19 February 2007

A Poetic Quest

Once again, I feel very honored to be in the company of a group of amazing writers (many of whom I've admired for a long time) in the current issue of MiPOesias Magazine, Quest, guest edited by the wonderful writer Evie Shockley (her a half-red sea is a poetic must have, btw). As an extra bonus, you get to hear many of the poets (myself included -- thanks Brian!) reading their work as well. Here's the line up:

Tara Betts, Derrick Weston Brown, Christian Campbell, L. Teresa Church,
Kyle Dargan,
Camille Dungy,
Cherryl Floyd-Miller,
Tonya Foster,
Aracelis Girmay,
C.S. Giscombe,
Duriel Harris,
Reginald Harris,
kim d. hunter,
Geoffrey Jacques,
Brandon D. Johnson,
A. Van Jordan,
Doug Kearney,
Raina León,
Carl Martin,
Lenard D. Moore,
Opal Moore,
Thylias Moss,
Marilyn Nelson, Mendi Lewis Obadike, G. E. Patterson, Meghan Punschke, Ed Roberson, Reginald Shepherd, giovanni singleton, Chris Stackhouse, Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, Treasure Williams, and Tyrone Williams

What Evie has done here, in part, strikes my eye and ear as a continuation of the work done at the Marjorie Cook Conference on Diversity in African American Poetry held at Miami University in September 2003, and collected in the (also must have) anthology Rainbow Darkness: an attempt to expand our notion of what we talk about when we talk about 'black poetry'. As she says in her editor's note to the issue, "i’ve gathered samples of the outrageous, the deep-blue, the needle-tipped, and the butter, the kinds of work i know and love, created by daring, caring, wayfaring poets."

We as a community contain multitudes, and we as individual writers often explore a variety of styles and modes as well. Thanks, Evie, for this chance to show another side to our work and ourselves.

(FYI: the lovely collage -- Wanderlust Wonderland -- is by poet/artist Krista Franklin)

On Art and Life

It's been one of my pleasures to know the visual artist Morgan Monceaux for a number of years, and last year even took a Mental Health 'art day' off from work for the unveiling of his work at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington. His portraits of figures from history (US Presidents and First Ladies, jazz musicians and singers, figures from the Black West, etc) often have found elements and text added onto the paintings.

For example, his Ray Charles (right, in the Portrait Gallery collection) uses popsicle sticks to represent the piano and microphone. The sunglasses Ray wears and the buttons on his coat Morgan found on the street. A short bio of Ray surrounds the figure. The more you look at one of Morgan's paintings, the fuller, denser and more complex they become.

A recent profile in the Baltimore Sun details some of the monumental issues he has been dealing with both in his work and his life. It's an excellent and all too rare portrait of a vital, working African American artist.

I been particularly honored to have been able to see some of his recent work, his series on African American opera 'Divas' from conception to completion. This is a perfect subject for him, by the way, since the artist can be a bit of a 'diva' himself! Visiting him in his home (also childhood home of "Mr. Hi-de-ho" Cab Calloway -- there must be something special about that house!) and seeing his 'Madame Butterfly' (below) develop over a number of weeks was astonishing. As usual, the reproduction does not do justice to the glorious burst of colors that vibrate off the canvas (the gold of the tatami mat, the kimonos, the cherry blossoms in the background...). One evening, I watched as a pencil-drawn line was painted, then transformed into a door frame, and layer after layer of paint was applied to create just the right shade of red for the doors themselves, as Puccini's music surrounded us.

While I may be a writer, I admit to having little understanding of the creative process, particularly in other art forms. I can't carry a tune in a shopping cart, so singers amaze me. Me, draw a straight line, a circle, anything? Forget about it...so artists astound me. To my mind, Morgan has to be some kind of alchemist, wizard, Maji, something, in order to be able to do what he does. His work has certainly kept him alive and active while going through difficult trials (HIV, cancer, the break up of a long-term relationship) that would have felled a lesser person. A remarkable man, and a remarkable artist.

15 February 2007

Tim Gives Gays a Hardaway to go

Today, I was reminded of something I heard my parents and older relatives say when I was growing up. They'd remark that they actually preferred the hard line segregation and open racism of the pre-Civil Rights South to the quiet, subtle, subversive racism of the North. "At least down there, you know how people feel about you," they'd say. "You KNOW they don't like you. In the North, folks might smile at you and seem to be nice, but in their heart of hearts still hate your guts."

So in some ways I'm greatful to Tim Hardaway for his recent "I hate gays" comment. At least he's being honest and we know exactly where he stands. As long as everyone who feels the way Hardaway does keeps it hidden, there will never be any opportunities for dialog, learning, or possibilities for change. (To it's credit, the NBA has removed Hardaway from any future league-related events.)

As a gay person, I also know that Hardaway's not alone -- there are a lot of people who feel the same way he does, for whatever reason. As John Amaechi said, responding to Hardaway, "These are the comments that create the atmosphere that allow some of the tragic incidents of homophobia that we've seen. This is what makes the lives of gay and lesbian young people in schools miserable. It's what stops gay and lesbian people in the workplace from coming out as well as the fact they can be fined in 33 states for being gay."

Hardaway's comment gives people an idea of some of the things many of us have to go through every day, and why it is so difficult for people to 'come out' (I also think people who hold such strong views have some internal issues to deal with as well...but maybe that's just me....). And it's a rebuke to at least one sports commentator I read who said John Amaechi's revelation was 'no big deal' -- and an example of why he waited until he retired to be open about his personal life. Actually, I'm more surprised at the people expressing surprise over his comment -- but then we are in an age when people are supposed to 'come correct' when in front of the cameras.

