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Amos Lassen Review of Striking Surface

“Striking Surface”, Poems by Jason Schneiderman— The Frivolous and the Sincere

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Schneiderman, Jason. “Striking Surface”, Ashland Poetry Pres, 2010.

The Frivolous and the Sincere

Amos Lassen

What I most love about poetry is that it allows the poet to change genres—verse, free verse, sonnets and even prose poems and Schneiderman takes advantage of this here. While the topics of his poems are quite serious—religion, life and death violence and war, he manages to use his wit and humor and this is what makes them so special.

This is Schneiderman’s second volume of poetry (I recently reviewed “Sublimation Point, his earlier book) and at its center is an elegy for his mother and in it he is quite angry and strong recalling the Jewish burial tradition. I felt his pain in that poem and it brought me back to saying goodbye to my own mother. He is not afraid to show the permanence and eternity of death and that the ground receives those that we have loved and keeps them forever. I do not think we are ready to admit how important mourning is in our lives. I began to think about death and realizing that it is coming for us all and is, in fact, a part of life. While we do not want to, we must accept it. We see this in the poet’s poems about mourning and that mourning is the result of history and the way it goes.

The second section of the book is an eight poem elegy for his mother that begins with the line, “Whatever dead is, you are and how you must hate that…” and we feel the loss, the pain and the grief that one feels when losing someone special. He tells us of his anger at losing his mother, “When someone dies, I think it’s normal to be angry”. I look at his mother as the example of something that we hold quite dear that is taken from him and therefore no longer near. Death is the equalizer and we see that when someone is gone, he or she becomes more special that when alive.

Schneiderman looks at the nature of identity and here is the irony of the collection—identity which is so very personal I dealt with in poem that skirt the personal. In fact the poems are a union of theory and art and Schneiderman manages to get in some good humor with this, especially in his poem “Pedophile” where a 13 year old boy is convicted and received a life sentence having been tried as an adult. Yet the adult sentence is incongruous with the true physical life—the same boy with the adult punishment cannot engage in consensual sex nor can he drink yet he can waste away behind bars.

For a while I felt that this was going to be a very heavy read and I was sure that I did not want to read about someone upset about the death of his mother but I was very pleasantly surprised to find the poet’s sense of humor here, a kind of almost sardonic wit that always gets the reader unprepared. I should have known after having this in Schneiderman’s other book.

There is also a look into the poet’s “Jewishness” that is easily seen in the poems about the rabbis and how these become back stories for the other poems. We also see this in the elegies for his mother and in the meditations on war. If we stay with Schneiderman, we will find clarity and gain new insights on mortality. The poet embraces existentialism and as he writes he is stripped down to nakedness. I find it extremely interesting that poems on death, on war and on identity, subjects that can be very dark are actually the opposite with Schneiderman’s skill.

Christopher Phelps Review of Striking Surface in The The

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How Beauty (No Stronger Than a Flower) Shall Hold a Plea

How Beauty (No Stronger Than a Flower) Shall Hold a Plea

by Christopher Phelps on November 28, 2010

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in Philosophy,Poetry and Poetics,Reviews & Interviews

In a word, Jason Schneiderman is a poet of the helix. In his new book, Striking Surface, he turns and returns a fine Merino wool finer. By refrains; bits of anaphora; tonally and topically, he returns to his concerns in cycle after cycle, rending or revising earlier understandings, and leading new ones up new twists. Scattered throughout the book’s three sections are cycles that include “The Children’s Crusade,” “Stalinism,” “Ars Poetica,” “Physics,” “Rabbi Ishmael ben Elisha,” and “Hyacinthus.”

The middle section of the book is entirely a cycle: an unforgettable family of elegies that address his mother’s death with tenderness and probity, in a casual voice talking through grief without flinching and without sentimentality. From “Elegy I (Work)”: “Whatever dead is, you are, and how you must hate that, / busy fixer of problems, busy stitcher of crafts.” Soon we learn the role crafts played before death—how they were a kind of tacit conversation between father, mother, and son—and the roles they assume, still unfinished, in the afterdeath. Here, in “Elegy IV (Tallis)”:

I don’t tell Dad that you never finished cross-stitching
the tallis piece because you were punishing him.
You wouldn’t tell him, so why should I? I finished
the curtains you were planning, though I didn’t line them.

Picking up the thread, in the next elegy:

I wish I could see the dead as completed instead
of stopped, that some monument in my head
would be erected to you, instead of these scraps
of uncatalogued memory.

