07 April 2014

Essex Hemphill: On taking care of your blessings and 'American Wedding'

The great Black Gay poet Essex Hemphill (1957-1995) would sign his letters, "Take care of your blessings." When asked what he meant by that he replied:



"Some of us bake wonderfully, write, paint, do any number of things, have facilities with numbers that others don't have. Those are your blessings. Some of us are very strong and candid and some of us are nurturers or combinations of all of those things. Just be aware of what your particular things are and nurture them and use them toward a positive way of living. That's simply what I meant."




In honor of Essex (who would have turned 57 on April 16th), National Poetry Month, the progress of "Gay Marriage" across the US and around the world - and to celebrate Martin Duberman's glorious dual biography, Hold Tight Gently: Michael Callen, Essex Hemphill, and the Battlefield of AIDS here is one of Essex' poems. We miss you, baby!


American Wedding

By Essex Hemphill

In america,
I place my ring
on your cock
where it belongs.
No horsemen
bearing terror,
no soldiers of doom
will swoop in
and sweep us apart.
They’re too busy
looting the land
to watch us.
They don’t know
we need each other
critically.
They expect us to call in sick,
watch television all night,
die by our own hands.
They don’t know
we are becoming powerful.
Every time we kiss
we confirm the new world coming.

What the rose whispers
before blooming
I vow to you.
I give you my heart,
a safe house.
I give you promises other than
milk, honey, liberty.
I assume you will always
be a free man with a dream.
In america,
place your ring
on my cock
where it belongs.
Long may we live
to free this dream.

from Ceremonies: Prose and Poetry (Plume, 1992)

16 October 2013

Blog Action Day 2013: Human Rights begin at home

Eleanor Roosevelt holding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.” - Eleanor Roosevelt

The international disgrace that is the US detention center in Guantanamo Bay remains open.

Article 9.

  • No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

The NSA continues to spy...sorry, 'gather intelligence' on us each time we access an electronic device (IMHO the amount of information that is being gathered with these wide spread fishing expeditions is so large that it reaches the point of being meaninglessness - who or what can sift through it all to make heads or tails of it? Only retroactively - after some horror has occurred - could one go back and make connections)

  • Article 12.

    • No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
Stories of bullying (of LGBT kids, but others who 'don't fit in') continue daily.

Article 3.

  • Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
Much too close to home: A friend and fellow poet was recently gay-bashed on the streets of Manhattan, one of the most diverse and 'gayest' cities in the world.

Article 13.

  • (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
  • (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

What would if mean if Human Rights really did begin at home? How would we relate to our children, parents, family, neighbors and co-workers?

How can we talk about Human Rights in our city, state, nation or around the world unless we ask ourselves:
what are we doing behind our own closed doors?

Read the Full Universal Declaration of Human Rights here

03 October 2013

Reg-tober Fest

It never rains, but sometimes it pours:

I'll be reading/appearing in four cities (and four states) in the next few weeks in support of Autogeography - and am already exhausted just thinking about it!:)

Hope to see some of you SOMEwhere along the way!

best wishes

r



Livingston Campus Student Center, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
84 Joyce Kilmer Ave., Piscataway, NJ
Friday October 4, 2013
6:00 – 8:00pm
 
 
Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House
58 West 10th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues
Thursday October 10, 2013
7:00 pm
 
 
Reading with Joel Allegretti, Vasiliki Katsarou and Andriana Rizos
29 Cornelia Street New York, NY
Saturday, October 12, 2013
6:00 pm
 
 
Reading with Susan Scheid‏
A Sunday Kind of Love
14th & V St, Washington DC
Sunday October 20, 2013
5:00-7:00 pm
$5
 
  
Reading w/Hailey Leithauser
400 Cathedral Street, Baltimore MD
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
6:30-8:00pm

Free


(see the Upcoming Readings & Events section over ==> THERE for more info).

26 September 2013

Ken Norton, RIP



The most shocking thing to me about the recent death of boxing great Ken Norton, Sr, is that he was 70 years old - my father's age. How in the world is that possible? He seemed so much younger than Ali during their fight in 1973. And his style was certainly closer to those of us who were teens and pre-teens than that of our Dad's (Check the rings, fly collar and chains above - Pure '70s style!)

And of course there was his amazing body....Norton was "buff" before his time:)


As the (essential) website Shadow and Act reminds us, Norton's other claim to fame is his starring role in Mandingo, the (in)famous Southern slavery pot-boiler.

