Capital Pride LGBT Poetry Event

>>From the Library of
Congress in Washington, DC.>>Robert Casper: Hello
everyone, thanks for coming out on a beautiful summery
June day here in Washington DC. My name is Rob Casper,
I’m the head of the Poetry and Literature Center here
at the Library of Congress. And I’m thrilled to welcome you all to our inaugural LGBT poetry
celebration this afternoon featuring poets Joan Larkin, Kamilah Aisha
Moon, D. A. Powell, and Dan Vera. This event could not be
possible without the contribution of many organizations
and individuals both within and outside the library. First, I would like to thank
Brock Thompson, former staffer of the Poetry and Literature
Center and chair of LC Globe, the Professional Organization for
LGBT staffers here at the library for coming up with the
idea of this event. I would also like to thank
our cosponsor at the Library of Congress, the Rare Book and
Special Collections Division and Chief, Mark Dimunation
who is back in the other room safeguarding
the materials which you will get a
chance to see later on. Rare Book Division curator, Mark
Manivong has also been responsible for developing this program and
for curating the materials and I’d like to thank him as well. But I’ll tell you a little
bit more about him later. Finally, we are delighted
to be working with an outside organization
Capital Pride and to be a part of pride week here in
the nation’s capital. I would like to welcome Capital
Pride Board President, Bernie Delia, and thank its Executive
Director, Ryan Bos. We hope this is the first
— oh there they are, please give them a
round of applause. [ Applause ] We hope this is the first of many such celebrations highlighting
the work of LGBT poets and writers and their essential
contributions to our culture. So before we begin let me ask
you to take out your cell phones and any electronic devices
that you have that might be on and turn them off, so we can
make sure they don’t interfere with today’s event. I’ll also tell you about the
Poetry and Literature Center. We are home to the poet laureate
consultant in poetry and we put on literary reading
events and festivals like this all throughout the year. If you want to find out more
about the literary events here at the Library of Congress
you can sign our sign-up sheet which is right outside, there’s also
some information about the center. I also encourage you to find
out more about the Rare Books and Special Collections Division. They have a reading room
upstairs on the second floor of the Jefferson building
in which you can see some of these materials firsthand. The Poetry and Literature
Center’s website is www.loc/poetry and the Rare Book and Special
Collections Division website is Now on to today’s event. You can read about our
amazing quartet of poets in your print program, which
all of you should have received. Each will read — they’ll
read in alphabetical order and each will read their
own poems, as well as poetry from the Rare Books and Special
Collection Division’s LGBT and poetry collection. Afterwards Mark Manivong who I mentioned earlier will say
a few words about the collection and then he will walk back to LG113,
which is right back there and open up the doors for you to come
in and check out the display. It’s an amazing display,
I’ve never seen those tables so full of materials. So I’m very excited to
check out what’s there and I hope you’ll join us. We also have books for sale by
our poets right there in the back. I told him that it would be good
for them to sit at the tables and do a book signing because
I’m sure many of you will want to get your book signed by them,
but that they too will have time to see the display
we’ll make sure of that. But I encourage you to buy
their books even if they’re in the other room checking out the
materials let them know that you’d like to get a book signed. So and now to say a few words about
capital pride and this celebration, please join me in welcoming
Ryan Bos. [ Applause ]>>Ryan Bos: Thank you Rob. I want to definitely give thanks
to the Library of Congress for hosting this event and reaching
out to us to actually include this in what we call the pride in the nation’s capital
celebration this week. This is one of our first. This year has been — works
out to have several firsts. Our first one was having our
first official event in Virginia. This is another first,
having another official event in a federal building agency working
with the Library of Congress, part of our pride celebration. Another first was having a letter
from President Barack Obama actually in this year’s pride guide. And another big first for us is
we’ll have the first ever military — official military color guard
actually present the colors and retire the colors at this
year’s pride parade this Saturday. So we are very excited
