Archive for category Gay Poetry

“Seminal: The Anthology of Canada’s Gay Male Poets”– quite a collection

Barton, John and Nickerson, Billeh, editors. “Seminal: The Anthology of Canada’s Gay Male Poets”, Arsenal Pulp Press, 2007.

Quite a Collection

Amos Lassen

Reading poetry can be a very rewarding experience and it becomes that much more rewarding when we read poets of our own. John Barton and Billeh Nickerson have assembled the first anthology of gay male poetry from Canada and it is not to be missed. Their comprehensive work gives us all kinds of poetry—from the funny to the most romantic, translated from the French or written in English—it is all here and it is a wonderful way to muse over life. Covering the time span from 1890 to the present, there are poems for every occasion. The central motif is queerness and reading the poetry gives us a sense of beauty and originality not unique to just Canada but universal.

Poetry can also give us a sense of history for whatever is learned by the past poetic tradition in many cases remains true to the present day. Traditionally the poetry we read in school is heterosexual as our poetry has been hidden for so long. Even now, when we have achieved so much in the societal sphere, our poetry, unlike other forms of our literature, has been missing. The poet has a hard time finding an audience and a publisher so poetry has been kicked to the side. Barton and Nickerson worked to make that poetry visible and here it is in one beautiful volume.

If you have ever been interested in reading gay poetry, you know how difficult it as been to find it with the exception of those crossover poets like Mark Doty and others.

Poetry appeals to the emotions, it affexts us and we naturally respond to it. Poems aesthetic reflections of the times in which we live and is perhaps the most open and erotic of all forms of literature. “Seminal” has that central commonality in which all of the poems are gay men who write beautifully about the gay subjects about which we know and care and it deals with the human condition.

Because our human condition is a shade different from everyone else’s, it is appropriate and necessary that our poets bring this home. We want to belong to the larger picture but we also want our unique traditions-one of which is our poetic language.

“Seminal” has one fault and that is that it deals only with Canadian poetry—but that is its goal so it is not a point to be argued. It is a starting point and hopefully the publication of this book will present a challenge to others to bring forth their poetry as well.

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“YOUNG, JEWISH AND LEFT”–changing the world

“Young, Jewish and Left”

Changing the World

Amos Lassen

What do queer culture, diversity, Jewish/Arab history, anti-racism, secular “Yiddishkiet”, leftist politics and religious/spiritual traditions have in common? Obviously a great deal according to a group of young Jewish left-wingers who feel it is partly their duty to repair the world. They aim to reframe Jewish identity by utilizing a fresh response to the issues that concern them as they strive to reach a balance between racism, spirituality, sexuality, Awareness, Zionism, resistance, liberation and social justice.

Their aim is to build more progressive organizations, new rituals and a more inclusive community imbued with a sense of pride. They draw their inspiration from the heroic Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of World War II and the Workmen’s Circle ( a communist and socialist organization which was popular among American Jews in the 50’s and 60’s). They are radical and they are proud and want to create a more real and just future. They spend time learning about and identifying with “a collective, rich Jewish heritage of reform and rebellion”. We are all well aware of the rising tide of right-wing religious fundamentalism that is exerting great influence on the United States and the world today. And if for no other reason than this, this documentary inspires.

The young people in this movie are those that came of age after the movements of the New Left of the 60’s and 70’s so they have not been tempered by the ideas of others. They have created a new ideology to which they subscribe in contrast with the historical context of the previous generations. They struggle with what it means to be Jewish today and envision set goals for those who will lead the Jewish community in the future. They are brave and outspoken and what they say is powerful ad very, very real.

We hear of their personal experiences and their fresh takes on ideas that we have been forced to deal with for ages and that might actually have solutions in the future. These very brave young people have set themselves on making a better world for al of us—not just Jews.

We meet Loolwa Khazoom, an Iraqi Jews who is editor of “Flying Camel: Identity of Woomen of North African and Middle Eastern Jewish Heritage”. She tells us how, when she was a student at an Amerian Hebrew school, her rabbi told her that it was sinful to use a Sephardi (non-European) Jewish book of prayer. (I was never aware that prayer was based upon country of origin—I knew the prayers were a bit different but it seems to me that prayer is prayer, no matter the language or origin).

