The culture we live in is one with constant media coverage and constant headlines—so constant that one can easily become desensitized to it. In a world fraught on the daily, it can often be difficult to see oneself in the endless news cycle, especially if it wouldn’t directly affect the one watching. Barker Thompson’s “Mixed-Emotion Elegy for Closeted Me” is a complicated work that entices the reader to untangle it, forcing the reader to engage with a reality they may have shunned or ignored.
And what reality does Thompson explore? What terrible place does the speaker of the poem find themselves in? The poem takes place largely in an ecosystem of ignorance and immaturity, an environment known as middle school—what other setting crawls with raw hormones, petty politics, and juvenile angst? Middle school is never one’s ideal circumstance, so from the very first line of the poem, I felt magnetized to the speaker and their plight. How couldn’t I? When I was in that awkward stage of life, nothing felt right, especially as a closeted kid. Such a secret is heavy to a child, when all one understands is the schism it could rupture between oneself and one’s friends. In middle school, one’s identity is still in formation, and thus, as Thompson describes, everyone is self-conscious and afraid.
It is not until halfway through the poem that the true stakes are revealed, invoking the deaths of LGBTQ+ peoples often ignored by media, or else buried under other headlines. This is where Thompson’s subtlety reaches its full effect. There’s a term (used often to deride or diminish the poem) for a work that expresses outrage at the social injustices that pervade society: a “soap box.” But Thompson’s poem is special, as it doesn’t just express outrage, though the speaker certainly deserves to feel angry. The poem is thoughtful and reflective, a reminder of the humanity at stake when we shut ourselves off to what’s happening on the other side of the screen. The elegy transforms the personal into the universal, with a topic that could easily be cloaked in vague expression and unhindered fury. I saw a mirror of my own struggles coming to terms with my identity, that fear and loneliness and self-consciousness. Thompson’s words allowed those old wounds to heal a little more, and for that reason, this poem has a place in my heart.
Thompson’s poem, “Mixed-Emotion Elegy for Closeted Me,” is just one representation of authentic craft present in Élan’s Spring Edition.
– Noland Blain, Senior Managing Editor