And again, in “Elegy VI (Metaphors for Grief)”:

____________________________I’d think,
why finish this if Mom won’t see it, or why
go to work if my mother is dead? She had never
been the axis my world turned on, but suddenly
everything seemed to revolve around her. No.
Not an axis. A skewer. A spit.

Throughout the book, we encounter a philosophical version of transubstantiation that an object or subject undergoes when it has been taken from us or is otherwise no longer in reach. In “Elegy V (The Community of Mourners),” Schneiderman calls it “a trap”: “Mourning’s a trap, / isn’t it? A way to pretend that what you lost / was better than what you had,” a delicious riddle that obviates our thinking those two things (people) are the same, with the bereft feeling that they are not. It’s a trap revisited in the last section of “Susan Kohner (Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life),” which begins, “Death tricks you twice. First about yourself, / and then about others,” and ends:

Does Sarah Jane owe her dead mother
more than she owed her live mother?

Of course not—but she can’t deny her dead
mother what she denied her live one.

Having gathered impressions of her sense of humor, her quietly persistent love, and her humiliating, de facto last rites before the surgery that would be her death, we feel we know this woman—this arch, in its stone and filigree—just in time for the keystone eighth elegy, which—in its omnivorousness (including a nod to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who returns from being buried in an earlier elegy); in its valences and ambivalence through which an earnest love reflects—seems to accomplish something of Shakespearian ambition (“That in black ink my love may still shine bright”), even as a stand-alone poem:

Elegy VIII (Missing You)

I thought I’d find you here, that I’d finish these poems
and you would stand out as clear as the day. As bright
as the moon. I hate those poets who tell you that
they love, but never make clear whom they love.
My mother’s eyes are nothing like the sun. How do I
miss my mother? Let me count the ways. So where
are you? I couldn’t believe you let yourself
be filmed for the video they showed at your tribute,
and I wanted to tell everyone, That’s only her voice
when she’s nervous. That’s only her face when she
has to be on display and she doesn’t like it. But at least
you were there. Everyone knows you can’t write
your way out of grief. Everyone knows that grief
never turns into anything but grief, and OK, I can grieve
you forever. But I wanted you here, in the middle
of my book. Not a complaint about what I lost
or what it feels like to lose it. But you. Your smile.
Your denim dress.

Schneiderman addresses another, closer-to-literal kind of transubstantiation in “Adorable Wounds.” An epigraph from Hopkins invites us to “approach Christ in a new way” and cast ourselves “into His sacred broken Heart and his five adorable Wounds” (a fitting bit of pronoun play between a man and his apotheosis). Longinus of Caesarea already having stuck his spear into the body of the crucified Christ, pre-poem, the poem’s speaker asks:

Is it blasphemy
to be the nail,
the spear? To want
to be the nail,
the spear?

These fives lines—in their deceptively simple revision and reiteration of that deceptively simple question—ask as much of us as any nineteen syllables I know. “A simple truth miscall’d simplicity,” as Shakespeare might have said and did, in Sonnet 66. Substituting “question” for “truth,” we have a working description of Schneiderman’s quest to understand.

In all three sections of Striking Surface, understanding is key and a key to the poems. From “Ars Poetica II”:

I’m trying to say:
Forgiving is the end of love.

The end of hate.
The end of strong emotion.

A poem should be
an understanding.

A forgiving.
But not the end of love or hate.

The poem comes to doubt itself directly (“Maybe this / isn’t a poem”), before ending up at a new understanding:

If understanding
was the wrong thing,

I asked
for the wrong thing.

It was what I wanted
when I asked.

Besides the candor of these lines, what makes them feel natural and accessible is their role in a dialogue into which the poem is structured. The poem’s speaker addresses the world-as-poem and world-as-parted-intimate simultaneously, a parted intimate who responds:

Look at all the sense you keep

 

trying to make.

 

You should know better.

 

That’s why I did what you think

 

I need to be forgiven for.

Another theme these poems thread and rethread is the nature of identity—in theology and philosophy, called the problem of haecceity (essential “thisness”). Schneiderman pinpoints the requisite subtleties with a weaver’s needle. In his death-by-flower poems (“Hyacinthus I” and “II”), he turns a wry eye upon the notion that Apollo had preserved anything of Hyacinthus in his eponymous flower, ending the first poem with, “Who are we fooling? // I’m just plain dead,” and the second with:

Who wants
to be a flower?

Better that weeds
should mark my grave

than the stars
should hold my face.