Micha Bazant, a male, heaps praise upon new feminist possibilities within traditional Jewish patriarchal masculinity. He sees a future in the religion where women achieve the equality of man both in the community and in the eyes of G-d.

Shira Hazzan tells of how she and her partner who is transgender were “laughed out of the synagogue” and she therefore created a radical prayer book for the High Holy Days (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) and then organized a “queer-positive” celebration”.

Even for non-Jews what these youngsters are doing is important as they bring about a new policy in which we all will be included. I cannot express the pride I feel now and felt when watching this youth as they set about repairing the world. Their message is strong and important and they are very brave individuals.

Young, Jewish and Left” is a wonderful cross-section of today’s youth as visionaries and activists. Likewise the film affirms the history of Jewish resistance and equality for all people. It criticizes the Jewish reactionaries who have done little to change ideas about occupation, resistance, homophobia and patriarchy and it calls the Left of today to task for not having a true understanding of Jewish history and culture. These young Jewish activists have wonderful stories about the motivations, the conflicts and the visions of injustice in society and these are stories that must be heard. Liberal Jews have often been ignored and have faced exclusion form both mainstream Judaism and society at large because of their progressivism and not just because of liberal political fabrication but because they voice discontent. The new radical thinking of these young people help to give us a safe space where the pretense of Jewish singularity is shattered and where Jews can be both Jews and citizens of the world on their own terms. I applaud them for this and for so much more.

This film can become a major tool to forge headway toward building a new and true Amerian Jewish identity–amend that to say world Jewish identity. The determination of these youngsters is empowering and we can hope that it will bring about a dialog which is lacking among Jews today. As a gay Jewish man who as felt exclusion many times, I am beginning to see rays of hope for al of us who have been ostracized for being what the world calls “different”. I have been able to make my place but how many have not? This knew radicalism can bring about a place for all of us.

A Judaism and world that is creative artistically and active in solidarity devoid of homophobia and racism may sound like a Utopia but if we work together it can come to fruition as is shown by the hope expressed in the film

“Young, Jewish and Left” shows empathically that the legacy of socialists ands anarchists, Yuppies and Hippies, organizers and agitators of the past are still very much alive and thinking. Long may they live!!

Now that people have political identities, they possess more fluidity. The Jewish ghettoes of America are no more and Jewishness has become fluid as well. The role of Israel in the world has changed as well as compared to the 50’s when the viability of a Jewish state was questionable. We no longer fear quick annihilation of the State of Israel and Israel has also become a huge military machine doing things that in may cases is unacceptable to the world at large(yes, I am really saying that). We must now take a careful look at ourselves, our homeland and our religion and act on those things we do not agree with. The world will change and we can only hope that we can all make it a better place.

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“The Beautiful Tendons”–30 years of poetry

Beam, Jeffery, editor. “The Beautiful Tendons: Uncollected Queer Poems, 1969-2007″, Lethe Press, 2008.

 

 

30 Years of Poetry

Amos Lassen


“The Beautiful Tendons” is a collection of award winning poems by Jeffery Beam. The poems are lyrical and metaphysical as well as sensual and dramatic and they memory pieces. There is melancholia and love in the poetry and they are both tender and erotic brimming with sensuousness. Beam’s poetry is of both the body and the soul.

Beam characterizes himself as “a Queer poet, child-like, saintly, sees the Kingdom of Heaven in every leaf, every drop of blood spilled, every meal, every automobile, every homeless person’s cardboard box, every bright mansion, and every bird song. The Queer-spirit sees All-in-All in every act of love. With a self-description like this, it is easy to see how Beam could write so beautifully.
Here is a collection of poems that is accomplished and graceful as they speak of desire, contemplation and passion. It is Beam’s experience and spirituality that makes these poems such a gift.

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“GOSPEL EARTH”–“a little book of big poems”

 

Beam, Jeffery, ”Gospel Earth”, Skysill Press, 2010.

