Melvin Dixon: “We Live Bravely in the Light”

Photographers Unknown, Parva Scaena (Brief Scenes): Photo Set Twenty-Four

They won’t go when I go. (Stevie Wonder)
Live bravely in the hurt of light. (C.H.R.)

The children in the life:
Another telephone call. Another man gone.
How many pages are left in my diary?
Do I have enough pencils? Enough ink?
I count on my fingers and toes the past kisses,
the incubating years, the months ahead.

Thousands. Many thousands.
Many thousands gone.

I have no use for numbers beyond this one,
one man, one face, one torso
curled into mine for the ease of sleep.
We love without mercy,
We live bravely in the light.

Thousands. Many thousands.

Chile, I knew he was funny, one of the children,
a member of the church, a friend of Dorothy’s.

He knew the Websters pretty well, too.
Girlfriend, he was real.
Remember we used to sit up in my house
pouring tea, dropping beads,
dishing this one and that one?

You got any T-cells left?
The singularity of death. The mourning thousands.
It begins with one and grows by one
and one and one and one
until there’s no one left to count.

Melvin Dixon, One by One, Love’s Instruments, 1995, Tia Chuca Press, Chicago

Born in Stanford, Conneticutt in May of 1950, Melvin Dixon was a creative writer, as a novelist, poet, translator and literary critic. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 1971 with a Bachelor of Arts in American Studies, and earned a Master of Arts in 1973 and a Doctor of Philosophy in 1975 from Boston University.

Dixon wrote poems, novels, short stories, essays, critical studies, and translated many works from French. Searching for his literary heritage, he traveled throughout the Caribbean, Africa and Europe, and researched such men as Leopold Senghor, the poet and former president of Senegal; the Haitian novelist and poet Jacques Roumain; and author Richard Nathaniel Wright, whose 1945 book “Black Boy” became an instant success and a work of historical and sociological significance.

Melvin Dixon wrote openly about his homosexuality in both his published and unpublished works. As an active spokesman for gay communities and their issues, he incorporated the complexities of gay lifestyle and identity, as well as his identity as a black man, into his work. Dixon’s first collection of poems, “Change of Territory” published in 1983, examined the involuntary journeys of African slavery and the later historical migration of African Americans from the southern United States to the north. In 1987, he wrote a critical study of African-American literature entitled “Ride Out the Wilderness”.

The influence of James Baldwin’s work upon Dixon’s writings can be seen in his two novels, the 1989 “Trouble the Water”, a novel of family reconciliation which won the Nikon Award for Excellence in Minority Fiction, and the 1991 “Vanishing Rooms”, a novel of homophobia and racism revolving around three people who are each affected by the death of a gay man in New York City. “Vanishing Rooms” was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award for Gay Men’s Fiction. Dixon’s final volume of poetry, entitled “Love’s Instruments” published posthumously in 1995, was a tribute to gay men with AIDS-related illness.

Melvin Dixon translated many works from French to English. Included in these works are his translations of Haitian poet Jacques Roumain’s poetry; Professor of American Literature at the University of Paris, Genevierve Fabre’s history of black theater since 1945, entitled “Drumbeats, Masks, and Metaphor” and  published in 1983; and “The Collected Poetry of Leopold Seder Senghor”, published in 1991. This translation of Senghor’s work contains the majority of his poetic oeuvre, including his “lost” poems.

Dixon was an Assistant Professor at Williams College from 1975 to 1980, and a Professor of English Literature at Queens College of the City University of New York from 1980 until 1992. He also taught at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, Fordham University and Columbia University. Dixon received a number of awards and fellowships including a Fulbright lectureship in Senegal from 1985 to 1986.

Melvin Dixon was in a long-term partnership with Richard Horowitz, an openly gay man who worked from 1983 to 1987 as a program officer of the Ford Foundation in Dakar, West Africa. Upon Horowitz’s return to the United States, he worked with the Ford Foundation to finance projects for AIDS patients internationally. He died at his summer home in Provincetown, Massachusetts, from complications due to AIDS in July of 1991. He was forty-four years in age.

Melvin Dixon had been battling AIDS since an initial diagnosis in 1989. At the age of forty-two, he died from AIDS-related complications in Stanford, Conneticutt, on October 28, 1992, one year after his partner. The Melvin Dixon Papers, which contain primarily of manuscripts, correspondence, notes, and journals, are part of the Archives and Manuscripts department of the New York Public Library. They are housed at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, located at 515 Malcolm X Boulevard, New York City.

Note: “this one” in the second stanza of the poem, “One by One”, refers to Dixon’s lover, Richard Horowitz

Digby Mackworth Dolben: “For Should He Ever Pass. . .”

Photographers Unknown, For Should He Ever Pass

My sister Death! I pray thee come to me
 Of thy sweet charity,
And be my nurse but for a little while;
 I will indeed lie still,
And not detain thee long, when once is spread,
 Beneath the yew, my bed:
I will not ask for lilies or for roses;
 But when the evening closes,
Just take from any brook a single knot
 Of pale Forget-me-not,
And lay them in my hand, until I wake,
 For his dear sake;
(For should he ever pass and by me stand,
 He yet might understand—)
Then heal the passion and the fever
 With one cool kiss, for ever.

Digby Macworth Dolben, Sister Death

Born in Guernsey in February of 1848, Digby Augustus Stewart Mackworth Dolben was an English poet. His father, William Harcourt Isham Mackworth, was the younger son of the Third Baronet, Sir Digby Mackworth, and his mother Frances Dolben was the daughter and heiress of Sir John English Dolben, the Fourth Baronet. Digby Dolben was raised, under a strict and uncompromising Protestant discipline, at Finedon Hall, his mother’s family estate in Northamptonshire, England.

Digby Mackworth Dolben was educated at Cheam School, a mixed preparatory school in Hampshire, and, starting in 1862, at Eaton College, where he studied under Headmaster and poet William Johnson Cory. William Cory’s method of teaching and his collection of verses, “Ionica” were sources of inspiration for Dolben in his own poetic writings. While at Eaton in the early 1860s, Dolben met his distant older cousin, Robert Bridges, who became his mentor and introduced him to his circle of high church friends. During his school years, Dolben seemed abstracted and other-worldly to his college friends; by his activities, he appeared to his headmaster as an agitator who was dangerously misguided.

In 1863, Dolben started to cause considerable scandal at Eaton College with his eccentric and exhibitionist behavior. Defying his strict Protestant upbringing, he became a novice in the English Order of Saint Benedict and began to sign his letters ‘Dominic’. By associating with the new ritualistic, religious revival of that time and wearing a monk’s habit, Dolben would cause scandal by walking, often barefoot, through the streets of the city. He also began to mark his romantic attachment to fellow student Martin Le Merchant Gosselin, a year senior, with written love poems. It was during this period that Dolben destroyed by fire all his previous written poetic work.

In July of 1863, Robert Bridges left Eaton to attend Oxford College. Several weeks later on July 30th, Digby Dolben was dismissed from Eaton after engaging in secret meetings with Jesuit priests. He maintained his communication with Bridges through letters sent to Oxford; however, there is no evidence of any poems being written since the destruction of his earlier work. It was not until the Lenten season of 1864 that Dolben resumed his poetry writing. At the age of sixteen, he wrote his first mature poem “Homo Factus Est” and had six poems published in the Union Review.

On his seventeenth birthday in 1865, Digby Dolben was introduced by his cousin Robert Bridges to Gerald Manley Hopkins, a fellow poet who was attending Oxford’s Balliol College. In accounts to his biographer, Hopkins stated that meeting Dolben, who was four years his junior, was the most emotional event of his undergraduate years, and probably his entire life. After Hopkins was forbidden by his High Anglican confessor to have any contact with Dolben, Hopkins and Dolben maintained their communication through letters; Hopkins wrote, during this time, two poems about his love for Dolben, “Where Art Thou Friend” and “The Beginning of the End’.

In 1865, Dolben’s work began to mature as he turned from writing Christian themed poetry to poems portraying a more Greco or pagan ideal of beauty. By 1866, he had moved to the Welsh village of Boughrood and studied there under tutor Henry de Winton for his Oxford entrance exams. Dolben took his entrance exams on May 2nd of 1867; however, he fainted during the exams and received a failing score. Thirteen days later on June 28th, Digby Mackworth Dolben, at the age of nineteen, drowned in the River Welland.

In 1865, Dolben’s work began to mature as he turned from writing Christian themed poetry to poems portraying a more Greco or pagan ideal of beauty. By 1866, he had moved to the Welsh village of Boughrood and studied there under tutor Henry de Winton for his Oxford entrance exams. Dolben took his entrance exams on May 2nd of 1867; however, he fainted during the exams and received a failing score. Thirteen days later on June 28th, Digby Dolben, at the age of nineteen, drowned in the River Welland.

Digby Dolben had taken Walter, the ten year old son of his tutor, Reverend C. E. Pritchard, on his back across the deep river. Upon the return swim, Dolben sank within several yards of the shoreline. Walter Pritchard, only able to float on his back, made it to shore with the assistance of men who came to the rescue. Dolben’s body was found several hours later when it surfaced further down the river. He was buried under the altar at Finedon Estate on July 6th of 1867.

In 1911, Robert Bridges, who would become poet laureate of England two years later, published the poetry of his cousin Digby Dolben, all of which had been written in the last three years of Dolben’s life. Approached by Gerald Manley Hopkins as to whether the Dolben family would publish Dolben’s work, the independently wealthy Bridges decided he would finance the publishing of both Dolben’s and Hopkins’s collectibe poetry. Published in a single volume entitled “Poems”, Digby Dolben’s work is considered to be among the best poetry of the Oxford Movement.

In 1981, “The Poems and Letters of Digby Mackworth Dolben, 1848-1867”, compiled by Martin Cohen, was published by the Avebury press. In 2017, author Simon Edge published his historical fiction novel “The Hopkins Conundrum”, a story about Gerald Hopkins’s infatuation with Dolben.

