Monthly Archives: August 2011

A Black Gay Poet, or a Gay Black Poet, or a Poet

by Margaret Bowland

I. 

The first thing I did after weathering Irene’s apparent disappointment was go to a diner with a friend for breakfast. While eating, I noticed a old Jewish woman wearing a FUBU do-rag. It might take some reminding to recall that FUBU stands for “For Us, By Us,” the moniker of the 90s black urban fashion brand that seemed to be a direct answer to Tommy Hilfiger’s rumored irritation that his clothing brand had become so popular among black urban youth. While I loved the idea of clothing as a direct response, an argument, FUBU just wasn’t my style. Nor would I have guessed — back in the 90s or now — that it would fit the style of the Jewish woman in the booth across from me. What on earth does this sartorial meditation have to do with the title of this post? Well, seeing that woman brought to mind a question I’ve been asking myself more and more often as of late: Who is us exactly? 

II. 

When, in middle school, I sheepishly confessed to my mother that kids at school had been teasing me for “acting white,” she laughed. Actually, laughed. “Oh, baby. Kids used to call me an Oreo when I was in school.” She went on to explain that nobody — white or black folks — is ready for smart young black boys; they don’t have a name for us so the best they can come up with is white. She turned up the radio and started singing along with Luther Vandross. 

Later, when discussing the black community’s thorny engagement with gay activism, a friend — a black friend — said “The truth is that many African-Americans still think of homosexuality as a form of whiteness. It doesn’t help that the dominant gay images in the media are of white gay men.” Perhaps we don’t have a name for ourselves after all.

III. 

“The black experience is any experience that a black person has.” – Gwendolyn Brooks

IV. 

“Only a really shattered, scotch- or martini-guzzling, upward-mobility-struck house nigger could possibly deny the relentless tension of the black condition.” – James Baldwin

V. 

There is no specific inciting incident for this meditation — I prefer meditation, than essay as essay purports a kind of coherence that I’m simply not in the mood for — aside from perhaps the “relentless tension” Baldwin speaks of. Rather, the question of whether I’m a gay poet who happens to be black or a black poet who happens to be gay, or a poet who argues that such things as “blackness” and “gayness” need no proceed my nouns is just once that I — almost literally — enjoy dancing with. It troubles my waters; it keeps me questioning my self/selves; these days all I have are my questions. 

VI. 

Or maybe it’s just easier to debate gay/black and black/gay poems rather than to write the poems themselves. Or maybe I want to crack all of the “names” open.

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Re-Visitation #1: LOVE’S INSTRUMENTS by Melvin Dixon

by David Maisel

I. Epigraph & Frontis

Before we have even made it to the book’s first poem, Melvin Dixon — a poet well aware that he doesn’t have a moment to waste — begins to work on us. The epigraph from “Words in the Mourning Time” by Robert Hayden  which contains the collection’s title beckons, or perhaps pleads with us to “master now love’s instruments” before concluding: “I who love you tell you this, / even as the pitiful killer waits for me, / I who love you tell you this.” Establishing the motif of morning/mourning which will run throughout the collection, Dixon greets us by preparing to say goodbye; the reality of “the pitiful killer” cannot be avoided – even on the page. (This collection was published posthumously after Dixon’s HIV/AIDS related death in 1992.) Even still, it is not the killer, but the love that has the last word — here at least.

The following page features an untitled frontis that appears to be a dialogue between a gay speaker and his father. Here is the exchange in its entirety:

It ain’t right, that sorta thing.

What thing?

Just don’t come back here.

Me or him, Daddy?

It don’t make me no difference.

If the Hayden epigraph draws our attention to the loss of life, this exchange establishes that in Dixon’s gaze there is more than one loss at work. The epigraph and frontis mirror one another, and in doing so, create a dark but nonetheless true constellation in which to read Dixon’s poems. For all too many men during the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the choice between coming out to one’s family or facing “the pitiful killer” alone in the closet was not a choice at all. As demonstrated here, the speaker is being cast out before he has even has an opportunity to have that crucial conversation with his father. Thus, we as readers enter the collection as outcasts. For here on the outskirts of the book, Dixon has already warned us of the difficulty ahead; love will not so easily (or cheaply) be mastered.

(to be continued…)

Dear Rickey Laurentiis: What are you reading?

by Andrew Salgado

What am I reading? Fiction. Because I’ve never read it, as I have poetry, with the intention of figuring out how it works, how it carries on, what lies between the periods, between the paragraphs. I’ve reread Beloved and Jazz, by Morrison, because I think she’s right: some love is to die for. I’ve reread some lighter, though no less enthralling novels, like Tracy Chevalier’s A Girl with a Pearl Earring. I picked up The Waves by Woolf that, despite having read almost all her novels, I haven’t read yet. But I put it down, for about 20 pages in I realized this was going to be a book that’s going to change my entire life and I’m not so sure I’m ready for that. But soon. Of course, I can’t let my poetry go. Wounded in the House of a Friend, by [Sonia] Sanchez, is such a devastating title, devastating words. I’ve met [Terrance] Hayes’ Wind in a Box again as I have [Cornelius] Eady’s You Don’t Miss Your Water. And then there’s the world: aren’t you reading the world?

Rickey Laurentiis was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The Collagist, Indiana Review, jubilat and other literary journals. In 2009, two of his poems were named first- and third-runner up in the International Reginald Shepherd Memorial Prize, sponsored by Knockout Literary Magazine, and he has received a Cave Canem Fellowship.

Words to Write By: Anne Lamott

by Kris Lewis

 Telling these truths is your job. You have nothing else to tell us. But needless to say, you can’t tell them in a sentence or a paragraph; the truth doesn’t come out in bumper stickers. There may be a flickering moment of insight in a one-liner, in a sound bite, but everyday meat-and-potato truth is beyond our ability to capture in a few words. Your whole piece is the truth, not just one shining epigrammatic moment in it. There will need to be some kind of unfolding in order to contain it, and there will need to be layers. We are dealing with the ineffable here — we’re out there somewhere between the known and the unknown, trying to reel in both for a closer look. This is why it may take a whole book.

from Bird by Bird