Tim Dlugos: “You Draw Your Own Breath, Then I Draw Mine”

Photographers Unknown, You Draw Your Own Breath, Then I Draw Mine

Underneath your skin, your heart
moves. Your chest
rises at its touch. A small bump
appears, every
second. We watch for what appears
to be hours.

Our hands log the time: the soft
light, darkness
underneath your eyes. Our bodies
intersect like highways
with limitless access and perfect spans
of attention.

We pay for this later. I pay
for breakfast. We
can’t stay long. We take off
to the museum
and watch the individual colors
as they surface

in the late works of Matisse.
They move the way
your heart moves, the way we breathe.
You draw your own
breath, then I draw mine. This is
truly great art.

Tim Dlugos, Great Art (For Donald Grace), A Fast Life: The Collected Poems of Tim Dlugos, 2011

Born in Springfield, Massachusetts in August of 1950, Tim Dlugos was an American poet know for his openly gay work infused with pop-culture references. Raised by adopted parents in Massachusetts and Virginia, he joined the Christian Brothers, a Catholic religious order, in 1968. The next year, Dlugos entered the order’s La Salle College in Philadelphia where he started writing poetry and became active in the anti-Vietnam War movement. In 1971, he made the decision to leave the Christian Brothers and embrace an openly gay and politically active lifestyle. With his interest in academic life lessened, Dlugos left La Salle College in his senior year and relocated to Washington DC.

Dlugos became active in the city’s Mass Transit poetry scene and regularly attended poetry readings at Dupont Circle’s Community Book Shop. Among his associates were Irish-American poet and author Terence Winch, Language poet Tina Darragh, writer and historian Mícheál Lally, and Bernard Welt, an author and professor of cultural dream studies. While in Washington DC, Dlugos worked on Ralph Nader’s newspaper “Public Citizen”, a position that led to a successful future career with liberal and charitable organizations.

In 1976, Tim Dlugos moved to New York City where he settled in Manhattan and became a prominent poet in the downtown literary scene, particularly the Poetry Project of the East Village’s St. Mark’s Church. His poetry, with its openly gay topics and allusions to popular culture, was well received. In 1977, Dlugos began a correspondence and friendship with author and artist Dennis Cooper, the founder of the punk “Little Caesar Magazine” and the author of the semi-autobiographical series “The George Miles Cycle”. Dlugos published two books through Cooper’s Little Caesar Press: the 1979 poetry chapbook “Je Suis Ein Americano” and the 1982 “Entre Nous”

During his New York years, Tim Dlugos became friends with artist and writer Joe Brainard, who experimented with the use of comics as a poetic medium; biographer and novelist Brad Gooch; poet Eileen Myles who served as artistic director of St. Mark’s Poetry Project; poet Donald Britton, a member of the New York gay avant-garde poets who is best known for his 1981 “Italy”; and author, journalist and librettist Jane DeLynn whose 2002 “Leash” is considered the definitive portrait of lesbian life in the late twentieth-century.

In New York, Dlugos edited and contributed to such journals as Christopher Street, New York Native, and The Poetry Project Newsletter. After his HIV positive diagnosis in 1987, he decided to return to train for the Episcopalian priesthood. Dlugos relocated in 1988 to New Haven, Connecticut, where he enrolled at the Yale School of Divinity. However, he was unable to complete his degree. Tim Dlugos died of complications due to AIDS on December 3rd of 1990 at the age of forty.

Tim Dlugos published five books of poems in his lifetime; three books of his work have been published posthumously. He is widely known for the poems he wrote while hospitalized at Manhattan’s Roosevelt Hospital. Published in The Paris Review a few months before his death, Dlugos’s poem “G-9”, entitled after the hospital’s AIDS ward, celebrated life while accepting impending death. His close friend David Trinidad edited the posthumous “A Fast Life: The Collected Poems of Tim Dlugos”, which won the 2011 Lambda Literary Award.

Note: In addition to his poetry, Tim Dlugos kept a diary, from June 3rd to November 23rd in 1976, of his daily life as a gay man in New York City. It was published posthumously in 2021 by Sibling Rivalry Press. The following is an excerpt:

“Yesterday sunned on roof in a.m., read Diane di Prima’s Memoirs of a Beatnik in about 2 hours, then walked to Pier 51, where people sunbathe nude (among other things). Caught the eye of someone tall with reddish hair & freckles [this makes me think of Frank again], and we sat in a window on the second floor watching the cruise ships go by (incl. The Statendam, bearing Rob to Bermuda) for hours. Then came back here (my apt.), had coffee & went to bed—clean salt-water taste of his body. We had dinner together at a great looking restaurant w/ OK food called Chelsea Place, just up Eighth Avenue—ducks swim in their garden, “real ducks!” as every group of diners passing our table near the garden entrance exclaimed.”

Yevgeny Kharitonov: “All the Vibrations from the Best Moments of Your Life”

Photographers Unknown, All the Vibrations from the Best Moments of Your Life

I know what happens at the moment of death. Suddenly, after all your illnesses, you feel so improbably, so impossibly much better, that it is more than a man can take. All the vibrations from the best moments of your life, from all your impossible youth, come together in one mind-blowing instant, like the moment of your first love, like the hope of new love, like just before your first trip to Moscow, like all sorts of moments in your life; and it all comes together in a single minute, and it is more than you can bear, and your heart bursts, and you die. And everyone whom you loved and everyone who loved you, they all think of you at that moment, wherever they maybe on earth, or under the earth.