 

 

“A Big Book of Little Poems”

Amos Lassen

Jeffery Beam is a favorite poet of mine and I feel so lucky that he emails when he has no poems, announcements or new books out. When I first heard of “Gospel Earth”, I could not wait to read it and now that I have, I feel that I have begun an entire new level of understanding. Beam proves that there is indeed beauty in the written word and whenever I need a lift, I read one of his poems.
The poems in “Gospel Earth” bring us the world of nature and each and every poem is something of beauty. The book is a collection of short poems with a large message and as you read the poems come together as we embark a journey of the senses that also incorporates bliss and despair and gesture and silence. The language stuns the reader and seduces him to go deeper into his thoughts as he reads.
The collection is set on Beam’s home turf of North Carolina and he uses it as a home base as well as a jumping off place. As we journey we are taken into the mind of the poet to a degree and even more deeply into our own minds. While there are a few longer pieces here, the book consists of short poems in almost all of their forms. Beam is esoteric and metaphysical and we feel what influenced him to write the poems here. We are made aware of which poets influenced his writing (Rilke, Dickenson, William Carlos Williams, the Objectivists, etc) but they are all Jeffrey Beam who shares with us his intimacy with nature. Because there is so much in “Gospel Earth” it is a difficult book to write about and review. Once you begin to read it you will totally understand what I say here.

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“Gay Bookstores: A Dying Breed”–an article by Jesse Monteagudo

Since Amazon has become the major distributor and seller of books and film about the GLBT community have we forgotten our own bookstores? Think twice before you purchase from Amazon and remember that when you buy from a GLBT bookstore the money goes back into our community.

Gay Bookstores: A Dying Breed

Jesse Monteagudo

Like many lesbians, gay men, bisexuals or transgender people, I came out of the closet with the help of gay books and gay bookstores. Though we didn’t have a gay bookstore in Miami when I came out in the early1970s,

Oscar Wilde Bookshop

I took advantage of the mail order services provided by the newly-established bookshops.

My first visit to the Oscar Wilde Bookshop in Greenwich Village (1977) was like a religious pilgrimage; an experience that I repeated two years later when I first visited Lambda Rising Bookstore in Dupont Circle in Washington, DC. Both Oscar Wilde and Lambda Rising were part of a chain of independent bookshops that dotted the gay ghettos of North America: Glad Day in Boston and Toronto, Giovanni’s Room in Philadelphia, Outwrite in Atlanta, A Different Light in West Hollywood and San Francisco, Little Sister’s in Vancouver and, of course, Lambda Passages in Miami.

Sadly, the quantity and quality of exclusively gay bookstores have declined during the first decade of the 21st Century. In 2009 the Oscar Wilde Bookshop drew its last breath; and just last month Deacon Maccubbin, the founder and still co-owner of Lambda Rising Bookstore, announced plans to close his stores in Washington, D.C. and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Maccubbin’s reasons are understandable: he and Jim Bennett, his partner and co-owner, want to retire after 35 years in the book business. But their departure will leave a gap in our community that may never be filled.

The demise of Oscar Wilde and Lambda Rising bookstores (among others) leave behind only a handful of exclusively GLBT bookstores, including Giovanni’s Room, Outwrite, Little Sister’s and Lambda Passages, all teetering on the edge of insolvency. These and other stores can not compete with major chain stores like Barnes & Noble or Borders, or mail order houses like Amazon.com.

Though the existence of a GLBT book section in a major chain store is of course a step forward for our community, it cannot take the place of our small, independently-owned, queer bookshops. Long before B&N and Borders took notice, our community bookstores were making GLBT books available, supporting GLBT authors and fostering good GLBT literature. Deacon Maccubbin criticized gay writers who put links to Amazon and other online sellers on their Web sites: “I wonder if they really think they would have been published at all if not for the gay bookstores that sprang up around the country in the 1980s and 1990s. . . . In the 1970s, that literature barely existed.”

But gay bookshops do more than sell books. According to Completely Queer: The Gay and Lesbian Encyclopedia, “gay and lesbian – and feminist/women’s – bookstores have traditionally served as informal community centers, offering everything from space for bulletin boards to tourist information to legal and medical referrals. Many also provide space for meetings, performances, and readings.”

The late John Preston, writing in The Big Gay Book (1991) called gay bookstores “the one single most consequential element in the development of gay culture. These stores have been willing to stock our books when others wouldn’t have them. They represent a distribution system for our journals and newspapers. They are often the first stop that isolated gay men [and lesbians] make when they get to a major city, desperate for a gay cultural fix.”

Preston’s statement holds true almost two decades later. The surviving GLBT bookshops, especially those that have coffee shops, provide a social outlet for our community members, especially queer and questioning youth. Unlike bars, bookstores are alcohol- and stress-free and are accessible to all segments of our community. They provide us with hard-to-find items produced by gay-owned, small book, audio and video publishers.