Note: A journal article on the life of Digby Mackworth Dolben, written by Liam Brophy, can be found at the JSTOR site located at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/20513622

An online copy of Robert Bridges’s 1911 “Poems of Digby Mackworth Dolben”, published by Oxford University Press, can be found on The Internet Archive located at: https://archive.org/details/poemsofdigbymack00dolb_0/page/n3/mode/2up

Carl Phillips: “How They Woke, Finally, in a Bed of Ferns”

Photographers Unknown, Twelve Men Seated

How they woke, finally, in a bed of ferns — horsetail ferns.
How they died singing. All night, meanwhile, as if somehow
the fox’s mouth that so much of this life has amounted to had
briefly unshut itself — and the moth that’s trapped there,
unharmed, gone free — a snow fell; the snow-filled street
seemed a toppled column, like the one in the mind called
doubt, or that other one,
                                              persuasion, the broken one, in three
clean pieces …Well, it’s morning, now. Out back, the bamboo
bows and stiffens. Thoughts in a wind. Thoughts like (but
nobody saying it): Nobody, I think, knows me better by
now than you do. Or like: The bamboo, bowing, stiffening,
seems like nothing so much as, in this light, competing forms
of betrayal that, given time, must surely cancel each other
out, close your eyes; patience; wait. Maybe less the foliage
than the promise of it. Less that shame exists, maybe, than that
the world keeps saying it does, know it, hold on tight to it, as if
the world were rumor, how every rumor
                                                                           rings true, lately.
When I’m ashamed, I make a point of reminding myself what
is shame but to have shown — to have let it show — that variety
of love that goes hand in hand with having wished to please
and, in pleasing, for a while belong. So shame can, like love, be
an eventual way through? There’s a minor chord sparrows make
with doves that’s not the usual business — it’s not sad at all, any of it:
this always waiting for what I’ve always waited for; this not being
able to assign to what’s missing some shape, a name; this body
neither antlered nor hooved — brave too, this body, unapologetic…

Carl Phillips, Blow It Back

Born in Everett, Washington in 1959, Carl Phillips is an American writer and poet. As a child of a military family, he moved frequently around the United States in his formative years until his family settled in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Phillips earned his Bachelor of Arts from Harvard University and Master of Arts in Teaching from the University of Massachusetts. He continued his education at Boston University, where he earned a Master of Arts in Creative Writing.

Along with other black poets such as John Keene, Natasha Trethewey, and Major Jackson, Carl Phillips was a member of the Dark Room Collective. Founded after the funeral of James Baldwin in 1987, this collective began as an intergenerational reading series which hosted and cultivated the work of black poets of various aesthetic movements. Many of the current leading figures in the poetic movement had their beginnings with the Dark Room Collective.

Beginning as a teenager, Phillips wrote poetry until his entry into Harvard University on a scholarship, where he began to study Latin and Greek. It was not until 1990, while coming to terms with his gay identity, that he resumed his poetic writing. A classicist by training, Phillips often uses classical forms in his work and often references classical art, music, and literature. He received critical acclaim early in his career with the publication of his debut collection, “In the Blood”, which won the Samuel Morse Poetry Prize in 1992.

Carl Phillips’s second collection, “Cortège”, was nominated in 1995 for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Six years later, his collections, “Pastoral” in 2000 and “The Tether” in 2001, were both well received, with “Pastoral” winning the 2001 Lambda Literary Award for Best Poetry. Two of Phillips’s works, the 2009 “Speak Low” and the 2011 “Double Shadow”, winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Poetry, were finalists for the National Book Award.

In addition to over a dozen volumes of poetry, Carl Phillips has published works of criticism and translation. Two collections of essays, “Coin of the Realm: Essays on Life and the Art of Poetry” and “The Art of Daring: Risk, Restlessness, Imagination”, were published by Graywolf Press in 2004 and 2014, respectively. Phillips’s translation of Sophocles’s “Philoctetes” was published in 2003 by the Oxford University Press.

Before teaching English at the university level, Phillips taught Latin at several high schools in Massachusetts. He is currently a Professor of English at Saint Louis’s Washington University, where he also teaches Creative Writing. Phillips was elected a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2006 and, since 2011, has served as a judge for the Yale Series of Younger Poets.

Carl Phillips’s honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Library of Congress. He is the recipient of the Academy of American Poets Fellowship, an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Academy of American Poets Prize, and a Pushcart Prize, and he has been inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

John Giorno

 

Photographers Unknown, Thirteen Men Who Traveled Here

An unemployed
machinist
An unemployed machinist
who travelled
here
who travelled here
from Georgia
from Georgia 10 days ago
10 days ago
and could not find
a job
and could not find a job
walked
into a police station
walking into a police station
yesterday and said
yesterday
and said:

“I’m tired
of being scared
I’m tired of being scared.”

—John Giorno, An Unemployed Machinist, Balling Buddha, 1970

Born in New York City in December of 1936, John Giorno was a poet and performance artist. Raised in both Brooklyn and Roslyn Heights, Long Island, he graduated from New York’s Columbia University in 1958. In his early life, Giorno was a muse to and entered into romantic relationships with other artists, among them Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol, whom he met in 1963 during Warhol’s first solo exhibition at the Stable Gallery in New York City. Giorno starred in Warhol’s 1963 four-minute film entitled “John Washing” and also appeared in Warhol’s eight-hour 1964 silent film, “Sleep”, the plot of which entailed Giorno sleeping on camera.

Inspired by his associations with Rauschenberg, Warhol, and Jasper Johns, Giorno began to appropriate found textual imagery to his poetry. An example of this can be found in the1964 poem “The American Book of the Dead”. Portions of this poem were used in works contained in Giorno’s first full collection “Poems”, published in 1967. Later meetings with sound poet and performance artist Brion Gysin and writer William S. Burroughs led to Giorno applying cut-up and montage techniques to found texts, and, influenced by the work of Gysin, the recording of his first audio poem pieces.

Established as an active presence in New York’s art scene, John Giorno collaborated with Brion Gysin on “Subway Sound” in 1965, and with Robert Rauschenberg in 1966 on “Nine Evenings of Theater and Engineering”. From 1967 to 1969, John Giorno presented his “Electronic Sensory Poetry Environments”, a series produced in collaboration with synthesizer creator Robert Moog and other artists. These psychedelic happenings and poetry installations were shown at St. Marks Church in Manhattan. In 1965, Giorno founded Giorno Poetry Systems, a non-profit production company that connected new audiences to poetry by the use of new technologies, engaged in political organizing, and created new artworks.

Giorno organized the first Dial-A-Poem event in 1968 at the non-profit Architectural League of New York. This poetic event was repeated at the Museum of Modern Art from 1969 to 1970, and resulted in a series of long-playing records issued by Giorno Poetry Systems. Poets who participated in these events included Patti Smith, William Burroughs, Eldridge Cleaver, and Bobby Seale. John Giorno was unapologetic in his use of politically-charged and sexually salacious content; he used his work to draw attention to his own status as a gay man, police violence in America, and the countless deaths caused by the war in Vietnam.

In the late 1960s, John Giorno’s work evolved to include the appropriation of entire texts from newspapers, the development of double-column poems, montages of diverse and often radically different texts, and the extensive use of repetition both across and down the page.This use of repetitive words and phrases reproduced textually the echos and distortions which occurred in Giorno’s vocal performances. Several of these poems were included in his 1970 “Balling Buddha”.

After traveling to India in 1971 and meeting His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche, Giorno became one of the early Western students of Tibetan Buddhism, a practice in which he participated for several decades. His early poetic works occasionally reflect Asian religious themes; but those after the 1970 collection, “Cancer in My Left Ball”, are a mixture of Buddhist and Western practices and poetic techniques seen through Giorno’s original interpretation. For instance in his 1970-72 poem “Guru Rinpoche”, Giorno mixed pop imagery with sacred sutras and portrayed gay eroticism as a form of spiritual devotion.

In 1972, John Giorno began releasing compilation records under the newly incorporated Giorno Poetry Systems media label. Presented through cassettes, long-playing records and compact discs, these audio works included new wave and punk music, and an assortment of vocal artists, musicians, and poets. Giorno Poetry Systems expanded in 1984 with the establishment of the AIDS Treatment Project, an emergency response to the impacts of the epidemic on artists’ lives. This project provided funds for artists living with AIDS through the early 2000s, when it was officially transformed into the Poets and Artists Fund.

Retired from performing in 2017, Giorno spent the last two years of his life in meditation, composing his poetry, and editing his memoir “Great Demon Kings”. John Giorno died of a heart attack at age eighty-two in October of 2019 at his home in Lower Manhattan. At the time of his death, he was married to Swiss-born Ugo Rondinone, a mixed-media artist known for his paintings and large-scale land-art sculptures.

Notes:
The john Giorno Foundation can be found at: https://www.giornofoundation.org/the-foundation
There are two interesting reads for those interested in John Giorno and his work. The first is an interview between journalist and essayist Marcus Boon and John Giorno, which is presented by Bomb Magazine, It can be found at: https://bombmagazine.org/articles/john-giorno-1/

The second is an article, written in 1994, by journalist and author Robert Coe and entitled “Becoming Buddha: John Giorno”. This more extensive biographical piece can be found at The Buddhist Review, Tricycle, located at: https://tricycle.org/magazine/becoming-buddha/

Küçük İskender: “You Should Have a Macedonian Name: Nicola”

Photographers Unknown, Parva Scaena (Brief Scenes): Photo Set Twenty-Four

you decerebrate the rose, don’t do this
verses, cannot find the poems they deserted
you become a humiliated evening
your hair wet to your waist
your eyes
turned away and fixed on a couple of cracked glasses
left on a claret, velvet coverlet
almost exploded. Soon to blow
before the storm
closely shielding your face, poor and lonely child
storyless, bashful and amicable
you should have a macedonian name: nicola
I sat on your balcony, drank Choπcko beer,
over the way were
grand men wounded by the earth
grand women are sleeping
grand women wounded on account of grand men
turned into tramps by grand men
a pen knife, holds its blade inside like a secret
the pen knife I put on the table on leaving
a perfect portrayal
if it were nicola what would appear
somehow, not far away
was a beautiful graveyard where songs are laid

Küçük İskender, Nicola, Ascaracus Journal of Gay Poetry, February 2016, Translation by Caroline Stockford

Born Derman İskender Över in Istanbul in May of 1964, Küçük İskender was a Turkish critic, actor, and one of Turkey’s few openly gay poets. He studied at Istanbul University’s Cerrahpaşa Faculty of Medicine, where he left in his last year. İskender later studied for three years at the university’s Department of Sociology. After leaving, he pursued his passions: cinema, theater and poetry.

Starting from the 1980s, İskender published poems, essays, and criticisms in various literary magazines, including the National Young Art Magazine where they appeared under the name Alexander Över. His first poem, “Milliyet Genç Sanat (National Young Art)”, was published under the name İskender Över. His poetry began to be published professionally in 1985 when Adam Sanat Magazine accepted his work.

Küçük İskender was one of the top ten poets in Italy’s 2000 European Young Poets Competition, and in the same year, was awarded at the annual poetry, film, and photography competition held in honor of Turkish poet Orhon Murat Ariburnu. Between 2001 and 2002, he was a speaker at poetry performances in Germany and the Netherlands, and at Berlin’s 2003 First Gay Turkish Congress. In 2004,  İskender lectured and read poetry at universities in New York and North Carolina; he also joined panels and workshops at various educational facilities in Turkey.

Reminiscent of the poems of García Lorca and Arthur Rimbaud in their urgency, İskender’s work is close to the clarity of expression found in the works of Spanish poet Luis Cernuda. His poems contain many sensual affirmations of gay life, but they also contain political and cultural commentaries. Many of his poems, written outside the traditional style of Turkish poetry, were polemic and abrasive in their language and spoke of injustice, the arrogance of those who plunder others, and intolerance in regard to sexual identity.