Yevgeny Kharitonov, Under House Arrest, 1997

Born in Novosibirsk in June of 1941, Yevgeny Kharitonov was a Russian poet, writer, playwright and theatrical director. In his literature, he was a chronicler of the LBGTQ culture of the Soviet period in the 1970s. Kharitonov described in his work the feelings that people of non-traditional orientation experienced, a subject that the government saw as taboo. 

Kharitonov graduated from the acting department of Moscow’s Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography (VGIK). After a brief acting career, he earned his graduate degree in filmmaking with the presentation of his thesis on the art of pantomime in the education of an actor. After graduation, Kharitonov wrote and directed the play “The Enchanted Island”, which was performed at Moscow’s Mimics and Gesture Theater with roles performed by deaf-mute actors. 

Yevgeny Kharitonov led the pantomime studio of the Moskovorechye Workers’ Club, a recreation center in Moscow, and did choreography for the rock band “Last Chance”. He also worked at the department of psychology at Moscow State University where he studied the problem of speech defects. In addition to his study and literary work, Kharitonov staged a production of the classical opera “Faust” for the Moscow Conservatory. 

Appearing at the crossroads of several movements in twentieth-century Russian prose, Kharitonov emphasized in his work an aloofness between the author and the literary subject, a characteristic which would appear in the later works by Russian writers Victor Erofeyev, founder of the literary magazine Metropol, and Vladimir Sorokin, author and recipient of the Russian Booker Prize. Kharitonov shared with writers Pavel Ukitin, Marcel Proust and James Joyce an indirect and cryptic approach to the placement of emotion in the descriptions of events. Acquainted with typography, he was well aware of the expressive properties of the typewritten text format and typed all his manuscripts himself. 

Because of the frankness with which he dealt with the theme of homosexuality in his work, Yevgeny Kharitonov had difficulty in getting his work published. The few works that were published in his lifetime were translations of German poetry, those works circulated in dissident Eastern Bloc periodicals such as the Mitin Journal, and a simple monologue entitled “Oven”. In the early 1980s, Kharitonov made an attempt to have his work printed in the “Catalog”, an American publication of unpublished Russian writers; this however  failed due to interference by the KGB.

Kharitonov is today recognized as a founder of modern Russian gay literature; his work can not be separated from his sexuality and the legal and cultural prohibition he worked under. Kharitonov was doubly vulnerable to state repression being both an underground writer and a gay man. In 1979, he was questioned by the KGB as a suspect in the death of his lover. As knowledge of his work spread through the general public, surveillance and harassment by the authorities became increasingly a part of daily life. 

On June 29th of 1981, Yevgeny Kharitonov, who had just finished his manuscript “Under House Arrest”, walked to meet his friend, the poet Tatian Scherbina, to show her his new work. He died on Pushkin Street in Moscow of a heart attack at the age of forty years old; his body is buried in his homeland of Novosibirsk. Following Kharitonov’s  death, his apartment was sealed by the KGB. His friends broke in the apartment to salvage and preserve his writings, however, most of Kharitonov’s written work was later recovered by the KGB during raids on their apartments.

After Russia’s period of perstroika, Kharitonov’s works began to get published in Russia. His play “Tink”, based on an interpretation of Odoevsky’s fairy tale “Town in a Snuffbox”, was published in the late 1980s and later performed in 1989. His “Under House Arrest”, a collection of autobiographical fictions which chronicled the difficult life of a homosexual in the Kafkaesque atmosphere of the Soviet Union, was published in January of 1997.

Note: An interesting article to read is Alex Karsavin and Mara Iskander’s 2017 “Language Under House Arrest”, which discusses queer Russian poets and the adaption of queer literature to the Russian political situation. The article can be found at the literary blog “The New Inquiry” website located at: https://thenewinquiry.com/language-under-house-arrest/

Winthrop Smith: “The Coldness of the Floor. . .”

Photographers Unknown, The Coldness of the Floor

The coldness of the floor
In the boys’ lav., the cold-
Ness of the boys themselves
Stripping off their gym shorts

And t shirts: the wetness
Of the spot which showed on
The shorts of each boy who
Climbed alone on ropes, the

Wetness of sweat which
Soaked the boys who wrestled
In the matroom, glistened
On the bodies of the

Boys who stood for weighing-
In with jockey shorts or
Nude: the odor of the
Floor in the boy’s lav., the

Odor of the boys them-
Selves from the soap they passed
Among themselves in the
Showers, the odor of

The soap they passed among
Themselves when older, stop-
Ping from their showers, dress-
Ing for their classes in

Laundered cotton shirts and
Boxer shorts: the coldness
Of rain soaked running trails
In Late October, the

Cold, red hands of the run-
Ners after practice: the
Wetness of their hairy
Bodies drying off near

Steamfilled showers, the wet-
Ness of the gym itself
With aingle shower’s drip
Dripping late at night: the

Motion of the young men
Washing, young men dressing,
Young men acting out their
Conflicts and frustrations. . .

Winthrop Smith, Excerpt from Retrospective at 33, The Weigh-In: Collected Poems,1996

Raised in Rye, New York, Winthrop Smith is a gay minimalist poet whose work explores the the undercurrent of gay experience in America. Having lived in New York City from 1987 to 2003, his early poetry covers a period of gay life before the gentrification of the city. In his work, Smith captures the gay male experience of pre-DisneyTimes Square, the St. Mark bathhouses, the city’s docks and cruising areas, and the scene on the West Village’s Christopher Street known for being the “Main Street” of gay New York.