This frames the issue in a smart(ing?) little star-rimmed face. In “Echo (Narcissus)”—a sort of third wheel or three-way for the “death by flower” pair—the Narcissus myth is restored to its context of male-male love, and (as always in these poems, with a twist) it speaks for an Echo who learns to say “No.”

In “Probability,” the problem of haecceity comes more clearly into relief:

________The statistical probability of being a dinosaur
at the moment that the meteor hit is impossible to calculate,
because you would have to know whether any given dinosaur
was as likely to be any other given dinosaur, or whether
any living thing is as likely to be any other living thing—
but no matter what, the chance was tiny. No matter how you do
the math, every single dinosaur was statistically safe from
meteors. But then again, here we are, you and me, as human
and furless as we might have hoped, tiny teeth, opposable
thumbs, and all the birds locked out of our safe, insured
houses.

Here we see another large-looming theme, really a component of the problem of haecceity. If something is essentially ‘this’—an exact and unique something—then it can’t be exchanged for something very much similar, or even something identical in all its properties (Leibniz argued: if two things are identical in all their properties, those two things are really one thing). But look!—Schneiderman’s poems ask between (and within) the lines—at how exchangeable and reversible we and our circumstances are. By a fluke, we’re the ones insured, for the moment. The oscine dinosaur descendents are in the garden singing… for the moment.

In “Sailor at Nostrand and Bedford,” the non-uniqueness of exchangeable things is again brushed against. Here, from the poem’s second section:

There was a sailor, once.

What we wanted

was the same,

and each other

was the last place

we’d looked.

And in “The Book of the Boy,” the issue is fully foregrounded, pleading loudly:

____________“Why was I made?”
and the answer comes: “Because we
wanted you,” which puzzles the boy.

“But there was no me to want,” the boy
protests, and the answer comes: “Well,
we wanted something like you.” And the boy asks

“Would any small person have done?”
and the answer comes: “Any small person
we made. It was critical that we be the ones

who made it.” The boy hesitates.
The answers are getting angry. At last:
“So I was interchangeable? Then?

Before I was made?”

The poem ends exasperated and without resolution. Hiding in dreams, “maybe / by morning, he’ll be someone / specific and loved and necessary.”

Near the end of the book, in the four-part poem, “Notes on Detention” (in effect the title poem: in the second part we learn that there are six striking surfaces on the human hand, and the strongest striking surface is the elbow, according to the latest interrogation manual), we once again snag this braided issue of identity. We encounter a mine-detonating robot that has done its work so dutifully that it’s lost all but one of its legs, and is continuing to scrape along on its last before an army colonel “declared the test inhumane and stopped it. / The robot’s inventor was surprised, as this / is what the robot had been designed to do.” Then comes the crux:

________Perhaps the robot stepped
through the same door into humanity
that every victim steps out of. Perhaps
we should find that door.

In the next, the book’s penultimate poem, “The person you cannot love,” we’ve reached the end of probing the issue until, in the final poem, we’re asked to bury it in a bed of flowers that Schneiderman’s husband tends. “I Love You and All You Have Made,” wraps up the triple helix of identity—transubstantiation, exchangeability, haecceity—into a convincing and moving three-line finale: “Some days, I flatter myself to think / that I’m one of your flowers. Some days, / I flatter myself to think I’m not.”

Viewing this book through one (or three related) of its themes, much that recommends it has been passed over: its several senses of humor; its pop-culturings sprinkled handsomely throughout; its rabbinical backstories; its children’s crusades; and its wise and wide-eyed meditation on war—“Billboard Reading: War Is Over / Billboard Reading: (If You Want It)”—that puts Prometheus in dialogue with Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, the Aztecs, and the 1952 film, High Noon, to name a few. Nor have I mentioned my favorite poem in the book, “The Numbers Wait with God for Humans to Invent Them,” which involves Two’s being kissed, Four’s hair being tussled, imaginary numbers “who screamed at night / the things they knew,” and—almost free of charge, almost subliminally—a parable about the freedom that is division.

Fearless and affectionate, Striking Surface is a book of lyric poems that neither emphasize narrative nor shy away from it. The story, when it comes to a poem, seems to come across a music already being played; an understanding already being groped; an Ariadne’s thread already followed halfway back. Schneiderman’s are exuberances on dark topics, trimmed to their essentials, and plangent (rung up and down turns of thought and feeling) in what remains.