In additional to his poems and poetry collections, İskender wrote three novels: the 1998 “Flu’es”, “Cehenneme Gitmo Yöntemleri (Gitmo: Methods in Hell)” published in 1999, and the 2000 “Zatülcenp”. He also acted in two of director Mustafa Altioklar’s movies, the 1997 “Agir Roman” and the 2002 “O Simdi Asker”. 

Küçük İskender was diagnosed with cancer in June of 2018. His last year was spent in the intensive care unit of the state hospital in Istanbul. He died on July 2nd in 2019 and is buried in Zincirlikuyu Cemetery in Istanbul.

Christoper Soden: “Dionysus”

Photographers Unknown, Dionysus

i am wielder of chaos
bearer of cozy poison
hidden son of jupiter
gestated from his thigh
supple strapping boy
follow the crooked
steps of spontaneous
capering i will soothe
your terrified gaze
summon frantic defiant
nymphs to slake
your thumping skull
with tender anarchy
my fierce priestesses
in robes of moonlight
diaphanous cobweb
will sing lilting implacable
spells to wreck
planets in their courses
wine and feral milk spouting
from tap of hyssop branch
i will swaddle you
in mother night caress
you with snake tongue
drizzle silky
secret language
of the rapacious
in your ear nudge
succulent fissure
yearning for arc
of scalding bliss
sap of brief
delectable death

Christopher Soden, Dionysus

Born in Texas, Christopher Soden is a poet, playwright, and a critic of film, literature and theater. He attended the Vermont College of Fine Arts where he received in January of 2005 his Masters of Fine Art in Poetry. Soden has taught classes on the craft and theory of poetry, English literature, and the process of publication; he currently teaches literature in the Continuing Education Program at the Dallas College Richland Campus.

Soden’s first full-length poetry collection, “Closer” was published by Rebel Satori Press in June of 2011. While realizing that one can get only so close to another being, the works in this collection, written mostly in free verse, display the persistent sense of longing that one has for another. Soden’s collection of confessional narratives present an honest look at same-gender sexuality, maleness, loss and regret, and the complexity of the human condition.

Christopher Soden’s “Queer Anarchy”, a collection of short plays, monologues and performance pieces, dealt with gay and lesbian life in America; it received the Best Stage Performance award from The Dallas Voice, the first newspaper to represent Dallas’ LBGTQ community. Two of his plays, “Water” and “A Christmas Wish” were staged at Dallas’ Bishop Arts Theater Center. Other plays written by Soden include “All That Glitters Ain’t Goldie”, “Lizards Need Love Too”, and “Space Cowboy, Aunt Velma and the Macaroon”.

Soden received a Full Fellowship to Lambda Literary’s Retreat for Emerging LBGT Voices. He is a member of the Distinguished Poets of Dallas, the Poetry Society of America’s Poetry in Motion Series, and is a Founding Member and President Emeritus of the Dallas Poets Community. Soden’s poetry has appeared in many print and online magazines, including G&L Review and Chelsea Station; he currently writes for the Dallas Art Beat, the Examiner.com, and the online theater review, sharpcritic.com.

“I remember the first time I heard Sylvia Plath’s ‘Lady Lazarus’ in a writer’s workshop I was taking. Our teacher, Jack, read it aloud, and I was unacquainted with Plath and her poetry. Didn’t even know she was dead. As anyone who knows the poem can tell you, it gathers steam and just continues to escalate by way of rage and audacity. Plath just keeps pushing and pushing until you think she couldn’t possibly go any further, and yet she does. By the time Jack finished with those three lines, ‘Herr God, Herr Lucifer, Beware. Beware. / Out of the ash I rise with my red hair, / and I eat men, like air,’ I could feel deep shudders traveling up my back. My scalp was ablaze. Until that moment I didn’t even know such poetry was possible. That was when I knew I wanted to be a poet.”

– Christopher Soden

Sjohnna McCray: “We’re Mostly Made of Water”

Photographers Unknown, We’re Mostly Made of Water

Driving the highway from Atlanta to Phoenix
means swapping one type of heat for another.
A bead of sweat rolls over my chest,
around my belly and evaporates
so quickly I forget I’m sweating.
Body chemistry changes like the color
of my skin: from yellow to sienna.
My sisiter says, it’s a dry heat.
At dusk, lightning storms over the mesas.
Violets and grays lie down together.
Mountains are the color of father’s hands,
layers of dark–then light.
People move west to die, retire in a life
of dust, trade the pollen of the south
for a thin coat of grit, the Arizona desert–
promesas, promesas.
We stop on the outskirts of town
and think about being reborn.
When he places his mouth near my mouth
because he’s so obviously thirsty,
when he moves to the well
where my tongue spouts out
because we’re mostly made of water
two-thirds of me is certain:
este infierno vale la pena.

Sjohnna McCray, I Do, 1972

Born on March 7, 1972 in Cincinnati, Ohio, Sjohnna McCray is an American author and poet. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Ohio University and his Master of Fine Art from the University of Virginia, where he was a recipient of the Henry Hoyns Fellowship. McCray also received his Master of Arts in English Education from the Teachers College at Columbia University.

Growing up in the diverse working-class neighborhoods of Cincinnati, McCray was raised by his mother and his father, a Vietnam War veteran. Influences on his work include contemporary poets James Wright and Sharon Olds; Lucille Clifton, a finalist twice for the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; Robert Hass, Poet Laureate from 1995 to 1997; and Robert Hayden, the first African-American to serve as Consultant to Poetry to the Library of Congress, a post now known as Poet Laureate.

Sjohnna McCray’s poetry collection “Rapture”, a chronological poetic narrative published in 2016 by Graywolf Press, was selected by Poet Laureate of the United States, Tracy K. Smith, as the winner of the 2015 Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets. The poems in the latter half of the collection portray some of the intimate and middle-age aspects of gay life. McCray has also be honored with the Intro Journal Award from the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, Ohio University’s Emerson Poetry Prize, and a Pushcart Prize nomination.

McCray’s poetry is interwoven with family memories, history, and the issues of race and desire. In addition to his poetry, he has published essays on race, mental illness, and homosexuality in numerous journals. His poems and essays have appeared in Tin House Online, The Southern Review, The Tahoma Literary Review, StorySouth, The Columbia Daily Tribune, and Harpur Palate.

Sjohnna McCray has taught in Chicago, Phoenix, and New York City. He and his partner currently live in Savannah, Georgia, where he teaches in the English department of the Savannah State University.

“My partner and I have been together for seventeen years and in retrospect, before gay marriage was legal, our commitment was sealed when we decided to mover across the country- to the desert. The poem (“I Do”) attempts to address how external shifts in landscape can transform and reflect on what’s going on internally.”- Sjohnna McCray, 2021

Francisco Brines: “The Cause of Love”

Photographers Unknown, The Cause of Love

When they have asked me the cause of my love
I have never answered: You already know its great bearuty.
(And there are still more beautiful faces.)
Nor have I described the certain qualities of his spirit
that he always showed me in his customs,
or in readiness for silence or smile
as required by my secret.
They were things of the soul, and I said nothing about her.
(And I should still add that I have met higher souls.)
The fruit of my love now I know:
man’s imperfections overcome his presence,
it is atrocious to think
that bodies do not correspond to souls in us,
and so the grace of the spirit blinds bodies,
its clarity, the aching flower of experience,
goodness itself.
important events that we never discovered,
or we find out late.
The bodies lie, other times, an airy heat,
moved light, honda freshness;
and the damage reveals its dry falsehood to us.
Know the truth of my love now:
matter and breath joined in his life
like the light that falls on the mirror
(it was a small light, a tiny mirror);
It was a perfect random creation.
A being in order grew next to me,
and my disorder was serene.
I loved its limited perfection.

–Francisco Brines, Cause of Love

Born in Oliva, Valencia, in January of 1932, Francisco Brines Bañó was a Spanish poet and essayist. He was a prominent member of the Generation of “50, a Spanish literary movement whose new literary language incorporated metaphysical and philosophical techniques to undermine the strict censorship of the Franco government.

After studying at the Jesuits of Valencia, Francisco Brines attended the University of Madrid, where he studied Philosophy and Letters, and also the Universities of Valencia, Deusto and Salamanca, where he earned a degree in Law. He became a reader of Spanish literature at the University of Cambridge and a Professor of Spanish at the University of Oxford.

Described as a metaphysical poet, Brines was highly influenced by the work of Luis Cernuda, an openly gay poet of the Generation of ’27; inspired by these works, many of Brines’s poems also convey the theme of homosexual love. His poetry is characterized by the intimate tone of his verses, the constant reflection on the passage of time and decay of the living, and observations on the condition of a human being subjected to his own limitations. Memory also plays a fundamental role in Brines’s writing; although, his poems reveal the belief that neither poetry nor memory can endure the passage of time or save the moments of the past.

Francisco Brines’s first collection of poems, entitled “Las Brasas (Embers)”, was published in 1959 and won the 1960 Adonais Poetry Prize. In 1966, Francisco Brines published “Words in the Dark”, which earned him the National Critics Award in 1967. In the same year, he also won the Valencian Literature Award. “The Autumn of Roses’, a collection of sixty poems written over a ten year period, was published in 1986 and won the National Prize for Literature. This book, in which elegies of lamentation and exaltation merge, was his most critically acclaimed work.

Entering the world of theater, Brines revised and adapted playwright Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s 1636 drama“El Alcalde de Zalamea (The Mayor of Zalamea)”. Directed by José Luis Alonso, the play was performed by the Classical Theater Company in 1988. Told in three acts, it explored the power of a self-made man against political authority in seventeenth-century Spain,

Brines was recognized for his work by the Royal Spanish Academy in 1998 with the Fastenrath Prize and, later, received the 1999 National Prize for Spanish Letters for his poetic oeuvre. Elected a member of the Royal Spanish Academy of the Language in April of 2000, Brines gave his institutional speech on the poetry of Luis Cernuda, one of the poets who influenced his work. In 2020, he won the Premio Cervantes, the most important literary award of the Spanish language world.

Francisco Brines Bañó was taken to Gandía Hospital shortly after King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia presented him with the 2020 Cervantes Prize at his family estate in Oliva, Valencia, as he was unable to attend the official ceremony due to his delicate state of health. He died on the 20th of May in 2021, at the age of eighty-one, at Gandía Hospital, after a hernia operation.

Note: An interesting article on the homoeroticism of Francisco Brines’s poetry, long regarded as an open secret but rarely acknowledged in critical studies, entitled “Francisco Brines and the Humanist Closet” by Jonathan Mathew of the University of Kansas, can be found at: https://kuscholarworks.ku.edu/bitstream/handle/1808/7478/Mayhew_Francisco%20Brines.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Virgilio Pinera: “The Waves of Music We Made”

Photographers Unknown, The Waves of Music We Made

Can it be they are going to kill?
Will they pierce the heart with a huge knife?
And with the sharpest scalpel empty the eyes?
And with the steeliest chisel break the skull?
And with the most hammer of hammers crush the bones?

