Defying Categorization: The Work of Suzette Mayr
Canadian Woman Studies / Les Caheiers de la Femme
Volume 23, Number 2 (2004)
Le corpus littéraire de Suzette Mayr examine les croisements raciaux, la sexualité marginalisée et la formation de l’identité personnelle dans des espaces indéfinis. Ses recueils de poemès et ses nouvelles ont tous remis en question la situation et le classement des populations. L’auteure a exploré et validé les espaces non explorés et non compartimentés qui sont présents dans les réalités traditionelles.
The literary corpus of Suzette Mayr examines racial mixing, marginalized sexuality and the formation of personal identity in undefined spaces. Her collections of poems and novels have questioned the status and the classification of the groups concerned. The author has explored and validated the unexplored spaces and those spaces not compartmentalized that are present in traditional realities.
In the afterword to her Master’s thesis “Chimaera Lips” (1992), the Calgary poet and novelist Suzette Mayr states that
a positive approach to categorization would not rely on having to distinguish oneself through comparison to another group, but would emphasize the whole or merged self, rather than the categorized self. (59)
In this work, Mayr explores “existence between ‘realities.’” She investigates and attempts to undermine the binary constructions surrounding race, sexuality and gender, by writing about, and presumably from within, what she terms “middle spaces;” spaces which exist between the starkly delineated realities commonly associated with various racial, sexual and gender categories (61). Mayr posits an absorption of “realities” by these in-between spaces, leading to an integrated system in which neither reality nor intermediate space dominates. The novels Mayr wrote following “Chimaera Lips,” Moon Honey (1995) and The Widows (1998), and her chapbook of poems, Zebra Talk (1991), all serve to challenge the ways in which people are necessarily located or categorized and to explore, expose, and validate uncharted, uncompartmentalized middle spaces…
Mayr’s chapbook, Zebra Talk, is a collection of poems of a relatively personal nature which describe Mayr’s own perceptions as a lesbian and a Canadian of mixed, Black-Caucasian, race. She explores issues of race and sexuality, identity and family, describing middle and hybrid spaces. Mayr treats her poetic subjects in much the same way as she does the characters in her novels; their appearances, actions and significances are described in unique, creative and at times ambiguous ways which emphasize the difficulty, if not impossibility, of categorizing individuals without that action being destructive and/or reductive.
Zebra Talk contains poems which discuss the idea of being a “zebra,” a person of mixed race. Mayr details the process of coming to terms with racial hybridity and of understand ing how a person of mixed race locates herself within a multiracial family setting and within the larger setting of a multiracial community or nation. Clearly, racial and cultural hybridity create new spaces. People of in-between colors and in-between cultures have to forge in-between identities and locations for themselves. However, what stands in the middle cannot be identified simply in relation to the poles it stands between.
Mayr’s use of the repetitive imagery of skin, invertebrates, volcanic insides, and people made of earth turns ordered family and romantic structures into a tempestuous and vividly multicolored mixture. In the first poem, the speaker describes her family:
The skin on a drum
The skin stretched over a moving rib cage
The skin stretched and bitten by two other heads on this
2 brothers 1 sister 3 heads and 1 body
plus 1 and 1 parents. (2)
The children, each different versions of the same mixture, form a three-headed being, sharing a body. The parents, “1 and 1,” remain separate. The skin to which Mayr refers appears thin but strong, stretched and fitted over skeleton and roiling core: “(Zebra pelt stretched over a hot and bloody centre)” (2). This particular mixture of heat and blood and guts is never given a clear meaning. It could be a reference, as George Elliott Clarke suggests in “Canadian Biraciality and Its ‘Zebra’ Poetics,” to “a volcanic core—a history of violence and death … O the same seething hurt,” an internal upheaval particular to people of mixed race (233). Or, Mayr could be pointing out that everyone, regardless of race, is, at the core, composed of the same unstable material, which cannot be classified or associated in any way with outside appearance…
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