those constantly trying to "break" "rules" into forgetting that this can be self-indulgent - at times, perilous.

The notion of "tinier courts" in Liu's closure can be interpreted in three ways.  Naturally, mutual validation by a community ("like-minded folk") is felicitous for those who have been persecuted, yet this "enthronement" is tragically marked by AIDS's decimation of the gay male population in the eighties and early to mid nineties and inadequate responses to the pandemic at the time by homophobic "folk" in power, whose "like-mindedness" with one another delayed the discovery of a cure and continues to oppress gays.  George W. Bush's support of the "Defense of Marriage Act" is also a "court-shrinking" stance.  According to a second interpretation, gay men themselves are the "like-minded folk" whose unsafe sexual practices have had the effect of shrinking their population through the spread of AIDS.  While, in the past decade, "safe sex" has enabled infection rates among U.S. gay men to decline, the poet might be identifying residual resistance to "safe sex" among some.  A third reading also indicates that the closing fragment is a secular "confession" (to gays, for their benefit), but it does not pertain specifically to AIDS; it holds that certain tendencies within the gay community to encourage uniformity of thinking and action may result in intellectual and psychological narrowness.

Strangely, the three readings do not necessarily disable each other.  A gay poet can at once acknowledge heterosexism's evil impact and deleterious effects of choices made by some members of his own community.  "Secular confession" can lead to more effective strategies, including more useful and satisfying transgressions, in the effort to build larger "courts" for the gay community.


Howard, Richard. "Foreword." Timothy Liu. Vox Angelica. Farmington, ME: Alice James, 1992. ix-xi.

Liu, Timothy. Vox Angelica. Farmington, ME: Alice James, 1992.

__________. Burnt Offerings. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon, 1995.

__________. Say Goodnight. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon, 1998.

__________. Hard Evidence. Jersey City, NJ: Talisman House, 2001.

__________. Of Thee I Sing. Athens, GA: U of Georgia P, 2004.

Liu, Timothy and Eileen Tabios. "Timothy Liu: Towards Redemption." Black Lightning: Poetry-in-Progress. Ed. Eileen Tabios.  New York: Asian American Writers Workshop, 1998. 69-107.

Shurin, Aaron. "Full Circle: Postscript to ‘City of Men.'" Word of Mouth: An Anthology of Gay American Poetry.  Ed. Timothy Liu. Jersey City, NJ: Talisman House, 2000. 260-261.

Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass. New York: Norton, 1965.


Thomas Fink is the author of two books of criticism, including A Different Sense of Power: Problems of Community in Late-Twentieth-Century U.S. Poetry (Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2001); four books of poetry, most recently No Appointment Necessary (Moria Poetry, 2006); and an e-chapbook, Staccato Landmark (Beard of Bees, 2006).  He is the co-editor of a collection of essays on David Shapiro to be published by Fairleigh Dickinson UP in 2007. His paintings hang in various collections.