Can it be that on the exotic table
–table of sex, table of love–
my love, you and I,
being startled one night
your heart spoke
when you were under my blood?
Can it be the same as it was
when it was an oath, and even more so,
your work, your word bled,
soaked by the soft perfume of kisses,
so as not to deny, to be one indivisible?
And can it be so blindly believed,
so blindly, that all the suns go dark forever
while the soul travels in darkness?
Can it be there never was a soul despite the waves of music
we made?
Soul that never was though you might be for an instant?

Renenber that instant when you were a soul and adored
me,
and then your own monster came suddenly
to take you to the place where being you were?

Can it be that after you are no longer,
when not being is merely a mound of dried out kisses,
you wil be by not being, instead of being love?

Virgilio Pinera, Poem to be Said in the Midst of a Great Silence, The Weight of the Island, 1967

Born in Cárdenas, Matanzas, Cuba in 1912, Virgilio Piñera was an author, playwright, poet, and essayist known for his avant-garde work, caustic wit, acid tongue, and bohemian lifestyle. He lived under the dual repression of the Catholic church and reactionary government leaders such as Argentina’s Juan Perón and Cuba’s Fulgencio Batista. Piñera’s homosexuality and non-conformism led to his marginalization during a well-documented period of Cuban history when homophobia and petty bureaucracy stifled creative freedom

An avid reader from an early age, which included works by Marcel Proust and Herman Melville, Piñera drew his inspiration from different genres, a foundation which became fundamental to his distinctive work with its combination of Cuban vernacular and more refined language.At the age of thirteen, Piñera’s family moved to Camagüey, a municipality located in central Cuba, where he earned his high school diploma. After settling in Havana in 1938,  he received his Doctoral Degree in philosophy from the University of Havana in 1949. 

Piñera published in his poems in Havana’s literary magazine “Espuela de Plata” and, in 1941. wrote his first poetry collection, “Las Furias (The Furies)” and  his most famous play “Electra Garrigó”, which featured the choral structure of a Greek tragedy alongside distinctive Cuban elements. Staged both before and after the revolution of Castro and Guevara, this play later became a powerful symbol of the Revolution and was consciously performed before foreign and  notable public figures as  being emblematic of the transformed nation.

Following his founding of the magazine “Poeta” in 1942, Piñera wrote his collection of poems entitled “La Isla en Peso (The Weight of the Island)”. Drawing upon episodes in his personal life as well as the social interactions occurring inside Cuba, he explored the nebulous regions between sadness and beauty, and disillusion and reality. Published posthumously after Piñera’ death in 1979, “The Weight of the Island” was initially scorned by some poets and critics; however, the collection is now regarded as one of the classics of Cuban literature.

In 1944, Virgilio Piñera, along with writer José Lezama Lima and editor and critic José Rodríguez Feo, founded the prestigious literary and arts review “Origenes”, which provided a focal point for promising poets and critics in Cuba during the 1940s and 1950s. The journal published short stories, poetry, and critical essays on art, literature, music and philosophy. Among Piñera’s contributions were several poems, an essay on Argentinian literature, and an 1945 essay entitled “El Secreto de Kafka”, a work in which Piñera developed his theory on the creation of images into a literary surprise. 

Piñera lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for a twelve year period from 1946 to 1958; it was  during this stay that he developed his voice as a writer. He worked as a translator and proofreader at the Cuban Embassy and became friends with writers Jorge Luis Borges and essayist José Bianco, who would write the forward to Piñera’s collection of short stories “El que Vina a Salvarme (The One Who Came to Save Me)”. Along with other writers, Piñera worked on the translation of Polish author Witold Gombrowicz’s 1937 controversial novel “Ferdydurke” into Spanish. 

Virgilio Piñera wrote two plays in Buenos Aires,  “Jesús” and “Falsa Alarma”, a fast paced, absurdist play of humor and anguish, to which he lengthened with dialogue for a later 1957 staging. His first novel, entitled “La Carne de René (René’s Flesh)”, was published in 1952 and told the dark story of a twenty-year old protagonist forced into a merciless life. After the closure of his literary review “Origenes” and the founding of his final magazine “Ciclón (Cyclone)”, Piñera left Argentina in 1958 to settle permanently in Cuba, where he arrived shortly before the Revolution. His work appeared in the newspaper “Revolución” and other numerous journals. In 1962, with the Cuban revolution in full motion, Piñera’s  most autobiographical play, “Airo Frio (Cold Air)”, a very personal celebratory work supporting the ouster of dictator Batista’s police and army, opened in Havana. 

Shortly after the opening of “Airo Frio”, Fidel Castro’s government made the decision that there was no room for any views other than those completely sympathetic to the Revolution. Intellectuals and other luminaries, as well as the religious and those youths not conforming to the revolution, were to face persecution. Virgilio Piñera, although never public about his homosexuality, was arrested under the revolutionary government’s clampdown on the prostitutes, pimps and homosexuals. By 1971, he was ostracized by the Cuban government and the literary establishment. As his career declined into obscurity. Piñera continued to write at n increased rate; however, his plays were no longer performed. 

In 1968, Piñera received Latin America’s most prestigious literary prize, the Premio Casa de las Américas, for his play “Dos Viejos Pánicos (Two Old Panics)”. Despite the award and acclaim, the play would not have its first performance in Cuba until the 1990s.  Leaving behind more than twenty plays, three novels, volumes of short stories and a vast number of poems, Virgilio Piñera, who lived the last years of his life in poverty, died of a cardiac arrest on the 18th of August in 1979, without any official recognition of his death. He is buried in his native town of Cárdenas.

As a way to redress some of the wrongs committed against Piñera in the past, Cuba declared the year 2012 as “El Añ0 Virgiliano”. In the month of June, a group of thirty researchers from countries, such as the United Kingdom, Mexico, Spain and the United States, came together in Havana to discuss the life, work and legacy of Virgilio Pañera, one of Latin America’s prominent writers. His two best known plays, “Airo Frio” and “Dos Viejos Pánicos”, were performed and a new ballet by choreographer Iván Tenorio, entitled “Virgiliando”, had its premiere. 

Note: The University of Miami Libraries contains the digital Cuban Heritage Collection which includes material on Virgilio Piñera. Included in the material are correspondence exchanged between Piñera and Adolfo de Obieta during the 1940s and 1950s, as well as a typescript of Piñera’s play “Una Caja de Zapatos Vacía” that he sent to his friend Luis F. González-Cruz, who published it in Miami in 1986. This material can be found at: https://merrick.library.miami.edu/cdm/search?collection=chc5278

Jorge Eduardo Eielson: “Half of My Body Smiles”

Photographers Unknown, Half of My Body Smiles

Si la mitad de mi cuerpo sonríe
La otra mitad se llena de tristeza
Y misteriosas escamas de pescado
Suceden a mis cabellos. Sonrío y lloro
Sin saber si son mis brazos
O mis piernas las que lloran o sonríen
Sin saber si es mi cabeza
Mi corazón o mi glande
El que decide mi sonrisa
O mi tristeza. Azul como los peces
Me muevo en aguas turbias o brillantes
Sin preguntarme por qué
Simplemente sollozo
Mientras sonrío y sonrío
Mientras sollozo

If a half of my body smiles,
The other one is steeped in sadness,
And strands of my hair
Turn into mysterious fish scales as they grow.
I smile and I cry
Oblivious as to whether it is my arms
Or my legs that smile or cry,
Oblivious as to whether it is my head,
My heart or my glans
Deciding on my smile
Or sadness. Blue like the fish,
I swim through waters troubled or shimmering,
Never wondering why
I just sob
As I smile and I smile
As I sob.

–Jorge Eduardo Eielson, Cuerpo Dividido (Body Divided)

Born in April of 1924 in Lima, Jorge Eduardo Eielson was a Peruvian artist, poet, and novelist. The son of a Peruvian mother and a Swedish-American father, he showed an early interest in the arts, where he developed skills in playing the piano and drawing. At the end of his secondary studies, Eielson met writer and anthropologist José Maria Arguedas, who introduced him to the ancient civilizations of Peru and Lima’s literary and artistic circles. 

In 1941, Eielson enrolled at the National University of San Marcos, Lima’s public research university. Three years later, at the age of twenty-one, his collection of poems “Reinos (Kingdoms)” earned him the National Poetry Award and influenced a new generation of modern Peruvian poets. In 1948, Eielson received Peru’s National Drama Award and held a successful exhibition of his visual artwork at the prestigious Lima Gallery. 

After receiving a film study scholarship from the French government, Jorge Eielson traveled in 1948 to Paris, where he exhibited at the Colette Allendy, a gallery linked to the avant-garde of the post-war period. After a stay in Switzerland, he traveled, in 1951, to Italy where he settled in Rome and met his life partner, the Sardinian avant-garde painter Michele Mulas. They lived together in various cities in Italy and traveled to Paris, New York and Peru. 

In the late 1950s, Eielson abandoned the extreme avant-garde and began to texturize his canvases, by using organic materials such as clay sand, and earth to sculpt the canvas surface. Initially using these materials on his landscapes, Eielson moved towards figurative works using textiles of various kinds. In 1963, he began producing his first quipu, an ancient Inca device of knotted colored threads for recording information, which he modernized  by using brilliant colored fabrics, knotted and tied on canvas. These works were exhibited by Eielson in the 1964 Biennale in Venice and received wide acclaim and led to exhibitions at New York’s MOMA and Nelson Rockefeller Collection, as well as the Salon De Mai in Paris. 

Living in Rome, Jorge Eielson wrote his collection of poems, “Habitación en Roma” and his two novels: the 1971 “El Cuerpo de Giulia-No (The Body of Julia-n)” and “Primera Muerte de Maria (Maria’s First Death)”, published in 1988, which contain Eielson’s recurring themes of love, eroticism, religion, the sea, and the city of Lima. In the middle of the 1970s, Eielson returned to Peru where he devoted himself to the study of pre-Columbian art. At this time, Peru’s  National Institute of Culture published most of Eielson’s collective poetry under the title of Poesia Escrita (Written Poetry). 

In 1978, Eielson received a Guggenheim Fellowship for a lecture in New York City. At the end of the decade, he and Michele Mulas moved to Milan, Italy, where Eielson would spend the rest of his life writing and producing his art, which continued to be exhibited around the world. Eielson returned to Peru in 1990 to participate, along with  Peruvian-born visual artist Jorge Piqueras, in the last Trujillo Biennial which also included artists from neighboring countries. In 2002, he gave his last public interview through a streaming video organized by Fundación Telefónica. 

Following the death of Michele Mulas of leukemia in 2002, Jorge Eielson’s own health significantly deteriorated. He died in Milan on March 8th of 2006; his ashes were laid to rest beside his partner’s ashes in a small cemetery in Bari Sardo, a municipality in the Italian region Sardinia. Eielson’s work is in the collections of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Museo de Arte de Lima, the Rockefeller Collection in New York, and the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas, among others.