Steve Fellner on Sublimation Point in Pansy Poetics

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Saturday, November 6, 2010

On Jason Schneiderman’s “Striking Surface”


With so many people scurrying for an English department job, and creative non-fiction vacancies the most available, you see a lot of poets padding their resumes with unimaginative memoir. Not very many applicants truly move beyond the idea of creative non-fiction as autobiography. It’s easy to make the useless claim that “good” creative non-fiction blurs boundaries, or even worse, that the genre can’t be truly defined. It’s an embarrassment to hear someone claim that they don’t want the label to pigeonhole them or ask why allow your art to be categorized, packaged, and then ignored anyway.

One of the many wonderful things about Jason Schneiderman’s second book of poems Striking Surface is that it single-handedly provides new areas of exploration for the genre. I can imagine that some people may say the book is too prosaic or frigid, but those people would most often be the typical anti-intellectuals, afraid of anything that doesn’t offer plot and characterization. The irony is that the most heartfelt poems in Schneiderman’s book are the ones that don’t deal with trademark autobiographical subjects, or in fact, avoid the blatantly personal altogether.

It’s easy to identify the collection’s best poems: “Susan Kohner (Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life),” “Pedophile,” “Carmen Miranda,” “Symbolic,” “First Mouse,” and “I Love You and All You Have Made.” His gutsy elegies to his dead mother try to recast the elegy as schtick —an ambitious, but unsatisfying, project. I do hope another poet, or even Schneiderman, continues that intellectual endeavor. I love when characteristically pejorative words find new meanings and reveal unexpected value.

It’s always annoyed me that the term “creative non-fiction” was most likely invented as a way of marginalizing scholarly writing. You can still hear the underlying arguments from the artistic camp: we academic and create writers may be both engaged in non-fiction but artists don’t rely on that theoretical gibberish– what those hacks study who can’t get their own art published. We. Are. Creative.

In the excellent poem “Susan Kohner (Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life),” Schneiderman analyzes the issue of race in the film. The four-sectioned poem begins with the guiding question:

If it’s true that what it means to be black
is inextricably bound up with what it means
to be white, that whiteness is ultimately
a byproduct of the production of blackness,
then what should I have learned
about Sandra Dee and Lana Turner?

As the poem continues to evolve, the poem becomes more special for not only what it includes, but what it chooses to omit. The poem doesn’t rely on a more predictable analysis of white liberal guilt—its self awareness comes through in the faux self mockery of lines like these:

I’m a bad person, always wanting
the expedient, the practical, the easy.

At the end of the movie,
when Sarah Jane comes home

for the funeral, and the flowers
are everywhere, and Mahalia Jackson

is in full voice, I want Sarah Jane
to go-to get back in her car,

to go be white. She fought so hard
for it. It seems like she ought

to get to keep it.

It would be incorrect to see this poem as one that could be as effective if written in prose. Or as one too many critics claim about more discursive poetics works: “it’s prose broken into lines.” As if brokenness is a bad thing, or that brokenness can’t be of value still. Here, there is more than a singular instance, of the break advancing and complicating the line of inquiry: the “wanting” signifies an attachment to the camp element of the movie; the intriguing cross identification with race and gender; a simple advance of the fun machinations of the plot; and a smart disclosure of his own complicity in the subtle, aversive racism. Furthermore, the line breaks intensify the complications of these feelings with the sense of simultaneity it creates.

Schneiderman’s poems show a way of subverting that limited way of thinking, producing poems that are a hybrid of the artistic and theoretical. Perhaps no other poem in the book does this better than “Pedophile.”

It deals with a narrator and his presumably graduate school friend who are engaged in an uncomfortable political discussion: should a thirteen-year-old boy convicted of a crime and given a life sentence, tried as an adult, be able to have legally consensual sex with a grown man?

His friend argues yes: “…if killing someone is the kind of adult action that makes you an adult, then what the hell is a blow job.”

What is remarkable about this poem is that it doesn’t merely present what some people may see as an intellectual-gamesmanship argument based on a hypothetical, but, as the poem continues, does something completely different. It reveals the paranoia gay men internalize involved in talking about the subject–the self-censorship created in talking about certain subjects, precisely because of homophobia. If a gay man mentions the word, there is always the fear– even by gay men themselves– foisted on them through years of bigoted false accusations, that their gay identities will be conflated with such an act.

