Photographers Unknown, Luncheon Had Made Us Hungry
Luncheon had made us hungry
for one another
After the curry and fried bananas
we added our own heat to
the hot afternoon
simmering in sweat and coconut oil
as our two humidities rose
high higher Bang!
outside the window Bang!Bang!
and the houseboy’s laughing shout
He had been tossing firecrackers
at the roof
to dislodge itinerant pigeons
But at his feet had fallen
a passing oriole
shocked into gape beak ajar
Hurrying from the bedroom
we saw him kneel to the yellow bird
fondle cajole kiss it offer it
back to the day
Still it sat rigid in his hand
Chuckling then you said
Is this a golden trophy of
our shooting match?
At which the oriole blinked
stretched and puffed
spurted into the air
vanished beyond the pawpaw tree
James Broughton, Afternoons in Ceylon I, Word of Mouth: An Anthology of Gay American Poetry, 2000
Born to affluent parents in Modesto, California in November of 1913, James Broughton was a poet and filmmaker. He was a member of the San Francisco Renaissance movement, a 1950s collective of American avant-garde poets which included such poets as Kenneth Rexroth, Madeline Gleason, Robert Duncan and Jack Spicer, among others. Known best for his cinematography, Broughton made poetic experimental films, both in color and black and white, throughout his career.
After the death of his father in the deadly 1918 influenza epidemic, James Broughton spent his early years in San Francisco. He started his formal education at a military school; however, at the age of sixteen after having an affair with a classmate, he was expelled. Broughton pursued a career in writing at Stanford University until 1935, at which time he relocated to New York City and became a theater critic. Through his written work, Broughton met artist Sidney Peterson, who would later establish San Francisco Art Institute’s Workshop 20, the first college program to teach filmmaking as art.
After he moved back to San Francisco, Broughton wrote and produced the play “Summer Fury”, for which the Stanford Dramatists’ Alliance gave him the 1945 Alden Award for Original Screenplay. In 1946, a collaboration between Broughton and Sidney Peterson produced the 16mm film “The Potted Palm”, a depiction of Freudian desires that combined the erotic with the decaying. Broughton later credited his working with Peterson on this film as the influence that led him to experimental filmmaking.
James Broughton’s early 16mm short films, which ran from nine to thirty-eight minutes, covered a wide range of genres, including personal journals, comedy, music, theater, and queer stories. Broughton’s first solo film was the 1948 avant-garde classic “Mother’s Day” which dealt with human pain and lack of emotion. He followed this film’s success with five more films between 1950 and 1953, among which was the 1953 “The Pleasure Garden”, a collaboration with partner Kermit Sheets. Made in England, the film was successful only in Europe where it received several awards including one at the Cannes Film Festival presented byJean Cocteau.
In 1953, Broughton stopped his filmmaking to concentrate more fully on his writing which, through his career, totaled more than twenty published works. His poetry collection “True & False Unicorn”, poems of Broughton’s complex search for his true self, was published in 1955 and later choreographed on stage by Jergen Verbruggen. Broughton’s autobiographical prose poem collection “The Androgyne Journal”. published in 1977, was a strongly personal book about breaking creative boundaries.
James Broughton published two retrospective collections of his poetry: “A Long Undressing: Collected Poems 1949-1969”, published in 1971 by Jargon Society Press, and “Packing Up for Paradise: Selected Poems 1946-1996” published in November of 1997 by Black Sparrow Press. In 1993, Broughton published his memoir, an autobiography entitled “Coming Unbuttoned”, which documented his eighty-year artistic journey in life through the famous and infamous circles of 1930s New York to the avant-garde culture of San Francisco in the 1960s and 70s.
Starting in the late 1960s, James Broughton returned to filmmaking and produced both short and full length films. His first film was the 1968 “The Bed”, which won prizes at many film festivals. Containing a highly energetic musical score by Warner Jepson, it featured ground-breaking full-frontal, yet innocent, nudity of male and female figures gathered around the same bed. Broughton’s later poetic films include such works as the 1972 “Dreamwood”, a story of one man’s journey to a mysterious island: “The Water Circle”, a 1975 poetic homage to sage Lao-tsu on the world’s bodies of water; the 1979 “Hermes Bird”, a celebration of the transformative power of the phallus; and the 1988 “Scattered Remains”, one of six films created with his partner Joel Singer, in which Broughton acts out his verses in unlikely situations.
Broughton’s honors include a Fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and an American Film Institute Award for Independent Film and Video Artists. He was an early poet member of the Radical Faeries, a counterculture movement that redefined queer consciousness through secular spirituality, and a member of The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a protest and street performance group that used drag and religious imagery to call attention to sexual intolerance. Broughton also taught at both San Francisco State University and San Francisco’s Art Institute.
James Broughton had relationships with both men and women. He lived briefly with film critic Pauline Kael, with whom he had a daughter in 1948. At the age of forty-nine, Broughton married Suzanne Hart, with whom he had two children. In 1973, he met Joel Singer, a twenty-five year old student at one of his San Fransisco Art Institute classes, and began both a strong personal relationship and a lengthy film collaboration. In 1989, Broughton and Singer moved to Port Townsend, Washington, where they lived until Broughton’s death, at the age of eighty-five, in May of 1999.
“The quietest poetry can be an explosion of joy. True delicacy is not a fragile thing. The most delicate and yielding of our necessities, water, can be the most powerful destroyer, swallowing everything.
True delicacy is indestructible. Take Shelley, Dickinson, Firbank, Basho. I like things which appear fragile but are tough inside. In the long run the deadly can outmaneuver the brute, the bird is more resourceful than the rhino.” – James Broughton
Note: A remembrance on the life of James Broughton by Martin Goodman as well as an except from Goodman’s interview with Broughton can be found at: http://www.archipelago.org/vol4-1/broughton.htm
Top Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “james Broughton and Joel Singer”, Photo Shoot from “Devotions”, 1983, Gelatin Silver Print
Third Insert Image: Imogen Cunningham, “The Poet and His Alter Ego (James Broughton)”, 1962, Gelatin Silver Print, New Orleans Museum of Art
Bottom Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “james Broughton and Joel Singer in “Devotions”, 1983, Gelatin Silver Print