Down at the Crossroads: Jessamyn Smyth on Julie Marie Wade’s “Prose and Cons: Considerations of a Woman with Two Genres*”

On page one of Julie Marie Wade’s “Prose & Cons: Considerations of a Woman with Two Genres,” I laughed aloud—

Apparently, I also have the shirts of a Poet.


By a few pages in, and the juxtaposition of

If a prose-poem cannot win a PROSE contest, but the same prose-poem can win a POETRY contest, what is this fact but another form of identity politics?


I am a poet. I am also a lesbian. These are two irrefutable truths about me.


lesbian: poetry :: heterosexual: prose

followed by

Back at Binary Station, the students linger on the platform, equal parts earnestness and ennui.

I was laughing steadily, with full confidence I was on a well-engineered train and in for a good ride.

I was also aware that this laughter, this sense of being in the company of one with whom I share inside jokes, might well be terribly specific, but oughtn’t be: do we have to be teachers to recognize these students? To be “bitextuals” to see the fundamental absurdity of the categories? To recognize the wit here, must we know the arguments, the back-stories, the politics, the elevator-stares of the well-intended voyeur who thinks we are a terribly fascinating! animal because we are not precisely like them (except we are, just in another language and culture—a vantage point from which they also look a bit alien, and perhaps even occasionally exotic, particularly when they perform strange verbal acrobatics designed to illustrate their broad-mindedness)?
This is like Jane Austen, I hear myself think. So many people don’t immediately understand that she’s hilarious. That the “inside” of the jokes encompasses all of us.
Woe is them.
Of course, she’s not just funny; she’s brilliant and brave, that Jane Austen.
As is this funny, sharp, smart, beautiful (essay) (hybrid) (herm) by Julie Marie Wade, which is as much about the limitations of language itself as it is about identity or students or genres or beauty. And the writing pulls us all inside: inside the jokes, yes—but also inside the stakes.
She says:

To name, of course, is also to stratify.

She asks:

An old joke: If you’re a poet, where’s your license?



Think of the SATs I have taken, think of the GREs. I have been trained to think in analogies.

lesbian: poetry :: heterosexual: prose

She says:

The passengers grow restless on Tautology Express. I hear my own voice struggling to overcome the static on the PA system:


“I don’t want to say there are no differences between poetry and prose. But I don’t want you to mistake them for simple opposites either. They have much in common. Often, they overlap. They are more like friends than rivals. In the best cases, they are allies. But even you and your best friend have perspectives that diverge, priorities that divide you, desires that perforate your otherwise symmetrical seams. If you and your friend witnessed the same event, would you give identical accounts of what happened? Poetry and prose are two ways of witnessing the same event—the event of life, let’s say, the event of being in the world. These accounts may dovetail with each other, but they will never read, nor should they read, the same.”


The herm where roads intersect is the marker of where I live, in every aspect of so many contested identities: each stone pillar a sign (signifier) of the psychopomp, the god of communication, of boundaries and crossroads, of thieves and liars (bards), of the one who tricks everyone, laughing, the one who has persuasive capacity for both passage and flight. So on that level, I was delighted to be addressed by a voice so clearly and unusually kindred, down at the identity and genre crossroads where I hang out, where complicated is baseline, and interesting.
But listen, that’s not enough: writing has to do more than feel familiar, or be affirming of my particular and peculiar worldview, or otherwise lead to some variation on ‘I’d have a beer with her.’ Camaraderie is pleasant, but it isn’t what this writing thing is about.
I’m not talking about Hermes Trismegistos, alchemist of the glass tube, sealed. I’m talking about the older one. The one who opens and perforates (unseals). The one who makes everything complicated and messy.
Including writing.



She says:

Metaphor: the ultimate one-upmanship.


She wins.
* * *
Read Julie Marie Wade’s “Prose and Cons: Considerations of a Woman with Two Genres*”