Paul Monette: “Everything Extraneous Has Burned Away”

Photographers Unknown, Everything Extraneous Has Burned Away

everything extraneous has burned away
this is how burning feels in the fall
of the final year not like leaves in a blue
October but as if the skies were a paper lantern
full of trapped moths beating their fired wings
and yet I can lie on this hill just above you
a foot beside where I will lie myself
soon soon and for all the wrack and blubber
feel still how we were warriors when the
merest morning sun in the garden was a
kingdom after Room 1010 war in not all
death it turns out war is what little
thing you hold onto refugees and far from home
oh sweetie will you please forgive me this
that every time I opened a box of anything
Glad Bags One-A-Days KINGSIZE was
the worst I’d think will you still be here
when the bus is empty Rog Rog who will
play boy with me now that I bucket with tears
through it all when I’d cling beside you sobbing
you’d shrug it off with the quietest I’m still
here
I have your watch in the top drawer
which I don’t dare wear yet help me please
the boxes grocery home day after day
the junk that keeps men spotless but it doesn’t
matter now how long they last or I
the day has taken you with it and all
there is now is burning dark the only green
is up by the grave and this little thing
of telling the hill I’m here oh I’m here

Paul Monette, Here, Love Alone: Eighteen Elegies for Rog 

Born in October of 1945 in Lawrence, Massachusetts, Paul Monette was n poet, author, and gay rights activist, best known for his essays about gay relationships. He graduated from the Phillips Academy, a university-preparatory school, in 1963 and earned his Bachelor of Arts at Yale University in 1967.  

Monette’s formative years in the rigid social boundaries and strict religious atmosphere of his middle-class upbringing prompted him to not disclose his gay orientation. Questioning his sexual identity, he moved to Boston, where he taught writing and literature at Milton Academy and Pine Manor College. In 1974 in Boston, Monette met his longtime partner, lawyer Roger Horwitz, a graduate of Harvard Law School, with a Ph.D in comparative literature from Harvard University.

In November of 1977, Paul Monette and Roger Horwitz moved to Los Angeles, where they became strongly associated with the gay rights movement in the city. Monette wrote and published several novels during this period; his first novel, “Taking Care of Mrs Carroll”, featuring two male lovers and a legendary movie goddess, was published in 1978. In the period from 1977 to 1982, he wrote several more works of poetry, fiction and memoirs, including the 1979 “The Gold Diggers” and the 1981 murder mystery “The Long Shot”.

Monette’s more serious work began with the onslaught of the AIDS crisis, when his work focused on its occurring loss and heartbreak. In 1985, his partner, Roger Horwitz, was diagnosed with the AIDS virus and, after a long nineteen month fight against the virus, passed away in October of 1986. After Horwitz’s death, Monette continued his writing and remained active with many public speaking appearances.

In 1988, Paul Monette published his “Love Alone: Eighteen Elegies for Rog”, a collection of poems in remembrance of Horwitz. Using different fonts and no punctuation, the lines are interpreted by the reader’s determination when to begin and end a sentence. Through the poetry Monette described the events that occurred during Roger’s decline in health and his own transition through the various  emotions he experienced, which included denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance. His description of his loss is particularly evident in the poem “The Very Same”, written on the day of Horwitz’a funeral.

Monette published his “Afterlife” in 1990 and “Halfway Home” in 1991, both which were centered around people with AIDS and their families’ experiences. His most acclaimed book, the 1988 “Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir”, chronicles his partner Roger Horwitz’s long fight, and eventual death, from the AIDS virus. Describing the devastating loneliness felt by AIDS patients and their loved ones, the memoir received both the PEN Center West and Lambda literary awards. Monette’s 1992 memoir “Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story”, an autobiography of his early closeted life, culminating with his meeting Roger, was written as a classical coming of age story and won the National Book Award in 1992. 

Monette’s life story, including the final years before his own death from AIDS in February of 1995, is documented in Monte Bramer and Lesli Klainberg’s 1996 film “Paul Monette” The Brink of Summer’s End”. Premiered at the 1996 Los Angeles Outfest, the film went on to win four awards for best documentary, including the GLAAD Media Award and the Sun Dance Film Festival. 

Paul Monette died in Los Angeles where he lived with his partner of five years, author and psychotherapist Winston Wilde. He is buried alongside Roger Horwitz at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills Los Angeles. Shortly before his death, Paul Monette established the Monette-Horwitz Trust to support future LBGT activism and scholarship.Trust Awards are given annually to individuals and organizations for their contribution to eradicating homophobia through literary, scholarly, archival, or activist work. 

Albert Russo: “Dramatis Personae”

Photographers Unknown, The Parts and Pieces Making a Whole: Set Twelve

They call me Gianni
They call me Jim
But also Dominic
In both genders
In every guise

Whether it be Gianni, Jim or Dominic
In the present tense as in the past
First or third person
We’re talking of the same person
With the difference that each one
Speaks in another tongue
Confounding strangers
Claims the spiteful gossip

At time Gianni and Jim will be one and the same
At times they will oppose each other
Sometimes they might act as total strangers
And so it goes for both Dominics

The distance between them may be paper thin
Or else wide as the ocean
That which separates two languages
Or lies, mute, within the blood cells

Albert Russo, Dramatis Personae, The Crowded World of Solitude, Vol. 2

Born in February, 1943, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Albert Russo is a poet, short story writer, novelist and photographer. The son of a British mother and an Italian Sephardic father, he attended the high school in Bujumbura, a coastal city in Burundi, where he mastered four languages: French, English, Dutch, German, and vernacular Swahili. Russo earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration at New York University in 1964  He traveled to Heidelberg in 1965, where he earned a degree in German culture and literature at the Collegium Palatinum. 

Russo first began writing poems in English in 1964 during his years at New York University. In 1965, he settled in Milan, Italy, where he  worked at the family firm and continued his writing. His first novel entitled “La Pointe du Diable”, written in French, was published in 1973 in Brussels. For this work, Russo won the Prix Colette in Cannes and the Prix de la Liberté in Paris. 

In 1975, Albert Russo returned to New York for three years. During this period, he taught language classes and published several poems and short stories in a variety of international magazines, including The Literary Review, Culture Française, La Libre Belgique, and Revue Zaire. Russo also worked with UNICEF translating scripts for children’s documentary films. He returned to Europe in 1978  and settled in Paris. 

Albert Russo has written more than twenty-five works, translated into twelve languages. His main themes are the defense of individual and collective rights, including ethnic, gender and religious, and the fight against racism. Many of his works are centered around life in Africa; two of which are“Mixed Blood” and “Eclipse over Lake Tanganyika”, both published in 2000. Russo wrote a large two-volume series entitled “The Crowded World of Solitude”, the first volume which includes short stories, essays, and fables: the second volume contains forty year collection of poems. 

During the 1980s, through their common Congolese experience and love for Africa, Russo met and befriended Italian artist and philosopher Joseph Pace. Later in the 2999s, he became friends with poet and photographer Adam Donaldson Powell. Together they authored the 2009 “Gaytude”, a volume of poetry, with photographs by Russo, which dealt with the gay experience of life on five continents.

As a professional photographer, Albert Russo has earned several prizes, including winning a National Indie-Excellence award and a silver medal from a Gallery Photografica competition. His photographic work has been shown at Switzerland’s Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne. In 2019, Russo won a UNICEF Award for his poetry oeuvre and, in 2020, an Artavita Certificate for his photography.

Jonathan Williams: “Glittering Frostily”

Photographers Unknown, Glittering Frostily

There are more things to love
than we would dare to hope for.
–Richard of St. Victor

where the car hit him, fireweed sprang with
blossoms of fennel

and umbels
of dill fell
through the spokes of a wheel

on Whistun holiday to the sun, Denton
Welch spun a web in his crushed cycle,

sat in the seat, spine curled up like a spider–

and spied: “saw
the very drops of sweat glittering frostily
between the shouder blades”

of a lad

…on and on he spied and bled from the blades of his cycle
small as a spider,
hiding in the fireweed, getting
wet from the skins of many human suns aground
at the Kentish river near
Tunbridge Wells,

where the dill
lulls,

and all boys
spoil…

Jonathan Williams, The Wreck on the A-222 in Ravensbourne Valley, Jubilant Thicket: New & Selected Poems, 2995

Born in Asheville, North Carolina, Jonathan Williams was a poet, photographer and graphic artist. He attended St. Albans School in Washington DC, and then Princeton University. After leaving Princeton to pursue the arts, Williams studied painting with Karl Knaths at the Phillips Gallery, and graphic arts and engraving under Stanley William Hayter at Atelier 17 in New York City. He later studied photography at Black Mountain College with Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind.

In 1951, Williams, along with David Ruff, founded the book publishing company, The Jargon Society, with the goal of publishing obscure writers. This press, long associated with the Black Mountain Poets, an  post-modern group in North Carolina, launched a number of artists, both literary and visually artistic, who pioneered the 1980s avant-garde movement in United States. 

Jonathan Williams was a link between the experimental poets of the second generation of Modernists and the upcoming vernacular artists of Appalachia. Akin to a cultural anthropologist, he based his work on “found’ language, acquired through listening to others reminisce about their lives and experiences. Williams loved to reveal the poetic within the pedestrian, whether from commercial signs, such as “O’Nan’s Auto Service”, to amorous lavatory wall scribblings, such as “The Current Sexist Machismo in a Loo Along the River Kent”. He often infused light verse forms such as limericks, clerihews, and acrostics with his own ribald wit.Williams also invented a form of his own called the Meta-Four, which specified no length, only that every line contain four words. 

Jonathan Williams and his life-long partner, the poet Thomas Meyer, typically divided their year between Skywinding Farm, the property he owned in the Blue Ridge Mountains, outside Highlands, North Carolina, and a seventeenth-century stone cottage in  Cumbria, England. A longtime contributing editor of the photography journal Aperture, Jonathan Williams died from pneumonia on March 16, 2008 in his Blue Ridge Mountain home.

Insert Image: Guy Mendes, “Jonathan Williams and Thomas Meyer at Corn Close”, 1081, Silver Gelatin Print

Frank Bidart: “The Primary, the Crucial Scenario”

Photographers Unknown, The Primary, the Crucial Scenario

Lie to yourself about this and you will
Forever lie about everything.

Everybody already knows everything

so you can
lie to them. That’s what they want,

But lie to yourself, what you will

lose is yourself. Then you
turn into them.

For each gay kid whose adolescence

was America in the forties and fifties
the primary, the crucial

scenario

forever is coming out—
or not. Or not. Or not. Or not. Or not.

Involuted velleities of self-erasure.

Quickly after my parents
died, I came out. Foundational narrative

designed to confer existence.

If I had managed to come out to my
mother, she would have blamed not

me, but herself.

The door through which you were shoved out
into that light 

was self-loathing and terror.

Thank you, terror!

You have learned early that adults’ genteel
fantasies about human life

were not, for you, life. You think sex

is a knife
driven into you to teach you that.

