05 December 2010

It's Cold Outside - Let's change things up

The Fox TV show Glee recently featured a male/male duet of the great 'winter' song, "Baby It's Cold Outside". Its amazing sometimes how the world rolls forward. If only it could always be like this, 'cute', gently, one song at a time.

My all-time favorite version appears on the Ray Charles and Betty Carter album, which is not available on line (WELL worth getting, if you don't have it already. Their Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye never ceases to give me the shakes). Here, however are some other versions on YouTube, showing a bit of the evolution of the song.

First some 'definitive' versions:

Betty Garret and Red Skelton (from the song's debut in the film Neptune's Daughter). This is already a bit of a variation as the song had previously been sung in the film by Ricardo Montalban to Esther Williams.

Margaret Whiting and Johnny Mercer

Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan

Ringing the changes:

Louis Armstrong, fooling around with Velma Middleton (the poster mistakenly thought it was Ella Fitzgerald, hence the images)

The next best thing to Ray and Betty: Ray Charles and Dionne Warwick (it's the way Ray sings 'Roar' that gets me every time:)

Rod Stewart and Dolly Parton

Willie Nelson and Norah Jones

From the UK: Tom Jones and Cerys Matthews (from Jools Hollands amazing show, Later, of course!)

Still cold in the 21st Century: Chris Colfer and Darren Criss

Happy Holidays to All!

15 November 2010

Bright Lights, Medium Sized City

My folks used to joke that Baltimore was an 'over grown small town,' and there is something to be said for it's familial feel. On the other hand, you can hardly get away with anything or go anywhere without running into someone you know:)

Last time I was back in town, I saw another writer on the street, and someone who I know by sight from 'out' (bars and clubs) in Home Depot. This time ('no place like Home for the Holidays') I've run into two former co-workers at Pratt, one in the grocery store, the other at the liquor store (those librarians, always eating well and drinking well!:)

I can't say I've not run into people I knew unexpectedly in New York, because I have, but the number of 'sightings' here in Charm City is pretty amazing. Either we're a small town, or my friends and I travel the city in a repeating circle, going to the same places over and over again!

29 October 2010

How YOU Doin'?

One of the differences I've noticed already between New York and Baltimore is that people don't 'speak' up here.

Not that they are silent -- not at all -- but rather that whole thing of total strangers or neighbors passing you on the street and saying Good Morning doesn't happen very much in New York. Even the "Black Male Head Nod" ™ (with optional opening or closing "Yo!" and/or 'Zup? )as guys pass each other on the street isn't very prevalent here....curious...

But then this is a city with over 8 million people in it, where the streets, subways, and other forms of transportation are seldom if ever empty - you'd be exhausted trying to say something to even every other person within a matter of a block or two. And, once you engage them, New Yorkers are actually helpful and for the most part friendly (although they don't want people to know that - something about that Rough New Yorker Stereotype is appealing, and gets people to leave you alone). Still, I have to say, there's something about the casual camaraderie of quick acknowledgment I miss.

But, of course, a couple of days ago, as I was thinking about writing this, a guy passing by me in Brooklyn nodded and said, 'Zup? So there! Exceptions always prove the rule I guess...

22 October 2010

Poem of the Week: Charlie Howard's Descent by Mark Doty

Passing along Split This Rock's 'Poem of the Week', "mourns the gay and lesbian young people who committed suicide in the past weeks: Justin Aaberg, Asher Brown, Raymond Chase, Tyler Clementi, Aiyisha Hassan, Billy Lucas, and Seth Walsh."

Charlie Howard's Descent

Between the bridge and the river
he falls through
a huge portion of night;
it is not as if falling

is something new. Over and over
he slipped into the gulf
between what he knew and how
he was known. What others wanted

opened like an abyss: the laughing
stock-clerks at the grocery, women
at the luncheonette amused by his gestures.
What could he do, live

with one hand tied
behind his back? So he began to fall
into the star-faced section
of night between the trestle

and the water because he could not meet
a little town's demands,
and his earrings shone and his wrists
were as limp as they were.