Author Kyle Onstott's Mandingo, its sequel Drum, and other novels were "Adult Books" in those days, titles which parents read but then hid from as being unsuitable for us kids. Filled with sex and violence and bruise-purple prose, we found them anyway, unable to resist finding out what was so bad about them (I'm not sure there are any fiction titles parents keep away from children now....). The films made from the books were equally lurid, over the top, trashy. Because it is a 'bad film', you're more than a little ashamed to admit being enthralled by it.....but, yeah, we loved them.

I still think James Mason's whacked-out performance as the shabby master of the even shabbier plantation "Falconhurst" one of his finest comic turns. For me, Mandingo totally ruined any notion of The Glorious Anti-Bellum South. For a lot of us, sitting in the theater, watching in astonishment, in some ways, the movie seemed  'true' - slavery was a horrific system run by people lying to themselves and deserved to be destroyed.

"The film tells the story of a depraved father and son team (James Mason and Perry King) who don’t raise crops, but instead breed slaves to sell to other plantations. The decrepit, rotten, festering plantation they live in mirrors their own rotting, festering depraved souls, which all slave owners had.

Throw in insanity, perversion and even incest and you have a very volatile mix. The film is the perverted, repulsive, and one can argue, more accurate, other side of the usual Hollywood portrayal of “genteel” plantation life in the South, such as  Gone with the Wind, Song of the South and Raintree County." (from Shadow and Act)




A poem, in honor of Kenny and Mandingo (You can hear me read this poem here at the From the Fishouse website) We love you

Ken Norton as 'Mandingo'

They want me for my body
and my name – the guy who
busted Ali’s jaw, in his first film! –
Just to sell some tickets. Just like
boxing, just as fixed.
I’m no actor, not the star.
They named the movie after
my guy, but didn’t give me much
to say.

The old slave fighters
visit me, Molineaux
and others, whisper
behind the arc lights Do us
right. This whole thing seems
strange to them: the shackles
quick-release, masters’ whips
that crack an inch above our backs.

White men saying,
Come, Go, Stand
Here, Move There.

Wait.
Strip.
Wait.

Wait.

Cut.



Molineaux: Tom Molineaux (1784-1818), a former slave given his freedom due to his boxing ability, he fought the British heavyweight champion in 1810 and 1811.




20 February 2013

Family Portrait in Three Languages

I am very honored to be part of  this year's Trialogue: Chinese, American and German Poetry Collaboration sponsored by Washington DC's Goethe Institute in. The theme for 2013 is "Passions" and two of my poems, The Ring Walk and 1967 Saturday Night have been translated into Chinese and German. It is a pleasure to be in the company of US Poets Joseph Ross and Sarah Browing, and our international counterparts Bastian Böttcher, Ulrike Draesner and Ludwig Harig (Germany), and Yan Li, Yang Ke, and Zhai Yongming (China).

I can not thank Norma Broadwater of the Goethe Institute and DC poet extraordinaire Fred Joiner for asking me to be part of this.

And no, looking at 1967 Saturday Night from 10 Tongues, I can not even begin to imagine what My Folks would have thought seeing themselves in German and Chinese! My mind just spins....

Danke     谢谢     Thank you















1967 Saturday Night   
by Reginald Harris

Every Saturday, Grandfather played
his records.
The kitchen table set
with snacks and scotch,
he'd always start with Ellington:
A Train or Satin Doll
curling up the oval stairs
sweet as perfume.
"I met him once, you know," he told me,
“A party in New York. Musta been 19 and 23.”
I stared at him, amazed -
Real people lived inside the grooves of 78's!
'Ma just said, “Humph!” leading me to weekly bath,
later sneaking back, lured by Basie, Pres, and Rushing.
Mr. B.
Billie sings of What Moonlight
Can Do
and they dance.
Then it's After Hours,
and it suddenly  grows quiet.
He closes with Ahmad
Jamal - This is the End of a Beautiful Friendship
and the lights downstairs go out.
They rise like mist up the front stairs, holding hands,
ignoring creaking floorboards, quick-moving feet,
drawn by fading echoes, to retire to their separate beds.
In my room, mid-way between them,
I’d dream of those I'd never seen:
Ella, Sassy, Little Jazz,
Papa Jimmy, Vernon, Uncle Billy -
a man in a tailored white silk suit
skimming piano keys like Lindy hoppers
while in the corner, away from the crowd,
newlyweds count out their rent
in nickels, dimes, and dreams.