–Frank Bidart, Queer, 2012

Born in May of 1939 in Bakersfield, California, poet Frank Bidart was educated at the University of California at Riverside, where he was attracted to the works of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. Upon graduation, he moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to study literature at Harvard University. During his graduate years, Bidart became a student and friend of poets Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop. 

Frank Bidart has written his work in a variety of forms, of which the best known are his earliest books containing monologues by troubled characters. Throughout the wide range of his work,  the dilemma of individual guilt, both its origins and consequences,has a prominent place in the work and is explored in its various forms. In order to express the importance of words and sentences in his stories, Bidart regularly uses varied forms of typography in the formal structure of the work, including blank spaces, block capitalization, italics, punctuation, and techniques such as quotations, monologues, and paraphrasing. 

Frank Bidart’s first volume of poetry, “Golden State”, an eight year project of self-reflection and a search for identity, was published in 1973. The volume was selected  for the Brazilier Poetry series by Pulitzer Prize recipient Richard Howard. The first poem, and most famous, in the collection is “Herbert White”, which presents the first-person confession of a child-murdering necrophiliac without any introduction or narrative frame. Bidart’s intent was to present someone, whose violent pattern grew out of the drama of his past, as the direct opposite of a previous poem’s character who sought insight through order and analyzation.

In 1977, Bidart published his second collection of poetry, “The Book of the Body”, a series of poems featuring characters struggling to overcome both emotional and physical adversity. The opening poem, “The Arc”, is written through the musings of an amputee. Included also in Bidart’s collection is a monologue, entitled “Ellen West”, spoken by a woman with an obsessive eating disorder. The narratives in this collection are not seamless, but spliced together bits of speech, journal notes, anecdotes, reminiscences, and analogies which follow each other in a progression.

Frank Bidart gained his reputation as an original poet with his 1983 collection “The Sacrifice”, which received widespread praise. The core of this volume is a thirty-page work entitled “The War of Vaslav Nijinsky”, a poem which alternates prose sections on the dancer’s  life with monologues by Nijinsky. A two year project, it went through many revisions and emerged as an experiment in language and punctuation.

Frank Bidart’s  1997 book “Desire” was published as a single work in two sections. The first section contains thirteen short poems, including a memorial to New York City artist and writer Joe Brainard, who died of AIDS-induced pneumonia in 1994. The book’s second half , entitled “The Second Hour of the Night”, contains a recounting of Ovid’s tale of Myrrha’s incestuous love for her father Cinryus. Appearing at the end of the work, the tale is told in a single-narrative of formal dictation which is essentially a meditation on longing and desire. This collection was nominated for the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and the National Book Critics Circle Award; it received the Library of Congress’s 1998 Rebekka Bobbit Prize for best poetry book.

Bidart’s 2005 “Star Dust”. also divided in two parts, has a central theme: man’s drive toward creation, the way we give form and shape to experience. The first section is composed of the short poems about the failure of men to realize the human need to create. These poems were  previously published in the Pulitzer nominated chapbook “Music like Dirt”. The second section consists of eight short lyrics and a long narrative poem entitled “The Third Hour of the Night”, which tells the story of Benvenuto Cellini’s struggle to complete his statue of Perseus holding the head of Medusa. Composed of poems which emphasized the way we shape our lives and experiences, “Star Dust” was nominated for a National Book Award.

Frank Bidart’s  most recent collections include the 2008 “Watching the Spring Festival: Poems”, “Metaphysical Dog: Poems” published in 2013, and “Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016” which won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Frank Bidart was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2003. He  has taught at Wellesley College since 1972. 

William Morris Meredith: “Alive in Our Skins”

Photographers Unknown, Alive in Our Skins

Spared by a car or airplane crash or
cured of malignancy, people look
around with new eyes at a newly
praiseworthy world, blinking eyes like these.

For I’ve been brought back again from the
fine silt, the mud where our atoms lie
down for long naps. And I’ve also been
pardoned miraculously for years
by the lava of chance which runs down
the world’s gullies, silting us back.
Here I am, brought back, set up, not yet
happened away.

But it’s not this random
life only, throwing its sensual
astonishments upside down on
the bloody membranes behind my eyeballs,
not just me being here again, old
needer, looking for someone to need,
but you, up from the clay yourself,
as luck would have it, and inching
over the same little segment of earth-
ball, in the same little eon, to
meet in a room, alive in our skins,
and the whole galaxy gaping there
and the centuries whining like gnats—
you, to teach me to see it, to see
it with you, and to offer somebody
uncomprehending, impudent thanks.

William Morris Meredith, Accidents of Birth, Effort at Speech: New and Selected Poems, 1997

Born in January of 1919 in New York City, William Morris Meredith attended Lenox School in Massachusetts, graduating in 1936, and began writing poetry as a student at Princeton University. He graduated magna cum laude in 1940; his senior these was on the poet Robert Frost. After graduating, he worked for a year at the New York Times as a reporter before joining the army. Meredith transferred to the United States Navy in 1942 to become a pilot; he served on aircraft carriers in the Aleutian Islands and the Pacific Theater until the end of World War II.

Meredith’s first collection of poems, entitled “Love Letter from an Impossible Land”, was chosen by poet and playwright Archibald MacLeish for publication in the 1944 Yale Series of Younger Poets, an annual debut collection of promising U.S. poets. The poetry in this first collection were written while Meredith was still serving as a navy flier; many of the poems speak about the uncertainty of wartime life. His second collection of poems, “Ships and other Figures” was published in 1948. The volume contained twenty-nine brief poems, which included a trio of poems based on his wartime service.

William Meredith re-enlisted in 1952 to fly air missions in the Korean War, for which he received two Air Medals. In 1955 after his military service, he entered the academic field and taught English at the University of Hawaii, Connecticut College, and Princeton University until his retirement in 1983. In 1964, Meredith was elected as the Chancellor of the Academy of Poets, a position he held until 1987. From 1978 to 1980, he was Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, the position which in 1985 became Poet Laureate Consultant. Meredith was the first gay poet to receive this honor.

During his academic career, Meredith published his 1958 “Open Sea and Other Poems”, a collection of poems previously published in journals, and his 1964 “The Wreck of the ‘Thresher’ and Other Poems”, of which the title poem is an elegy to the “Thresher”, an American submarine lost at sea with its crew in 1963. Meredith sustained a stroke in 1983, was immobilized for two years, and began to experience expressive aphasia, a condition which affected his ability to produce language. He retired early from teaching and endured a long period of  intensive rehabilitation to slowly regain his ability to speak.

A gathering of poems from Meredith’s career, entitled “Partial Accounts: New and Selected Poems” was published in 1987. Crafted from sonnets, quatrains, and and other formal poetic structures, the collection won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and a Los Angeles Times Book Award. A compilation of new and previously published works, “Effort at Speech: New and Selected Poems”, published in 1997, received the National Book Award for Poetry. Both these works, written during Meredith’s long rehabilitation, won poetry’s highest awards at a time in which he was without speech.

William Morris Meredith died in 2007 at the age of eighty-eight in New London, Connecticut. Throughout his long illness, he was nursed by his longtime partner of thirty-six years, the poet and fiction writer Richard Harteis. The William Meredith Foundation and the William Meredith Center for the Arts were established to continue his legacy through residency programs, poetry series, and other activities.

One of the most complete collections of William Meredith’s work can be found at Connecticut College. Acquired in 1994, the collection contains letters, drafts, speeches and papers from his time with the Library of Congress, government agencies, and many colleges.

Manuel Ramos Otero: “The Pendulum of the Body”

Photographers Unknown, The Parts and Pieces Making a Whole: Set Thirteen

La muerte no fue la clave del secreto,
?Qué cuento no comienza en el crepúsculo?
?Qué cangrejo no busca su fantasma
en los fuegos fúnebresdel tiempo?
?Qué brujo no sabe que la luna
sostiene el péndulo del cuerpo?

Adánico regreso hasta la sombra.
Añosa regresión hasta el silencio.

Sin hilos. Sin agujas. sin cenizas.
Mi novio no havuelto de su tumba.

?Qué triangular el traje de mis nupcias!

Es perfecto este tálamo sin sangre.
Estoy en las ruinas del castillo.
Arranco los erizos de lacrare.
La orina se desborda de la copa.
Que nunca soledad. Que llegue nadie.

Death was not the key to secrecy,
What story does not start at twilight?
What crab does not look for its ghost in the funeral fires of time?
What a warlock does not know that the moon supports the pendulum of the body?

Adamic return to the shadow.
My years regress to silence.

Without threads. Without needles. without ashes.
My boyfriend has not returned from his grave.

How to triangulate the suit of my nuptials?

This bloodless thalamus is perfect.
I am in the castle ruins.
I pluck the lacrare hedgehogs.
The urine overflows from the glass.
That never loneliness. Let no one arrive.

–Manuel Ramos Otero, El Libro de la Muerte

Over the passage of time, Puerto Rican literature evolved from the art of oral story telling to its present-day status. Originally, written works by the native islanders of Puerto Rico were prohibited and repressed by the Spanish colonial government. Only those authors who were commissioned by the Spanish Crown to document the chronological history of the island were allowed to write. In the late 19th century, with the arrival of the first printing press and the founding of the Royal Academy of Belles Letters,  Puerto Rican literature finally began to flourish.

Born in Manati, Puerto Rico, in 1948, Manuel Ramos Otero is widely considered to be one of the first openly homosexual writers of the Puerto Rican diaspora.. Throughout his literary career, he boldly put his homosexuality at the core of his poetic, fiction, and non-fiction work. Feeling repressed and persecuted in his homeland because of the openness of his sexuality, Ramos Otero left Puerto Rico and relocated to New York City in 1968, where he received in 1979 his Master’s Degree in Literature from New York University. 

Otero’s writings, primarily semi-autobiographical pieces that dealt with themes of exile and rejection, are often considered controversial because of their unabashedly political, feminist and homoerotic subject matters. Exiled from Puerto Rico, Otero felt rejected in the United States because his writing did not deal with issues of race and class status that had become expected of Latino writers. Using  urban  gay Puerto Rican male writers as his protagonists,  he explored New York City’s gay subculture of  the 1970s and 1980s,  with its drugs, hustlers, prostitution, and dark sexual playgrounds  found beneath the rotting piers of the Greenwich Village and Chelsea waterfronts. 

In September of 1971, Ramos Otero founded Aspasguanza, a theatrical workshop in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. His traveling theater performed as part of the 1980 celebration of Fuegos Funebres in the historical district of Old San Juan in Puerto Rico. Dressed in a black kimono with face painted white,  Ramos Otero enacted the character of Tsuchigumo, a spider found in Noh dramas, Japanese mythology, and comic Japanese performances. 

During the decade of the 1970s, Ramos Otero traveled and collaborated creatively with his live-in partner, John Anthes, whose relationship is highlighted in much of Otero’s semi-autobiographical writing. In 1975, Otero founded the publishing group El Libro Viaje, which was devoted to increasing the publication of Puerto Rican authors in the United States. His highly experimental 1976 novel “La Novelabingo ( The Bingo Novel)”, was published through this press. After Anthes’s death in 1979, Otero dedicated two of his works to him: “Ritos Cancelado (Canceled Rites)” and “Ceremonia de Bienes y Raices (Ceremony of Goods and Roots)”. 