Winthrop Smith’s first collection of poems, “Ghetto: From the First Five: Sixty-Four Poems”, was published in January of 1990. His second collection was the 1996 “The Weigh-In: Collected Poems”. Influenced by contemporary minimalist music and the work of modernist poet Gertrude Stein whose writing style broke the conventions of the linear narrative, Winthrop Smith formats his poetry into short pictorial lines each of which contain a complete mental image or thought. These narrative lines are stacked, sometimes  ending in split hyphenated words,  to form sentences that often trail into the following stanza. 

Smith’s third collection, the 2006 “Skin Check: New York Poems”, is a minimalist book-length poem of encounters experienced during a walk taken by Smith, his partner, and their two dogs from their Chelsea apartment to the West Village and back. His next collection was”Wrestling Starting Position” which was published in December of 2016. It is an autobiographical book-length poem which spans from his childhood in Rye, New York, to the second decade of the new century. The poem, told through the basic positions of wrestling, expounds on the issues of the artwork of Patrick Angus, the 1960s and city life at that time, the death of peers, personal ads, and capital punishment, among other topics. 

Winthrop Smith’s latest work is the 2021 “Take Down Portraits: Drawings and Portraits by Larry Stanton”, which include poems by Smith that envision conversations and scenes that may have taken place in Larry Stanton’s studio during his lifetime. Although he never actually met Stanton, Smith was inspired by his artwork, having had dozens of Stanton’s works in his care. The poems, duets in essence, are composed in fragmented phrasing with small details to evoke the emotion of the conversations. 

Smith was infected with the HIV virus during his first sexual experience at a Times Square bathhouse in 1984. After moving to New York City in 1987, he worked as a home attendant for the first program which was dedicated to terminal AIDS patients. Since then, Smith worked on the National AIDS hotline and was on the board for the People with Aids Coalition.

Winthrop Smith is a trustee and a program manager of the EGR Writers House in Augusta, Maine, which subsidizes housing for writers. He currently resides and writes in Wappingers Falls, New York. Smith is the author of four blog sites which can be found through: https://www.blogger.com/profile/11816360238911707217

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

 

William Haines: Film History Series

Photographers Unknown, Twelve Men During the Day

Born in Staunton, Virginia in January of 1900, Charles William Haines was an American actor and interior designer. He was the third child of seven siblings, two of which died in infancy, born to George Adam Haines, a cigar maker, and Laura Virginia (Matthews) Haines. He became fascinated at an early age with motion pictures and stage performances. 

At the age of fourteen, William Haines ran away from home accompanied by an unidentified young man. They both gained employment at the DuPont factory in Hopewell, Virginia, where they earned fifty dollars a week producing nitrocellulose which in its finished form is used for photography. Tracked by the police, Haines made an arrangement with his parents where he could remain in Hopewell and, with his earnings, send support to his family. The two boys remained in Hopewell until the 1915 fire which destroyed most of the city. 

Haines relocated to New York City until 1917, when a family crisis caused him to move to his family’s new home in Richmond, Virginia, to lend financial and emotional support. With the family’s recovery in 1919, Haines returned to New York City and settled in the growing gay community of Greenwich Village. He worked at various odd jobs and eventually gained employment as a model. Haines entered the Goldwyn Pictures’s contest, “New Faces of 1922”, and was discovered by Bijou Fernandez, a silent film actress and theatrical agent. Signed to a forty dollar per week contract with Goldwyn Pictures, he traveled to Hollywood in March of 1922 along with fellow contestant Eleanor Boardman.

William Haines initially played uncredited roles; his first significant casting was a high-profile role in director King Vidor’s 1923 silent drama “Three Wise Fools”, for which he received positive notices in reviews. This was followed in the same year by another significant role in Fox Studios’s silent western “The Desert Outlaw”. In 1924, MGM lent Haines to Columbia Pictures for a five-picture deal. The first of these films, the 1924 crime film “The Midnight Express” received excellent reviews. 

Haines had his first major personal success with the starring role in MGM’s 1926 silent drama “Brown of Harvard”. The character he played, a young arrogant man later humbled, was a role he would repeat for the next several years. On a publicity trip to New York City in 1926, Haines met James Shields. He convinced Shields to move to Los Angeles and promised to secure him work as an extra in films. Haines and Shields began living together and saw themselves as a committed couple. Although many actors in the film industry knew of their commitment, Haines never publicly affirmed his sexuality and there was no mention of their relationship in the press.

William Haines next appeared in two successful films, the 1925 comedy-drama “Little Annie Rooney”, co-starring with Mary Pickford, and the 1926 comedy “Show People”, co-starring with Marion Davies. He was one of the top five box-office stars from 1928 to 1932. With the advent of sound in film, Haines was able, with elocution lessons, to make the transition and maintain his star status. His first starring role in a full-sound film was the 1929 romance  “Navy Blues” for MGM; this was followed by the 1930 western parody “Way Out West”. At this point in his career, Haines was listed as the top box-office attraction in the country. 

Haines’s films began to drop at the box-office by the late 1930s. MGM canceled his contract in 1931 and, later, brought him back to the studio as a featured player with a reduced salary. Haines next starred in the film, “Just a Gigolo”; but that production failed to turn his slipping ratings. The MGM Studio finally terminated Haines’s contract with the studio in early 1933. 

