The Mirror of Love. By Alam Moore and José Villarrubia, with introduction by David Drake. Top Shelf Productions, 116 pp., $24.95.
Reviewed by Gayle C. Straun
Most revolutionaries couch their demands for change by hearkening back to an idyllic past, from various Protestant attempts to restore an ostensible apostolic Christianity, to Marxist revolts aiming to recreate the primitive forms of communism hypothesized by anthropologists. Change is always justified by its denial, by assertions that the present regime is the deviation from the norm, while those who would replace it are the true inheritors of tradition. Hearkening back to the past has been a tried and true method employed by the majority of those seeking to change the present.
However, not all populations have had an easily accessed past of their own. LGBTQ activists have long been among these. Sure, there are now innumerable explorations of lesbian themes in the works of Willa Cather and Virginia Woolf, studies of queer spirituality such as Randy P. Conner’s now classic Blossom of Bone, and even academic works that uncover queer history in rather unlikely and unfriendly places (see Brock Thompson’s The Un-Natural State: Arkansas and the Queer South). But just a few generations ago, all such gender-variant history was suppressed, leaving each individual to discover not only that he or she was in good company then, but that the history was replete with men who loved men and women who loved women.
Which fact makes The Mirror of Love such a powerful book. Originally published in 1988 in opposition to Britain’s anti-gay Clause 28, The Mirror of Love consists of a series of prose poems, written by Alan Moore, that explicate the oft-suppressed history of same-sex love throughout time. This ranges from the earliest hominid societies, when the male role in reproduction was unknown and females lived together with their children (“The women licked / and groomed each other / with men watching, / circling, circling round…), to the administration of Margaret Thatcher and the AIDS crisis, with the narrator ending by saying that “if what they say is true, / I’ll be refused a Heaven / crammed with popes, / policemen and fundamentalists, / and burn instead / quite happily, / with Sappho, Michelangelo / and you, my love.” Along the way, we encounter the Ladies of Llangollen, a pair of Irish gentlewomen who lived in “romantic friendship” and entertained notable poets and scientists; and Russian composer Tchaikovsky, whose marriage was but a poor attempt to cover up his homosexuality. (As with the collected edition of From Hell, appendices provide background for each historical reference, as well as recommendations for further reading.) Each poem is accompanied by a breathtaking photograph executed by José Villarrubia, who can bring out the warmth in a crumbling statue of an angel gazing heavenward but lacking hands, or highlight absurdities, as with a page of Leviticus in which the word “blood” is circled with a kiss mark done in brightest lipstick.
The Mirror of Love is a testament both new and old, luring history long suppressed out into the light with promises that it need inhabit the shadows no more. Popes and policemen have been served their warning, for such deeds of memory rarely remain academic for long.