Aaron Shurin: “Under the Night Stillness Inclined My Morning Beach”

Photographers Unknown, Under the Night Stillness Inclined My Morning Beach

I heard my name, the day rose and disappear over the beach. the day on each breath tasted my food, that night roll slowly cover in the cool, his face around my breast. the day inhaling grow pale and disappear, water on his way, up the shores hissing. under the night stillness inclined my morning beach, undressing the friend of my liquid, my most same. at evening while whispering from the bed by me, his way was accomplished. his full perfect arm a health of ripe waters. the day received moon laughing, love lay me that night.

Aaron Shurin, Excerpt from City of Men, A’s Dream, 1989

A room of thought is wedged between the androgyny of hair and new leaves gasping for light. Membrane of membrane, skin of my crown. I thought a forest bound by kinship towers — elusive in the blue glow inside the gray cloudbank — indigo friction — a hurricane cult — where his eyes boring over my shoulders fall like hot breath, gravity failing. He is whirling like a haystack, engineered in twilight, his syllables aquatic, lullaby stutter. Scale of my scale, raveling hive. A skate-boarder rocks the concrete, cutting the muscle of silence. You, too, seeping memories, as we spin in place. An epiphyte: a love nest. Inextricable, shadow for shadow, rhyme for rhyme..

Aaron Shurin, Steeped, Citizen, 2012

Born in Manhattan, New York in 1947, Aaron Shurin is an American essayist, poet and educator. After spending his teenage years in Los Angeles and eastern Texas, he attended the University of California at Berkeley in 1963 during a period of political protest and cultural upheaval. In the late 1960’s, Shurin met and studied under poet Denise Levertov, an advocate of political and social consciousness who fostered Shurin’s interest in poetry. It was during this period that he became attracted to the principles of Projective Verse, a poetic form which re-imagines a poem’s verse lines and line breaks to convey its nuances of breath and motion to the reader through typographical means.

In 1980, Shurin entered the New College of California, an experimental college centered around the Socratic Seminars, where he studied under poet Robert Duncan, a prominent gay poet and member of the Black Mountain school. At New College, Shurin was inspired by the long lines of Walt Whitman’s prose poetry and began to develop his own poetic form, prose poetry which combined the prose form of the Language poets with the life-story format of the New Narrative writers. Bonding with the enthusiastic atmosphere of San Francisco’s counter-culture and its active gay scene, Shurin integrated his gay identity into his poetic process. He graduated from New College with a Master of Arts in Poetics with a thesis entitled “Out of Me: Whitman and the Projective”. 

Aaron Shurin is the author of numerous volumes of poetry, among which are the 1976 “The Night Sun” published by Gay Sunshine Press; “A’s Dream” published in 1989; the 1993 “Into Distances”; “The Paradise of Forms: Selected Poems” published in 1999; the 2005 “Involuntary Lyrics”; and the 2012 “Citizen”. His published essay collections include “The Skin of Meaning: Collected Literary Essays and Talks” published in 2016; the 2008 “King of Shadows”; and “Unbound: A Book of AIDS” published in 1997.  Shurin’s most recent work is “The Blue Absolute”, a collection of lyrical prose poems of love and loss, sex and death in our daily lives.

Shurin has won fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Gerbode Foundation, the San Francisco Arts Commission, and the California Arts Council. A pioneer in both LGBTQ studies and innovative verse, he cofounded the Boston-based writing collective Good Gay Poets. Shurin has written numerous critical essays about poetic theory and compositional practice, as well as personal narratives on sexual identity, gender fluidity, and the AIDS epidemic. He is Professor Emeritus at the University of San Francisco for its MFA Writing Program.

“We know that verses live in the white space of the page in a dance with erasure and silence; prose poems fill in the space and flirt shamelessly with story. To my joy they can hold a lot of words, a lot of shades, and the tensions of their dual inheritance are generative: wild horses pulling in opposite directions that somehow get bridled and yoked to form a new beast.” – Aaron Shurin, “Always Presently There: Aaron Shurin in Conversation with Micah Ballard”, April 2020

Notes: For those interested, an in-depth conversation between poet and publisher Micah Ballard and Aaron Shurin on the development of Shurin’s poetic form was held in April of 2020, just after the publication of Shurin’s work “The Blue Absolute”. This conversation, entitled “Always Presently There”, can be found at the interdisciplinary publishing platform “Open Space” located at: https://openspace.sfmoma.org/2020/04/always-presently-there-aaron-shurin-in-conversation-with-micah-ballard/

A essay by Chales Olson’s poetic theory, “Projective Verse”, can be found at the Poetry Foundation located at: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/articles/69406/projective-verse

James Broughton: ‘Luncheon Had Made Us Hungry”

Photographers Unknown, Luncheon Had Made Us Hungry

Luncheon had made us hungry
for one another
After the curry and fried bananas
we added our own heat to
the hot afternoon
simmering in sweat and coconut oil
as our two humidities rose
high   higher                     Bang!
outside the window        Bang!Bang!
and the houseboy’s laughing shout

He had been tossing firecrackers
at the roof
to dislodge itinerant pigeons
But at his feet had fallen
a passing oriole
shocked into gape      beak ajar

Hurrying from the bedroom
half-saronged
we saw him kneel to the yellow bird
fondle      cajole      kiss it      offer it
back to the day
Still it sat rigid in his hand

Chuckling then      you said
Is this a golden trophy of
our shooting match?
At which the oriole blinked
stretched and puffed
spurted into the air
vanished beyond the pawpaw tree

James Broughton, Afternoons in Ceylon I, Word of Mouth: An Anthology of Gay American Poetry, 2000

Born to affluent parents in Modesto, California in November of 1913, James Broughton was a poet and filmmaker. He was a member of the San Francisco Renaissance movement, a 1950s collective of American avant-garde poets which included such poets as Kenneth Rexroth, Madeline Gleason, Robert Duncan and Jack Spicer, among others. Known best for his cinematography, Broughton made poetic experimental films, both in color and black and white, throughout his career.

After the death of his father in the deadly 1918 influenza epidemic, James Broughton spent his early years in San Francisco. He started his formal education at a military school; however, at the age of sixteen after having an affair with a classmate, he was expelled. Broughton pursued a career in writing at Stanford University until 1935, at which time he relocated to New York City and became a theater critic. Through his written work, Broughton met artist Sidney Peterson, who would later establish San Francisco Art Institute’s Workshop 20, the first college program to teach filmmaking as art.

After he moved back to San Francisco, Broughton wrote and produced the play “Summer Fury”, for which the Stanford Dramatists’ Alliance gave him the 1945 Alden Award for Original Screenplay. In 1946, a collaboration between Broughton and Sidney Peterson produced the 16mm film “The Potted Palm”, a depiction of Freudian desires that combined the erotic with the decaying. Broughton later credited his working with Peterson on this film as the influence that led him to experimental filmmaking.

James Broughton’s early 16mm short films, which ran from nine to thirty-eight minutes, covered a wide range of genres, including personal journals, comedy, music, theater, and queer stories. Broughton’s first solo film was the 1948 avant-garde classic “Mother’s Day” which dealt with human pain and lack of emotion. He followed this film’s success with five more films between 1950 and 1953, among which was the 1953 “The Pleasure Garden”, a collaboration with partner Kermit Sheets. Made in England, the film was successful only in Europe where it received several awards including one at the Cannes Film Festival presented byJean Cocteau.

In 1953, Broughton stopped his filmmaking to concentrate more fully on his writing which, through his career, totaled more than twenty published works. His poetry collection “True & False Unicorn”, poems of Broughton’s complex search for his true self, was published in 1955 and later choreographed on stage by Jergen Verbruggen. Broughton’s autobiographical prose poem collection “The Androgyne Journal”. published in 1977, was a strongly personal book about breaking creative boundaries.

James Broughton published two retrospective collections of his poetry: “A Long Undressing: Collected Poems 1949-1969”, published in 1971 by Jargon Society Press, and “Packing Up for Paradise: Selected Poems 1946-1996” published in November of 1997 by Black Sparrow Press. In 1993, Broughton published his memoir, an autobiography entitled “Coming Unbuttoned”, which documented his eighty-year artistic journey in life through the famous and infamous circles of 1930s New York to the avant-garde culture of San Francisco in the 1960s and 70s.

Starting in the late 1960s, James Broughton returned to filmmaking and produced both short and full length films. His first film was the 1968 “The Bed”, which won prizes at many film festivals. Containing a highly energetic musical score by Warner Jepson, it featured ground-breaking full-frontal, yet innocent, nudity of male and female figures gathered around the same bed. Broughton’s later poetic films include such works as the 1972 “Dreamwood”, a story of one man’s journey to a mysterious island: “The Water Circle”, a 1975 poetic homage to sage Lao-tsu on the world’s bodies of water; the 1979 “Hermes Bird”, a celebration of the transformative power of the phallus; and the 1988 “Scattered Remains”, one of six films created with his partner Joel Singer, in which Broughton acts out his verses in unlikely situations.

Broughton’s honors include a Fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and an American Film Institute Award for Independent Film and Video Artists. He was an early poet member of the Radical Faeries, a counterculture movement that redefined queer consciousness through secular spirituality, and a member of The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a protest and street performance group that used drag and religious imagery to call attention to sexual intolerance. Broughton also taught at both San Francisco State University and San Francisco’s Art Institute.

James Broughton had relationships with both men and women. He lived briefly with film critic Pauline Kael, with whom he had a daughter in 1948. At the age of forty-nine, Broughton married Suzanne Hart, with whom he had two children. In 1973, he met Joel Singer, a twenty-five year old student at one of his San Fransisco Art Institute classes, and began both a strong personal relationship and a lengthy film collaboration. In 1989, Broughton and Singer moved to Port Townsend, Washington, where they lived until Broughton’s death, at the age of eighty-five, in May of 1999.

“The quietest poetry can be an explosion of joy. True delicacy is not a fragile thing. The most delicate and yielding of our necessities, water, can be the most powerful destroyer, swallowing everything.

True delicacy is indestructible. Take Shelley, Dickinson, Firbank, Basho. I like things which appear fragile but are tough inside. In the long run the deadly can outmaneuver the brute, the bird is more resourceful than the rhino.” – James Broughton

Note: A remembrance on the life of James Broughton by Martin Goodman as well as an except from Goodman’s interview with Broughton can be found at: http://www.archipelago.org/vol4-1/broughton.htm

Top Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “james Broughton and Joel Singer”, Photo Shoot from “Devotions”, 1983, Gelatin Silver Print

Third Insert Image: Imogen Cunningham, “The Poet and His Alter Ego (James Broughton)”, 1962, Gelatin Silver Print, New Orleans Museum of Art

Bottom Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “james Broughton and Joel Singer in “Devotions”, 1983, Gelatin Silver Print

Christopher Soto: “Last Time I Saw Myself Die..”

