A glittering fragment of queerness in this ugly world : deciduous qween
Matty Layne Glasgow’s deciduous qween burns bright and believes in the beauty and joy of shared grief. The collection of poems feels mythological, larger than life. It creates its own legends and heroes, where trees and the natural world aren’t just backdrops but true characters in their own right. Glasgow creates a forest community in nature and drag alike, where glitter and sequins enhance the mourning son, the sweet and sultry deciduous qween. In one of the first poems, Glasgow makes a conceit to Athena, writing, “I came from a pearl of sweat that fell / from Mama’s brow…” Like Athena, Glasgow’s work is fierce and visceral, with its mercy spent in tender moments.
Let’s talk about language in deciduous qween. There were words I had to look up, an unexpected treat. For reference: zonderling, pedicules, lamina. Glasgow toys with alliteration, especially in “Boy Vultures in Love,” where his lines sing, “…curved beaks / ready to carve any carrion rife & ripe from long / afternoons steeped in summer heat.” Throughout the collection, his lines are fluid, with thoughts continuing across them, rarely ending at the end of a line. He plays with language, using adjectives as verbs, as in “arid me,” and “terrain me.” Glasgow creates new words, like “tremblebranch” and “barkquiver,” delightful small innovations.
I wrote notes on almost every poem, telling myself not to spoil the good bits. Halfway through the book, I realized all of it is good bits. There are no duds here, no poems that fail to elicit a gasp, a laugh, a hurt in the heart. There are poems about tragedies I’ve never known that will haunt me. There are funny, tongue-in-cheek, sexual poems, poems that reduce me to rubble, remind me of my own grief. Many of his verses offer the gift of deep humanity to the natural world, personifying trees with drag and love.
Read this if you’ve been touched by loss, if you want to feel drag as a natural, spiritual force, if you want to grasp at a tangible, glittering fragment of queerness in this ugly world.
Glasgow’s pieces on loss gutted me. “Mama said funny things” reminded me of the way that the dying tend to shine brightest in the months before they pass. I admired his fierce and unrelenting commitment to isolating his pain, capturing it in words for the world. His poems about losing his mother are a love song to grief, not because it is beautiful but because it’s necessary, because you have to live with it somehow. “deciduous qween, III,” only one example in this category, is a triumph; he writes, “I would have swallowed all the pain for her, / let it fill the emptiness my body carried since / I first heard her cry all those years ago & / learned what it meant to be gone…” Anyone living with a great loss knows that desperate feeling, the harsh scrape of grief, and the keening wish to absorb a loved one’s suffering.
“boundary // fluidity” wrecked me. The poem begins with lines like “You are a man & I am a man / & we are contained by no boundary on this day,” and builds from there, lacing together multiple tragedies and types of borders, geographic and otherwise, in a poem that does not look away from the history of pain along the United States’ Southern edge. I had a visceral response to reading it; I flinched and swore, shut the book for a moment, pulling away from the hurt before diving back in. The simple lines are elegant, devastating, and designed for destruction, the way you burn acres of old forest to elicit new growth, a practice he notes in “Burnside Climb.”
Taken as a whole, the collection is both current and timeless, paying homage to cultural touchstones like Beyoncé and Captain Planet and the Planeteers while simultaneously revealing the universal wound of grief. At its green and growing heart, deciduous qween is about loss and renewal and the beauty you can find when you move forward but never on. His poetry is the beginning of a conversation that invites love and connection, one bloody palm to another. Ernest Hemingway said, “Write hard and clear about what hurts,” and Glasgow delivers on this directive, weaving tenderness, pain, humor, and beauty together in a tapestry worthy of Arachne.
It’s weird and beautiful and it works.
Read this. Read it if you’ve been touched by loss, if you want to feel drag as a natural, spiritual force, if you want to grasp at a tangible, glittering fragment of queerness in this ugly world.
This is for you.
REVIEWED BY SUSANNE SALEHI
Susanne is a queer writer and Memphis expat residing in Atlanta. She has written for Bleating Heart Press and Catalyst Wedding Co. and gives what’s left of her rage to rugby. She provides professional writing services here and will begin her MFA at Sewanee School of Letters in 2020. You can follow her Instagram @bookishcreature if you need more pictures of cats and books in your life.