As the poem evolves, the narrator forces himself to disengage from the valid intellectual inquiry. He can’t help to give in to an unethical and unkind pathology of his friend. Irrationally, the narrator struggles with the idea, even though there is absolutely no evidence for any sort of assumption, that his friend, Kevin, may be broaching the subject for personal reasons. The tragic-comedy of the self-enforced queer anti-intellectualism is summed up in the deadpan closure: “I’m also wondering how I can get out of this conversation. There’ll be no more coffee dates to discuss Derrida, at least not with Kevin.”

In the second section of the book, eight different elegies to his mother, Schneiderman goes for a sense of artlessness, which he may understandably be trying to convince himself is a form of emotionalism. He writes, “…I can grieve/you forever. But I wanted you here in the middle/of my book. Not a complaint about what I lost/or what it feels like to lose it. But you. Your smile./Your denim dress.” Schneiderman’s implicit exasperation with being unable to capture “the real” through the mundane feels a bit false. In these elegies, he seems to be trying too hard to create a counterpoint to the more intellectual endeavors in the book.

I prefer the parts of the elegies which are deliberate schtick—a simultaneous embrace and dismissal of dealing with the emotional matters at hand. Here’s an ending to one of the sections: “…I Asked if Dad knew/you were punishing him, and you said, No,/he just thinks I’m lazy. And I said, “How’s/that working out for you, and you said, Just fine.” With these particular elegies and the consideration of Schneiderman’s strengths, the punchline offers a tragic-comic resolution to the grief, or at least temporary relief, and what more can you ask for, when speaking to ghosts? I think when he relies on pure wit, the desire to entertain, he honors the ghost of his mother much more effectively than when he attempts to coddle her spirit with mushy sentimentalities—a deliberate false, even if sincere, artlessness.

Aside from those minor problems, I can say that Schneiderman’s book is one of the most exciting I’ve read this year. And I hope that award committees which often find themselves wary of intellectualism for intellectualism’s sake, find that the act of rigorous thinking may be the most sincere kind of emotionalism of all.

Jason Schneiderman’s Striking Surface is available by clicking on the book image (above) or through Ashland Poetry Press

Publisher’s Weekly Review of Striking Surface

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Striking Surface

Jason Schneiderman, Ashland Univ. (SPD., dist.), $15.95 (64p) ISBN 978-0-912592-70-1
Schneiderman practices, and sometimes excels at, the kind of art that seems, at first, artless: his sonnets, prose poems, and sparse free verse show a laconic figure whose grave reserve reveals itself in carefully stripped-down language, using only the most common American words. This second collection organizes itself around the poet’s eight-part elegy for his mother, which provides some of its rawest lines: “I shovel dirt on your coffin. This is the living kicking you out. The dead go under the ground, so stay there.” Elsewhere Schneiderman (Sublimation Point) reaches for historical events that also provoke awe, or horror, or mourning: in “The Children’s Crusade II” “The body is a gate,/ a test.” Another poem cuts back and forth between Aeschylean tragedy and the film High Noon to make its points about peace and war. Schneiderman’s connections between world events and his own experience can seem strained, his verse effects less elegant than simple: yet he finds, often enough, a durable wisdom in his reduced means: “Each mouse,” he writes, “is the first mouse,// the same failure/ to live clean-/ ly.” (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 07/26/2010
Release date: 09/01/2010

Christopher Schmidt Review of Striking Surface, Lambda Literary Review

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‘Striking Surface’ by Jason Schneiderman

Posted on 09. Jun, 2011 by in Poetry, Reviews

In addition to being a tireless booster and critic of gay literature (on these pages and elsewhere), Jason Schneiderman is also a poet of deep wit and mercurial grace. His recently published second book of poems, Striking Surface (Ashland University Press), extends the pointed charms of his first volume, Sublimation Point, while developing a subject that at first glance seems distant from queer issues.

Certainly gay love and desire make notable appearances in Striking Surface, but the volume is mostly concerned with the moral and existential dimensions of what it means to be a child—that impossibly freighted symbol of innocence and hope—in a culture bent on seduction and damage.

We all begin our lives as children. But it is only after we leave childhood that it becomes invested with sometimes dangerous yearning. If childhood is a lost paradise, it is also a paradise constantly under threat—by abandonment, by age, by generational extinction. Everybody is somebody’s child. But how does our identity as the “good son” or “daughter” change when a parent dies?

It is this last question that Schneiderman takes up memorably in the volume’s ambitious showstopper, a sequence of elegies for his late mother, who died in 2007. These lively and surprising poems leave behind the pieties that make elegy a genre to be avoided. Instead, Schneiderman uses this sequence to showcase the most engaging (because imperfect) aspects of his own voice: sardonic anger, exhibitionist shame, and wisdom verging on the overweening:

I couldn’t believe you let yourself

be filmed for the video they showed at your tribute,

and I wanted to tell everyone, That’s only her voice

when she’s nervous. That’s only her face when she

has to be on display and she doesn’t like it.