Photographers Unknown, Last Time I Saw Myself Die

Last time I saw myself die is when police killed Jessie Hernandez

                                      A 17 year old brown queer // who was sleeping in their car

Yesterday I saw myself die again // Fifty times I died in Orlando // &

                        I remember reading // Dr. José Esteban Muñoz before he passed

I was studying at NYU // where he was teaching // where he wrote shit

                        That made me feel like a queer brown survival was possible // But he didn’t

Survive & now // on the dancefloor // in the restroom // on the news // in my chest

                        There are another fifty bodies that look like mine // & are

Dead // & I’ve been marching for Black Lives & talking about police brutality

                        Against Native communities too // for years now // but this morning

I feel it // I really feel it again // How can we imagine ourselves // We being black native

                        Today // Brown people // How can we imagine ourselves

When All the Dead Boys Look Like Us? // Once I asked my nephew where he wanted

                        To go to College // What career he would like // as if

The whole world was his for the choosing // Once he answered me without fearing

                        Tombstones or cages or the hands from a father // The hands of my lover

Yesterday praised my whole body // Made angels from my lips // Ave Maria

                        Full of Grace // He propped me up like the roof of a cathedral // in NYC

Before we opened the news & read // & read about people who think two brown queers

                        Can’t build cathedrals // only cemeteries // & each time we kiss

A funeral plot opens // In the bedroom I accept his kiss // & I lose my reflection

                        I’m tired of writing this poem // but I want to say one last word about

Yesterday // my father called // I heard him cry for only the second time in my life

                        He sounded like he loved me // it’s something I’m rarely able to hear

& I hope // if anything // his sound is what my body remembers first.;

Christopher Soto, All the Dead Boys Look Like Me, Bullets into Bells: Poets and Citizens Respond to Gun Violence, 2017

Born in 1991 to El Salvadoran parents who immigrated to the United States, Christopher Soto is a poet and prison abolitionist who spent the formative years of life in Los Angeles. Soto studied at New York University as a Goldwater Hospital Writing Fellow and, in 2015, earned a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry .Soto has worked with the Lambda Literary Foundation since 2014 as editor of the online literary journal “Nepantia”.

Christopher Soto’s first chapbook collection of poems was the 2012 “How to Eat Glass”. Soto’s second collection, the chapbook “Sad Girl Poems” was published in January of 2016. This collection of narrative poems dealt with the social issues affecting young queer people of color, among which are homelessness, gender identity, abuse in the family, and death of a lover. In 2016, Soto co-founded, along with Macelo Castillo and Javier Zamora, the Undocupoets Campaign which successfully removed the citizenship requirement from first-book competitions, thus allowing undocumented poets and writers to participate. For this, the organization and Soto received the Barnes & Noble Writer for Writers Award.

After receiving an invitation from The Center for Justice at New York’s Columbia University, Soto taught a community-based writing workshop in 2017 at the university as part of the June Jordan Teaching Corp, named in honor of the queer black poet and essayist. In 2018, Soto edited and published through Nightboat Books the anthology “Nepantia: An Anthology Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color”. This publication was the first major literary anthology of queer poets of color in the United States.

Relocating back to Los Angeles in 2019, Christopher Soto began working with the University of California’s Ethnic Studies Research Center. Soto became a member of the Boardof Directors for Lambda Literary and joined the CantoMundo Fellowship which supports Latino poets and poetry. Working alongside Javier Zamora, Jan Henry Gray and Anni Liu, Soto co-organized the “Writers for Migrant Justice” campaign, a national movement in over forty cities to raise the necessary funds to aid migrant families in detention.

As a lecturer in 2020 with the University of California’s Honors College, Soto began teaching inter disciplinary creative writing courses, such as “Poetry and Protest Movements”. Awarded in 2021 a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry, Soto became a visiting Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Los Angeles’s Occidental College, where he still teaches.

In May of 2022, Copper Canyon Press will be releasing Soto’s new collection of poetry, “Diaries of a Terrorist”. This collection of political surrealist poems, which discusses the issues of power and police violence, is expressed through alternating humor, deep vulnerability, and frank queer punk bawdiness.

Christopher Soto’s poetry, reviews, interviews and articles can be found in many literary publications, including Poetry magazine, Tin House, American Poetry Review, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and the Guardian, among others. Soto’s workis available in many translations including Japanese, Spanish, Portuguese and Thai.

Dennis Cooper: “Their Jeans Sparkled, Cut Off Way Above the Knee”

Photographers Unknown, Their Jeans Sparkled

Their jeans sparkled, cut off
way above the knee, and my
friends and I would watch them
from my porch, books of poems
lost in our laps, eyes wide as
tropical fish behind our glasses.

Their football flashed from hand
to hand, tennis shoes gripped
the asphalt, sweat’s spotlight on
their strong backs. We would
dream of hugging them, and crouch
later in weird rooms, and come.

Once their ball fell our way
so two of them came over, hands
on their hips, asking us to
throw it to them, which Arthur did,
badly, and they chased it back.
One turned to yell, “Thanks”

and we dreamed of his long
teeth in our necks. We
wanted them to wander over,
place deep wet underarms to
our lips, and then their white
asses, then those loud mouths.

One day one guy was very tired,
didn’t move fast enough,
so a car hit him and he sprawled
fifty feet away, sexy, but he was
dead, blood like lipstick, then
those great boys stood together

on the sidewalk and we joined them,
mixing in like one big friendship
to the cops, who asked if we were,
and those boys were too sad to counter.
We’d known his name, Tim, and how
he’d turned to thank us nicely

but now he was under a sheet
anonymous as God, the big boys crying,
spitting words, and we stunned
like intellectuals get, our high
voices soft as the tinkling of a
chandelier on a ceiling too high to see.

Dennis Cooper, “After School, Street Football, Eighth Grade”, The World is Us: Lesbian and Gay Poetry of the Next Wave, 2000

Born in Pasadena, California in January of 1953, Dennis Cooper is a novelist, poet, critic and short story writer. He is best known for his autobiographical novels that feature intense analyses of human obsessions and relationships. 

The son of conservative parents, Dennis Cooper was educated at Pasadena City College and Pitzer College, a private liberal arts college in Claremont, California. He was influenced in his early years by French novelists and directors such as Jean Cocteau, Marguerite Duras and Alain Robbe-Grillet. An astute student, Cooper began writing surreal stories at the age of twelve. He was already focused toward a career in writing at the age of fifteen having written stories  in the styles of Arthur Rimbaud and the Marquis de Sade. 

Cooper was attracted to the Punk culture in his teenage years. In 1976 at the age of twenty-four, he founded the punk “Little Caesar Magazine”, which ran for four years and featured contributions from Debbie Harry, Andy Warhol, and artist / AIDs activist David Wojnarowicz. In 1978, Cooper founded the Little Caesar Press which published works by such artists as poet Amy Gerstler and critic and poet Peter Schjeldahl. Through his publishing company, he published his first book of poetry “Idols” in 1979. Two years later Cooper published his “Tenderness of the Wolves”, a collection of short stories and poetry which was nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. 

After working for four years as the Director of Programming at the Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center, Dennis Cooper moved to New York City in 1983. He soon published his first novella, “Safe” and began a series of five books, the “George Miles Cycle”, a collection of work he aspired to write at the age of fifteen. After relocating to Amsterdam with his boyfriend, Cooper in 1985 published “Closer”, the first volume of the “Cycle” series. This book later won the first Ferro-Grumley Award for Gay Literature. During this period, Cooper also contributed articles for magazines such as The Advocate, Art in America, and Artforum. 

Returning to America in 1987, Cooper published his 1991 novel “Frisk”. He also worked on several art projects including collagist and sculptor Richard Hawkins’s 1988 “Against Nature: A Group Show of Work by Homosexual Men” held at the Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibition space. From 1990 to 2005, Cooper lived in Los Angeles collaborating with other artists including painter Lari Pittman, composer John Zorn, and sculptor Jason Meadows. He also founded the ‘Little House on the Bowery’ imprint, which issued works of new creative writers through the publishing company Akashic Books. 

In 1996, Dennis Cooper published s retrospective of his work from 1969 to 1993 entitled “The Dream Police”. This collection includes the best poems from his last five books, both darkly erotic early works and the more refined post-punk works of the later years. In 2000, Cooper published “Period”, the last volume in his “George Miles Cycle”. This series of work, an examination of Cooper’s fascination with sex and violence as well as his love affair with friend George Miles, has been translated into eighteen foreign languages and has been the subject of academic studies. The cycle, in addition to the five volumes, includes two essay collections by Cooper devoted to the cycle: the 2004 “Enter at Your Own Risk” and the 2008 “Writing at the Edge”.

In 2005, Cooper relocated to Paris where he currently resides. He has collaborated with composers Peter Rehberg and Stephen O’Malley, as well as theater director Gisèle Bienne, on several works for the theater including the 2005 “Un Belle Enfant Blonde” and a stage adaption of his 2003 novella “Jerk”. Cooper has since published several novels, short fiction works, and collections of poetry, including the 2004 “Thee Tight Lung Split Roar Hums”, the 2008 limited edition “The Weaklings”, and the 2013 “The Weaklings (XL)”. 

Notes: In the middle of 2016, Cooper engaged in a two-month confrontation with Google after it deleted his blog for “unspecified violations of their terms of use policy”. This blog contained ten years of writing plus a novel in progress. After mass media attention on Google’s actions and long negotiations through attorneys, Google returned his data. 

Harold Norse: “The Sea Broke Wild Beneath the Cliff”

Photographers Unknown, The Sea Broke Wild Beneath the Cliff

we sailed into the harbor
all the church bells rang
the main street on the crescent shore
hung iridescent silks from windows
stucco house-fronts gleamed
rose, pistachio, peach
and a procession sang
behind a surpliced priest
carrying a burnished Christ
when I set foot on shore
a youth emerged from the crowd
barefoot and olive-skinned
and we climbed up rocky slopes
till dusk fell and close to the moon
at the mouth of a cave we made love
as the sea broke wild beneath the cliff

Harold Norse, Island of Giglio, In the Hub of the Fiery Force: Collected Poems of Harold Norse (1934-2003)

Born in New York City in July of 1916, Harold Norse, born Harold Rosen, was an American poet and writer who broke new ground beginning in the 1950s by his exploration of gay identity and sexuality through plain language and direct imagery. 

The only son of an unmarried Lithuanian Jewish immigrant, Harold Norse earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature in 1938 from Brooklyn College where he edited its literary magazine and began writing poetry. While at the college, Norse entered into a relationship with fellow student Chester Kallman, who became a poet and opera librettist. He and Kallman became part of poet W. H. Auden’s inner circle of acquaintances after Auden and Christopher Isherwood relocated to New York City in 1939. Chester Kallman later became Auden’s companion until Auden’s death.

By the early 1940s as a member of Auden’s circle, Norse cultivated a number of relationships, both professional and personal. He met Allen Ginsberg on a Manhattan subway and became friends with James Baldwin after meeting him in Greenwich Village. Norse spent a summer with Tennessee Williams while the playwright finished his “The Glass Menagerie”, and in 1950 became friends with Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. After earning his Master’s Degree in English Literature at New York University in 1951, Norse met modernist poet William Carlos William who encouraged him to embrace a more direct, conversational language in his poetry. 

After accepting Williams’s mentorship, Harold Norse found a common cause with the Beat Generation poets in their rejection of academic poetry and traditional metric formats. as well as, his peripheral status in society as a gay man. Norse began publishing his work in The Paris Review, The Saturday Review, and Poetry Magazine. In 1953, he published his first collection of poem, “The Undersea Mountain”. Frustrated with New York’s poetry scene, Norse began a fifteen year period of travel in Europe and North Africa. While in Italy, he translated the sonnets of Giuseppe Gioachino Belli from the Romanesco, the dialect of Rome, with the assistance of street hustlers.

Between 1960 and 1963, Norse lived in Paris , along with William Burroughs, Alan Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, at the hotel known as “The Bear” in the city’s Latin Quarter. He briefly collaborated with painter and performance artist Brion Gysin on Gysin’s cut-up Dada work. After traveling to Greece where he met songwriter and author Leonard Cohen, Norse went to North Africa where he became friends with stage actor Paul Bowles. He returned to the United States and settled in the Mission District of San Francisco in 1972, which became his home for the rest of his life.There he became friends with writer Charles Bukowski and met Arnold Schwarzenegger, at that time a beginning bodybuilder.

