Oct 28, 2013

Harold Monro: Lost Gay Poet

The heroic fantasy fad ended in the mid-1970s.  In the disco era, we liked stories about big, bright spaceships hurling through the galaxy.  So when Elsewhere: Tales of Fantasy appeared in Adam's Bookstore in September 1981, the start of my senior year in college, I bought it for nostalgia only.

The illustrations by Terri Windling involved ample nudity, mostly female, but sometimes you could see the curve of a male backside or the hint of a penis.

The stories were usually heterosexist, but I found something evocative in "Overheard on a Salt Marsh."  It's about a goblin who begs a nymph for her beads.  She refuses.

Then I will howl all night in the reeds,
Lie in the mud and howl for them.

I kept thinking that there was something gay about it, but what?  It's a male goblin encountering a female nymph, complaining that the beads are "better than any man's fair daughter."

Is it his gender-atypical desire for the beads, green glass, stolen out of the moon?

Maybe it's the desire itself, desire with all of the trappings of civilization removed, raw, savage, and terrifying.

I could find out very little about the author, Harold Monro, in those days before the internet.  He was born in 1879, opened the Poetry Bookshop in London in 1912, and managed it for the rest of his life, except for a few years of service in World War I.  He married twice, was plagued by alcoholism and depression, and died in 1932.

But as I read his other poems, I found more hints of an openness to male beauty:

Man Carrying Bale:
And the same watchful sun glowed through his body feeding it with light.
The muscles will relax and tremble.
Earth, you designed your man beautiful both in labour and repose

And same sex desire:

 Children of Love, about Cupid and Jesus meeting:
And now they stand
Watching one another with timid gaze;
Youth has met youth in the wood,
Are you afraid of his arrows, O beautiful dreaming boy?

Then in 2001, a biography of Harold Monro appeared, and I discovered that my impressions were correct. Monro was gay, but closeted, and his earlier biographers either didn't know or didn't want to tell.  Like most gay lives of the past, his was hidden, requiring you to read between the lines.