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

Photographers Unknown, Under the Night Stillness Inclined My Morning Beach

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

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

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

Aaron Shurin, Steeped, Citizen, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

Photographers Unknown, Clouds and Daemonic Thunder Through the Blue Vault

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

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

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

George Carpenter, April, Towards Democracy, 1911

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

Photographers Unknown, Our Kisses Are Petals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melvin Dixon: “We Live Bravely in the Light”

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

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

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

Thousands. Many thousands.
Many thousands gone.

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

Thousands. Many thousands.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Siken: “I Am the Wind”

Photographer Unknown, I Am the Wind

“I am the wind and the wind is invisible, all the leaves tremble but I am invisible, blackbird over the dark field but I am invisible, what fills the balloon and what it moves through, knot without rope, bloom without flower, galloping without the horse, the spirit of the thing without the thing, location without dimension, without a within, song without throat, word without ink, wingless flight, dark boat in the dark night, shine without light, pure velocity, as the hammer is a hammer when it hits the nail and the nail is a nail when it meets the wood and the invisible table begins to appear out of mind, pure mind, out of nothing, pure thinking, hand of the mind, hand of the emperor, arm of the empire, void and vessel, sheath and shear, and wider, and deeper, more vast, more sure, through silence, through darkness, a vector, a violence, and even farther, and even worse, between, before, behind, and under, and even stronger, and even further, beyond form, beyond number, I labor, I lumber, I fumble forward through the valley as winter, as water, a shift in the river, I mist and frost, flexible and elastic to the task, a fountain of gravity, space curves around me, I thirst, I hunger, I spark, I burn, force and field, force and counterforce, agent and agency, push to your pull, parabola of will, massless mass and formless form, dreamless dream and nameless name, intent and rapturous, rare and inevitable, I am the thing that is hurtling towards you…” 

—Richard Siken, Lovesong of the Square Root of Negative One, War of the Foxes

Born in New York City in February of 1967, Richard Siken is an American painter, poet, and filmmaker. He studied at the University of Arizona, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and later a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry. 

Richard Siken is one of the co-founders and editors of Spork Press, established in 2001. Besides publishing its “Spork” literary magazine, the press produces novels and chapbooks, some of which were released in serial form. Siken received a Literature Fellowship in Poetry from the National Endowment of the Arts and two Arizona Commission on the Arts grants. 

Influenced by the 1991 death of his boyfriend, Richard Siken wrote his collection of poems “Crush” which was published by Yale University Press.. A powerful literary work that is confessional, gay, and infused with eroticism, “Crush” won the 2004 Yale Younger Poets Competition, and received the Lambda Literary Award for “Gay Men’s Poetry” in 2005, and the Thom Gunn Award from Publishing Triangle in 2006. It was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. 

Siken’s most recent work, his second book of poems, “War of the Foxes”, was released from Copper Canyon Press in 2015. With interwoven lyrics, fables, portraits and landscapes, Siken confronts the ways in which we look to art for meaning and purpose. The poems in “The War of the foxes” show the fallacies inherent in a search for truth, both in the world outside and within the self.

Richard Siken currently lives and works in Tucson, Arizona.

Frederico Garcia Lorca: “I Sing Your Restless Longing”

Photographers Unknown, I Sing Your Restless Longing

“I sing your restless longing for the statue,

your fear of the feelings that await you in the street.

I sing the small sea siren who sings to you,

riding her bicycle of corals and conches.

But above all I sing a common thought

that joins us in the dark and golden hours.

The light that blinds our eyes is not art.

Rather it is love, friendship, crossed swords.” 

—Frederico Garcia Lorca

Poet and playwright Frederico Garcia Lorca was born on June 5, 1898, in Fuente Vaqueros, a farming village in the province of Granada, Spain. He studied law at the University of Granada, before entering in 1919 Madrid’s  Residencia de Estudiantes to focus on his writing. 

In Madrid, Lorca joined the “Generation of ’27”, a group of avant-garde artists which included Salvador Dali and surrealist film maker Luis Buñuel. This group introduced Lorca to the surrealist movement, which would later greatly influence his writing. Through this group, Lorca met and developed a long friendship with Dali, who would later design the scenery for the Barcelona production of Lorca’s 1927 play “Mariana Pineda”. 

Lorca published numerous volumes of poetry during his career, beginning with the 1918 “Impresiones y Paisajes”, a prose work in the modernist tradition chronicling his sentimental journeys through Spain as a student. He often incorporated elements of Gypsy culture, Spanish folklore and ‘cante jondos’, or deep songs, in his themes of romantic love and tragedy.

Frederico Lorca’s two most successful poetry collections were “Canciones (Songs)”, published in 1927, and the 1928 “Romancero Gitano (Gypsy Ballads)”. “Romancero Gitano” was especially daring for the time with its exploration of sexual themes and made Lorca a celebrity in the literary world. In 1930, he traveled to New York City, where he found a connection between Spanish deep songs and the African-American spirituals he heard in Harlem.

Upon his return to Spain, Lorca co-founded La Barraca, a touring theater company that performed in town squares both Spanish classics and his original plays, including the 1933 “Blood Wedding”. Throughout the 1930s, he spent much of his time working on plays, including a folk drama trilogy:  “Bodas de Sangre (Blood Wedding)” in 1933, “Yerma (Wasteland)” in 1934, and “La Casa de Bernarda Alba (The House of Bernarda Alba)” in 1936. Despite the threat of a growing fascist movement in his country, Lorca refused to hide his leftist political views, or his homosexuality, while continuing his ascent as a writer.

In the middle of August 1936, at the onset of the Spanish Civil War, Lorca was arrested at his country home in Granada by General Franco’s soldiers. He was executed, shot without trial, by a Nationalist militia squad a few days later. His body was never found.

Frederico Garcia Lorna, due to the inclusion of homo-romantic themes in his work, was heavily censored during his lifetime. Described as a ‘socialist’ and ‘participant in abnormal practices’, he was a target of the Franco-era government and had his work banned in Spain until 1953. Now considered one of Spain’s greatest poets and playwrights, Lorca, in a career that spanned just nineteen years, revitalized the basic strains of Spanish theater and poetry.

“Here I want to see those men of hard voice. Those that break horses and dominate rivers; those men of sonorous skeleton who sing with a mouth full of sun and flint.” 

—Frederico Garcia Lorca