that this community here in the nation’s capital is so
excited and willing to participate on what Pride represents. And you by being here
today are doing the same, so thank you so much. With that I want to welcome
Joan Larkin to the state who will begin tonight
or today’s presentation. [ Applause ]>>Joan Larkin: Thank you,
it’s really an honor to be here and to be reading with poets
whose work I admire so much. I’m going to read from two poets
whose work is in the collection and so I’ll start with
an Adrienne Rich poem and after I read some
poems of my own I’ll close with May Swenson love poem. This book is in the collection,
but this is my own copy, which I’ve had since the early 70’s. It was published in 1973,
Diving Into The Wreck, which was a revelation at the time. I’m a hopelessly inveterately
a teacher, so I’m going to say
a couple of things about this poem before
I read it to you. We’re using to thinking of
rich as a poet of long lines, but this is a poem in short
lines with a lyric shape to it and it’s called song to remind us
of the tradition of lyric poetry. And in that mode she is speaking as
a woman poet who knows who she is and is a poet of prophecy and
I’ll say a couple of things about it after I read it. Song you’re wondering if
I’m lonely okay then yes, I’m lonely as a plane rides lonely
and level on its radio beam aiming across the Rockies for
the blue strung aisles of an airfield on the ocean. You want to ask am I lonely, well
of course lonely as a woman driving across country day after
day leaving behind mile after mile little towns
she might have stopped and lived and died in lonely. If I’m lonely it must be the
loneliness of waking first, of breathing dawn’s first
cold breath on the city, of being the one awake in
a house wrapped in sleep. If I’m lonely it’s with the
rowboat ice fast on the shore in the last red light of the
year that knows what it is. That knows it’s neither ice
nor mud nor winter light, but would with a gift for burning. And if poetry is memorable
language I find that last metaphor
really unforgettable. The passion of the poet
who knows who she is and knows what burning
her language can do. And I love too that her
metaphoric landscape, the house where she is the first
awake and Lincoln too used the house as a metaphor for America. So here was a poet who in 1971, when
she wrote that poem was fully aware of her destiny and of
the power of her gift. She takes, you know, the O
vowel, the loneliness, you know, that can almost be like a
country-western song and turns it around and changes the value of that
word, the loneliness of the poet. So I’m going to read
from Blue Hanuman, which is my new book just out. A lot of the poems in this
book are about artists and art and the first poem in
the book is Eye of Newt. My older brother gave me
art poetry when I was eight or nine handed me Kafka
and Shakespeare and I didn’t know what it was,
but the language got to me. So the word life in this poem is
not life itself, but Life Magazine where he tore out a Picasso
reproduction and hung it on the wall and that’s where I
first encountered art. Eye of Newt. I was larval, I dreamed myself
downstairs in PJs still in my coma. Ba he said and I lay
next to the radio. Dark amber spread through
my girl brain, eye of newt already nestled
there and egg glued to a twig. My pale bespectacled brothers set
me on a leaf and watched me fatten. Franz Kafka he said and my new
long feelers brushed the wall. Girl before a mirror was
tacked there torn from life, her twin pair belly warm
pink as my own, half curled, half crawling I burst
through skin after skin. Art I said and my wings
fanned slowly open. One of my friends who died at
the height of the AIDS deaths in the 90’s Dennis O’Sullivan,
a painter, inspired this poem. He was still painting in his
last week — weeks of life. The title in your side
railed bed faces moves into the first line of the poem. In your side railed bed faces,
brushed late nights on paper, mouth nots, dark ink wash
eyes staring into the abyss, world taped to the wall
of your next-to-last room. After they moved you no more
making, your face swollen and no sign you saw me
wearing the fright mask grief or my face under it. This is a short term poem about
Artemisia Gentileschi’s one of her three I think
paintings that she did. She was an Italian Baroque painter. Paintings of the slaying of
all Holofernes by Judith. And when I looked at it the sight
of two mattresses with blood between them suggested
a female body. Artemisia in her third painting of
Judith a velvet knot of arms, head, fists, he’s draped in c Carmine
and folds, her down his gold. She’s forced his sword
into his dense neck. Under him the deep crease between
mattresses, a blood-soaked vagina. Well maybe I was seeing things,