In lesbian and gay bookstores we get personalized service from knowledgeable, gay or gay-friendly staff members who know their merchandise and who are part of our community. Many of these shops have Web sites and/or catalog services that makes it is as easy for us to buy from them as it is to buy from Amazon.com.

Sadly, the rise of gay-friendly chain stores and online sellers has been fatal to gay bookshops everywhere. Many surviving shops have had to diversify in order to survive, by selling or renting DVDs, t-shirts, greeting cards and jewelry along with books and magazines. Independent gay bookstores, like other “Mom and Mom” or “Pop and Pop” businesses, can only thrive by providing their customers with products and services that the major chains can’t or won’t provide — such as adult videos or DVDs that are not available elsewhere.

Only that – and a loyal customer base – will allow our few remaining bookshops to live long and prosper.

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“The Songs of Antonio Botto”–gay poetry

Botto, Antonio. “The Songs of Antonio Botto”, translated by Fernando Pessoa, Josiah Blackmore (Editor), , University of Minnesota Press, 2010.

 

Gay Poems

 

Amos Lassen

Recently I have been reading a lot of gay poetry but I must admit that I had never heard of Antonio Botte until I got this book. Sotto was from Portugal and lived an open gay life style in the early decades of the twentieth century. His poetry is sensual and candid and I think the beauty of his work is in the unapologetic attitude he had both about himself and his writing. That, in itself, is important when we consider that the very poems here were published in 1922, a time when being “out” could be understood to be a political action. We can guess what the public reaction was—he was ostracized and hated by many but he also received hands of support by those who cheered him on.

I would go so far as to say that this collection serves as his memoirs. Reading them is akin to listening to a confession in all of its intimate details and eventually, even with all of the erotica present, he was accepted even though his sexual descriptions were condemned.

It took 26 years to get a published English translation of the poems even though they had been translated some fifteen years before their appearance on the printed page. Eventually Botto achieved fame and many consider him to be an author who helped push the closet door open in terms of gay literature. I was amazed at erotica and the set and likewise the rhythm of the poems and lush language and style held me captive.

The songs are divided into eight sections and they cover the gamut of gal life from young boys to elegies. Likewise he uses the gamut of emotions and we laugh and cry with him, we feel pain and we rejoice. Botto was a voice in the darkness who dared to tell the truth. Botto’s output was large—some twenty books of poetry, plays, stories and children’s literature.

After Botto died in 1959, his writing seemed to hibernate and since he never really achieved the acclaim he deserved during his lifetime, it is now our turn to make sure that he is included in our cannon. In reading about Botto, the man, I learned that he worked as a civil servant but was fired in 1942 with the charge of “lacking moral character” whatever that means. He married so that there would not be stories of this kind circulating. Finally seven years he left Portugal and he and his wife relocated to Brazil where he died eleven years later when he was hit by a car. This v0lume assures Botto a place in gay literature and it is so good to have him there.

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Aaron Powell’s “Behind Concrete Doors”–a look at the Blatino lifestyle

 

Powell, Aaron. “Behind Concrete Doors”, edited by Clarence Haynes, Book Bloc Publishing, 2010.

The Blatino Lifestyle

Amos Lassen

“Behind Concrete Doors” is a small book with a lot of punch. We enter the world of the Blatino and we are led through it by Aaron Powell. This is a lifestyle of secrets, of men looking for sexual release but hiding their sexual identity. Made up of stories within poems, we watch (read)—almost like a voyeur standing on the edge, mesmerized by what we see and then being pulled in. For me, it was almost like being one of the characters that Powell writes about. The scene is raw and dirty.

Powell’s blending of erotica, short pieces and poetry is a novel approach and it works. The vivacity of the images here is sensuous and slaps the reader in the face making him want to continue the read in an almost fanatical fashion. Imagination soars as men engage in sex on what they call “the down low”. We are shocked by the reality of what we read and we keep reading ready to be shocked again and again. Powell says what few would not dare to utter and there is beauty and truth in his words. The overriding feeling is one of lust but it combines with other issues such as family, death, love, relationship and others. I found myself exhausted when I closed the covers if the book and I sat back and thought about what I had just read. That does not happen very often. We need to keep our eyes on Aaron Powell; I have a feeling that is just the beginning of his literary career.

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