The termination of Haines was the result of multiple factors.  With the depression, studios were very concerned about their films’ profit margins; Haines was aging and had not successfully completed his transition from his early “Brown of Harvard” persona; and Haines, despite not affirming his sexuality publicly, did not agree to a studio-supported lavender marriage as other gay actors had done. The impending Hays Production Code and the decreasing profits from Haines’s films put pressure on the studio and made it difficult for MGM to continue placing him in starring roles.

William Haines’s final two films were produced in 1934 by Mascot Pictures, a studio known for producing serials and B-movies. The first was the romantic comedy “Young and Beautiful”, which starred Haines opposite actress Judith Allen, and the second was a war-romance film “The Marines Are Coming”, in which Haines played opposite Conrad Nagel and Esther Ralston. Although Haines still received offers from minor studios, he made the decision to retire from acting and commit himself to his and Shield’s interior design business. Over his acting career, Haines had appeared appeared in fifty-four films, the majority of which were in starring roles.

In 1930, William Haines and James Shield had begun a successful dual career as interior designers and antique dealers. Hand-painted wallpaper, ottoman tables, and low to the ground sitting rooms became signature pieces of their work. Their antiques and artwork were loaned for film stage sets, including Haines’s personal paintings for Tara’s interior walls in “Gone With the Wind”. Among their clients were friends such as Gloria Swanson, George Cukor, Carole Lombard, and Joan Crawford.  In 1937, Haines was hired to decorate the estate of studio executive Jack L. Warner.  In the late 1930s through an introduction made by Joan Crawford, Haines and Shield decorated Villa Valentino, a secluded estate owned by Tom Lyle Williams, the founder of Maybelline Cosmetics, and his life-long partner Emery Shaver.

Haines and Shield settled in the Hollywood community of Brentwood and, except for a brief period of Haines’s service during World War II, they remained together and ran their prosperous business. By the time of their retirement in the early 1970s, their clients included socialite and philanthropist Betsy Bloomingdale and Governor Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan. Haines was also hired to redecorate London’s Winfield House, the official United States embassy residence, by the U.S. Ambassador Walter Annenberg.

William Haines and James Shield remained together in a relationship for forty-seven years. They enjoyed a high position in Hollywood for decades, supported by many loyal friends. On December 26th of 1973, William Haines died, at the age of seventy-three, from lung cancer in Santa Monica, California. Shortly afterward on March 6th of 1974, James Shield, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, dressed in Haines’s pajamas, wrote a note about his loneliness, and took an overdose of sleeping pills. They are interred side by side in Santa Monica’s Woodlawn Memorial Cemetery. For his contribution to the motion-picture industry, William Haines has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at number 7012.

Third Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, Louis B Mayer, William Haines, Marion Davis, and James Shields at the Premiere of “A Tailor Made Man”, March 1931

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

Rane Arroyo: “Secret Sleepwalking into Each Other’s Doubts”

Photographers Unknown, A World of Color

It’s the story of my life; minus
the big budget close-ups, plus a film
director unsure of my fate, minus
a season among sheep, plus mountains
looking like saddles for my true
love to ride, minus extras with tire irons,
minus awards, but the yes of two
men becoming one, the sí of kissing far
from angels (how Blakean), plus
Mormon underwear stripteases, Sundays
wearing vodka haloes, plus
nights spent on the floor and somehow
not stepped upon by God, plus
exorcisms and cold rivers, whispers in
Spanish from our missions, plus
secret sleepwalkings into each other’s
doubts, free to quote Wilde, plus
a plan to escape America, but
it’s the exact story of my life with
my cowboy, minus the sense of an impending
Patmos, that franchise of whispers and
wild kisses, minus the script
(we were our best scriptures), we the scarred
ghosts wearing landscape’s honesty, photogenic
Adam’s Apples, designer sorrow, minus
talk show rodeos, paparazzi round-ups,
politically-correct high fives, minus
the nightmares of winged horses with
hooves striking rocks to start fires, plus
slow motion nights on Speed, education
and library cards, the Spanish of my skin, plus
a belief in doom, nights bedding the moon,
two men without spin doctors, plus
an unedited nakedness, joy rides in beds
offering amnesty for the crime of being,
plus our Tijuana plans for a destiny makeover,
our nights as free verse Rimbauds
in cowboy boots, plus vaqueros keeping
quiet about specifics that become
the story of my life, plus Judgement Day
drinking games: showing God just
Brokeback Mountain to explain myself,
minus the editing, each moment as
Love’s monument and God’s cameo, in my
image, in my imagination, in my
nation while I and my cowboy are silent
having to learned to speak wind,
wind from nowhere, wind with news of home,
of our entangled shadows seeking
us with the plus and the minus of having
form, and we ride away from the cosmic
to the specifics of long nights without stars
with clenched fists, us undressed and
wondering what it feels like to become fiction

Rane Arroyo, Brokeback Mountain

Born in November of 1954 in Chicago, Rane Arroyo was an American poet, playwright and scholar of Puerto Rican descent. He earned his PhD in English and Cultural Studies form the University of Pittsburgh. Arroyo was a professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Toledo in Ohio. 

In the 1980s, Rane Arroyo began his career as a performance artist in Chicago’s art galleries and eventually focused on his poetry. Openly gay, he wrote poetry, short stories and plays that were frequently self-reflexive, autobiographical works. Arroyo’s work dealt to a large degree with the issues of homosexuality, immigration, and the Latino culture. In his poetic stanzas and narratives, he juxtaposed his literary knowledge with contemporary pop culture.  