but Artemisia her greatness as a painter has often been
obscured by the kind of lurid story of the rape trial of a young painter
who worked in her father’s studio. And she won the suit, but they put
thumb screws and other, you know, tortured her in other
ways to make sure that the evidence she
was giving was the truth. So it goes. And I’m just going
to read a few more. As time goes on some of the
Yiddish that I heard spoken between my mother and my grandmother in my childhood has been
creeping into my poems. And Yiddish is a language
that’s rich in insults and if you’re a child hearing
them and knowing they are aimed at you, you pay attention. So where is it, okay? So the first line of
the poem is in Yiddish, but the second line translates
it so you hear the meaning. The covenant, [foreign language]. I was a piece of meat with two eyes,
an animal watching another animal. She fed, dressed, named
me, flushed my waist, scrubbed my pink skin until it sang. The kitchen was hers where the
iceman’s tongs pincered solid blocks, cream rosin bottles
inching up past the lip. Coal roared through a
chute into the cellar. Unsaid invisible the weight
she carried, cold and dense as the block the iceman shouldered
stung through his burlap rag. I lapped her scorn,
answered her bitter call. She needed to eat, I was her
meal, I was the nearest protein. And this is also a poem not
just about, but to my mother in a very different tone and the word you mother is not
Y-O-U, but E-W-E the animal. Summons are you asleep,
are you mute, are you empty now, are you alone? You mother, shrike mother, where
did you go frost on a stone. Soft arms and harsh mouth
you could say I’ve kept them, but fold a sheet my own way. I’d like to show you. I’m six, feverish, you’re reading to
me white alps your shimmering alto. Were you awake when your
last string snapped? I’m yeast and air in a
crust quickly swallowed. Waking in twisted sheets I know how
the green smocked aid hoists you. When time is done with
me may there be mercy. You mother, shrike mother where
do you go frost on a stone. Are you asleep, are you mute,
are you empty now, are you alone? This is an untitled
poem, eight lines. She broke the first
glass and kept launching. Some flew 10 feet, each
explosion wanted the next and when she had nothing left to
throw kitchen covered in shards, floor shining, hands stinging, shard
sticking out of one cheek she stood in what she’d made
and was satisfied. So I’m going to read an erotic
poem by May Swenson and then close with a short lyric of mine. And, you know, Swenson sort of hid
her sexual identity in plain sight, she was of a generation that
didn’t want to claim the label. And when Elly Bulkin and I edited in 1975 an anthology called Amazon
Poetry Swenson very excitingly gave us permission to include a
poem called To Confirm a Ting and said maybe people will finally
understand what this poem is about in this context. But in 1980 when we wanted
to include poems of hers in an anthology called lesbian
poetry she wrote a very irritated letter to us and said why can’t
you call it Amazon too, you now, and she refused permission. But the year before she died in 1988
she gave permission to Carl Morris and me to include this love
poem in gay and lesbian poetry in our time and then she died so. Four word lines. Your eyes are just like bees
and I feel like a flower. Their brown power makes
a breeze go over my skin. When your lashes ride down and rise like brown bee’s legs your
pronged gaze makes my eyes gauze. I wish we were in some shade and
no swarm of other eyes to know that I’m a flower breathing bare
laid open to your bee’s warm stare. I’ve let you wade in me and seize
with your eager brown bee’s power, a sweet glistening at my core. And I’ll close with Cut Leaf
Beach, which ends this book. Half-closed eye after eye climbs
her rough smooth swells like the God of breast I worship
with my touch mouth. Silver tree skin, robin
running on two legs, twisted rope of wisteria tell me my
nipple is an eye and where I walked in milk light trees
are feeding the dark. Cars, cars rushing where I sleep. Eyes closed, mouth open, blown
bird press your shaking branch. Thank you. [ Applause ]>>>>Kamilah Aisha Moon:
Good afternoon. It is indeed a pleasure to be
in this company of poets and all of your company in this
place for this fine occasion. I’m also going to read two poems from writers included
in the archive. And I think I’ll start with a
brief home by Countee Cullen who was a seminal figure
in the Harlem Renaissance. I have a rendezvous with life. I have a rendezvous with life,
in days I hope will come. Ere youth has sped and strength of
mind, ere voices sweet grow dumb. I have a rendezvous with life,
when spring’s first heralds hum. Sure some would cry it’s better