It was in San Francisco that Harold Norse’s literary career became very productive. In 1974, Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s publishing house, City Lights, released Norse’s “Hotel Nirvana” Selected Poems 1953-1973” to critical acclaim. With the publication of “Carnivorous Saint: Gay Poems 1941-1975″, he was considered one of America’s leading gay poets. Norse followed these successes with two more collections: “The Love Poems 1940-1985” and his final volume, “In the Hub of the Fiery Force: Collected Poems 1934-2003”. In 1989, his autobiography, “Memoirs of a Bastard Angel: A Fifty Year Literary and Erotic Odyssey”, was published. 

Norse was an outsider of society, Jewish, homosexual and illegitimate, who produced new and technically accomplished work from the fringes of the literary scene in the United States. With the gay liberation movement gathering momentum, his poetry was given a new sense of direction and meaning. Norse wrote new poems about the idea of masculinity, such as his “I Am Not a Man”, and works about unrequited gay love and loneliness. In his latter years, his work reflected on what it meant to be an aged gay man in San Francisco. 

Toward the end of his life, Harold Norse was surrounded by a group of friends who looked after him. He still read his poetry at the age of ninety-one to enthralled audiences. Both a two-time National Endowment of the Arts grant recipient and a National Poetry Association Award winner, Harold Norse died on the 8th of June in 2009. 

Note: For those interested, I highly recommend a visit to the Harold Norse Centennial website. Dedicated to preserving the work and legacy of Norse, it was established by his close.  decades-long friend Todd Swindell. The site contains interviews, readings of Norse’s work, book reviews, videos, photographs, and other articles. The site is located at: https://haroldnorse.com

 

Edward Carpenter: “Clouds and Daemonic Thunder Through the Blue Vault”

Photographers Unknown, Clouds and Daemonic Thunder Through the Blue Vault

O APRIL, month of Nymphs and Fauns and Cupids,
Month of the Sungod’s kisses, Earth’s sweet passion,
Of fanciful winds and showers;
Apollo, glorious over hill and dale
Ethereally striding; grasses springing
Rapt to his feet, buds bursting, flowers out-breathing
Their liberated hearts in love to him.

(The little black-cap garrulous on the willow
Perching so prim, the crested chaffinch warbling,
And primrose and celandine, anemone and daisy,
Starring the tender herb which lambs already nibble.)

Month of all-gathering warmth,
Of breathless moments, hotter and hotter growing-
Smiles turned to fire, kisses to fierce earnest-
Of sultry swoons, pauses, and strange suspense
(Clouds and daemonic thunder through the blue vault
threateningly rolling):
Then the delirious up-break- the great fountains of the
deep, in Sex,
Loosened to pouring failing rushing waters;
Shafts of wild light; and Sky and Earth in one another’s
arms
Melted, and all of Heaven spent in streams of love
Towards the Loved one.

George Carpenter, April, Towards Democracy, 1911

Born in August of 1844 in Hove, a seaside city located next to Brighton, Edward Carpenter was an English poet, utopian socialist, philosopher, and an early activist for both prison reform and gay rights. Among his most notable philosophical publications was his 1889 “Civilization: Its Cause and Cure” which contained Carpenter’s famous essays on civilization and his theory that it is a disease of mankind that must be cured. Papers included in this collection discuss the rampant ill-health suffered by society as well as criticisms of modern science to support this theory. 

One of four siblings, Edward Carpenter was educated at nearby Brighton College where his father served as governor. A late starter academically in life, he was still able to secure a position at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. While at Cambridge, Carpenter was influenced by the teachings of Christian Socialist theologian Frederick Denison Maurice, who had recently founded London’s Working Men’s College. He also began to explore his sexual identity; the most notable example of which was his close relationship with fellow student Edward Anthony Beck, who eventually ended the relationship.

In 1868, Carpenter graduated from Trinity College as tenth Wrangler, having earned first-class honors in mathematics. After graduation, he remained in Cambridge and was ordained, by convention and not conviction, as a curate of the Church of England where he served at St. Edward’s parish under F. D. Maurice. In 1871, at the age of twenty-seven, Carpenter was invited, but declined, to become a tutor to Prince George Frederick, later King George V, and his brother Prince Albert Victor, the Duke of Clarence. This position was accepted by his lifelong friend from college, John Neale Dalton, whom Carpenter continued to visit during Dalton’s fourteen-year tutelage to the princes.

Discouraged with his life in the church and university and weary of the hypocrisy of Victorian society, Edward Carpenter immersed himself in reading, particularly finding solace in the works of Walt Whitman whom he would later meet in 1877. He was released from his duties in the Anglican ministry and left the church in 1874. Moving to Leeds, Carpenter became a lecturer with the University Extension Movement, formed to provide education to deprived communities. His lectures on astronomy and ancient Greek culture and music were, however, not attended by the working classes but by mostly middle-class people who expressed no real interest in the subjects. 

Disillusioned, Carpenter moved to Sheffield, a crucial center of England’s Industrial Revolution, where he came in contact with its manual workers and, inspired, began to write poetry. During this time in Sheffield, Carpenter became increasingly radical and joined the Social Democratic Federation, Britain’s first organized socialist political party. Upon his father’s death in 1882, Carpenter inherited a substantial sum of money, in excess of six-hundred thousand pounds in today’s currency. This inheritance allowed him to cease lecturing and start a simpler life on a farm managed by Albert Ferneyhough and his family. 

Edward Carpenter and Albert Ferneyhough eventually became lovers and moved in 1883, with Albert’s family, to Millthorpe in Derbyshire. In Millthorpe, Carpenter built a large house with outbuildings constructed of local stone with slate roofs; a small business was started with marketable garden produce and handmade leather sandals. As a member of the Social Democratic Federation, Carpenter worked on a number of projects to improve the living conditions of industrial workers. He left the SDF in 1884 and, along with textile designer and author William Morris, joined the Socialist League. 

In 1883, Carpenter published the first part of “Towards Democracy”, a long poem expressing his idea of spiritual democracy and a freer, more just society. This tome, heavily influenced by Walt Whitman’s poetry and passages from the Bhagavad Gita, was later expanded several times with the complete edition published in 1905. In 1887, Carpenter published his “England’s Ideal”, a collection of essays which included his “Simplification of Life”. From 1888 to 1889, he lived with Cecil Reddle, an educational reformer whom he helped found the Abbotsholme School, a progressive alternative to public education.

Drawn increasingly to Hindu philosophy, Edward Carpenter traveled to India and Ceylon where he developed the conviction that socialism would bring about a revolution in both economic conditions and human consciousness. His account of the journey was published as the 1892 “From Adam’s Peak to Elephanta: Sketches in Ceylon and India”. On his return to England in 1891, Carpenter met George Merrill, a Sheffield working-class man twenty-two years his junior. After the Ferneyhough family left Millthorpe in 1893, Merrill became his partner, cohabiting from 1898, and remained with Carpenter for the rest of their lives. 

 Carpenter and Merrill had many friends among activists and artists, including Henry Stephens Salt, founder of the Humanitarian League; author Aldous Huxley; essayist and sexologist Havelock Ellis; actor and producer Ben Iden Payne; Labor activists Bruce and Katharine Glasier; and feminist writer Olive Shreiner. One of his closest friends was the writer E. M. Forester, who often visited the couple at Millthorpe. Carpenter and Merrill’s relationship would inspire Forester during a 1913 visit to write his gay-themed novel “Maurice”. 

In 1902, Edward Carpenter published his anthology of prose and verse “Ioläus: An Anthology of Friendship” and, in 1915, published “The Healing of Nations and the Hidden Sources of Their Strife”, a tome against class-monopoly and social inequality. His 1921 book, “Pagan and Christian Creeds” espoused the story of Christ as mythology. In 1922 after the death of Carpenter’s former lover George Hukin, Carpenter and Merrill relocated to Guildford in Surrey. On Carpenter’s eightieth birthday, he was presented with an album, signed by every member of the Labor Party Government, in recognition of his support for the working classes. 

In January of 1928, George Merrill, who had grown dependent on alcohol since moving to Surrey, died suddenly. Carpenter was devastated and sold their house and lodged for a short time with his care giver Ted Inigran. They took a small bungalow in Surrey where, in May of 1928, Carpenter had a stroke. He lived for another thirteen months and died on the 28th of June in 1929, at the age of eighty-four. He was interred in the same grave as Merrill at the Mount Cemetery in Guildford, England.

Note: A collection of Edward Carpenter’s works and papers are housed at the Harry Ransom Center of the University of Texas at Austin. This collection includes letters and the hand-written manuscripts of “Toward Industrial Freedom” and “The Trojan War & Constantinople”, among other items.

A transcript of a discussion, given by poet Allen Ginsberg, on Edward Carpenter’s 1888 “The Secret of Time and Satan” can be found at The Allen Ginsberg Project website. An audio of that discussion is also provided. The discussion is located at: https://allenginsberg.org/2014/03/expansive-poetics-42-edward-carpenter-4/

Top Insert Image: Fred Holland Day, “Edward Carpenter”, 1900, Black and White Photogravure, 9.9 x 7.3 cm, National Portrait Gallery, London

Second Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Edward Carpenter and George Merrill”

Third Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “George Edward Hukin, Edward Carpenter and George Merrill”, Date Unknown, Photogravure

Fourth Insert Image: Henry A Bishop, “Edward Carpenter”, 1907, Oil on Canvas, 47.3 x 43.8 cm, National Portrait Gallery, London

Bottom Insert Image: Alvin Langdon Coburn, “Edward Carpenter”, November 28 1905, Photogravure, 20.8 x 15.7 cm, National Portrait Gallery, London

Saeed Jones: “Their Footprints Burn Holes in the Sand”

Photographers Unknown, Their Footprints Burn Holes in the Sand

Boys begin to gather around the man like seagulls.
He ignores them entirely, but they follow him
from one end of the beach to the other.
Their footprints burn holes in the sand.
It’s quite a sight, a strange parade:
a man with a pair of wings strapped to his arms
followed by a flock of rowdy boys.
Some squawk and flap their bony limbs.
Others try to leap now and then, stumbling
as the sand tugs at their feet. One boy pretends to fly
in a circle around the man, cawing in his face.

We don’t know his name or why he walks
along our beach, talking to the wind.
To say nothing of those wings. A woman yells
to her son, Ask him if he’ll make me a pair.
Maybe I’ll finally leave your father.
He answers our cackles with a sudden stop,
turns, and runs toward the water.
The children jump into the waves after him.
Over the sound of their thrashes and giggles,
we hear a boy say, We don’t want wings.
We want to be fish now.

Saeed Jones, “Daedalus, After Icarus”, Prelude to Bruise, 2014

Saeed Jones, an American poet and author, was born in November of 1985 in Memphis, Tennessee, and raised in a suburb of northern Texas. He studied at Western Kentucky University where he won national speech and debate competitions. After receiving his Bachelor of Arts, Jones earned his Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Rutgers University in Newark. He currently lives and works on his writing in Columbus, Ohio. 

Saeed Jones’s poetry examines the issues of race, power, desire and grief; he incorporates both mythology and the iconography of black culture into his poems and prose. In his work, Jones also discusses the process of personal journey and transformation, which includes those events in life where the issues of sex, race and power collide. 

