The Problems of the Epic Fantasy Fan Poet: Subtext that Has Been Seen Cannot Be Unseen

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A poet, among other things, is a problem solver. (Ha! Bet you didn’t see that coming.) It’s true. We try to find a thing to say and then say it in the clearest and/or most beautiful way we can. A fan poet, like a fan fiction writer, is also trying to resolve the problems in an original piece of fiction/television caused by the original creators and writers. Sometimes this is about bringing Characters Who Shouldn’t Have Died back to life; more frequently, it is about fulfilling the subtext romantic possibilities of a pair of characters, whether or not that relationship ever happened in the official canon or not.

Back in the 1990s, I never saw the romantic subtext between Xena and Gabrielle. I just thought they were really great friends who had each other’s back no matter what. I thought this up until Season 6, episodes 19 and 20, two episodes right before the series finale, by which time, to quote Rupert Giles, “the subtext [was] rapidly becoming text.” Including a poem by Sappho, fer cryin’ out loud. Even I with my firmly established Straight Brain couldn’t ignore that.

Part of the difference in how I see the show now is the difference in the time it takes to view it. In the nineties, when I was watching a 45-minute episode once a week, it was easy to not see the way the relationship was changing. Now, when I can watch five episodes in four hours, the minor touches, the number of times Xena kisses Gabrielle on the head or touches her arm–it all stands out so much more.

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Part of the difference is simply how the world has changed in the last twenty years. In 1995, I thought I only knew half a dozen gay people. In 2008, my state, Massachusetts legalized gay marriage here, and I saw a lot of friends take advantage of this. In 2015 the US Supreme Court legalized gay marriage as the law of the land, and increasingly in film and on television we have been seeing LGBTQ romantic storylines as, gasp!, text. Maintext: sometimes as side plots, as in Marvel’s Jessica Jones, and sometimes as main plots as in the film Carol.

So this led me to the motivating questions behind so much fan fiction: when did the two characters finally get together and how?

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It was clear to me from the beginning that Xena would have a hard time initiating anything. The six seasons show how most of the physical relationships Xena had in her past were manipulative and destructive, so she would be extremely cautious about expressing her desire, since passion had so often been entwined with power issues, perhaps in part to mask the vulnerability she had no interest in feeling or showing. Also, because Gabrielle is a virgin and has only ever shown an interest in men, Xena might feel hesitant to express her feelings, because if the answer is no, their journeying together will be awkward, or possibly even over. So I wrote this, which conveniently also explained the episodes when Lucy Lawless was attending conventions or doing publicity like the Jay Leno show where she broke her pelvis.

 

On the Road Alone, X. Explains Herself

 

Sometimes the heat builds up to such a pitch,

I have to leave you, make up a mission,

Far away–urgent–must rush–I will

Be back soon. You say, “Don’t forget me!”

As if I ever could. That’s why I go.

 

Only by riding away can I feel the heat

And weight of you, the one person in the world

I can’t have. I lie awake by the fire

Sweating for what I want, the one day

You turn and catch me looking, and understand.

 

Far away from you, I have space to imagine

What it could be like. Maybe your eyes close,

As you shudder when I run my hand

Down your arm, your leg. Maybe you breathe

Against my neck, wordless for a change.

 

Maybe you press yourself against me,

Urgent, your cool fingers finding, sharing

My warmth. Maybe you ask for more, and again,

And eventually lay your head against my shoulder.

Far away from you, I allow myself to imagine.

 

Far away, I can get you out of my system

For a little while, relieve the pressure of

My wanting deep in the belly, the knot

That ties me to you, that no one else can see,

Not even, or especially, not you.

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