I imagine he took the insults in
and made of them a place to live;
we learn to use the names
because they are there,

familiar furniture: faggot
was the bed he slept in, hard
and white, but simple somehow,
queer something sharp

but finally useful, a tool,
all the jokes a chair,
stiff-backed to keep the spine straight,
a table, a lamp. And because

he's fallen for twenty-three years,
despite whatever awkwardness
his flailing arms and legs assume
he is beautiful

and like any good diver
has only an edge of fear
he transforms into grace.
Or else he is not afraid,

and in this way climbs back
up the ladder of his fall,
out of the river into the arms
of the three teenage boys

who hurled him from the edge -
really boys now, afraid,
their fathers' cars shivering behind them,
headlights on - and tells them

it's all right, that he knows
they didn't believe him
when he said he couldn't swim,
and blesses his killers

in the way that only the dead
can afford to forgive.

-- Mark Doty

17 October 2010

Blog Action (a Day or so late) and some "Brokeback Love" for the Lit Prizes

Sheesh! Try to get back into the swing of blogging, and immediately fall behind! I was away from computers for much of Friday, and so missed out on participating in this year's Blog Action Day (October 15th). The topic this year is/was "Water".

Almost a billion people around the world don’t have access to clean, safe drinking water. And in the industrialized nations, water is tied to technology (an iPhone requires half a liter of water to charge, cotton t-shirts take 1,514 liters of water to produce, jeans an extra 6,813 liters), mass produced food (24 liters of water to produce one hamburger) and our love affair with bottled water. People in the US drink an average of 200 bottles of water per person each year, requiring over 17 million barrels of oil to manufacture, 86 percent of which will never be recycled.
More info on these facts here

(I'm guilty too, but the bottled water thing still seems a little odd because much of it tastes just like tap water to me - and that's before I reuse/refill the bottles city water!)

Please visit the links and take action -- or at the very least THINK before you slap down that $1 for a bottle of H2O or let your faucets run and run and run..


Awards season in the book world has started. Congrats to Mario Vargas Llosa for his Nobel Prize for Literature. The award has caused a flurry of discontent amongst Latin American writers because of the author's political turn to the Right, and stance against the movements of native peoples in Latin America since his run for the presidency of Peru in 1990. During our annual 'Nobel Speculatin', John and I were both pulling for Syrian poet Adonis. It seems truly wrong to me that a poet hasn't won since Wislawa Szymborska in
1996 (following "Famous Seamus" Heaney's 1995 award). What did we poets ever do to the Nobel Committee? There also hasn't been an American Nobelist since Toni Morrison (1993), but since at least one Committee is on record as not likin American Literature, I guess that's not as much of a surprise.

The National Book Award Nominees were announced as well. Like the rest of the Cave Canem family I'm very pleased to see our own T-Bone, Terrance Hayes nominated in the Poetry category, and there are other writers on the lists like Shriver, Yamishita, Youn, Williams-Garcia, and Dean of Young Adult Fiction Walter Dean Myers, I'm happy for as well. With the National Book Critics Circle finalists announced in January 2011, and then the Pulitzers in the spring, writers have about six months of waiting for the phone to ring to look forward to.

After having recently participated in a flurry of e-mails about the Yale Younger Prize (congratulations to new judge Carl Philips), I have mixed emotions about them. Sometimes the best book is nominated, and even wins, sometimes not. Sometimes the winner is memorable, at other times one barely remembers the winner a week after the announcement. And don't get me started on issues of race and gender and the Prizes! Ultimately, however I have to agree with Tayari Jones (as usual!) and her take on the whole Awards Biz (in a post titled "I Wish I Knew How to Quit You, NBAs":

I know it's foolhardy, but my relationship with these book prizes is like my relationship with a bad boyfriend that I just can't quit. I know he's trifling, but sometimes he's nice, and I keep telling myself that his heart is good, and that he will change. Silly as it is, I keep holding out for happily ever after.

I know what you mean, Tayari, even though those kinds of guys break your heart everytime, baby....

Finally, unqualified congratulations to Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, currently imprisioned in China for his non-violent human rights work. Since he also writes poetry, I guess a poet DID win a Nobel this year! Here's one of his poems, from the PEN American Center website.


for Xia

over the tall ashen wall, between
the sound of vegetables being chopped
daybreak’s bound, severed,
dissipated by a paralysis of spirit

what is the difference
between the light and the darkness
that seems to surface through my eyes’
apertures, from my seat of rust
I can’t tell if it’s the glint of chains
in the cell, or the god of nature
behind the wall
daily dissidence
makes the arrogant
sun stunned to no end

daybreak a vast emptiness
you in a far place
with nights of love stored away

(Translated by Jeffrey Yang)

13 October 2010

Poem of the Week: Pedres (Stones) by Gemma Gorga

Two Catalan writers stopped by Poets House on Wednesday for a lunchtime reading and chat, Portuguese novelist and food writer Paulo Moreiras and Spanish poet Gemma Gorga.

