Christian Gullette's 'Coachella Elegy' - SF poet's pride, reverence, and remembrance in new work

  • by Mark William Norby
  • Tuesday June 18, 2024
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Poet Christian Gullette
Poet Christian Gullette

If Pride is a time for celebration, it's also a time of reverence and remembrance. San Francisco poet Christian Gullette's "Coachella Elegy" (Trio House Press) carries a deep spirit of what those two words mean, both emotionally and poetically.

Gullette is inspired by what is read herein as the compression of a short line or two lines in a couplet held in tension and "how that can amplify an image or feeling," Gullette told the Bay Area Reporter. He likes what is known in poetry as enjambment: the continuation of thought in the last line of a stanza (a group of lines forming a metrical unit in a poem), to the first line of the following stanza. You can think of enjambment as emotions that go together from one line to the next:

Poet Christian Gullette  

"Christmas Elegy"

Bound in twine
and last on the lot,

frozen and tubercular tree
against the fence.

A makeshift hotel Christmas,
brought to my brother,

unable to leave his reform school
for bad behavior.

untied and left to thaw in the tub,
the tree burst overnight—

an evergreen heave,
evangelical in its

smell which filled the lobby
and almost got us kicked out.

We spent the night
looking at lights on mansions

in the Provo hills where
there were songs and warm babies.

Gullette works partly in the Greek and Roman poetic styles known as the elegiac couplet. Gullette and his partner Michael live fulltime in San Francisco. Michael was diagnosed with cancer in 2007 and together, the two triumphed over the illness. "Coachella Elegy" is Pride in being queer. It is the remembrance of healing we all must travel, which is itself a reverential experience:

"Palm Springs"

We drink Fernet by ironic sculptures
under misters that make our bangs damp.

It's our anniversary,
though that time feels faint.

We are searching for a place
to escape his diagnosis,

laws against gay marriage,
Our leaky, flat roof.

Every Memorial Day
and Labor Day, we go to the desert.

Sometimes also the Fourth
of July

Palm Springs unwinds things.
We almost buy that mid-century chair,

proud of our rule that love for it
needs to be immediate.

At the Parker, a guy with a calf tattoo
brings drinks.

You can ask for anything here.
We toast to another year without cancer.

After dinner, we wander the hotel hedge maze,
nowhere to go this late but home.

The book is sprinkled with poems set in San Francisco. As a part-time instructor of the Swedish language at UC Berkeley, as well as a translator of that challenging language, Gullette hones his eye on our great city:

"Stern Grove"

Summer in Stern Grove amphitheater

Coyotes live atop its wooded rim

One got poor Bella the shih tzu.

They dig dens on Mt. Davidson under a giant cross.

It's in a scene from "Dirty Harry,"

In a YouTube video, a man points a gun at a coyote hole.

The cross used to light up at night.

FDR himself lit the lights all the way from Washington.

Vigilantes pledge law and order in convention speeches.

We bungee-cord the trash bins on Mondays.

A coyote stops to sniff them.

A deep scar says it has fought a rival.

I think of it curled in the chaparral under the cross

like a nativity scene from my childhood.

Note the one-line stanzas and the flow with which Gullette has connected one line to the next: enjambment. His poems are always elegies to memories that pay reverence to times past.
In this light, we remember at Pride the work our forebears have undergone to give us such a precious gift like greater freedom.

What more could we ask for, what more can we give back in the spirit of remembrance of their work? Like Gullette's marriage to Michael in 2012, we have freedoms only dreamed of fifty-five years ago when Pride celebrations began after Stonewall, or even ten years ago when Obama was still in office.

In this same vein, Trio House Press is giving fifty percent off all of their titles during the month of Pride. You can preorder "Coachella Elegy" before the book's release as a gift to yourself or a loved one.

Christian Gullette's book launch will be at Green Apple Books, in-person and on Zoom, in San Francisco on July 16, 7pm, 231 9th Ave.

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