And at least Hardaway wasn't threatening Amaechi's life, as apparently some have done via e-mail.

I'm sure at some point we'll hear that Tim has gone into 'gay-hab' like "Grey's Anatomy" star Isiah Washington. But to me, it would be better and possibly more helpful for him (and all of us) if some of the former teammates of the man who said, "I wouldn't want him on my team...if he was on my team, I would, you know, really distance myself from him because, uh, I don't think that's right. And you know I don't think he should be in the locker room while we're in the locker room," would quietly come to him and say, "Hey, brothaman...guess what?"

09 February 2007

My Dinner with....

One of my favorite movies is My Dinner with Andre, Louis Malle's intellectual talkfest with Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory, discussing life, art, and fauns (among other things) over a meal in an elegant New York City restaurant, while being served by a waiter who looks like he's seen and heard it all. I first saw the movie in college, and it had a powerful effect on me and my friends because many of the insights and comments made in the film were things we had also talked about and 'discovered' for ourselves (What can I say? I fell among Jungians in school....), and it helped to make my friends and I feel a little less strange in the wilds of Virginia. I've seen the movie many times since, and even have an underlined/highlighed copy of the screenplay on my shelves at home.

Last night, I was part of another, different discussion over dinner. I've been a long-time participant in the SHARE (Study to Help the AIDS Research Effort) project, a program that follows a group of men (HIV +, HIV- and those who have seroconverted) over time, keeping track of behaviors and physical and emotional changes. It is a reseach study, so some of the contributions SHARE has made may not be considered too glamorous to non-scientists, but much of the information garnered from us has lead to changes in treatment guidelines, and we also have an impact on various past and ongoing clinical trials.

Yesterday, a small group of study participants gathered for a focus group session, to talk about risk, sexual behavior, intimacy, "The Down Low," and a host of other issues. It was a thrilling and fascinating conversation -- as well as being an extremely rare event: eight black men sitting in a room talking openly and honestly about their lives, and what goes on in our community. (The Study decided, in order to avoid cultural or language misunderstandings, it would be best for the focus groups to be same-race). Most of us were middle aged (I believe the youngest man in the room was in his late 20s, the oldest in his 50's), and ranged across class, economic status, skin-color and hair (from dreads to bald/receeding) lines, as well as all those other 'markers' as well ('butch/straight-acting' and 'queens'; 'tops', 'bottoms', 'versatile/switch', extroverted and shy, silly and serious, etc). One black male faciliator did his best to guide and keep track of our wide ranging conversations, and two female doctors (one black, one Indian) observed and asked a few questions as well, and also provided medical facts when needed to keep us from passing on any false information.

None of us knew each other very well, if we had met at all, and no names were used until the end of the discussion to aid in the open flow of information. By the end of two hours, however, I think we all felt that we knew each other fairly well -- and we all hated for the eveing to be over, wishing the conversation could have gone on longer.

Men seldom talk about themselves and their lives with each other (or anyone) without a lot of posturing and member-measuring involved. Black men in particular seem to almost never share their feelings with each other. Gay/bi/MSM guys almost never get to meet in a place that does not have some 'I'm here to pick someone up' component to it. And few if any of us are willing to open up without alcohol being somewhere nearby to help 'loosen the tongue.' So this was an unusal night, and amazing and moving opportunity for us to eat, relax, talk, and be honest with ourselves and each other.

It's odd how you can miss something you've never had before. As I mentioned many of us would have loved to keep going, or to have a chance to come back and talk some more next week about other issues. The late and much lamented (by me, at least) Louie's Bookstore Cafe tried something like this once -- signing a random group of people up to get together to discuss a particular topic, with limited success. And the Washington Post did the same with a group of gay men for their Being A Black Man series. I'd love to see someone try something similar in communities around the country, bringing men together just to talk and share parts of their lives, focusing on different topics. I think there's an ache inside us as men, as African Americans, as LGBT people -- as humans -- and a lonliness that longs to reach out and have a warm, valuable, intimate, sharing experience with others; to listen to and to be listened to by someone else. To realize both your uniqueness and also how similar you and your experiences are with those of other men. It was a great evening last night, and I'd love to do it again sometime with another group of people. Maybe even at my place one day, over dinner.

08 February 2007

Black Gay History Month for the NBA

Too much has been happening here in the past month for me to do much blogging, but I did want to sneak in a brief post to say....

Bravo! for former Orlando Magic and Utah Jazz center John Amaechi, the first pro basketball player to 'come out' as a gay man. It is also something of an event since he is half Nigerian, and that country recently considered passing a set of truly draconian laws against homosexuality (and their Anglican Bishop, Peter Akinola, is one of the driving forces behind the growing schism in the church over ordination of openly gay priests and other 'modern' changes)

Perhaps more importantly, bravo to him for being a model fomer sportsman, with impressive philanthropic credentials in England, founding the ABC Foundation to increase young people's participation in sports, and for building the Amaechi Basketball Centre in Manchester. He's someone putting himself, and his time and money where his heart lies.

I've also been impressed in the main by many of the reactions to his revelation by current players and coaches. My own personal favorite is this one, from Toronto Raptors coach Sam Mitchell. He also makes a comment about 'tolerance' that I find particularly apt for February, and all the other months of the year:

Mitchell was asked whether he believes tolerance increases with age.

"It shouldn't be about tolerance, it should be about respect, treating people as human beings," said Mitchell. "I don't like the word tolerance. Are you supposed to tolerate me because I'm black, or are people supposed to treat me with respect because I'm a human being?"