Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Poetic expression from gay voices

Out There

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A small press imprint devoted to LGBT voices is giving ample expression to gay authors in small, nicely designed chapbooks. A Midsummer Night's Press in New York publishes LGBT poetry and gay studies in its Body Language imprint, and co-publishes the Sapphic Classics series with Sinister Wisdom magazine, reissuing feminist lesbian texts. We read two newly published titles from the Body Language series, This Life Now by Michael Broder, and When I Was Straight by Julie Marie Wade. We also sampled two earlier Body Language entries, Deleted Names by MNP publisher Lawrence Schimel, and Fortunate Light by David Bergman.

Broder's collection is divided into three sections: My First Ten Plague Years, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Sodomite, and This Life Now. Taken together, they explore the feelings of longing, loss, pride and regret that have followed all of us who have lived these last few decades as gay men. They are poignant and precise yet couched in the plainest, most vernacular language. From "Tony Poem": "What remains – Some cassettes you made for me, notebooks, clippings,/Photos of you onstage with your bass, hair plastered to your forehead,/open shirt a drenched banner/proclaiming you."

This sense of life after loss, of palimpsests after erasure by the plague, sounds a motif throughout these poems. From "Twilight in the City": "All that's left here – the party we threw, P.J.'s dance tapes,/that boy who wanted to sleep with you/and kept asking when I was going home." Or the entirety of "Another Tony Poem": "I'm glad there was a moment in my life/when I was foolish enough to love the likes of you."

In his poetry, Broder bears witness to the loves, the comrades, the large personalities we have lost. In "I See You Often Around the City," he recreates that sensation we have all had at least once, of seeing a stranger and momentarily thinking he is someone who's no longer around. After describing a few of these uncanny sightings, the poet reflects, "When I see you now, you are just as you were before/(neither dead, nor missing, nor unaccounted for)."

Wade's witty and heartfelt collection is divided into two parts, Before and After. All of the poems in the Before section are titled, "When I Was Straight," even as they head off in different directions. The first "When I Was Straight" poem, for example, observes, "I did not love men as I do now./I loved them wincing & wanting to please./I loved them trying too hard." The second poem with the same title moves on: "I did not love women as I do now./I loved them with my eyes closed, my back turned./I loved them silent, & startled, & shy."

The After section considers the life-changing implications of coming out. All of its poems have titles like, "When My Mother Learns I am a Lesbian," "When an Old Classmate Learns I am a Lesbian" and "When the Whole Office Learns I am a Lesbian."

The entirety of "When My Grandmother Learns I am a Lesbian" is as follows: "(looking up from her crossword page) / 'Don't be silly, dear. You're Scandinavian.'" A stanza from "When My College Roommate Learns I am a Lesbian" reads, "'What about Ani DiFranco? She was attracted to women, too, but/she married a man. Don't you think that could happen to you?'"

The last stanza of Wade's "When the Man on the Airplane Learns I am a Lesbian" says much in few words. "He shakes his head, thick with Rogaine and minoxidil – 'Now whaddya wanna go & do that for?'"

These slim volumes offer large satisfactions for LGBT readers.


Another view

Author Bruce Benderson has a new polemic out, in the form of a 60-page pamphlet published by Semiotext(e) as part of the current Whitney Biennial in New York. It's called Against Marriage, and it offers a valuable caveat to all the congratulations over the LGBT community's civil rights victories in marriage equality.

Benderson explains his contrarian position in this excerpt from Bradford Nordeen's interview with him in the Lambda Literary Review: "I began to think of my childhood in the 50s and early 60s and realized how unmarried people were treated then. They had names for them – spinsters, old maids, mama's boys, Peter Pans – and they were all insulting. And then I thought – what happened to these unmarried people? Well, some of them just lived unhappy half lives as appendages of the nuclear family. But others, who were a little feistier – quite often because they had a different sexuality – came to the city, where you could be single without judgment. And the more talented among them created urban culture.

"Then finally, I thought, Oh my god! What's going to happen to gays who are not married when suddenly gays can get married? Well, they're going to be doubly excluded. They're going to be the new old maids and pitiful bachelors of the new century. Maybe they're even gonna have their gay brothers and sisters joining in mocking and excluding them. And this sickened me – which is why I decided to write the book."

We're proud to join the struggle for singles equality ~ Love, Out There.

Finally, B.A.R. TV columnist Victoria A. Brownworth won the Society of Professional Journalists Award last week, 1st place Series for Enterprise Reporting (Investigative), for her four-part series Victims of the Night.

Brownworth told us, "I spent four months on the streets of North Philadelphia and Kensington interviewing trans women sex workers of color. It's the first series to present these trans women, and the violence and discrimination they face, in their own words and from their own milieu. The series appeared in PGN in June & July 2013." Congrats, VAB!

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