Arroyo’s 1996 poetry collection, “The Singing Shark”, won the 1997 Carl Sandburg Poetry Prize and his poem “Breathing Lessons”, published in Emerson College’s literary journal, won a 1997 Pushcart Prize. For his 2005 collection “The Portable Famine”, Arroyo won the2004-05 John Ciardi Poetry Prize. Included among his ten poetry collections are the 2006 “Don Quixote Goes to the Moon”;“The Roswell Poems” and “Same-Sex Séances”, both published in 2008; and his last collection, the 2010 “White as Silver: Poems”.

In addition to his poetry, Rane Arroyo wrote a book of short stories in 2005 entitled “How to Name a Hurricane”. His performed plays include such works as “The Amateur Virgin”, “Emily Dickinson in Bandages”, Prayers for a Go-Go Boy”, and “The House with Black Windows”, co-written with poet Glenn Sheldon, and performed in 1995 by the Polaris Theater in New York City.

Arroyo served as the co-Vice President of the Board of Directors for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs and as the co-Chair for the 2009 Chicago Conference. Nominated sixteen times for the Pushcart Prize for Poetry, Arroyo was awarded a Stonewall Books Chapbook Prize, the Hart Crane Memorial Poetry Prize, The Sonora Review Chapbook Prize from Arizona University, and a 2007 Ohio Arts Council Excellence Award in Poetry. 

Rane Arroyo died in the early morning of April 7th in 2010 due to a cerebral hemorrhage. He is survived by his life-long partner, American  poet Glenn Sheldon. In 2015, Rane Arroyo was inducted into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame. His papers are archived at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York City.

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

 

 

Maurice Kenny

Photographers Unknown, Hands Which Did Not Recognize Me

The book lay unread in my lap
snow gathered at the window
from Brooklyn it was a long ride
the Greyhound followed the plow
from Syracuse to Watertown
to country cheese and maples
tired rivers and closed paper mills
home to gossipy aunts   .   .   .
their dandelions and pregnant cats   .   .   .
home to cedars and fields of boulders
cold graves under willows and pine
home from Brooklyn to the reservation
that was not home
to songs I could not sing
to dances I could not dance
from Brooklyn bars and ghetto rats
to steaming horses stomping frozen earth
barns and privies lost in blizzards
home to a Nation, Mohawk
to faces I did not know
and hands which did not recognize me
to names and doors
my father shut

Maurice Kenny, Going Home, Between Two Rivers, 1988

The youngest of three children to a father of Mohawk and Irish heritage and a mother of English and Seneca heritage, Maurice Frank Kenny was born in Watertown, New York, in August of 1929. He spent his younger years in Watertown and on a family farm in nearby Cape Vincent. After his parents’ separation, Kenny remained with his father in Watertown until running away, at age sixteen, to Bayonne, New Jersey, to live with his mother. Truant at school, he was returned to his father’s custody in Watertown where he completed his high school education. 

Upon graduation, Maurice Kenny spent the summer traveling with a theater troupe in New York State. He spent a year in New York City attempting to establish a career as an actor; but after a year, he returned home. Kenny studied under Professors of English Warner Beyer and Roy Marz, a Fulbright Scholar, at Indiana’s Butler University, where he graduated in 1956 with a degree in English. He took additional classes under author and Professor of English Douglas Angus at St. Lawrence University in New York. 

Kenny moved to Manhattan, New York, in 1957 and became a manger for Marboro Books, which put him in contact with literary, cinematic and theatrical figures. He also took courses at New York University, where he met and studied under the fourth Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress,  Louise Bogan, who influenced his early development as a writer. 

Maurice Kenny began writing poetry as a teenager. He was particularly influenced by the writings of Walt Whitman, whose natural language and rhythm were qualities he found later in Native American oral literature. Encouraged by his former professor Douglas Angus, Kenny wrote the poems of his first chapbook, the 1956 “The Hopeless Kill”. His first full-length collection, “Dead Letters Sent and Other Poems”, was published in 1958, his first year at New York University. After a hiatus of travel in the early 1960s, Kenny settled for two decades in Brooklyn Heights, New York, to concentrate on his poetry. 

Kenny’s career coincided with a period of activism for Native Americans. In 1969 Native American activists occupied Alcatraz Island and, two years later, the American Indian movement was formed. A series of confrontations with federal authorities followed, which culminated in a violent confrontation in early 1973 at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Native Americans were starting to embrace their traditional cultures and reject assimilation into the general society. A renaissance in Native American literature began as a result of native writers and poets seeking to authenticate their cultural identities. Poets, such as Kenny, began to draw on their heritage to produce a synthesis of traditional and modern forms in their work. 

Maurice Kenny’s exploration of his heritage resulted in his long 1973 poem “I Am the Sun”, which was written in response to the actions at Wounded Knee, the site of the 1890 massacre and the culmination of the pan-tribal Ghost Dance religion. His 1977 “North: Poems of Home”, the first full-length collection published after a span of thirteen years, and the 1979 “Dancing Back Strong the Nation” epitomized the growing consciousness of his native heritage. 

Kenny asserted his gay identity in the 1976 “Gay Sunshine” which included the poem “Winkle” and “Tinselled Bucks: An Historical Study in Indian Homosexuality”, a essay that claimed the two-spirit, or berdache, tradition as a shining example for contemporary Native Americans. Kenny was among the first nationally recognized American Indians to come out publicly as gay. 