(for Edna and Melvin Harris)

Samstagnacht 1967
von Reginald Harris
übersetzt von Peter Beicken, Lane Jennings, und Katharina Semke


Jeden Samstag spielte Großvater
seine Platten.
Auf dem Küchentisch
ein Imbiss und Scotch,
immer begann er mit Ellington:
A Train oder Satin Doll
wand sich die ovale Treppe hinauf
wie ein süßes Parfüm.
„Weißt du, ich hab ihn mal getroffen,“ erzählte er mir, 
„Auf ’ner Party in New York, um 1923 rum.“
Ich hab ihn angestarrt, erstaunt –
,Richtige Leute lebten in den Rillen der 78er Platten!
Oma sagte nur, „hm“ und führte mich zum wöchentlichen Bad
von dem ich mich später zurückstahl, verlockt von Basie, Pres, und Rushing.
Mr. B. [Billy Eckstine]
Billie [Holliday] singt What Moonlight
Can Do
und sie tanzen.
Dann ist’s After Hours,
und plötzlich wird es still.
Zum Schluss dann Ahmad
Jamal – This is the End of a Beautiful Friendship
und unten gehen die Lichter aus.
Sie steigen wie Dunst die Vordertreppe hinauf, Händchen haltend,
ohne sich an den knarrenden Dielen zu stören, sich schnell bewegende Füße,
angezogen von verschwindenden Echos, sich zurückzuziehen in getrennte Betten.
In meinem Zimmer, auf halbem Wege zwischen beiden, 
träumt ich von denen, die ich nie gesehn:
Ella, Sassy, Little Jazz,
Papa Jimmy, Vernon, Uncle Billy -
ein Mann in einem weißen maßgeschneiderten Seidenanzug
ließ die Finger über die Tasten gleiten tänzerisch hüpfend wie Lindy Hoppers, 
während in der Ecke, von der Menge abgewandt,
Jungvermählte ihre Miete zusammenzählen
in Fünfern, Zehnern und Träumen

(Für Edna und Melvin Harris)

1967年星期六晚上       
刘园园译

每逢星期六,祖父总是放唱片
厨房餐桌上摆放着小吃和威士忌酒
他总是以艾灵顿的曲子开头
列车或者洋娃娃
蜷缩在椭圆形楼梯上
像香水一样甜美

他告诉我“你知道吗,我遇见过他一次”
“那是在纽约的一个聚会上,马苏塔 19岁,而我23岁。”
我看着他,眼里充满了好奇—
这是个真真正正生活在1878年的人!
马只轻轻发了一句“哼”,就带我去了每周一次的沐浴
之后我跟着巴锡,佩斯和罗史,B先生悄悄溜回来

比利唱起《月光的魅力》,跟随着音乐翩翩起舞

接下来是《三更半夜》,然后突然一切变得静默无声

最后一首是艾哈迈德贾马尔的曲子—《友谊的完结篇》,之后楼下的灯便熄灭了

他们站起身来像迷雾一样,手牵着手,丝毫感觉不到地板被踩得咯吱作响,快速地移动步子,
回到各自的房间,回声也逐渐消逝在沉寂里

我的房间在他们中间
晚上我梦见了那些不曾见过的艾拉,莎茜,小杰士,杰来爸爸,韦农,比利叔叔—

他身着手工裁剪的白色丝绸西服,像林迪一样指尖掠过琴键,他没有和众人一起
而是一个人独自躲在角落
虽然新婚燕尔但是要付房租,他在一旁细数着五分十分的硬币
当然这个时候梦想似乎已经无法数得清 

24 January 2013

Conditioning, or Pavlov's Dog Goes to the Movies

Last week, I had the pleasure to attend a screening of Middle of Nowhere, the new film by director Ava Duvernay staring newcomer Emayatzy Corinealdi, Omari Hardwick, David Oyelowo and Lorraine Toussaint.

I really enjoyed it. The performances were uniformly good and film has it's own relaxed pace and a beautiful understated quality. I was also impressed by the writing, which I thought was very good and very 'real.' The characters talked the way people actually talk, and nothing seemed forced, which was a great pleasure to luxuriate in.

But one interesting thing that both the friend who invited me (thanks Bernie!) and I commented on afterwards is how we 'kept expecting something to happen.' This is a movie with no gunshots, no drive-bys, no explosions. It is disturbing to realize this, but sadly, we've been conditioned to expect these things when going to the movies - and particularly to movies staring African-American characters.