Perhaps the best way to compliment Schneiderman is to say that his mother would have recognized herself in these poems, and respected the truths they tell. Their sedimented tones of jokiness and recrimination reveal a relationship that has survived over-familiarity and strain. Schneiderman writes:

I asked if Dad knew

you were punishing him, and you said, No,

he just thinks I’m lazy. And I said, How’s

that working out for you, and you said, Just fine.

If the use of the second-person pronoun is a way of ensuring the mother’s presence, it is an unstable effect: “Whatever you there is now, / she hates this work I do, this sorting of closets, this giving / of clothes.” The you Schneiderman addresses—his mother—too quickly slips away into a distancing third person: she. Equally unstable and subject to revision is the meaning of self in the wake of the mother’s death. Is Schneiderman still a “good son” if he is doing the work she hates? If the mother gives her children life and—at least partly—an identity, does her death rob them of it?

This sense of anger at the parent’s ability to undo the child is expressed even more directly in “The Book of the Boy,” a brilliant poem whose title could easily serve as the entire book’s:

The boy asks, “Why was I made?”

and the answer comes: “Because we

wanted you,” which puzzles the boy.

“But there was no me to want,” the boy

protests, and the answer comes: “Well,

we wanted something like you.” And the boy asks

“Would any small person have done?”

and the answer comes: “Any small person

we made. It was critical we be the ones

who made it.” The boy hesitates.

The answers are getting angry. At last:

“So I was interchangeable? Then?

Before I was made?” The answer comes:

“Yes. Then. And now. We had hoped

you would be more specific by now.

All these questions.”

I recently heard a story about distant acquaintances—a young straight couple—who admitted “buyer’s remorse” after becoming new parents. I was shocked at this bald sentiment but also impressed by the couple’s candor. In the excerpt above, Schneiderman assumes a similar position, exposing the unexamined selfishness motivating many parents (“It was critical we be the ones / who made it”). But he does so playfully, not out of malice. Using the launching pad of humor, Schneiderman somersaults us quickly into a profound riddle of self and existence, minus the pretense that often attends such questioning.

More directly “gay” subject matter also appears in Striking Surface—a title that refers to instruments of violence used in torture (even against children), but also describes a kind of Wildean attention to the “superficial” that critics have used to attack gay culture throughout history. Yet even when writing an ode to rough trade, Schneiderman takes unexpected positions. The poem “Sailor at Nostrand and Bedford” subverts the Genet-like scenario promised by its title:

If you think that what I want

is to touch that sailor, to pull

his liquid body from those

polyester pants, you’d be

wrong.

After this too-certain rejection of the desired object, the poem’s coda admits the erotic shortcomings that inform the speaker’s defenses: “There was a sailor once. / What we wanted / was the same, / and each other / was the last place / we’d looked.”

Another standout poem, “Pedophile,” introduces the question of queer desire into the adult-child relationship explored elsewhere. Schneiderman writes:

I mention the thirteen-year-old boy with a life sentence,

tried as an adult, and Kevin says, “If he’s being tried as an adult,

I don’t see why I can’t have sex with him.”

In this poem, unlike in “The Book of the Boy,” Schneiderman takes the conservative position. While the speaker realizes Kevin is being hypothetical—there was no actual sexual relation between him and this child murderer—the perverse and sometimes counter-sensical leaps of theory (queer or otherwise) should never be allowed to violate ethical relation. The speaker concludes: “There’ll be no more coffee dates to discuss Derrida, / at least not with Kevin.”

The entire volume, from its rehearsals of the doomed Children’s Crusade to the seductions of the Pied Piper of Hamlin, takes what could be described as a queer perspective on the child. Yet Schneiderman has little patience for the romanticized figure of the “queer outlaw”—the pedophile, the murderer, the artist without limits—who uses society’s rejection as an excuse to perpetrate further crimes against the unknowing. It is always the child who must be protected. More than anyone, queers may understand what it means to be damaged in childhood, often by the conventions of the parent-child relationship. Consequently, queers may be especially careful in respecting and nurturing the child—particularly in our love for the inner child, perhaps the queerest relation of all.

Striking Surface
by Jason Schneiderman
Ashland University Press
Paperback, 9780912592701, 64pp
September 2010