Maurice Kenny’s “Blackrobe Isaac Jogues”, published in 1982, told the story of a Jesuit missionary martyred in 1646 by the Mohawks; it received the National Public Radio Award for Broadcasting and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. His “Takonwatonti / Molly Brant” is narrated by a prominent Mohawk woman who married an Englishman. Kenny in these works and later ones portrayed individuals who inhabit two worlds at the same time and crossed the boundaries between cultures and identities, such as missionaries among Indians, Indians in a white society, and gay men in a heterosexual world. 

In 1986, Kenny moved back to upstate New York and settled in Saranac Lake. He continued to travel and teach, and held the position of poet-in-residence at North Country Community College and the Potsdam campus of the University of New York. In 1995, Kenny received an honorary doctorate from the St. Lawrence University. He published over thirty collections of poetry, essays and fiction; his work has appeared in many journals and anthologies. A recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas, Maurice Kenny passed away, at the age of eighty-six, on April 16th of 2016. 

Note: The anthropologist James Mooney, born 1861, wrote a thousand-page account of the tragic events at Wounded Knee which was published in 1896. A summary of this account and others written about the massacre, including an article on the Ghost Dance, can be found at: https://www.encyclopedia.com/places/united-states-and-canada/miscellaneous-us-geography/wounded-knee

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

Douglas Alain Powell: “The Earth Has Asserted Itself”

Photographers Unknown, The Earth Has Asserted Itself

had no direction to go but up: and this, the shattery road
its surface graining, trickle in late thaw—is nothing amiss?
            —this melt, the sign assures us, natural cycle
                         and whoosh, the water a dream of forgotten white

past aspens colored in sulfur, they trembled, would
—poor sinners in redemption song—shed their tainted leaves

I tell you what boy I was, writing lyrics to reflect my passions:
the smell of a bare neck in summer
a thin trail of hairs disappearing below the top button of cut-offs
the lean, arched back of a cyclist straining to ascend a hill

in the starlight I wandered: streets no better than fields
the cul-de-sacs of suburbia just as treacherous, just as empty

if wood doves sang in the branches of the acacias, I could not hear them
anyone lost in that same night was lost in another tract

the air pulsed and dandelion pollen blew from green stalks
                        —that was all

and yes, someone took me in his car.   and another against the low fence
in the park at the end of our block.   under the willow branches
where gnats made a furious cloud at dawn and chased us away

I knew how it felt to lie in a patch of marigolds: golden stains
the way morning swarmed a hidden rooftop, the catbirds singing
the feel of ruin upon lips rubbed raw throughout the night

granite peaks: here, the earth has asserted itself. and the ice asserted
and human intimacies conspired to keep us low and apart

for an ice age I knew you only as an idea of longing:
a voice in the next yard, whispering through the chink
a vagabond outlined against the sky, among the drying grass

we journey this day to darkness: the chasm walls lift us on their scaly backs
the glaciers relinquish their secrets: that sound is the ice bowing
and the sound underneath, the trickle: the past released, disappearing

you pinnacle of my life, stand with me on this brink
half-clouded basin caked in flat grays, the very demise of green

you have surmounted the craggy boundary between us.

you open a place for me in earth, receiving my song

                                 —for Haines Eason

D. A. Powell, continental divide, Chronic, 2009, Graywolf Press

Born in Albany, Georgia in May of 1963, Douglas Alain Powell is an American poet whose work is experimental in form. Growing up in Georgia and Tennessee, he relocated, after his parents’ divorce, with his brother to live in California with their mother and new stepfather. Powell lived on and off the streets in his teen years, often running away from home and working odd jobs to support himself. He graduated from Lindhurst High School and made several attempts at colleges, including a short term at San Jose State University.

At the age of twenty-two, Powell entered Sonoma State University where he began to write poetry under the tutorage of poet David Bromige. During his years in Sonoma County, he organized poetry readings and co-founded “Avec”, which became a major journal of the post-Language Poetry avant-garde. Powell received his Bachelor of Arts in English in 1991 and his Masters in English in 1993, both from Sonoma State University.

After completing his graduate studies, Douglas Powell entered the Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa and received his Masters in Fine Arts in 1996. For his work during the Writer’s Workshop, he received an Academy of American Poets prize. While in Iowa, Powell wrote his first full-length poetry collection, “Tea”, which focused on AIDS in particular and the gay subculture in general. The poems in this collection examine pain, loss, abuse, rejection and suffering; however, the essence of the volume is one of survival. Published in 1998 after Powell’s return to California. this first work generated a great deal of excitement. Powell’s openness about his HIV-positive status contributed to interest in the book and readers’ response to it.

The writers cited by Powell as influences on his work cover a wide range; he uses their writings as a litmus test for his own work. These writers include t. S. Eliot, Sylvia Plath, Wallace Stevens, Frank O’Hara, Gertrude Stein, Federico García Lorca, and the Black Mountain poets, among others. Known for his syntactically inventive, longer lined and sometimes untitled work, Powell creates poems that are almost collage-like in form, where fragmentary elements of allusions and references are joined together into mosaic compositions. The source list for his 1998 volume of poems, “Tea”, include the following: Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”, the Supremes, Tennessee Williams, mid-1980s disco divas, gay slang, Batman’s sidekick Robin, and “The Exorcist”, among others.