far to crown their days with sleep than face the road, the wind and
rain, the heed the calling deep. Though wet nor blow nor space
I fear, yet fear I deeply too, lest death should meet and claim
me ere I keep life’s rendezvous. And the second poet is
Rigoberto Gonzalez who just won in gay poetry the Lambda
Literary Award last night, so very happy for him. An amazing poet you
should check his work out. This is called Full Moon on
the Night My Father Died. And then silence, no mouth
with the urge for teeth, a hand without its
switch, stones not feet. If a woman cries and is not
heard there was no grief, no lead collapsing at the knee, no widow spilling open
like a sack of feed. The moon having paused
to see moves on. Just another night’s comma,
just another eyelid fluttering to the flash of lighting, the
living call father or husband or son what the dead
call anti-sleep. And now I will read from my
collection, this is She has a Name. And about two thirds
of this collection is about a family’s journey with
a daughter who has autism and all the dynamics that
come with that condition. This first poem when I
first turned this collection in to be published the statistic was
1 in 150 American families dealing with autism and I’m going to
use the most recent statistic. Borderless country, 1
in 68 now this glitch in babies poised to
unlock the world. These daughters and sons of poets,
store clerks, salesmen, CEOs, janitors and actors cast
into this permanent script. Souls we love turned like the faces of flowers thrust toward
a rogue sun. We are the earth we walk, what
seeps here is the air fighting back, is the water slowing baskets
down sending them back upstream. Are we changing? Dear God, are they here to tell
us in a way we can’t ignore that we aren’t changing fast enough. Autism, the one drop rule for
minds we strain to understand, the catchall phrase that
drops kids off at nowhere that you don’t exist once you
turn 18 at native tongue of one. At white knuckle cobbled
through touch across time. At marquee symptoms while
causes lurk at beauty that demands seas of patience. What about that drug
I took once, vaccines or some karmic boomerang I
don’t remember throwing its stealth return. One in 68 apples of
somebody’s eye, 1 in 68 my baby, 1 in 68 now a new child breaths. Private riddles of our loving
strapped on many backs. Breach. It seems the most special of
beings endure harrowing beginnings. The covering physician didn’t know
her body’s history, he treated mama with less grace than a laboring mare
almost dragging her off the table and she had no choice as he
ripped my sister into this world. Father’s voice. The last thing I ever
wanted was to let her down. I held her high in the bowels of
my biceps until her legs began to grapevine around mine. She didn’t wriggle like my older
girls did restless for ground, no. Lord, no please not my baby girl,
not the one named after mama gone. Mouth carved just like
hers like mine. What could I have done? Held her as long as any
father’s strength could stand her growing weight. What next? My chromosome limps
in her bloodstream. The proof years later my
brother’s son scales this cliff. I’m not allowed to say I don’t
want to pay what she will cost us. I’ll work myself into pulp, withhold
my tongue and practice nothingness. Cockroach logic, if I
don’t move I’m not really against this wall back
leaning in harsh light. I won’t hold my wife’s hand
and skip words like stones. I’ll become a dike of a
man, fall asleep in front of the TV nightly until I burst. Mother. I watch the backs of
college girlfriends trailing off to mobile lives, I watch
them until they were blips. Ours was a sacred [inaudible],
waterfalls of words between us, silhouettes in love tending our own,
the hours, clouds floating past, bed in the sky where rain slept. I often wake up dizzy, the sun
mocking us as it dosses her face. My husband says nothing, his kisses
shallow, what we don’t say we eat. Stigma. She hated that
short yellow bus. The sentence felt each
day it pulled upside to McMurray Junior
High’s curb delivering her to locker lined halls full of
metallic seventh grade [inaudible]. No room for gray. Between is a hard place to live. She shuns wheelchairs and mongoloid
faces mad that her mind will fight to keep her quarantined from
her own car, yard, babies. You are or you are not, you’re
sick or you’re well, one thing or another, but it’s never that
simple like breathing should be. Between is a hard place to live. Each morning she stretches
her fingers toward a life just out of reach and gradually
squeezes into a seat at a table that bonks her knees. College is not cadences, not
a promise land to independence to normal, not etched in stone. Come down from your mountain
[inaudible] of longing, discover your own root to