Any translators out there, PLEASE take a look at their work and help bring it into English, they're both terrific!

Here is a translation of one of the poems that Ms Gorga read for us that I particularly enjoyed, with a video of her reading it in in Catalan.


If the voice could come out in photographs
in the way shadow or tenderness does -- even while
being more vulnerable realities -- I would hear
once again my father telling me that, before
picking up a stone, you should roll it over
with your foot or a branch to scare away
the scorpions hiding underneath like dry thorns.
I never worried about that. Being six years old
was simple, simple as dying. In both cases,
there was no secret other than the air:
breathing it or not breathing it, as if the soul
were full of tiny alveoli that open
and close. The first scorpion I saw
was in the natural science book,
trapped forever in the severe pincers
of time. On occasion, though, books don't tell
the whole truth, as if they didn't know it
or had forgotten it on the way from the printer's.
Arachnid with body divided into abdomen
and cephalothorax. It said nothing of the burning
sun in the tongue, of fear, of the spike
pierced into the neck. I didn't know then
what words were immense icebergs
hiding beneath their icy waters much
more than they show. Like the word scorpion.
And now, as the phone insistently rings
-- a sharp daybreak cry -- as I get up,
turn on the light, move my hand to its white body
of plastic that shines like a stone in the sun,
as I pick it up and say yes? and someone tells me you're dead,
I only think of scorpions, of what
you wanted to tell me when you repeated roll
the stones over, please, roll the stones over.

(from El desordre de les mans, 2003, Translated by Julie Wark)

12 October 2010

Cha-cha-cha Changes

Okay so I've been TERRIBLE about updating this, but (as if this is an excuse) a number of major changes have been happening with me.

The main one being this: After nearly 20 years at the Pratt Library, and even more than that in Baltimore, I am now in New York City, and working at Poets House. An amazing shift, but one that I think is just perfect for me right now.

I will NOT however, betray my (woebegotten) Orioles by becoming a Yankees fan (I've always had a soft spot for the equally hard pressed Mets) or abandon the Ravens. One has to be True to Their Team no matter where they live after all!

Yesterday was National Coming Out Day, and sadly, this has been a terrible season for LGBTQ people - especially young people, with six suicides in the past five weeks (Aiyisha Hassan, 19; Raymond Chase, 19; Tyler Clementi, 18; Seth Walsh, 13; Asher Brown, 13; Billy (William) Lucas, 15) and one young man, Tyler Wilson (aged 11), whose arm was broken by bullies in school because he joined the cheerleading team.

And, most horrifically, there are the nine gang members, who have been arrested for the rape and torture of two 17 year old gang recruits and the 30 year old Salvadoran man they supposedly had sex with, coming less than a week after the leader of a Baltimore gang was given a life sentence for ordering the murder of a gang member suspected to be gay.


I honestly don't know what to say about the intra-gang violence, other than sadness to see that these alternate (and homosocial) families that young people have created are resorting to such violent policing of heterosexuality amongst their ranks.

As someone who suffered from depression for many years, and contemplated suicide more than once, however, I think I recognize a bit of what's going on with the recent rash of self-destructions.

I think many in the mental health field can report that there's an element of 'contagion' in suicide. Those who have contemplated it can, in a sense think, 'Well if they did it, I can do it too' when they hear news of others killing themselves. Hearing about someone else doing it makes it seem more of a valid option. And one thing those who may not have considered this must realize is that the person thinking those thoughts is in a great deal of pain, actual physical and emotional pain, and wants to end their lives to make the pain stop -- or to end the pain they think their existence is causing someone else.

"I was that man, I suffered, I was there...."

Dan Savage created the "It Gets Better" video project, where gays speak to the younger versions of themselves, urging them to 'hang in there' through their teens because Life Gets Better.

Personally, I think that some things in life DO get better -- and others just change. "Bittersweet" seems the best word I can come up with to answer the question "What Is Grown-Up Life Like?"

And also you have to MAKE things better, following the suggestions created by the young people on their website, and not just (to take a phrase from an old Springsteen song that I used to repeatedly play for myself when I was in my teens) "Waste your summers praying in vain for a Savior to rise from these streets." As much as you can, take control of your own life.

It is also imperative that we as adults step in and stop bullying and harassment of young people (and other adults) for being 'different.' And be seen by younger people doing so as well.