It bothers me no end that I have fallen for this, to expect to see violence on screen when I watch a movie, or a television show. It disturbs me that a plot point or the resolution of a problem comes so often accompanied by a gun shot, explosion, or the throwing of a fist, that I've been trained to expect to see that all the time, in nearly every show. Many of us, myself included, are so used to 'sensation', spectacle, quick cuts and fast pacing, that a film or TV show that has its own pace, that takes its time, can feel 'slow,' that 'nothing is happening' on screen (I am glad to have seen Nowhere in a theater so that I could be enveloped in it, as opposed to at home on DVD where I may not have given myself up to it as much).

And of course the possibility of violence seems to always lurking when Black characters appear in a movie. Many years ago I read an article that noted how many African-American characters on television have a relationship with the criminal justice system - either as cops or criminals. Part of that is a function of there being so many cop/mystery shows on TV, but much of it also is the LACK of Blacks as regular characters on non-cop shows. We tend to be associated with crime (on both sides of the line) - so is it any wonder that there is this fear of (in particular young) black people in the real world? See enough negative images and one begins to expect things to 'jump off.'

So I am very grateful to the makers of Middle of Nowhere for slowing me down, allowing me to rest for a while in their world, and above all helping me to realize that something not very pleasant that has been happening to me - that I have been turned into a well conditioned test subject. Thank you for helping me to recognize this, and helping me to truly see.




09 January 2013

Inaugural poet Richard Blanco

Richard Blanco, Poet, Cuban-American, Gay, Inauguration, Obama
Richard Blanco (photo by Nico Tucci)
I was planning on putting a poem on the blog today, anyway - then early this morning news came down that gay Cuban American poet Richard Blanco had been chosen to read an original poem at President Obama's Inauguration on January 21st! I've known his work since his Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize-winning debut, City of a Hundred Fires (1998), and so am completely thrilled by this news, and am anxious to hear what he has written to present to the nation.

I am also expecting some backlash - 'Obama is catering to his gay base, he's playing the Latino card, this is more about Identity Politics than the Art of Poetry' and other forms of similar BS. Blanco's work is strong enough to stand such petty, 'Sour Grapes' sniping.

PS: As a friend mentioned on Facebook last night, for those keeping partisan score at home, in the Inaugural Poet category that's

Democrats 5, Republicans 0

(Robert Frost, Kennedy; Maya Angelou and Miller Williams, Clinton; Elizabeth Alexander and Richard Blanco, Obama)



Here's a prose poem by Richard Blanco, that is part of our One City, Many Poems initiative here at Poets House. Hear him read this poem on his website

Mexican Almerzo in New England

for MG

Word is praise for Marina, up past 3:00 a.m. the night before her flight, preparing and packing the platos tradicionales she's now heating up in the oven while the tortillas steam like full moons on the stovetop. Dish by dish she tries to recreate Mexico in her son's New England kitchen, taste-testing el mole from the pot, stirring everything: el chorizo-con-papas, el picadillo, el guacamole. The spirals of her stirs match the spirals in her eyes, the scented steam coils around her like incense, suffusing the air with her folklore. She loves Alfredo, as she loves all her sons, as she loves all things: seashells, cacti, plumes, artichokes. Her hand waves us to circle around the kitchen island, where she demonstrates how to fold tacos for the gringo guests, explaining what is hot and what is not, trying to describe tastes with English words she cannot savor. As we eat, she apologizes: not as good as at home, pero bueno. . . It is the best she can do in this strange kitchen which Sele has tried to disguise with papel picado banners of colored tissue paper displaying our names in piñata pink, maíz yellow, and Guadalupe green--strung across the lintels of the patio filled with talk of an early spring and do you remembers that leave an after-taste even the flan and café negro don't cleanse. Marina has finished. She sleeps in the guest room while Alfredo's paintings confess in the living room, while the papier-mâché skeletons giggle on the shelves, and shadows lean on the porch with rain about to fall. Tomorrow our names will be taken down and Marina will leave with her empty clay pots, feeling as she feels all things: velvet, branches, honey, stones. Feeling what we all feel: home is a forgotten recipe, a spice we can find nowhere, a taste we can never reproduce, exactly.

from Directions to the Beach of the Dead (University of Arizona Press, 2005)

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