paradise we’ll meet you there. And I think I’ll read this one here. Waving they stand behind the screen as they always have
sacred sentinels. When did it happen? The soul dry rot, the
end of heavy breathing, the loss of their first names, their bones in the arthritic
dog [inaudible] limbs brace against each other
in the yard wavering in January wind without bloom. Each visit home frays me, the price
I pay for being able to drive away. This is a New York poem, watching
a woman on the M101 express. I live in Brooklyn now I
guess I should say that yes. You sit in a hard blue seat, one of
the ones reserved for the elderly or infirm, a statue of me. Your mouth open as if waiting for
water or medicine, as if [inaudible] or some ice age hit right
after terrible news. Oblivious to the metro’s bump
and buck, to the toddler begging in Spanish to be freed
from her stroller to my ogling you sit
embalmed, raccooned or moosed. You have the kind of eyes that never
quite close even in deepest sleep. Lives an undersized T-shirt
that leaves belly exposed. Tears navigate molds,
veteran swimmers of your creek bed face
I can’t stop looking. You can’t get over whatever
has happened, so shell-shocked that birds could land and roost. I want to ask just so you know
someone is paying attention, but not enough to know what
ravages, it’s rude to stare. I’m from the south, a suburb where grief pulls the shades
first, stays home if indecent. But your sorrow struts
four rows down from me, strands you an astronaut on
some distant undiscovered moon. Bodies to your left and right read
papers, nap, send text messages, you sit in a hard blue
seat mouth open. I study the pink of
your jaw and wonder if you’ll come back
before your stop comes. Now I think I will end
with something sweet. Yes, to a camellia blossom. I saw your pretty head lying beneath
the bush without thinking I kneeled and cradled you peddle
sighing into grateful palms. Beauty face down is an abomination. Why must you suffer the
weight of early perfection, your vividness lifts me, lifts all, I wanted to hold you
just like that until. I know this kind of blooming well
to be so lush, inside so swollen with life that what was
meant to hold you up can’t. I wasn’t meant to hold you, yet here
we are on this stray [inaudible] in April trembling and
fulfilled, unlikely and true. Before I knew what to call you
I reached and imagined season after season [inaudible]. Thank you. [ Applause ]>>D. A. Powell: It is an honor
and a privilege to be here today with my peers, my sisters and
my brothers and to read for you from a couple of poets who
inspired me in my journey as a poet. I’m going to begin with a
poem by Muriel Rukeyser, it’s entitled Looking at Each Other. Yes, we knew each other very well. Yes, we had made love with
each other many times. Yes, we had heard music together. Yes, we had gone to
the seat together. Yes, we had cooked
and eaten together. Yes, we had laughed
often day and night. Yes, we fought violence
and knew violence. Yes, we hated the inner
and outer oppression. Yes, that day we were
looking at each other. Yes, we saw the sunlight
pouring down. Yes, the corner of the
table was between us. Yes, bread and flowers
were on the table. Yes, our eyes saw each other’s eyes. Yes, our mouths saw
each other’s mouths. Yes, our breasts saw
each other’s breasts. Yes, our bodies entire
saw each other. Yes, it was beginning in each. Yes, it threw waves
across our lives. Yes, the pulses were
becoming very strong. Yes, the beating became
very delicate. Yes, the calling the arousal. Yes, the arriving the coming. Yes, there it was for both entire. Yes, we were looking at each other. Walt Whitman. Passing stranger, you do not know
how longingly I look upon you. You must be he I was
seeking or she I was seeking. It comes to me as of a dream. I have somewhere surely lived a life
of joy with you, all is recalled as we flip by each other, fluid,
affectionate, chaste, matured. You grew up with me, were a
boy with me or a girl with me. I ate with you and slept with you. Your body has become not yours
only nor left my body mine only. You give me the pleasure of your
eyes, face, flesh as we pass. You take of my beard,
breast, hands in return. I am not to speak to
you, I am to think of you when I sit alone or
wake at night alone. I am to wait, I do not doubt
I am to meet you again. I am to see to it that
I do not lose you. So I’m going to read
a couple of poems from my collection Useless
Landscape or a Guide for Boys, which came out I guess two years
ago now, it’s hard to keep up. One of the — well the original
intent of this collection was to elegize and to celebrate the
interior landscape of California, which is a place in
transition, a place moving from farm to suburban to urban. And watching that change