And I also want to echo the words of someone who I've grown to admire a great deal, former basketball player John Amaechi, who in his Coming Out Day message said, in part

...I believe you should know that in this climate, there is poison all around. People and institutions who would marginalize and abuse you for being who you are and as such, I would encourage you to come out judiciously. Know that coming out doesn't mean the whole world needs to be told at once - or ever - some people will never earn the right to know the whole you.

Full post, well worth reading, is here.

People do have to *earn* the right to get to know you and be your friends. Try to limit your time around negativity and negative people. Do what you can to retain and hold onto a positive outlook, but don't be blindly optimistic either -- can we say "Trust but Verify" perhaps?

Know that there are people out there that can help you, or that will be happy to just listen to you vent if you like. And there is a community of people out there(gay, straight, both and neither) who will be glad to welcome you.

17 May 2010

International Day Against Homophobia 2010

Today is the International Day Against Homophobia, celebrated in much of the world (...minus the US...). Some astounding things have happened today, from a peaceful rights gathering in Jamaica to the signing of Same-Sex Marriage law in Portugal.

For me however, the people of the moment are Steven Monjenza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga of Malawi, who are now under arrest and facing the possibility of 14 years in jail at hard labor for having a traditional marriage ceremony in their country. It is men, women and trangendered people living through situations like these that are almost beyond our imagining as we live in comfort that we need to remember on this day. And all throughout the year as well.

"If people or the world cannot give me the chance and freedom to continue living with him as my lover, then I am better off to die here in prison. Freedom without him is useless and meaningless." -- Tiwonge Chimbalanga

29 April 2010

Poem in Your Pocket Day

"Bad poet!" I've done little here to commemorate Poetry Month (or Jazz Appreciation Month either!) this April. To remedy this oversight, and in honor of the "Lady Day": The Many Faces of Billie Holiday" exhibit currently at the Pratt Library, here's one of my favorite poems by (born in Baltimore) Frank O'Hara

The Day Lady Died
by Frank O'Hara

It is 12:20 in New York a Friday
three days after Bastille day, yes
it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine
because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton
at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner
and I don’t know the people who will feed me

I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun
and have a hamburger and a malted and buy
an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets
in Ghana are doing these days

I go on to the bank
and Miss Stillwagon (first name Linda I once heard)
doesn’t even look up my balance for once in her life
and in the GOLDEN GRIFFIN I get a little Verlaine
for Patsy with drawings by Bonnard although I do
think of Hesiod, trans. Richmond Lattimore or
Brendan Behan’s new play or Le Balcon or Les Nègres
of Genet, but I don’t, I stick with Verlaine
after practically going to sleep with quandariness

and for Mike I just stroll into the PARK LANE
Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and
then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue
and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatre and
casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton
of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it

and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of
leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT
while she whispered a song along the keyboard
to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing.

Frank O’Hara, “The Day Lady Died” from Lunch Poems. Copyright © 1964 by Frank O’Hara. Reprinted with the permission of City Lights Books. Source: The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara (1995) and Poetry Magazine website

25 March 2010

Now, to relax with a little Light Reading...

The First Litterateur stops at an Iowa City Bookstore to pick up a few things for the kids (“Journey to the River Sea” by Eva Ibbotson and “The Secret of Zoom” by Lynne Jonell) ....

....and from the looks of the picture, maybe some Fiction for himself?

08 March 2010

Post Oscar Post

Never once in my life did my parents say, 'What you're doing is a waste of time.' ... I know there are kids out there that don't have that support system so if you're out there and you're listening, listen to me: You want to be creative? Get out there and do it, it's not a waste of time.Michael Giacchino, after winning the Academy Award for best original score for 'Up'.

Congratulations to all of this years Academy Award Winners, to First Female Best Director Winner Kathryn Bigelow, and most especially of course to Baltimore's own Mo'nique for her ferocious performance in Precious. I wish her very much success in her stated desire to play Hattie McDaniel in a bio-pic in the near future

Congratulations also to professor and screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher for his win for Best Adapted Screenplay for his adaptation of Sapphire's novel Push. He's the first African-American to win a writing Oscar, and gives all of us scribblers of colour some hope!

This was the first time I'd watched the Oscars all the way through in a VERY long time (I'm not a fan of awards shows), and all in all I thought it was a very enjoyable evening. Most of the films and stars I suspected would win did in fact get their awards, and for me the only surprise was the selection of “The Secret in Their Eyes” (“El Secreto de Sus Ojos”) from Argentina over "The White Ribbon" or "A Prophet".