Jones’s first published work, “Prelude to Bruise”, was a large collection of melodic poems with words in counterpoint. The core theme present throughout the collection is of a queer Afro-American child who navigates through family, gender and desire in the South. The work was named a finalist for the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, the 2014 Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry, and the 2015 Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry. It won the 2015 Stonewall Book Award and PEN/ Joyce Osterwell Award for Poetry. 

Saeed Jones’s second work, a memoir entitled “How We Fight for Our Lives”, follows his life as a young, gay, black man living in Lewisville, Texas in the 1990s as he seeks a place for himself within family and country, and within his desires, hopes and fears. The memoir highlights his awareness of the discrimination, homophobia and racism he endured, as well as the struggles he faced to define his own identity. “How We Fight for Our Lives” won the 2019 Kirkus Prize for Non-Fiction, the 2020 Lambda Literary Award for Memoir/Biography, the 2020 Stonewall Book Award-Israel Fishman Non-Fiction Award, and the Randy Shilts Award for Gay Nonfiction presented by Publishing Triangle. 

Saeed Jones previously worked as the LGBTQ editor and Culture editor for BuzzFeed, an internet company focused on all segments of digital media. He has received a Pushcart Prize and fellowships from Cave Canem and Queer Art Mentorship. 

Notes: Saeed Jones’s next poetry collection, entitled “Alive at the End of the World”, will be released in September of 2022. Though his poems, Jones confronts the everyday perils of white supremacy and identifies even routine moments that open channels of hurt. Using first-person narration, he seeks to understand his own feelings through the lives and experiences of such cultural icons as Aretha Franklin, Little Richard, and Diahann Carroll. Pre-order is available through Coffee House Press located at: https://coffeehousepress.org/products/alive-at-the-end-of-the-world/

Mikhail Kuzmin: “Night Was Done. We Rose and After. . .”

Photographers Unknown, Night Was Done

Умывались, одевались,
После ночи целовались,
После ночи, полной ласк.
На сервизе лиловатом,
Будто с гостем, будто с братом,
Пили чай, не снявши маск.

Наши маски улыбались,
Наши взоры не встречались,
И уста наши немы.
Пели «Фауста», играли,
Будто ночи мы не знали,
Те, ночные, те — не мы.

Night was done. We rose and after
Washing, dressing, — kissed with laughter, —
After all the sweet night knows.
Lilac breakfast cups were clinking
While we sat like brothers drinking
Tea, — and kept our dominoes.

And our dominoes smiled greeting,
And our eyes avoided meeting
With our dumb lips’ secrecy.
“Faust” we sang, we played, denying
Night’s strange memories, strangely dying,
As though night’s twain were not we.

Mikhail Kuzmin, Night was Done. We Rose and After…, 1906

Translated by Babette Deutsch and Avrahm Yarmolinsky

Born in October of 1872 in Yaroslavi, Mikhail Alekseevich Kuzmin was a Russian poet, musician and novelist who was a prominent contributor to the Silver Age of Russian Poetry, an exceptionally creative period of poetry at the turn of the twentieth-century. Born into a noble family, he grew up in St. Petersburg where he studied music at its Conservatory under Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, known for his mastery of orchestration. 

Although the main focus of his career became poetry, Mikhail Kuzmin still retained his interest in music. He composed the music for theatrical producer Vsevolod Meyerhold’s 1906 production of Alexander Blok’s play “Balaganchik (The Fair Show Booth)”. Kuzmin’s personal compositions, sung while playing the piano, were popular in the city’s salons, such as The Stray Dog cafe and Ivanov’s Tower, the most famous of St.Petersburg’s literary salons and a major intelligentsia gathering place owned by the poet Vyacheslav Ivanov and his wife. Kuzmin was charismatic and well-liked, and the fact that he was open about his many relationships and trysts did not damage his social standing.

One of Kuzmin’s closest friends and a major influence as a young man was the aristocrat Georgy Chicherin, a distant relative of Aleksandr Pushkin and a passionate supporter of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and composer Wilhelm Wagner. In his youth, Kuzmin made pilgrimages to Egypt, Italy, and northern Russia with the Old Believers, a Russian Orthodox Church sect which maintained its old liturgy and traditions. Settling in St. Petersburg, he began, at the age of thirty-two,  to associate with the art circle centered around the art magazine Mir Iskusstva or World of Art, which introduced Russian artists to the European art movements.

Mikhail Kuzmin’s first work, “The Green Collection of Verse and Prose”, was published in 1905; this work was seen by writer and critic Valery Bryusov who invited Kuzmin to publish in the literary magazine Vesy. Kuzmin published two works in 1906: his most celebrated work, “Alexandrian Songs”, a collection of free verse love songs with homosexual undertones, and his first erotic novel, “Wings”, a story of a young man in St. Petersburg learning to accept his homosexuality. Told with Platonic subtexts, the novel caused a scandal but was immensely popular. Kuzmin’s writing style earned praise from the critics, which protected it from prosecution in the Tsar’s crumbling regime. 

Kuzmin’s  work, original and philosophical with a simple unpretentious style, set him apart from his Symbolist contemporaries’ writings. With the success of his publications, Kuzmin became a member of Russia’s cultural elite, his work sought by prestigious journals and publishers. In 1908, Kuzmin published “Seti (Nets)”, his first collection of one-hundred poems which was widely acclaimed. He was living in that year with set-design artist Serge Sudeikin and Sudeikin’s first wife, Olga Glebova; however, he was asked to move out after Olga discovered the affair between Kuzmin and her husband. 

In February of 1913, Mikhail Kuzmin met in Kiev the seventeen-year old writer and painter Yuri Yurkun, who would remain his lover until Kuzmin’s death. They lived in St. Petersburg with Yurkun’s mother in a communal apartment. Yurkun was arrested in 1918 by the Bolsheviks and detained for a brief period. Two years later, Yurkun met the young actress Olga Arbenina, who moved into the couple’s apartment and later married Yurkun. Kuzmin distanced himself from all political events after the Russian Revolution and continued writing; but it was clear that his writing was becoming less appreciated. 

For the rest of his career, Kuzmin made his living primarily as a literary translator most notably of Shakespeare’s plays. The last volume of poetry Kuzmin published was the 1929 cycle of narrative and lyric poetry entitled “The Trout Breaks the Ice”, which except for two contemptuous reviews, was ignored by the Soviet press. Mikhail Kuzmin died in poverty of pneumonia in St. Petersburg, then Leningrad, in March of 1936. Two years later in 1938, Yuri Yurkun was arrested by the secret police and executed in a massive political purge. 

At Kuzmin’s birthday ceremony in 1920, poet Alexander Blok expressed in his speech a wish that conditions be created in the future where a literary artist such as Kuzmin would have the right “to remain himself”. Considered by literary figures of his time to be a pioneer for a future age of sexual tolerance, Kuzmin became after the revolution a nonperson. The Soviet government for decades attempted to dismiss Kuzmin’s contributions to literature and kept his diaries from Western scholars.

The personal diaries Kuzmin kept from 1905 to 1934, previously published only in part, occupy a special place in his legacy and has been prized by historians of Russian culture for its unique intimate view of the country’s cultural life during that period. Interest in Kuzmin’s works and life was revived in the 1970s with the 1977 publication of a three-volume edition of his poetry, and a twelve-volume collection of his prose which was published between 1984 and 2000. Several editions of Kuzmin’s works also have been published in Russia since 1990.

Top Insert Photo: Photographer Unknown, “Mikail Kuzmin”, circa 1911

Second Insert Image: Aleksander Golovin, “Mikhail Kuzmin”, 1910 Oil on Canvas

Third Insert Image: Original Book Jacket, Hand-Colored Linocut by Ekaterina Turova for Mikhail Kuzmin’s 1913 “Dvum (For Two)”

Bottom Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Yuri Yurkun”, Date Unknown

Thom Gunn: “I Dozed. I Slept. My Sleep Broke on a Hug”

Photographers Unknown, Positional Images of Men

It was your birthday, we had drunk and dined
    Half of the night with our old friend
        Who’d showed us in the end
    To a bed I reached in one drunk stride.
        Already I lay snug,
And drowsy with the wine dozed on one side.

I dozed, I slept. My sleep broke on a hug,
        Suddenly, from behind,
In which the full lengths of our bodies pressed:
         Your instep to my heel,
     My shoulder-blades against your chest.
     It was not sex, but I could feel
     The whole strength of your body set,
             Or braced, to mine,
         And locking me to you
     As if we were still twenty-two
     When our grand passion had not yet
         Become familial.
     My quick sleep had deleted all
     Of intervening time and place.
         I only knew
The stay of your secure firm dry embrace.

Thom Gunn, The Hug, The Man with Night Sweats, 1992

Born in August of 1929 in Gravesend, a port town in Kent, Thom Gunn was an English poet. A reader of works by Keats, Milton, and Marlowe, he attended Hampstead’s University College School in his youth. Gunn spent two years in the British Army for his national service and lived for six months in Paris before entering Cambridge’s Trinity College to study English literature. 

After his graduation in 1953, Gunn, young and gay at a time when it was illegal, published his first volume of poetry, “Fighting Terms”, a collection of poetic metaphors of love and self-disclosure. Received with acclaim, the volume contains his poems “Carnal Knowledge” and the tender “Tamer and Hawk”. Gunn’s initial poetry became associated with The Movement, a group of English poets who wrote traditional, simple poems nostalgic for an earlier, more pastoral Britain. His later poetry was associated with the work of Poet Laurette of England Ted Hughes who wrote frequently about the mixture of beauty and violence in the natural world.

After his first volume was published, Thom Gunn emigrated with his life-long partner Michael Kitay, whom he had met at Cambridge, to the United States. Taking a position at California’s Stanford University to teach writing, Gunn began to study poetry with poet and literary critic Yvor Winters, a modernist poet whose clear, sharp-language work was heavily influenced by Native American poetry. He began reading and studying the works of poets Gary Snyder, Robert Duncan, and William Carlos Williams, all of whom would influence his poetry. 

Gunn began teaching at the Berkeley campus of the University of California in 1958, a position he held for forty-two years, with a seven year absence beginning in 1966. His second collection of poems, the 1957 “Sense of Movement”, was a winner of the Somerset Maugham Award. Contained within that volume is the poem “On the Move”, a celebration of black-jacketed motorcyclists. In 1961, Gunn published his “My Sad Captains”, a book divided in two sections. The first section contained epic poems written in heroic verse which, in its purest form, consists of two rhyming lines written in an iambic pentameter. Gunn experimented in the second section with syllabic verse where the meter of the work is determined by the total number of syllables per line, rather than the contained stresses. This juxtaposition between two poetic forms would be repeated in other Gunn collections. 

Affected by the San Francisco bohemian lifestyle of the 1960s and 1970s, Thom Gunn became increasingly bolder in his verse and began to explore themes of homosexuality and drugs. Notable collections from the period include the 1967 “Touch”, “Moly” published in 1971 and the 1976 “Jack Straw’s Castle”. While he continued to use the  sharp, metrical forms that characterized his early work, Gunn continued his experiments with the freedom of free verse.  Coupled with his writing to a specific set of images, these free verse poems with their non-rhyming lines followed the natural rhythms of speech.

In 1982, Gunn published his first collection of essays, “The Occasions of Poetry”, which included critical pieces on writers ranging from William Carlos Williams and Gary Snyder to Thomas Hardy and Robert Duncan. The volume also contained five autobiographical essays, which covered Gunn’s development as a poet and discussed the contemporary literary currents in England and the United States, places that Gunn considered as home.