In 1980, Ramos Otero would later meet and develop a relationship with the Puerto Rican painter Angel Rodríguez-Díaz. In one of his better known stories, “Descuento”, Otero described a painting by Rodriquez-Dias, which would illustrate the cover of his last book of stories, “Página en Blanco Staccato”. This illustration of a Japanese Noh drama character would serve as inspiration for the theater performance at the 1980 Fuegos Funebres festival.

Ramos Otero taught writing and literature at Rutgers University, York College, LaGuardia Community College, and Lehman College. In addition to being a writer, he fostered and strengthened the literary community by helping to organize conferences and gatherings of Puerto Rican writers in the United States. Throughout his life, Ramos Otero participated in  literary collaborations and maintained close friendships with other influential Puerto Rican authors, including Rosario Ferré, Ana Lydia Vega, and Magalí García Ramis.

Manuel Ramos Otero returned to his hometown of Manati in 1990 to live out his final days, He died from complications of HIV/AIDS in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on October 7th of 1990 at the age of forty-two. Ramos Otero is remembered for his well-regarded short stories, his essays on literary criticism, and for his two  published works, the 1985 “El Libro de la Muerte”, which includes his Epitaphios Cycle of poems, and his “Invitacion al Polvo”,  a  work posthumously published in 1991 that directly addresses topics around the AIDS crisis.

Columbia University’s Archives houses a collection of Ramos Otero’s personal and professional correspondence, notebooks, reviews,  photographs and newspaper clippings which range from infancy to his death. Included in this collection are many letters from Otero to his mother discussing his relationship with John Anthes; there are also letters from Anthes to Otero’s mother.

Notes: A full translation of Manuel Ramos Otero’s work “Vivre del Cuento”, translated as “The Scheherazade Complex”, can be found at the Fordham University Library located at:  https://www.fordham.edu/download/downloads/id/463/scheherazade_complex

For those interested, a more extensive study of Manuel Ramos Otero’s life, including a history of his Traveling Theater, can be found at The Free Library located at: https://www.thefreelibrary.com/The+Travelling+Theater+of+Manuel+Ramos+Otero.-a0557578965

Rafael Campo: “What I Would Give”

Photographers Unknown, What I Would Give

What I would like to give them for a change
is not the usual prescription with
the hubris of the power to restore,
to cure; what I would like to give them, ill
from not enough of laying in the sun
not caring what the onlookers might think
while feeding some banana to their dogs–
what I would like to offer them is this,
not reassurance that their lungs sound fine,
or that the mole they’ve noticed change is not
a melanoma, but instead of fear
transfigured by some doctorly advice
I’d like to give them my astonishment
at sudden rainfall like the whole world weeping,
and how ridiculously gently it
slicked down my hair; I’d like to give them that,
the joy I felt while staring in your eyes
as you learned epidemiology
(the science of disease in populations)
the night around our bed like timelessness,
like comfort, like what I would give to them.

–Rafael Campo, What I Would Give, Landscape and Human Figure, 2002

Born in Dover, New Jersey, in November of 1964, Rafael Campo is a poet, doctor, and author. He graduated from Amherst College, where he earned his BA and MA degrees, and Harvard Medical School, where he earned his MD degree. Campo started practicing internal medicine in the early 1990s, at the height of the HIV-AIDS epidemic in the US. He currently practices medicine at both Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

Campo’s writing reflects his commitment to poetry as the fullest expression of self, and his understanding of it as a necessary tool for healing and empathy. A master of poetic meter, his work is highly structured in its various forms, including blank verse, villanelles and rhymed tercets. This attention to form tends to be mixed with narratives of family and illness, and often is structured around personal feelings for his patients and those who suffered from homophobic and racist encounters.

Rafael Campo’s first collections of poems, entitled “The Other Man Was Me: A Voyage to the New World”, won the National Poetry Series Open Competition in 1993. His 1996 collection “What the Body Told” was a winner of the Lambda Literary Award. Campo’s 1999 “Diva”, a collection which included his translations of poems by Federico García Lorca, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Three collections pf poetry followed: the “Landscape with Human Figure” published in 2002. “The Enemy” published in 2007, and “Alternative Medicine” published in 2013.

Rafael Campo is also the author of prose works, including the 2003 “The Healing Art: A Doctor’s Black Bag of Poetry”, which was reviewed favorably in medical journals. In this work, he used poems from poets such as Marilyn Hacker and William Carlos Williams, to address the necessity of differentiating between curing, which makes illness go away, and healing, which transforms one’s attitude toward illness. Campo’s earlier essay collection, “The Poetry of Healing”, published in 1997, received a Lambda Literary Award.

Campo is a PEN Center West Literary Award finalist and a recipient of the National Hispanic Academy of Arts and Sciences Annual Achievement Award. He recently received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Echoing Green Foundation.

Note: Although Rafael Campo does not name his bed partner at the end of “What I Would Give”, it is understood from other poems and essays that it is Jorge, his longtime partner, then spouse. Rafael Campo came out as gay in the 1990s, and writes about this in his essay “The Desire to Heal” from “The Poetry of Healing”.

A small collection of Rafael Campo’s poetry can be found at: https://poets.org/poet/rafael-campo

The photo of the fighter, center of bottom row, is from a photo shoot of model Yuri Zalomov taken by photographer Andrei Vishnyakov.

 

Claude McKay: “The Shadow-Fact with Which I Strove”

Photographers Unknown, The Shadow-Fact with Which I Strove

I
Not once in all our days of poignant love,
Did I a single instant give to thee
My undivided being wholly free.
Not all thy potent passion could remove
The barrier that loomed between to prove
The full supreme surrendering of me.
Oh, I was beaten, helpless utterly
Against the shadow-fact with which I strove.
For when a cruel power forced me to face
The truth which poisoned our illicit wine,
That even I was faithless to my race
Bleeding beneath the iron hand of thine,
Our union seemed a monstrous thing and base!
I was an outcast from thy world and mine.

II
Adventure-seasoned and storm-buffeted,
I shun all signs of anchorage, because
The zest of life exceeds the bound of laws.
New gales of tropic fury round my head
Break lashing me through hours of soulful dread;
But when the terror thins and, spent, withdraws,
Leaving me wondering awhile, I pause–
But soon again the risky ways I tread!
No rigid road for me, no peace, no rest,
While molten elements run through my blood;
And beauty-burning bodies manifest
Their warm, heart-melting motions to be wooed;
And passion boldly rising in my breast,
Like rivers of the Spring, lets loose its flood.

Claude McKay, One Year After, 2003

Born in Sunny Ville, Jamaica, in 1889, Festus Claudius McKay was poet and writer, one of the key figures in the literary movement of the 1920s Harlem Renaissance. His work ranged from vernacular verse celebrating peasant life in Jamaica to poems which protested racial and economic inequities. 

Proud of his African heritage, Claude McKay’s early interests were in the study of English poetry. He received his formative education under the tutelage of his brother, schoolteacher Uriah Theophilus McKay, and a local Englishman Walter Jekyll, who advised aspiring poet McKay to write verse in the Jamaican dialect. McKay’s studies were based in the British classic writers, such as Milton and Pope, and the later Romantic authors. McKay also studied the writings of philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, whose works Jekyll was translating into English.

In 1906, McKay spent a year in Brown’s Town and the Jamaican capital of Kingston; but, after encountering extensive racism, he returned to Sunny Ville. In 1912, McKay published through a London company two collections of verses portraying opposing aspects of Black life inJamaica:“Songs of Jamaica” and “Constab Ballads”. His “Songs of Jamaica” presented a celebration of Jamaican peasant life and the people’s connections to the land. McKay’s “Constab Ballads”, however, portrayed a bleaker outlook on the plight of Black Jamaicans and was explicitly critical of the discrimination in urban Kingston. 

For his “Songs of Jamaica”, Claude McKay received an award and a stipend from the Jamaican Institute of Arts and Sciences, which he used to travel to America in 1912. He studied briefly at Kansas State College, but left in 1914 for New York City where he worked various menial jobs and continued writing poetry. In 1917, McKay published two poems in the short-lived periodical “Seven Arts”; a few years later, he published poems in the “Liberator” magazine. among these was his famous “If We Must Die”, a response to mob attacks by white Americans upon Afro-American communities during the ?Red Summer” from April to November of 1919.

McKay began a two year period of travel and work abroad, which began with a stay in Holland and Belgium, before moving to London and working at the “Workers’ Dreadnought” periodical, published on behalf of the East London Federation of Suffragettes. In 1920 he published his third collection of poetry, “Spring in New Hampshire”, notable for containing  “Harlem Shadows”, a poem of the plight of Black sex workers in the degrading urban city. 

Returning to the United States in 1921 McKay involved himself in various social causes. His 1922 anthology collection of poems, “Harlem Shadows”, assured his stature as a leading member of the Harlem Renaissance. Working on behalf of Blacks and laborers, McKay became involved with the Universal Negro Improvement Association and produced several articles for its publication. His travels took him to Paris, where he was hospitalized for a severe respiratory infection; upon recovery, McKay  traveled for the next eleven years, touring Europe and northern Africa. 

During this travel period, Claude McKay published three novels and a short story collection. His first novel, the 1928 “Home to Harlem”, tells the story of two black men, one who represents the instinctual aspect of an individual and, the other, the intellectual perspective, whose lives in Harlem are affected with either happiness or despair. This social-realist novel detailed a portrait of the hardships of Black urban life and recounted  different ways of rebelling against its ensuing circumstances. 

Mc Kay followed this book with the 1929 “Banjo” A Story without a Plot”, a novel about Banjo, a Black vagabond living in the French port city of Marseilles, who embodies the largely instinctual way of life, and Ray, a struggling, intellectual artist conventionally employed. The two men, always dissatisfied and disturbed by their limited roles in the racist society of Marseilles, cope with their problems in their own way, but both eventually decide to leave the city. 

In his third novel “Banana Bottom”, McKay presented a more incisive exploration of the Black individual’s quest for cultural identity in the face of racism, and explored the underlying racial and cultural tensions. In this story, the protagonist was a Jamaican peasant girl, who with pride and independence, fled the oppressive racist society in which she was forced to live and returned to an idealized peasant Jamaican environment.

During his final years abroad, Claude McKay published his 1932 “Gingertown”, a collection of twelve short stories, six of which were addressed to Harlem life and dealt with Black exploitation, and six stories which were set in Jamaica and North Africa, McKay’s last home before his return to the United States. Upon his return to Harlem in the mid-1930s, he began work on an autobiography, “A Long Way from Home”, a work published in 1937 about his challenges as a Black man in society.