Pre-and Post Oscar, however, things have been less predicable and rather interesting. For example, Mo'nique set off a bit of a firestorm by revealing that she and her husband have an open marriage.

Do we have sex outside of the marriage? Let me say this. I have not had sex outside of my marriage with Sidney. Could I have sex outside of my marriage with Sidney? Yes. Could Sid have sex outside of his marriage with me? Yes. That’s not a deal breaker. That’s not something that we would say, ‘Oh my God because you were attracted to another person and because you happened to have sex let’s end the marriage.’”

Considering the reaction of some people to this 'revelation' (which was old news to New York Times Readers) one would think Mon'ique had confessed that she and her husband spent their spare time as serial killers.

Secondly, the closeness of the stars of the Best Picture Oscar winner The Hurt Locker, provoked this bit of strangeness from NBC Today show co-host Meridith Viera:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Both these instances point out ways in which conformity particularly in issues relating to sex and sexuality continually rears its ugly head. Some people feel the need to police other people's relationships, and or their expressions of warmth, affection, and love. Dominant forms of 'acceptable heterosexuality' must be enforced at all times! And as the author of the "Good as You" blog points out, this kind of reaction is particularly disturbing for gay and lesbian people when it comes from one of our so-called liberal allies, as Viera has been in the past:

'"Because we have so many of our supposedly liberal friends who will be so nice to our lives and our loves when confronted directly with them, yet will so often go for these cheap and, frankly, stupid jokes that traffic solely in anti-gay "worry." In doing so, they foster the idea that same-sex affections are icky, a fear fomentation that's not negated by their niceties when dealing with actual gay people. Regardless of how much the purveyors of this mindset may disconnect these abstract denunciations from actual LGBT human beings or contribute to our cause, the reality is that they're cultivating in the minds of the American public the exact kind of casual heterosexism that keeps people voting against us and then justifying it by saying "some of my best friends are gay," keeps civil unions on the table as acceptable alternative to full marriage equality, and keeps many would-be allies apathetic to the pro-equality fight because they see gays as this odd "other." '

Personally, as someone who has played on sports teams, been in the military, and been through very stressful and sometimes traumatic events with other guys, I didn't see anything particularly 'gay' about the way these actors reacted or were all hugged up on each other. In filming Hurt Locker they experienced a small part of what soldiers on the front lines are experiencing in Iraq and Afghanistan, and one that can create an incredible bond. To make that seem somehow 'wrong' or a 'reason to worry' is in itself a reason to worry about the person who feels that way. So...what's up Meredith?

Although the following poem is old, and written for another occasion, I offer it in honor of all the winners, and urge everyone to express their affection for others however they damn well please.


Men's 100 meters
Goodwill Games: New York City, 21 July 1998

Our only enemies are Time,
the unending fall of each
hundredth of a second, and the Air
which holds us back, keeps us from
transforming to pure flight
not those others talking trash.

We do not need words, have caged
Speed itself within the bunched muscles
of our thighs, feel it purr beneath our feet
coiled tight, ready to spring
out with the sharp crackling of a shot.

We train as one, live as one,
push each one on with shared
determination, pull each fiercely
over every finish line.

Awash in applause and screams
beneath a flag too small
to contain all that we are,
this final lap of victory is shared: mine,
my brothers. When I win
he wins, we all win – all swim arm in arm
in glory.

Shirtless in the flashbulbed night,
our bodies gleam with muscles, sweat
and speed, hammered bronze turned
gold in the liquid light of our tripled love.

13 January 2010

Help for Haiti

The Haitian Presidential Palace, before (bottom) and after

From the Washington Post, a list of charities who are assisting in relief efforts after the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Also (included and below) are ways you can donate using your phone/mobile device:

• Text the word "Yele" to 501501 to donate $5 on behalf of the Yele Haiti Foundation, founded by Haitian musician Wyclef Jean.

• Text the word "Haiti" to 85944 to donate $5 on behalf of the Rescue Union Mission and MedCorp International.

• Text the word "Haiti" to 25383 to donate $5 on behalf of the Internal Rescue Committee.

• Text the word "Haiti" to 90999 to donate $10 on behalf of the American Red Cross.

• Text the word "Haiti" to 45678 (in Canada only) on behalf of the Salvation Army in Canada.