Gunn lost many of his friends when the AIDS epidemic came to the gay community in the 1980s. His grief was described to a profound degree in his 1992 “The Man with Night Sweats”, a series of first person perspective poems that explored the horrors of the epidemic as seen through the eyes of the inflicted. Through these poems, Gunn described his heartbreaking personal loss. Poems contained in this collection include “Lament”, “In Time of Plague”, and the title poem “The Man with Night Sweats”. Gunn received the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize for this 1992 volume. Although AIDS was a focus of much of his later work, he remained HIV-negative himself. Spared from the disease, Gunn continued in his work to consider death and what it meant that he was one to survive.

Among Thom Gunn’s other works are his 1979 “Selected Poems 1950-1975”; “Passages of Joy” published in 1982; and his final book of poetry, the 2000 “Boss Cupid”, which won Publishing Triangle’s inaugural Triangle Award for Gay Poetry in 2001. This award was, after his death, renamed the Thom Gunn Award in his memory. Gunn published a second volume of critical and autobiographical essays entitled “Shelf Life” in 1993. He won many awards for his work and received fellowships from the Guggenheim and the MacArthur foundations.

Thom Gunn died in April of 2004 of acute polysubstance abuse at his home in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco, where he had lived since 1960. Five years after his death, a new edition of his “Selected Poems” was republished.

Notes: In the summer 2005 edition of The Threepenny Review, there is an article written by Michael Kitay about his first meeting and life with Thom Gunn. It can be found at: https://www.threepennyreview.com/samples/kitay_su05.html

A collection of Thom Gunn’s poetry can be found at the Classic Poetry Series located at:  https://www.poemhunter.com/i/ebooks/pdf/thom_gunn_2012_8.pdf

 

 

Kenneth Pobo: “I Colored the Paper Lavender”

Photographers Unknown, Parts and Pieces Making a Whole: Set Fifteen

After Langston Hughes

Professor, you tell us about
your nice wife and two children.
People should be nice. I’m nice.
Sometimes I’m smug. I have
bad days. You’re straight,
a perfectly fitted back door.
Gay, I don’t fit. Is it good
to fit? You say tonight
I should write a poem
about myself. I’ve written
a few before. They stay in
my notebook like condoms
in a wallet. I’ll pull one out.
It won’t be about wives
and kids and fitting in.
Is that OK? I could fake it
for an A. You wouldn’t
dock me for following
instructions, right?

So here’s my poem-
I colored the paper lavender
just for you.

Kenneth Pobo, Theme for English C, The Antlantis Hit Parade, American Journal of Poetry, 2019

Born in August of 1954 in suburban Chicago, Kenneth Pobo is a poet, essayist, critic and story writer. The only child of Louis Pobo, a chemist, and Myrtle Pobo, a housewife active in church activities and later.very supportive of her gay son and his partner. Both of Pobo’s parents were enthusiastic gardeners, a trait which he later emulated in his adult life. 

Kenneth Pobo began his early poetic work, influenced by his love of 1960s popular music, as an outlet for emotions he could not express as a gay child in the contemporary society. His first poem, written on July 4th of 1970, was an imitation of the 1969 song “Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James and the Shondells. As Pobo stated in the introduction to his 2002 collection entitled “Greatest Hits” , he used the bubblegum imagery of pop music as an overlay for emerging sexual feelings.

Pobo received his Bachelor of Arts in 1976 from Wheaton College in Illinois. In 1979, he earned his Master of Arts in English at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee where he studied under James Liddy, a poet both Irish Catholic and gay, who is best known for his collections, “A Blue Smoke” and “Blue Mountain”. Pobo’s creative writing thesis, later published with changes as a chapbook in 1981, was entitled “Billions of Lit Cigarettes”. Pobo was awarded his Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1983; his creative writing dissertation was entitled “A Vision Tested in the Flower: The Aaron Stern Poems”. 

Kenneth Pobo writes  in a wide variety of styles and poetic forms. His work contains references from all the things that enthuse his life, including music, gardening, his friends, astronomy, movie stars, naps, and martinis, among others. Pobo’s poetry covers many topics including politics and popular culture, as well as contemporary gay life with its love and passions. The majority of his poems are of medium length; however, great attention is paid to the smallest detail even though it might at first seem mundane.

The first collection of poetry by Pobo was the 1979 “Musings from the Porchlit Sea”. In this volume, he uses his knowledge of past literary verse and, by the addition of popular cultural models such as disco, gives the verse a new voice for contemporary culture. A prominent example is his poem “The Disco Version of the Love Song of  J.Alfred Prufrock” which took T. S. Eliot’s 1915 canonical poem and molded it into a campy exposé of contemporary life.

Pobo’s second volume of poetry, “Evergreen”, was published as a chapbook in 1985. Inspired again by Tommy James and the Shondells, the collection takes its title from a song on their 1969 “Cellophane Symphony” album. “Evergreen” features poems about plants, places, and people he admires; the volume includes the poem “Cass” about Mama Cass Elliot of the Mamas and the Papas band.  A fictional poem set during the Civil War is also included in this collection. Entitled “Joshua to Andy, Appomatox, 1865”, the poem tells the story of two soldiers who were lovers and, ironically, parted with the end of hostilities. Within this homage to previous war poems by such poets as Whitman and Melville, Pobo placed homosexual love and tenderness inside the world of warfare.

Kenneth Pobo’s 1986 chapbook “A Pause Inside Duck” contains overtly political poems that are composed in traditional poetic form. Contained in the 1991 “Ferns on Fire” is his angriest gay political poem, “Shasta”, which connects the centuries-long holocaust of Native Americans peoples with the lives of contemporary gay men. The 1996 “A Barbaric Yawp on the Rocks” contains the usual mundane details and pop references, such as The Cowsills and the Rolling Stones; however, Pobo uses these references more sharply in his depictions of both political and romantic modern gay life experiences.

Pobo is the author of twenty-one chapbooks and nine full-length collections. His most recent works include the 2011 chapbook “Ice and Gaywings” which won the Qarrtsiluni  Chapbook Contest; the 2012 chapbook “Save My Place”; a collection of both prose and traditionally composed poems entitled “The Antlantis Hit Parade” and “Dindi Expecting Snow”, both published in 2019; and the 2020 “Lavender Fire, Lavender Rose” which won the Stonewall Chapbook Competition. 

In addition to poetry, Pobo also writes fiction and essays which include “The Gay/Lesbian Teacher as a Role Model” for the March/April 1999 edition of “The Humanist” magazine and “But Can You Dance to It? Musical Imagery in the Poetry of Langston Hughes, Audre Lorde, and David Trinidad” for the October edition of the “Intercultural Writer’s Review”.

Kenneth Pobo taught English and Creative Writing at Widener University in Chester, Pennsylvania, for thirty years until his retirement in 2020. He shares his life with his husband, Stanley Slater, in Media, Pennsylvania.

Note: A reading by Kenneth Pobo of his poem “Sudden Fear”, titled after the 1952 Joan Crawford movie, can be found at the online crime poetry weekly, “The Five-Two”, located at: https://poemsoncrime.blogspot.com/2015/09/kenneth-pobo.html

Justin Chin: “What Measures Eternity?”

Photographers Unknown, What Measures Eternity?

 Oh blameless innocent victim 
What measures a lifetime? 

I used to have this theory about how 
much life a human body could hold. 
It all had to do with the number 
of heartbeats. Each human is assigned a number 
determined by an unknown power cascading 
over the dark waters of an unformed Earth. 

     For some, it was a magnificently high number 
seen only in Ritchie Rich comics, and for others, 
it was frightfully low, like twenty-six. 
            No bargaining, no coupons, 
no White Flower Day sale, no specials. Once 
you hit your number, you croak. 
                  I imagined the angels in heaven 
and the demons in hell gathering to watch 
the counters turn, like how I enjoyed watching 
the speedometer line up to a row of similar 
numbers, and especially when the row of 
nines turned into 
                  the row of zeros. 

Oh Blameless innocent victim 
What measures eternity? 

Justin Chin, Excerpt from the Poem “Grave”, Harmless Medicine, 2001

Born in September of 1969, Justin Chin was a Malaysian-American  poet, essayist, and performance artist. In his works, he dealt with identity categories that influenced his life: Asian-American, Gay Writer and Queer. Chin’s work sought to give a voice to marginalized groups of racial, national, and sexual minorities, Acknowledging that everyone one has an individual self-identity, he also questioned the usefulness of categories that dominate the language of today.

Justin Chin was educated in Singapore’s British colonial system where he developed his love for poetry and prose in English literature. In 1991 after graduating,  he left home to  attend Honolulu’s  University of Hawaii at Mānoa where he studied creative writing. Chin trained under poet and visual artist Faye Kicknosway, who encouraged his writing and introduced him to poet and playwright R. Zamora Linmark and  visual artist and poet  Lisa Asagi. These two artists remained important supporters of Chin’s work throughout his life.

In 1990 in San Francisco, Chin attended the first annual Outwrite Conference, which played a pivotal role in encouraging and shaping the LBGTQ literary culture in the United States. Relocating to San Francisco in 1991, he transferred to the journalistic program at San Francisco State University. Feeling restrained by the journalistic format, Chin began to write essays, poems, fiction, and performance pieces to express his views. In 1995 and 1996, Chin was a member of San Francisco’s team for the National Poetry Slam, an annual performance poetry competition.

Justin Chin published his first collection of poetry, the 1997 “Bite Hard”, which received nominations for both the Lambda Literary Award and the Firecracker Alternative Book Award. This mix of poems and short performance pieces, done in unflinching, harsh honesty and biting humor, dealt with AIDS, sexual tourism, racial stereotypes, Asian identity and bathroom sex. The prvading sense of loneliness in this volume culminates in its last poem, “Refuging”, where Chin discloses the pain of losing one’s cultural identity and examines the loss of lovers and its subsequent effect on one’s self.

In 1999, Chin published a collection of opinion and biographical essays from 1994 to 1997 in a volume entitled “Mongrel: Essays, Diatribes and Pranks”, which received positive reviews. A second collection of poetry, “Harmless Medicine” followed in 2001 and received nominations for the Lambda Literary Award and the Firecracker Alternative Book Award. This second collection is different than the first in tone; it is more serious and poignant in its discussion of homophobia, mortality, the American culture and AIDS. Its long and complex poems explore the meanings and effects of illness as well as the hatred of a xenophobic society hiding behind and seeking justification in religion.

Justin Chin published a collection of more personal and revealing essays in 2002 entitled “Burden of Ashes”. The first twelve essays dealt with his childhood family life, the abuse by an aunt, and growing up in a repressive society; the second part of the collection focused on his coming to terms with his sexuality and his mostly unfulfilling  love life. Chin’s third volume of poetry, “Gutted” was published in 2006; it became a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award and won the Thom Gunn Award, that honors gay male poetry. 

Other prose works by Chin include the 2005 “Attack of the Man-Eating Lotus Blossoms”, a collection of documents and scripts from his performance work, and “98 Wounds” published in 2011. In addition to his published work, Chin created eight full-length solo performance works and several shorter works that he performed throughout the United States. An anthology of writings from Chin’s seven published books, entitled “Justin Chin: Selected Works”, was published in 2016.

In his career, Justin Chin enlivened the poetry scenes of both San Francisco’s  Paradise Lounge and its spoken word and performance art collective Sister Spit , as well as open microphones at various clubs. He was a respected presence at the Outwrite Conferences and at Litquake, San Francisco’s Bay Area literary festival. Justin Chin’s life ended tragically, at the age of forty-six, with a stroke related to complications from AIDS on December 24th of 2015.

Edward Field: “This Man Is Not Dangerous”

Photographers Unknown, This Man Is Not Dangerous

The poster with my picture on it
is hanging on the bulletin board in the Post Offive.