Developing a keen interest in Catholicism after his disillusionment with Communism in the late 1930s, McKay became active in Harlem’s Friendship House, a missionary movement and a leading proponent of interracial justice. His work with the organization inspired his 1940 non-fiction historical treatise “Harlem: Negro Metropolis”, an account of the black community in Harlem during the 1920s and 1930s. McKay later moved to Chicago and worked as a teacher for a Catholic organization. 

In 1943, McKay started “Cycle Manuscript”, a collection of forty-four poems, which were never published; this important document remains as a typescript at the Beinecke Library of Yale University. By the middle of the 1940s, McKay’s health had deteriorated. He endured several illnesses throughout his last years and eventually died of heart failure in May of 1948. Claude McKay was buried at Calvary Cemetery in Queens, New York. 

Notes: An extensive collection of Claude McKay’s poetry can be found at: https://www.poemhunter.com/claude-mckay/poems/

An interesting read is “A Love So Fugitive and So Complete: Recovering the Queer Subtext of Claude McKay’s Harlem Shadows” by Lindsay Tuggle of the University of Sydney (originally printed in the journal “The Space Between; Literature and Culture 1914-1945”) which is located at: https://www.monmouth.edu/department-of-english/documents/a-love-so-fugitive-and-so-completerecovering-the-queer-subtext-of-claude-mckays-harlem-shadows.pdf/

R.M. Vaughan: “A Smile Pulled from the Eyes”

Photographers Unknown, But, Once You Start Living, It Never Ends

“Mais, une fois qu’on a commence’ de vivre, ca n’en finit plus.”
-Anne He’bert, La Robe Corail

yes, I could be transparent, have no more than 2 meanings
for every sentence, smother      the small inhalations
in duck-lined beds  (instinctual)
but I am not

tired, only some part of me, the corner of intellect
reserved for newspapers, educated company, family fights
won’t shut up, won’t misread for me, play blind man’s bluff or
any game with kissing and shut eyes      won’t say  –  this means
nothing. I am safe-

from harm, I take baby steps      dangle limbs over balconies
sit on cane back chairs made for light men in linens      even dance
fat-legged, convinced of rhythm      but from love all manner
and logic, knoves if necessary      nothing closes me, nothing

to danger, a smile pulled from the eyes, where smartness lives
or a wrist, the left, folding surrendered air in cross-cuts      language
for events microscopic, just as loud      but to love
no tricks no practiced feints of hip or cape, no tangles of scarves
to swirl over the very idea      because love happened, once, and
like anything charming      love was just another language, another dress,
a sneaky link of party half-grins      spread chair to chair, room to room
sogning the trickster from his mark

–R.M. Vaughan, Untitled, Invisible to Predators, ECW Press, Fall 1999

Born in the city of Saint John in New Brunswick, Canada, in 1965, Richard Murray Vaughan was a poet, novelist, and playwright. He earned both his Bachelor of Arts degree in Creative Writing and his Masters of Arts in English from the University of New Brunswick. Openly gay, he was playwright-in-residence for the years 1994 and 1995 at Buddies in Bad Times, a professional Canadian theater company. Originally focused on staged adaptions of poetry, the company became dedicated to the promotion of queer theatrical expression during the 1980s.

RM Vaughan published many works in his career, including fiction, poetry, anthologies, stage plays, and journalistic articles for such publications as the digital digest Utne Reader, the digital LGBYQ2-focused Xtra magazine, and the print newspaper The Globe and Mail. Vaughan’s memoir about his struggles with insomnia, entitled “Bright Eyed”, was published in 2015. 

Vaughan has written many poetry books and chapbooks. Some of his most successful works include “A Selection of Dazzling Scarves” published in 1996 and “96 Tears (in my Jeans)” published in 1997 by Broken jaw Press. The most recent collections of his poetry include the 2004 “Ruined Stars” and “Troubled: A Memoir in Poems” published in 2008. His single poems have been included in over fifty anthologies. 

As a novelist, RM Vaughan’s work includes “A Quilted Heart” in 1998 and “Spells” in 2003; as a playwright, his work includes the 1998 “Camera, Woman” and the 2003 “The Monster Trilogy”. Vaughan’s short narrative and experimental videos have been exhibited in many Canadian and international galleries and festivals, and are represented by V-Tape and the Canadian Filmmakers’s Distribution Centre.

RM Vaughan’s works often touched on queer stories of coming-of-age and eroticism. He had a taste for the supernatural and macabre, and was captivated by the world of the celebrity. Vaughan published the book of essays “Compared to Hitler” in 2013 which featured  many of his opinions on contemporary culture.

While working as writer-in-residence at the University of New Brunswick, located in Fredericton, RM Vaughan was reported missing on October 13th of 2020. His body was reported discovered ten days later on October 23rd; his death was not considered as foul play. 

Note: A collection of six poems by Richard Murray Vaughan can be found at Canadian Poetry Online, located at: https://canpoetry.library.utoronto.ca/vaughan/poems.htm

César Moro: “Like a Road That Vanishes”

Photographer Unknown, Like a Road That Vanishes

“The same as your non-existent window
Like a hand’s shadow in a phantom instrument
The same as your veins and your blood’s intense journey
With the same equality with the precious continuity that ideally
reassures me of your existence
At a distance
In the distance
Despite the distance
With your head and your face
And your entire presence without closing my eyes
And the landscape arising from your presence when the city was
only, could only be, the useless reflection of your slaughter
presence

In order to better moisten the birds’ feathers
The rain is falling a great distance
And it encloses me within you all by myself
Within and far from you
Like a road that vanishes on another continent.”
—César Moro, The Illustrated World

Born in Lima in 1903, César Moro, birth name Alfredo Quispez Asin, was a Peruvian poet and painter, whose only fond memory of his Jesuit childhood education was his learning French. He changed his name to César Moro, at the age of twenty, after a character by author Romón Gómez de la Serna. After years of unbearable parochialism and hostility towards any form of poetic expression, which characterized Lima between 1920 and 1930, Moro traveled to Paris in 1925 to pursue dance and art; but later poetry and art became his focus. 

Moro exhibited in group shows in Brussels in 1926, and in Paris the next year. He became a member of the Surrealist movement and exchanged ideas and art with such figures as poet Paul Éluard, writer and poet André Breton, poet Benjamin Péret, and outside the surrealist group, painters Henri and Simone Jannot. Moro promptly adopted French as his second writing language and became the only Latin American poet to contribute to Andre Breton’s surrealistic journals of the 1920s and 1930s.

While living in Paris, César Moro continued to publish his work in Latin America, including the Peruvian periodical “Amauta” whose April 1928 edition printed Moro’s poems “Oráculo”, “Infancia”, and “Following You Around”. He was active in the Parisian political protests through his contribution to the writing of the 1933 manifesto “Mobilization Against the War is Not Peace”. Moro added a note to the manifesto condemning Peru’s dictator Sánchez Cerro’s violent suppression of an uprising of sailors who were protesting against cruel discipline and poor nutrition. 

Moro returned to Lima in 1934 and continued to write against those in power. The police of Peruvian dictator Benavides entered his home and confiscated copies of the clandestine pamphlet, CADRE, which supported the Spanish Republic. As a result of continual police harassment, Moro fled Peru in March of 1938. He traveled to Mexico City, his residence for  the next ten years, and befriended other progressive artists seeking haven, such as  Austrian painter Wolfgang Paalen, photographer Eva Sulzer, surrealist painters Remedios Varo and Gordon Onslow Ford and British painter and novelist Leonora Carrington. 

With assistance from Wolfgang Paalen and André Breton, the modernist avant-garde artists of Mexico City organized the 1940 International Exhibition of Surrealism at the Galeria de Art Mexicano. This large exhibition followed two others exhibitions staged by Moro, the earliest in 1935 with Chilean artists Maria Valencia, Waldo Paaraguez, and Carlos Sotomayor. Moro became more closely associated with Wolfgang Paalen and his international literary and art journal “Dyn”. This journal gave Moro the opportunity to publish his French-language poetry, and allowed him to expand on his exploration of indigenous culture as subject matter. 

César Moro was prolific in his output during his stay in Mexico, where he also published in the periodicals “El Hijo Prodigo (The Prodigal Son)” and “Lettas de México (Letters from Mexico)”. He also translated the surrealist poems in the periodicals and a poem of his, a tribute to Breton, was published in the “Letters to Mexico”. As a result of his association with Paalen, Moro published two collections of his poetry, “Le Chateau de Grisou (Firedamp Castle)” and “Lettre d’Amour (Love Letter)”, and many translations of his surrealist and avant-garde texts.

César Moro, who was gay, led a self-described scandalous life quietly and privately. Many of his fellow surrealists were unaware of his homosexuality, which he embraced for the first time in Mexico. While his love poetry written in France is tortured; the poetry written in Mexico City for his collection “The Equestrian Turtle”, an oblique chronicle of Moro’s relationship with army lieutenant Antonio Acosta, is openly homoerotic. Throughout 1939, Moro wrote a series of letters and poems which expressed the totality of his feelings for Acosta as being the sum total of his life. This totality of love lasted the duration of Moro’s residency in Mexico; even after Acosta married and became a father. Moro appears to have played an almost godfather-like role in the life of Acosta’s son.

The intensity of Moro’s relationship with Antonio coincided with Moro’s rift with Breton and the surrealist movement after the publication of Breton’s 1944 “Arcane 17”, a work combining memoir, poetry and political treatise in which Breton cited that heterosexual love was the only legitimate one. Moro denounced, not without reason,the shortsightedness of Breton who had placed himself as the ultimate champion of freedom. From then on Breton, who could not accept love between members of the same sex, no longer had as great an impact on Moro’s artistic development. Moro turned instead to figures such as Paalen for direction in his work.

In 1948 César Moro returned to Lima, where he wrote poetry for the periodicals “The Magazine of Guatemala” and “Dwellings”, taught French at the Leoncio Prado military college, and met his future partner and lover, the French writer André Coyne. In 1954, he made his last public appearance at a conference on Marcel Proust, where he delivered a paper entitled “Passionately Loved and Admired”. César Moro died of leukemia in Lima on January 15th of 1956. His death went unnoticed by “Bief”, the surrealist main publication at that time. A large part of his prose and poetry was collected and published posthumously through the efforts of his lover and literary executor André Coyné, 

Note: The Equestrian Turtle, the title of Moro’s collection, is an erotic symbol derived, according to André Coyné, from their 1934-35 experience in Lima of seeing two turtles copulating in a park. The poems are painterly in form, working with visual textures, mobile perspectives, and landscapes in movement. Sound matters in César Moro’s work and these poems make good use of assonance and syntax as rhythm. The complexity of the images, the use of perspective, and the use of vocabulary and wordplay are prominent aspects of his work. In this work of Moro, love is a transfiguration that brings self-loss, but at the same time reconstructs the lovers as nonhuman actors in a natural world that both elevates and subsumes them.

More extensive information on the life of poet César Moro can be found at JSYOR’s online library located at:  https://www.jstor.org/stable/90024968?seq=1