We have successfully published five editions of The Riveter magazine, each devoted to a particular language, country or region, and now, for our sixth issue, we are changing direction and celebrating queer European literature. This category might at first seem nebulous, but we believe it brings into sharp focus many of the issues currently facing Europe. And being a gay man, a European, and a queer writer myself, it is a category that is close to my heart.
In the UK it is easy to forget that Brexit is not a peculiarly British phenomenon, but a manifestation of populist trends that have emerged across Europe. My thinking in commissioning the content for this Riveter was that an examination of queer writing might offer insights into the effects of this development. I wondered, for example, whether the experiences and observations of LGBT+ writers would help readers understand how the growth of the far right and of anti-immigration sentiment and policies have affected patterns of migration across Europe.
But what is meant by ‘queer’ writing? In a bid to offer a clearer definition The Riveter team engaged author and journalist Paul Burston, founder and host of Polari, the UK’s premier queer literary salon, and founder and judge of the Polari Book prizes. I agree with both Paul and our guest poetry editor – publisher, poet and translator Lawrence Schimel – who demonstrate that queer literature can encompass writing about queer issues by authors who may or may not be queer, as well as writing by queer authors on any topic – queer or universal. While this suggests a very broad church – one we’ve endeavoured to display through the wealth of content in this magazine – we think it also serves as a lens through which to examine the contemporary European moment.
The book I’ve reviewed for the magazine is Finnish-Kosovan author Pajtim Statovci’s Crossing. Following the experiences of two queer Albanians as they leave their troubled country and struggle to find a place in the West, this novel is, for me, the perfect example of how the ‘queer eye’ does more than offer a new view on fashion and styling, but highlights, clarifies and amplifies the obstacles and difficulties faced by all immigrants – and all those living between cultures.
Poet and translator Anna Blasiak (ELNet’s literature coordinator and The Riveter’s production editor) explores exactly these issues in her discussion with fellow poet Maria Jastrzębska. Both Polish poets living in the UK, their queer identities give extra definition to the experience of living across borders, at a time when attempts to harden and reinforce those borders are gaining strength.
The forces that have prompted these populist and nationalist trends are examined in fine detail by Masha Gessen in The Future is History, her book about modern Russia, reviewed here by Jennifer Sarha. And once again, specifically queer issues offer a way to understand the bigger picture.
Even the difficult relationship between a father and his queer son offers insights into the protectionist, insular feelings that have given populism a foothold: Paul Burston’s review of Édouard Louis’s Who Killed My Father highlights the links between the post-industrial experience of the French working-class male, and the violence some of those males mete out to queer people.
Testo Junkie, Spanish/French Paul B. Preciado’s account of a pharmacologically aided transition from female to male, reviewed in this magazine by Jacky Collins, gives us a view on another type of border-crossing, and of in-between identities. Yelena Moskovich, the Ukrainian playwright and novelist, in her essay for us examining queer modes of expression, suggests that the prevailing populism demands a new, clearer aesthetic approach – one that should encompass Preciado’s experience, and that of the many people, queer and otherwise, whose lives have been changed by the political upheavals of recent decades.
Attempting to encompass queer experience is something Lawrence Schimel reflects on in his essay introducing his poetry section. For example, finding a trans poet translated into English was a challenge for him. Once again, queer experience acts like a lens, offering a clearer view on all our experiences of transitioning from one language, one place or one gender to another.
We have a wealth, almost an embarrassment, of poetry in The Queer Riveter, including an exclusive. I was delighted when the prizewinning Polish writer Jacek Dehnel’s offered us the first publication of the English translation of his poem ‘Timepiece’, written for Jacek’s mother-in-law. Jacek and his husband had to travel from Poland to the UK in order to get married; and the structure of ‘Timepiece’, which is presented in the form of a Catholic prayer, offers our readers yet another example of how ‘queering’ literature – illuminating a specifically queer issue – throws a different light onto the more universal experience.
Icelandic crime writer Lilja Sigurðardóttir does the same. In her essay, she discusses how important it was for her as a child to see lesbians represented in literature – even when that representation was negative. And in her own work – we have an extract from one of her novels in the magazine – we discover flawed, compromised characters, whose deficiencies speak more universally than perfection could.
This selection of queer writing, we believe, offers a broad but clearly defined picture of Europe’s current moment. It is Europe seen through queer eyes; but we would like you all to enjoy the view, its queerness illuminating things differently, picking out the unseen details.
Thanks to all those who have helped us paint this scene: our contributors; our Riveter-in-Chief Rosie Goldsmith; our photographer Lisa Kalloo, and of course our resident poet and production editor Anna Blasiak. And finally, at the end of this issue, you can read an extract from my first novel, Attend – on Rosie’s special request. For, after her final edit of the magazine, Rosie said to me: ‘West, there’s only one thing missing: as our resident Queer European Editor, we need an extract of your fiction!’ I’m happy to oblige…
Enjoy The Queer Riveter. And however you describe yourself, whichever European country, culture or language you inhabit, whether you consider yourself one of our queer family, or another tribe, or the broader human family we are all members of, do respond with your own ‘queer’ thoughts, feelings and fiction.
By West Camel
Read The Queer Riveter in its entirety here.