I stand by it hoping to be recognized
Posing first full face and then in profile

But everybody passes by and I have to admit
The photograph was taken some years ago.

I was unwanted then and I’m unwanted now
Ah guess ah’ll go up echo mountain and crah.

I wish someone would find my fingerprints somewhere
Maybe on a corpse and say, You’re it.

Description: Male, or reasonably so
White, but not lily-white and usually deep-red

Thirty-fivish, and looks it lately
Five-feet-nine and one-hundred-thirty pounds: no physique

Black hair going gray, hairline receding fast
What used to be curly, now fuzzy

Brown eyes starey under the beetling brow
Mole on chin, probably will become a wen

It is perfectly obvious that he was not popular at school
No good at baseball, and wet his bed.

His aliases tell his story: Dumbell, Good-for nothing,
Jewboy, Fieldinsky, Skinny, Fierce Face, Greaseball, Sissy.

Warning: This man is not dangerous, answers to any name
Responds to love, don’t call him or he will come.

Edward Field, Unwanted, Stand Up, Friend, With Me, 1962

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in June of 1924 to Ashkenazi Jewish parents, Edward Field is an American poet and author. He spent his formative years living in Long Island, where as a cello player he played on the Field Family Trio, a weekly radio program on Freeport’s WGBB. Field enlisted in 1942 and did basic training with the U.S. Army’s Air Force division. During the training, a Red Cross worked handed Field an anthology of American  poet Louis Untermeyer’s poems, which spurred his decision to be a poet: he would later credit poet Constantine Cavafy as another source of inspiration for his writings. 

In the years of World War II, Field served in the Eighth Army Air Force, stationed in both England and France, from which he flew twenty-five missions over Germany as a B-17 bomber’s navigator. On a February 1945 mission over Berlin,  Field’s plane, crippled by enemy anti-aircraft fire, crashed into the North Sea. After rescue by a British air-boat, the surviving crew members were sent to a town near the Liverpool area of London. 

During his time in basic training and his military service, Edward Field came to terms with his identity as a gay person; however, he kept it very private during this time. Knowledge by military authorities of a enlisted person’s homosexuality would have resulted in a blue charge which, while neither honorable or dishonorable, gave military commanders authority to remove such person from the ranks. A person’s military dismissal by a  blue charge enabled the Veterans Administration to deny benefits of the G.I. Bill and, as employers were aware of its negative connotations. made employment after discharge difficult.

After his return to the United States, Field studied for a short period at New York University, where he met the eccentric writer Alfred Chester whose later novel “The Exquisite Corpse” was published in 1967. Field traveled to Paris in June of 1948 and focused on his career as a writer and poet. On the ocean voyage over to Europe, he met the slightly-older Robert Friend, a poet who had already published in several small presses in the United States. They stayed in Paris’s Hotel Jacob and soon became friends with author and poet Ralph Pomeroy and Frederick Kuh, who later became a well-known restaurateur and cabaret owner in 1950-1980s San Francisco . 

Edward Field’s time in Paris was productive, both in his writing and his cultural development. He wrote for hours in the cafés, and exchanged poems with Robert Friend, which led to a critique of  each others work. Encouraged by Friend’s praise, Field submitted his work to all the major journals in the United States. One work was accepted by an English journal, and the next spring, a number of his works were published in the magazine “Botteghe Obscure”. For his social activities, Field went frequently to the opera and theater; he also, accompanied with his friends, attended gatherings of artists and intellectuals at such places as the Paris residence of Monroe Wheeler, the director of publications and exhibitions for New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

After his return to the United States in the winter of 1949, Field supported himself with  various jobs, including  doing art production and working as a machinist, warehouse laborer and clerk-typist. In 1956, he studied acting with the Russian-born actress Vera Soloviova of the Moscow Art Theater, who was a student of theater practitioner Konstantin Stanislavski. Field applied his new acting techniques to his poetry readings and supported himself this way throughout the 1960s and 1970s. In New York City in 1959, he met writer Neil Derrick at the Museum of Modern Art, where Derrick had a position. They became lifelong partners for fifty-eight years, and co-author many writing projects, 

Edward Field’s poetry is eclectic and highly personal, being written in the first person; they are also deceptively simple in form. He used his personal experience and his knowledge of the mythologies of our collective history to explore his Jewish ancestry and the issues of alienation, oppression, city life, his experiences in the military, and alternative sexualities. Field’s  first published collection of poems was the 1962 “Stand Up, Friend, With Me”, which drew connections between modern America and ancient Greece. In this work, both comic and tragic, he rewrote the mythologies of such figures as Icarus, Aladdin and Fidel Castro.

Field’s second work was the 1967 “Variety Photoplays”, a continuation of his rewritten mythologies. Poems included in this work are “Frankenstein”, a commentary on the alienation of a gay male and his desire for male companionship, and “Bride of Frankenstein”, which examines ungratified sexual desire. In this collection, Field published a memoir inspired work, “World War II”, a long, harrowing account of a crashed military plane into the North Sea. Field followed this collection with five more works, including the 1973 “Eskimo Songs and Stories’, the 1981 “Full Heart’, and “After the Fall: Poems Old and New” published in 2007. 

Edward Field has also edited two anthologies, the 1979 “A Geography of Poets”, and co-edited its sequel, “A New Geography of Poets”, in 1992. He won an Academy Award for his written narration for the 1965 documentary “To Be Alive”. Field’s other awards include the Lambda Literary Award, the Lamont Award from the Academy of American Poets, the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America and the Prix de Rome from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Since 1972, Edward Field and his husband, Neil Derrick, were artists in residence at the Westbeth Artist Colony in the West Village area of New York City. They were a familiar sight in the city, walking side by side; Derrick, blind since 1971, would alway keep his hand on Field’s shoulder. Neil Derrick, co-author with Field of the bestselling 1980 novel “The Villagers”, died in March of 2018 at the age of eighty-seven. Edward Field is currently still living at the Westbeth Artist Colony. 

Notes: The Edward Field Papers, including personal and professional correspondence, drafts of poems, press clippings and personal journals, are housed in the Special Collections Archive of the University of Delaware. 

A collection of Edward Field’s poems, read by the poet, can be found at VOCA,  the University of Arizona’s Poetry Center website, located at: https://voca.arizona.edu/readings-list/60/76

Bottom Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Edward Field (Left) and Neil Derrick (Right)”, Date Unknown, Washington Square Park, New York City

Film History: James Whale

Photographers Unknown, I Am Rather the Fallen Angel

“Be calm! I entreat you to hear me before you give vent to your hatred on my devoted head. Have I not suffered enough, that you seek to increase my misery? Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it. Remember, thou hast made me more powerful than thyself; my height is superior to thine, my joints more supple. But I will not be tempted to set myself in opposition to thee. I am thy creature, and I will be even mild and docile to my natural lord and king if thou wilt also perform thy part, the which thou owest me. Oh, Frankenstein, be not equitable to every other and trample upon me alone, to whom thy justice, and even thy clemency and affection, is most due. Remember that I am thy creature; I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed. Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.” 

― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, 1818 

Born in Dudley, a town in the county of Worcestershire, in July of 1889, James Whale was an English actor and film and theater director, best remembered by many for his classic horror films. Known for his use of camera movement, he is credited with being the first director to use a 360-degree panning shot in a feature film.

James Whale was the sixth of seven children born to William Whale, a blast-furnace worker, and his wife Sarah, a nurse. He attended public education until his teenage years. Because the cost of his further education was prohibitive and his labor was needed to support his family, Whale took work as a cobbler. He used his early artistic ability to earn extra money by lettering signs for his neighbors; this additional income paid for classes at the Dudley School of Arts and Crafts located in the West Midlands.

In August of 1914, Whale enlisted into the Inns of Court Regiment of the British Army at the outbreak of the first world war; in July of 1916, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Worcestershire Regiment. Taken prisoner of war in August of 1917 at the battle in  Flanders, Whale was held at the Holzminden Officers’ Camp in Germany and later repatriated at the war’s end to England in December of 1918. After an unsuccessful attempt to find work as a cartoonist in Birmingham, he embarked on a professional stage career in 1919. 

James Whale worked as an actor, set designer, stage manager, and director under the tutelage of director and actor Nigel Playfair at the Lyric Theater in Hammersmith. In 1922, he met stage and costume designer Doris Zinkeisen; they were considered a couple for a period of two years despite Whale’s living as an openly gay man. In 1928, Whale was given the opportunity to direct two private performances of writer Robert Cedric Sherriff’s “Journey’s End”, a play that gave a glimpse of British infantry officers’ experiences in the trenches of France during 1918. The two lead roles were given to actors Laurence Olivier and Maurice Evans. 

The initial two performances of “Journey’s End” were well received; and the play opened in January of 1929, with actor Colin Clive now in the lead, at the Savoy Theater in London’s West End. Critically acclaimed, the play after its three-week run was then transferred to the Prince of Wales Theater in Coventry Street, where it ran for the next two years. The rights to a New York production of “Journey’s End” were acquired by Broadway producer Gilbert Miller who chose James Whale, already experienced with the play, for its director. This production of the play premiered at Henry Miller’s Theater at Broadway and West 43rd Street and ran for over a year. 

Brought to the attention of movie producers by the Broadway success of “Journey’s End”, James Whale traveled to Hollywood in 1929 and signed a contract with Paramount Pictures to be the dialogue director for the 1929 film “The Love Doctor”. After the completion of the film, Whale met David Lewis, who became his longtime romantic partner; they lived together until 1952. David Lewis would later become a prominent film producer in the 1940s and 1950s, known for producing such films as the 1939 “Dark Victory” with Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart and the 1957  “Raintree County” with Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor.  

In 1931, James Whale began what is probably the best known part of his career as a producer. He signed a five-year contract with Universal Studios and received his first project, the 1931 drama-war romance film “Waterloo Bridge”, which starred actress Mae Clarke, who is remembered by many for playing Jame Cagney’s girl in “The Public Enemy”. Later in 1931, Carl Laemmie, Jr, the twenty-five year old head of Universal Studios, gave Whale his choice of which studio-owned property he wanted for his next shoot; Whale chose the script for “Frankenstein”. He casted Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein and Mae Clarke as Elizabeth Frankenstein, Henry’s wife, and chose the little known Boris Karloff for the role of the Monster. Shooting ran from August 24th of 1931 to October 3rd. After premieres on October 29th of 1931, “Frankenstein” had a wide release beginning on November 21st and instantly became a hit with critics and the public.

In 1932, Whale directed two films: the drama “The Impatient Maiden” and a thriller film with Karloff and Charles Laughton entitled “The Old Dark House”, which has been credited with reinventing the “old house” genre of horror films. Whale’s 1933 film, “The Kiss Before the Mirror”, a pre-Code mystery film, received little notice and was a box-office failure. With a script approved by author H. G. Wells, Whale returned to the horror genre and produced the 1933 “The Invisible Man” which the New York Times placed in their list of best films for that year. This adaption of Well’s book, whose special effects were done in utmost secrecy, broke box-office records in cities across America.

James Whale’s next major project was the 1935 “Bride of Frankenstein”, a sequel to the original movie which he was initially reluctant to do for fear of being typecast as a horror director. The film, however, was a critical and commercial success; today it is regarded as the finest of all gothic horror movies and considered Whale’s masterpiece. Whale worked next on a comedy-mystery film entitled “Remember Last Night?” which resulted in divided reviews. After its completion, Whale started immediately on the project that had been in his mind for a long time, a film version of the stage production “Show Boat”. 