Settled in California, Powell began doing work in San Francisco’s new media industry. In 1997, he was awarded a Paul Engle Fellowship from the James Michener Foundation. In addition to his career as a poet, Powell was a university professor with teaching positions at Columbia University, Sonoma State University, San Francisco State University and Harvard University, where he was the Briggs-Copeland Lecturer in Poetry, a prestigious five-year position.

In 2000, Douglas Powell’s second collection of poetry, entitled “Lunch”, was published by the Wesleyan University Press. This volume built on the survival aspect in “Tea” and directed it onward to restoration and rejuvenation. While again examining the issue of AIDS, the poems were not about dying from the virus, but about living with it and through it. “Lunch” was more eclectic, both in its formality and theme, and contained biblical and mythological allusions, such as the stories of King Midas and the birth of Aphrodite. The lines in the poems were shorter than those in “Tea”, almost conventional, while the poems were generally longer in length, with a greater variety.

Powell’s next collection of poems, “Cocktails”, was published in 2004 and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry. His 2009 “Chronic” won the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and also was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry. The 2012 “Useless Landscapes, or a Guide for Boys” was a witty and emotional collection of poems which examined the occupied spaces of boonies, backstages, bathhouses, and bars. This fifth volume of poetry by Powell won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry. His poetry can also be found in the 2008 anthology “Best American Poetry” and “American Hybrid”, an anthology published in 2009.

Note: A collection of twenty-six poems by Douglas Alain Powell, including a reading of his poem “continental divide”, can be found at the Poetry Foundation. The link to the recorded reading is: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/51144/continental-divide

Alejandro Amenábar: Film History Series

Photographers Unknown, A Collection of Thirteen Men

Born in Santiago in March of 1972, Alejandro Fernando Amenábar Cantos is a Spanish-Chilean film director, composer, and screenwriter. In August of 1973, his family relocated to Spain where they settled in Madrid, initially living in a camper-van and later moving to a complex in Madrid’s outer neighborhoods. From the age of fifteen, Amenábar was passionate about cinematic art; he also wrote stories and musical compositions for the guitar and keyboard.

Amenábar began his education at The Immaculate Piarist Fathers, a parochial multi-discipline school in Madrid, and later transferred to the secular Alameda de Osuna Institute, one of Madrid’s prominent private schools. After graduating, Amenábar enrolled at the sciences faculty of Madrid’s historic, public research Complutense University where he studied cinema and directing. There he met people who would lend support to his career in cinema including Argentine journalist Carlos Montero, actor Eduardo Noriega and Mateo Gil Rodriguez,  a filmmaker who would co-write most of Amenábar’s films.

In 1991, Alejandro Amenábar released the first of his short films, “La Cabeza (Head)”. The script, based on an urban legend, was written by Mateo Rodriquez and Amenábar, who also composed the musical score in collaboration with Alfredo Alonso. This film earned Amenábar a prize from the Amateur Independent Film Association. His second short film, the 1992  “Himenóptero”, was shot on location at Alameda de Osuna Institute, his former high school. Amenábar wrote the script and music for the horror suspense film, was director and editor, and performed the only male role. (Note: Hymenoptera is a large order of insects which includes wasps, bees, sawflies and ants.)

At the age of twenty-two, Amenábar released his first full-length film, the 1996 “Tésis (Thesis)”, which secured his reputation as one of Spain’s most promising  cinematographers. This film, which commented on the Spanish film industry, Hollywood’s influence on the industry and the voyeurism of the horror genre, was nominated for eight Goya awards, of which it won seven including Best Film. In 1997, Amenábar released the science-fiction based, psychological thriller, “Abre los Ojos (Open Your Eyes)”, which starred Penelope Cruz and Eduardo Noriega. The rights to this movie were later acquired by actor Tom Cruise who directed and starred in the American remake entitled “Vanilla Sky”, with Penelope Cruz playing the same role of the original film.

Alejandro Amenábar followed his success with an English language movie in 2001, entitled “The Others”, a psychological, gothic horror film. Written and directed by Amenábar, the supernatural film relied on tension built during disturbing scenes for its horror rather than the use of special effects. “The Others”, with its film score by Amenábar, was a box-office success and won seven Goya Awards, including Best Film and Best Director. It also won three Saturn Awards for Best Horror Film, Best Actress for Nicole Kidman, and Best Supporting Actress for Fionnula Flanagan, who played the housekeeper Bertha Mills.

In 2004, Amenábar had another success with his “Mar Adentro (The Sea Inside)”, based on the true life story of Ramón Sampedro. Paralyzed from the neck down, Sampedro fought a thirty-year campaign to win the right to end his life with dignity.The film won fourteen Goya Awards, including Best Film and Best Director, and won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

In 2008, Amenábar released the historical drama “Agora”. Written by Mateo Gil and Amenábar, the biopic told the life story of Hypatia, the fourth-century female mathematician and astronomer who investigated the flaws of the geocentric Ptolemaic system of the solar system and the heliocentric model that challenged it. Winning seven Goya Awards, the film had limited release in the United States but was Spain’s highest grossing film of 2009.

After a seven year hiatus, Alejandro Amenábar released his psychological horror mystery film “Regression” in 2015. The film premiered at the 2015 San Sebastián International Film Festival. In 2019, he released the Spanish-Argentine historical drama “While at War”, the plot of which tracks the plight of writer and philosopher Miguel de Unamuno in 1936 Salamanca, a city controlled during the Spanish Civil War by the Rebel faction. 

In addition to composing the scores of his own films, he laid the sound tracks for Josè Luis Cuerda’s 1999 coming-of-age film“Butterfly’s Tongue” and Mateo Gil’s 1999 mystery film “Nobody Known Anybody”, among others. 

Top Insert Image: Mateo Gil, “Alejandro Amenábar, Himenóptero”, 1992

Third Insert Image: Javier Aguirresarobe, “Alakina Mann, The Others”, 1992, Written and Directed by Alejandro Amenábar, Warner Brothers

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.

Donald Britton: “These Things Have No Beginning”

Photographers Unknown, These Things Have No Beginning

The start of a new era
Of desperation is starting over.

Meanwhile you and your bronze friend
Run naked through the yellowed broom sage,
Suspended vaporously above life
Like high pressure systems. A redolent
Cascade of voices from the lawn
As the next new hope something will happen
Ascends the orangerie steps, an endless
Unpunctuated sentence that seems at the time
To illuminate everything, as if a giant
Had stepped between you and the sun,
Sucking the light and punching a hole
In space, revealing infinite vistas
Of anticipation and delay.

These things have no beginning, or rather
Were set in motion long before we became
Their facsimile, thinking ourselves privileged
To secret information, not sensible
Of how the world contrives with enormous
Duplication of labor to rid itself of us
And perform its little routines
Solo in the galactic swimming pool
That is at last a total stage. It is
The amusing notion life might someday
Not be confusing that coordinates
Our award-winning sentiments these last days
Of summer, preparatory to the paint-by-number
Rush of autumn, the colors balking
Within their lines, which as a kid
Was the hardest part and apparently still is.
You must do something, though, not caring
What it is, so long as when the day ends,
You’re able to claim that this thing
has been accomplished, brought nearer
The perfection toward which it ludicrously
Aspires, then put aside to be resumed
At a point just over the next rise yonder
Where suddenly pertinent trees now loom.

Donald Britton, Here and Now, In the Empire of the Air, 2016

Born in San Angelo, Texas in 1951, Donald Eugene Britton earned his Bachelor of Arts and his Master of Arts in American Literature at the Austin campus of the University of Texas in 1976. He earned his Doctorate in Literary Studies in 1979 from the American University in Washington DC; his dissertation was on modernist poet Hart Crane’s poetics of praise. 

Britton lived in New York City and became part of a circle of avant-garde artists and poets, later known as the third-generation of New York poets, which included Dennis Cooper, Joe Brainard, Tim Dlugos, Brad Gooch, and Bernard Weh, among others. After several years in the city, he moved to Los Angeles where he worked for the advertising firm of Brierly and Partners.

Donald Britton was not a prolific poet; as a self-depreciating perfectionist, he spent a great length of time and effort on each of his poems. In his poems there is the lack of a defined self; the poems are not personalized in the traditional sense of confessional poetry but are more abstracted and generalized. Britton’s poems are not subject-centered nor do they have topics in the conventional sense. He writes more about the states of mind, in which he follows the wandering of a particular consciousness as it encounters bodily experiences.

Britton’s work was published in the gay-oriented New York magazine “Christopher Street”, Cornell University’s EPOCH magazine, and the literary journal “The Paris Review”, among others. They also appeared in several anthologies including “The Sons of the Male Muse”, “Coming Attractions: An Anthology of American Poets in Their Twenties”, and “Ecstatic Occasions, Expedient Poems”.

Donald Britton essentially stopped writing poetry in the late 1980s. The only collection of his work published during his lifetime was the 1981 “Italy” which featured short introductions by novelist Edmund White and poet John Ashbery. Britton was to publish a second collection of his work, entitled “In the Empire of the Air”; however, due to financial difficulties, it was never published in his lifetime. The collection was edited by poet Reginald Shepherd and author Philip Clark, and finally published in 2016 by NightBoat Books .

Britton wrote a two-part essay, entitled “The Dark Side of Disneyland”, on the death imagery of some of its rides, in which he argues that Disneyland is a monumental artwork memorializing dead children. This essay appeared in the art magazine “Issue”, now online, and later in his friend Bernard Welt’s 1996 essay book, “Mythomania”. Four of Britton’s poems were included in the 2010 “Persistent Voices”, a compilation of poetry by writers lost to AIDS.

Donald Eugene Britton died, at the age of forty-three, of complications from AIDS in 1994. He was survived by his partner, David Cobb Craig, whom Britton met in 1983.

Bottom Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Donald Britton (Third from the Left) at New York City’s Ear Inn”, Early 1980s, Gelatin Silver Print

Notes:   A short memoir written by David Cobb Craig entitled “Life and Times with Poet Donald Britton”, which includes their first meeting in 1983, can be found at the Gay & Lesbian Review site located at: https://glreview.org/article/life-and-times-with-poet-donald-britton/ 

Donald Britton’s doctorate dissertation on Hart Crane’s poetics of praise can be read at the American Library’s Digital Research Archive located at:  https://auislandora-stage.wrlc.org/islandora/object/thesesdissertations%3A791

I wish to acknowledge poet and author Reginald Shepherd as the source for most of the information in this article on Donald Britton’s life and work. The author of many essays on gay poets and writers, Shepherd passed away in the fall of 2008. His blog site with its wealth of material is still available online at: http://reginaldshepherd.blogspot.com

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