For the film version of this long-running romantic musical, Whale gathered as many members of the original show as he could; these included Paul Robeson, Helen Morgan, Sammy White, Irene Dunne, and conductor Victor Baravalle and orchestrator Robert Russell Bennett. Great care was taken by Whale to ensure a feeling of complete authenticity in the set and costume design for this film. Faithfully adapted from the original stage production, the 1936 “Show Boat” is considered the definitive film version of the musical by many critics. This film was the last of Whale’s films produced with the Laemmie family.

Jame Whale eventually retired from the film industry in 1941. Encouraged by his partner David Lewis to resume his artwork, he rediscovered his love of painting and built a studio for himself. In 1942, Whale made training films for the United States Army and created, in collaboration with actress Claire DuBrey, the theater group Brentwood Service Players. He returned to Broadway to direct the 1940 thriller “Hand in Glove” and directed his final film, a short subject entitled “Hello Out There”. Whale’s last professional engagement was the comedy play “Pagan in the Parlour”, which was forced to close early due to contract difficulties that happened during its opening tour in Europe.

While in Europe, Whale met and became infatuated with the twenty-five year old bartender Pierre Foegel. He made the decision to bring Foegel back to the United States as his chauffeur. In November of 1952 when David Lewis heard this, he ended their twenty-three year relationship, separated but still maintained a friendship. Foegel moved in with Whale in early 1953, returned for several months to France, and then in 1954  moved back permanently with Whale. In the spring of 1956, Whale suffered a small stroke, and was hospitalized several months later after suffering a second and more severe stroke. As his mental faculties were diminishing, he began to suffer from mood swings and depression. 

James Whale committed suicide, at the age of sixty-seven, by drowning himself in his Pacific Palisades swimming pool on the 29th of May in 1957. He left a suicide note to David Lewis, who withheld it from the public until his own death. Whale was cremated per his request and his ashes were interred in the Columbarium of Memory at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. When David Lewis died in 1987, James Curtis, as his executor, had Lewis’s  ashes interred in a niche across from Whale’s internment site. James Curtis would later write the definitive biography of Whale, “James Whale: A New World of Gods and Monsters”, published in 2003.

Note: James Whale lived as an openly gay man throughout his career in the British theater and in Hollywood, which was virtually unheard of in that era. While he did not go out of his way to publicize his homosexuality, he made no effort to conceal it either.

Insert Images:
A— Photographer Unknown, “James Whale” (Profile), circa 1930, Cream-Toned Vintage Print, 23.7 x 18 cm, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC
B—”Frankenstein”, Colin Clive and Boris Karloff, 1931, Universal Pictures
C—”The Invisible Man”, Claude Rains and Gloria Stuart, 1933, Universal Pictures
D—Photographer Unknown, “James Whale”, Date Unknown
E—”Show Boat”, Paul Robeson, Irene Dunne, Hattie McDaniel, and Helen Morgan, 1936, Universal Pictures
F—Photographer Unknown, “James Whale”, circa 1930, Cream-Toned Vintage Print, 23.7 x 18 cm, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC

Richard Blanco: “Burning in the Rain”

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

Someday compassion would demand
I set myself free of my desire to recreate
my father, indulge in my mother’s losses,
strangle lovers with words, forcing them
to confess for me and take the blame.
Today was that day: I tossed them, sheet
by sheet on the patio and gathered them
into a pyre. I wanted to let them go
in a blaze, tiny white dwarfs imploding
beside the azaleas and ficus bushes,
let them crackle, burst like winged seeds,
let them smolder into gossamer embers—
a thousand gray butterflies in the wind.
Today was that day, but it rained, kept
raining. Instead of fire, water—drops
knocking on doors, wetting windows
into mirrors reflecting me in the oaks.
The garden walls and stones swelling
into ghostlier shades of themselves,
the wind chimes giggling in the storm,
a coffee cup left overflowing with rain.
Instead of burning, my pages turned
into water lilies floating over puddles,
then tiny white cliffs as the sun set,
finally drying all night under the moon
into papier-mâché souvenirs. Today
the rain would not let their lives burn.

Richard Blanco, Burning in the Rain, Looking for the Gulf Motel, 2012

Born in February of 1968 in Madrid, Spain, Richard Blanco is an American poet, author, and a public speaker. The son of a Cuban-exile family, he spent his early years in Miami and earned a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Miami’s Florida International University. In addition to his profession as a practicing civil engineer, Blanco has been a writer and poet since 1991.

As a professor, Blanco has taught at several universities, including American University, Georgetown University, Wesleyan University, Central Connecticut State University, and Colby College in Maine; he is currently a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Florida International University. Blanco also teaches poetry at such diverse institutions as grade schools, nursing homes, writers workshops, correctional institutions, and non-profits such as the Writer’s Center located in Maryland.

Richard Blanco’s first book of poetry, the 1998 “City of a Hundred Fires” received critical acclaim and won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh Press. This collection of poems explored his coming of age as a Cuban-American in Miami and the transformation he experienced after his first trip back to his homeland of Cuba. Between 1999 and 2001, Blanco traveled extensively through Europe, South America, and the New England area of the United States. This experience resulted in his second poetry collection, “Directions to the Beach of the Dead” published in 2005, which explored the familiar but unsettling journey for home and connections. This collection of narrative lyric poetry was the winner of the American Beyond Margins Award from PEN International.

Blanco’s third book of poetry, the 2012 “Looking for the Gulf Motel”, explored how his family’s emotional legacy has shaped and continues to shape his perspectives. Divided in three sections, the collection discusses questions of cultural identity, the blurred lines of gender, the father-son relationship, identity as a Cuban-American gay man living in rural Maine, the experience of exile, and one’s impermanence in the world. Poems in this collection include “Burning in the Rain”, seen above, and  “Queer Theory, According to My Grandmother”, a skeptical look at the admonishments made by his conservative generation of elders against being perceived as gay. 

Richard Blanco’s “Looking for the Gulf Motel” won the Thom Gunn Award, the Maine Literary Award, and the Paterson Poetry Prize. He  followed this collection with the poem “Boston Strong”, recited as the opening to the Boston Strong Concert, a benefit concert to assist the families of the victims who were killed and to help the people most affected by the tragic events during the April 2013 Boston Marathon. A commemorative chapbook of Blanco’s poem was published in 2013 with all the proceeds going to the Victim Relief Fund of The One Fund Boston to help those affected.

On January 8, 2013, Richard Blanco was named the Inaugural Poet of the United States for Barack Obama’s second presidential inauguration. Blanco was the first immigrant, first Latino, and first openly-gay person to be an inaugural poet. He performed “One Today”, an original poem he wrote for the occasion; this poem was meant to reconfirm the nation’s collective identity in a time of tragedy. In November of 2015, it was published in book form as “One Day” with drawings by David “Day” Pilkey, an award-winning illustrator of books for children. 

In addition to his poetry collections and performances around the world, Blanco has published two memoirs, the 2013 “For All of Us, One Today” and the 2014 “The Prince of Ios Cocuyos”, which won the Maine Literary Award and the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Memoir. He wrote the forward and poems to accompany a series of vintage photographs of Cuba for the 2014  “Cuba Then: Rare and Classic Images from the Ramiro Fernandez Collection”, a collection of three hundred vintage photos from one of the largest archives of Cuban photography in the world. Blanco also collaborated with landscape photographer Jacob Bond Hessler on his 2017 “Boundaries”. This collection of poems and photographs challenged the physical, imagined and psychological boundaries of race, gender, class,  and ethnicity that divide the American nation.

Richard Blanco was appointed as a founding member of the Obama Foundation Advisory Counsel and has lectured at the U. S. National Archives. He is a member of the prestigious Macondo Writers Workshop, an association of socially-engaged master’s level writers. Richard Blanco and his partner currently live in Maine. 

John Harris: “I Too Found the Inner Chamber”

Photographers Unknown, I Too Found the Inner Chamber

The Government hated
all secret rites and ceremonies,
for they hinted at treason.

And so, in Catholic households,
there would be an innermost room,
behind a hidden door,
where the family knelt for Mass,
hoping they wouldn’t be burned alive
by agents and spies of the King.
Victimae paschali
the countertenors would sing,
their strange, angelic voices weaving through
the settings of William Byrd.

I too
found the inner chamber.
With my high, forbidden voice,
How could I not?

When your ears are opened
you hear the secret music.

And soon you are singing.

John Harris, Listening to William Byrd (d. 1623)

Born in Bolenowe in October of 1820, John Harris was a Cornish poet. The eldest of nine children, he was raised in a two bedroom cottage situated on the slopes of his village located in the historic and ceremonial county of Cornwall, one of the Celtic nations. 

At the age of twelve, Harris followed his father into the Dolooath copper and tin mine where they both worked as miners. This became his occupation for twenty years, during which he endured heavy labor and  began to produce poetry celebrating his native landscape. Not able to afford pen and paper, Harris’s poems describing the villages and peninsular landscapes of southern-most Cornwall were written on grocery wrapping paper with blackberry ink. 

In the 1840s, John Harris married Jane Rule, with whom he had two daughters and two sons. After one of his poems was published in a magazine and received favorable notice, he was able in 1853 to publish his first poetry collection. Following the early death of his second-born daughter Lucretia during Christmas of 1855 and through the assistance of a friend, Harris found an occupation as a traveling Bible-reader and comforter at southern Cornwall’s coastal parish of Falmouth where he would spend the remainder of his life.

While living in Falmouth, Harris produced several volumes of poetry and, in 1863, wrote what is considered his most important work, “A Story of  Carn Brea”. This descriptive poem expressed the special childhood link Harris had with the ancient Celtic site, home to Carn Brea Castle and the Bassett Monument. Through the Earl of Beaconsfield, Harris received a two-hundred Pound grant from the Royal Bounty Fund, which was followed in September of 1881 by a one-hundred Pound grant from the prime minister for service to the state. John Harris died in Falmouth on the 7th of January of 1884, at the age of sixty-three. As to his dying request, he was buried at Treslothan Chapel at the foot of Carn Brea hill. 

Notes: A biography entitled “John Harris, the Cornish Poet: The Story of His Life” was written by his son John Howard Harris and published by Oxford University in 1884; this biography was republished by Franklin Classics in 2018. Harris’s poems can be found in the 1977 collection entitled “ Songs from the Earth: Selected Poems of John Harris, Cornish Miner, 1820-24”, published by Lodenek Press. 

Several poems by John Harris can be found at the John Harris Society’s online site located at:  https://www.johnharrissociety.org.uk/poetry

Many thanks to a great source of LBGTQ literature and biographies,The Gay and Lesbian Review (G&LR), for John Harris’s poem “Listening to William Byrd (d. 1623)”.

Essex Hemphill: “Our Kisses Are Petals, Our Tongues Caress the Bloom”

Photographers Unknown, Our Kisses Are Petals

Times are lean,
Pretty Baby,
the beans are burnt
to the bottom
of the battered pot.
Let’s make fierce love
on the over-stuffed,
hand-me-down sofa.
We can burn it up, too.
Our hungers
will evaporate like-money.
I smell your lust,
not the pot burnt black
with tonight’s meager meal.
So we can’t buy flowers
for our table
Our kisses are petals,
our tongues caress the bloom.
Who dares to tell us
we are poor and powerless?
We keep treasure
any king would count as dear.
Come on, Pretty Baby.
Our souls can’t be crushed
like cats crossing streets too soon.
Let the beans burn all night long.
Our chipped water glasses are filled
with wine from our loving.
And the burnt black beans-
caviar

Essex Hemphill, Black Beans, Ceremonies: Prose and Poetry, 2000

Born in Chicago in April of 1957, Essex Hemphill was an openly gay American poet and activist known for his contributions to Washington D.C.’s art scene in the 1980s. In his early years, Hemphill moved with his family to Washington D.C. where he attended Ballou High School in Congress Heights. Already having written poetry since the age of fourteen, he enrolled at the University of Maryland to study journalism. Hemphill left the university after his freshman year and enrolled at the University of the District of Columbia, where he graduated with a degree in English. Throughout his college years, he interacted with the local art scene, gave spoken word performances, and began to publish poetry chapbooks. 

Known for the political edge of his performances, Hemphill openly addressed the issues of race, identity, sexuality, HIV and AIDS, and the concept of family in his work, all issues central to the African American gay community. In 1979, he became a co-founder of the Nethula Journal of Contemporary Literature, a publication to showcase modern black artists. Through an arrangement by Nethula co-editor and educator Eugene Ethelbert Miller, Hemphill performed one of his first public readings, along with filmmaker Michella Parkerson, at Howard University’s Founder Library.

In 1982, Essex Hemphill, along with Larry Duckett and Wayson Jones, founded ”Cinque”, a spoken word group which performed in the Washington D. C. area. The following year he received a grant from the non-profit Washington Project for the Arts for “Murder on Glass”, an experimental poetry dramatization which he performed alongside Wayson Jones and Michelle Parkerson. Their work was later featured in two documentaries by filmmaker Marlon Riggs, the  1989 “Tongues Untied” and the 1994 “Black Is. . .Black Ain’t”, which won the Filmmakers’ Trophy at the 1995 Sundance Film Festival. 

Hemphill’s first published poetry collections were two chapbooks, “Earth Life” in 1985 and “Conditions” in 1986. His work received additional attention with its inclusion in the 1986 anthology “In the Life”, a collection of poems from gay, black artists, compiled by Hemphill’s fellow author and lover, the gay rights activist Joseph F. Beam. Hemphill’s  first full-length collection, entitled “Ceremonies: Prose and Poetry”, was published in 1992 and won the National Library Association’s Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual New Author Award. His editing credits include the 1991 anthology “Brother to Brother: New Writing by Black Gay Men”, which won the Lambda Literary Award.

Many of Essex Hemphill’s poetry and spoken word works were autobiographical and portrayed his experiences as a minority in both the African-American and LGBTQ communities. His pieces conveyed his frustrations about bigotry, the relationships among gay black men and non-gay black men, the effect of HIV/AIDS on the black community, and the meaning of one’s family, community and support. 

In the decade of the 1990s, Hemphill rarely gave information on his health, only talking occasionally about being a person with AIDS. He did not write about his experience with the disease until his 1994 poem “Vital Signs”. Hemphill died the following year on the 4th of November, at the age of fifty-eight, of AIDS related complications. In June of 2019, he was one of the fifty inaugural American pioneers and heroes inducted on the National LBGTQ Wall of Honor within the Stonewall National Monument in New York City’s Stonewall Inn. It is the first United States national monument dedicated to LBGTQ rights and history.

Note: A suggested article is J. T. Roane’s 2017 “The Poetic Theology of Essex Hemphill”, which was published in the African American Intellectual History Society’s online publication “Black Perspectives”. The article is located at:  https://www.aaihs.org/the-poetic-theology-of-essex-hemphill/

Wilbur Underwood: “Deep as the Void Above Us and Sweet as the Dawn-Star”

Photographers Unknown,  Deep As The Void Above Us

All night long through the starlit air and the stillness,
Through the cool wanness of dawn and the burning of noontide,
Onward we strain with a mighty resounding of hoof-beats.

Heaven and earth are ashake with the terrible trampling;
Wild, straying feet of a vast and hastening army;
Wistful eyes that helplessly seek one another.

Hushed is the dark to hear the plaint of our lowing,
Mournful cry of the dumb-tired hearts within us,
Faint to death with thirst and the gnawing of hunger.

Day by day through the dust and heat have we thirsted;
Day by day through stony ways have we hungered;
Naught but a few bitter herbs that grew by the wayside.

What we flee that is far behind in the darkness,
Where the place of abiding for us, we know not;
Only we hark for the voice of the Master Herdsman.

Many a weary day must pass ere we hear it,
Blown on the winds, now close, now far in the distance,
Deep as the void above us and sweet as the dawn-star.

Wilbur Underwood, The Cattle of His Hand, Excerpt

Born in 1874, Wilbur Underwood was an American poet whose work had strong affiliations with the literary Decadent movement of the late-nineteenth century. This movement was characterized by a rejection of the world’s banal progress and its norms of morality and sexual behavior, a love for extravagant language in literature, and an emphasis on art for its own sake. 

Few prominent writers, however, were connected to the Decadent movement in the United States, one exception being the poet George Sylvester Viereck who wrote the 1907 “Nineveh and Other Poems’, as Americans at that time were reluctant to see value in the movement’s art forms. Although Underwood’s poetry had some affinities with the Romantic and Pre-Raphaelite eras, the vast majority of his work was written in a decadent style.

Wilbur Underwood worked in a clerical-administrative position in the United States State Department until 1933. He was a member of the homosexual underground scene of the period and is best known as the mentor and confidant of poet Hart Crane, whom he met in 1920 in Washington D.C.  Hart Crane’s intimate letters to Underwood have been published, often censored, in several anthologies. 

One of the first poems of Underwood to be published was his “The Cattle of His Hand”, which appeared in poet Edmund Clarence Stedman’s 1900 verse collection, “An American Anthology”.  Underwood published five volumes of poetry in his lifetime; the first of which was the 1907 “A Book of Masks” which was followed two years later by his “Damien of Molokai”. His third collection was the 1927 “The Way: Poems”, which was followed in the following year by “To One In Heaven”. Underwood’s final verse collection was “Fountain of Dark Waters”, published in 1933. 

Wilbur Underwood died in 1935 at the age of sixty-one. A collection of his poems, “Selected Poems”, was published posthumously in 1949. Underwood’s papers, amassed and catalogued by his brother Norman, were given to the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. These include journals, sketchbooks and illustrations, poems, photographs, legal records, and other printed material.

Notes: One of the best sources of information on Wilbur Underwood is Olive Fisher’s 2002 biography “Hart Crane: A Life”, published by Yale University. 

The 1980 Spring Issue of The Souther Review magazine contained the article entitled “Wind-Blown Flames: Letters of Hart Crane to Wilbur Underwood”. Unfortunately, it is not archived online.

Wilbur Underwood’s poem “The Cattle of His Hand”, in its entirety, can be found at bartleby.com located at https://www.bartleby.com/248/1676.html

Insert Images: Two hand-written poems from “A Book of Masks”, published 1907.

Richard Hovey: “He Flung Himself at the Eternal Sky”

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

AVID of life and love, insatiate vagabond,
With quest too furious for the graal he would have won,
He flung himself at the eternal sky, as one
Wrenching his chains but impotent to burst the bond.
Yet under the revolt, the revel, the despond,
What pools of innocence, what crystal benison!
As through a riven mist that glowers in the sun,
A stretch of God’s blue calm glassed in a virgin pond.
Prowler of obscene streets that riot reels along,
And aisles with incense numb and gardens mad with rose,
Monastic cells and dreams of dim brocaded lawns,
Death, which has set the calm of Time upon his song,
Surely upon his soul has kissed the same repose
In some fair heaven the Christ has set apart for
Fauns.

Richard Hovey, Verlaine, Songs from Vagabondia, Richard Hovey and Bliss Carman, 1894

Born in Normal, Illinois, in May of 1864, Richard Hovey was a poet, translator, and dramatist. A talented poet at an early age, his first volume of poetry was privately published in 1880, at the age of sixteen. He graduated from Dartmouth college in 1885; he is known for writing its official Alma Mater, “Men of Dartmouth”. He was described by many who knew him as a self-conscious man, an American Oscar Wilde in both mannerisms and clothes.

After graduation, Hovey studied art in Washington, DC, and then theology at the Central Theological Seminary in New York City; he later became a lay assistant at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin. Hovey relocated to Boston where he became a newspaper reporter and, in 1887, met the Canadian poet Bliss Carman, with whom he would begin a lengthy collaboration. After studying acting for a brief period to become a better playwright, Hovey wrote the first collection of his dramatic poems, “Lancelot and Guenevere: A Poem in Dramas”, which was published in 1891. Originally planned as  a collection of nine plays, he only completed four volumes, one of which was the 1895 “The Marriage of Guenevere”. 

Richard Hovey moved to France in the following year and met many members of the French Symbolist movement, including the French poets Paul Verlaine and Stéphane Mallarme, and the Belgian poet Maurice Masterlinck, a future Nobel Prize winner who greatly influenced Hovey’s work. Hovey and Bliss Carman were both members of the “Visionists” group, a Boston-based social group of artists and writers who shared an interest in Aestheticism, Theosophy, and the Decadent movement. Members of this group also included writer and art critic John Ruskin, poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and writer Oscar Wilde. 

After becoming one of the first translators of Maurice Masterlinck’s works, completing eight plays into English, Richard Hovey collaborated with Bliss Carman on their first project together, the “Songs of Vagabondia”. Published in 1894, this collective work celebrated the carefree life of a vagabond on the road in the fictitious place called Vagabondia. The Bohemian mood of their poems of masculine comradeship and college fraternity received critical acclaim and became an immediate success; it was followed by a second volume “More Songs from Vagabondia” in 1896 and a third “Last Songs from Vagabondia”, published in 1900 after Hovey’s death. 

Besides his collaborations with Bliss Carman, Hovey had a number of works published under his own name. These include the 1893 “Seaward”, an 1898 elegy on the poet Thomas William Parsons;  the 1898 “Along the Trail: A Book of Lyrics”; and the 1898 “Taliesin, A Masque”, a poetic play in which the bard Taliesin and Percival, a knight of the Round Table, meet the spirit of Merlin, the Three Muses, and Hermes, and other characters. Hovey’s “To the End of the Trail” was published posthumously in 1908. 

Richard Hovey lectured on Aesthetics at the Farmington School of Philosophy and, in 1888, became a lecturer at Columbia University in New York.  He also, in his last years, was a Professor of English at Barnard College in New York City. He died on February 24th of 1900, at the age of thirty-five, after undergoing minor surgery.

The Richard Hovey collection, containing manuscripts, correspondence, scrapbooks, notebooks, and newspaper clippings is housed in theDartmouth Library Archives and Manuscripts.

Notes: After a large fresco painted by Mexican muralist José Clemente Orozco in the Dartmouth College campus library was judged by many alumni to be too critical of the college, alumnus and illustrator Walter Beach Humphrey was allowed to paint a mural more in character with the college. 

This mural was based on a drinking song written by Richard Hovey and portrays the mythical founding of the college by Eleazer Wheelock. In its first panel, he is seen pulling a five-hundred gallon of rum, and being greeted by young Native American men, whom he introduces to drunken revelry. This encounter circles the faculty dining hall and also features half-naked Native American women. In the early 1970s, the “Hovey Murals” became so controversial that they were covered over, and the room itself was closed.

An extensive article for those interested is Ezra Pound scholar Leon Surette’s “Ezra Pound, Bliss Carman and Richard Hovey” which contains the meeting of Carman and Hovey, and Pound’s recollections of them. It can be found at:  https://canadianpoetry.org/volumes/vol43/surette.html

Middle Insert Image: Robert Gryden, “Richard Hovey”, Date Unknown, Engraving