was the first intent of that book and chronicling it. But, you know, what happens is as you’re writing other subjects
take precedence and what I realized after I wrote the book is that
this book became a way of affirming and celebrating a queer
life in a rural setting. And so I’m going to begin
with one of the early poems and you will hear the lives sort of
coming to the forefront of the poem and it’s called Landscape
with Sections of Aqueduct. If the crown of the day is not
gold, then it’s a marvelous fake. Merciful present tense. If the brown grass
is always flowing, if the sun is always just
brushing the dry hills and if last summer’s suicide is
still a loner whose white T-shirt knotted so tight it had to be
cut off his neck with a knife. In evening is the same bare
patch and the same fat crows, the crushed aluminum cans and the
hamburger wrappers or the ribbon of tire tread where a
road crew hasn’t come by. They have taken him away and I
do not know where he is laid. Among the soft cheat and metal
barley a live oak bags relief from the hardened light. The beating of its own gnarled
limbs and the unrelenting rustle of its own beige blooms that tumble
together shyly like a locker room of boys once boisterous
now called to roll and suddenly bashful
clasping at dingy towels. Let the dead be modest. If the tree solitary being
who feeds on wind and the moat of another’s distant
beauty cause to brag. Except that the kernel would fall
upon the soil it abides alone. One guy peeled labels
off beer bottles here, another climbed the
remaining concrete piles and wrote Justin loves, wrote Stephen loves wrote
hang them high class of 93. Cabbage mobs flickered in Tansey
and clustered broom rape or the pain of creation for a little
yellow dust, a smear of light on their fidgeting legs and
the sudden buoyancy in updraft. Ruin by the wayside you took
as sacrament you abiding rock. This poem takes its
title from a film by Bruce Beresford
entitled Tender Mercies. The film bears sort of a
tangential relationship to the poem. In the film are Robert Duval plays
a country singer who has sort of hit rock bottom
and has to go back to where he started and start over. We all got to do that sometimes. Tender mercies. The dandelions ditch blown
brewed the evening snow and dew soaked flocks. The brewers pea, the
[inaudible] pea, these the bright eyes
of the viridian fields. In chaparral the hillside pea and
angled pea intensities of light and pump that distress
the easy upswept grass. That smack the rain
plants as it smudges past and penetrates the canvas. The smattering on field and
railroad tracks both hearty blooms and dainty flowers. The judge’s house, the chicken farm,
a migratory camp of flesh motel, a stucco digs where all that mitigates the August swelter
is the swamp coolers immutable bur. A straggling house that draws
its water from a hard water well and flushes out with the
help of a crude sump pump. Before the flatland is occluded
by the staunch of light at the end of day I wanted to be
content with all its surfaces, weed, barb, crack, rill rise. But every candid shoot and [inaudible] branch depends
upon the arteries beneath. The houses have their siphons and
their circuit vents, the heart, I mean the literal heart must
rely upon its own plaque valves. The duodenal canal it’s
unremitting grumble. The brain upon its stem and
underneath a network vast of nerves that rationalize. The earth’s a little
harder than it was, but I expect that it will soften
soon voluptuous in some age hence because we captured it as art the
moment it was most itself fragile, flecked with nimble weed and so alone it almost
welcomed its own ravishment. I was a maiden in this versicolor
plain, I watched it change, withstood that change the
infidelities of light, the solar interval, the shift of
time, the shift from farm to town. I had a man that pressed
me down into the soil. I was that man, I was that town. They called the chicory
ragged sailors here sojourners who have finally returned
and are content to see the summer to its end. Be unafraid of what
the future brings, I will not use this
particular blue again. And I’m going to finish with
a poem which was written for a young man I knew when I
was a young man, very young. How many of you dated a Mormon
missionary at some point? It happens right yes. And there’s that, you know,
unfortunate conflict that arises. So to celebrate his life
I wrote missionary man. We must bear away the body to
another place, that’s Oscar Wilde. And the second epigraph
that begins the poem Isaiah. Then said I here am I send me. The product of poor radiography
this one rectangular window through which the faintest
of flowers might be seen. As each plastered vegetative
I awoke in traction and sought to be dismissed from the unreliable
dispensary to which it was tied. So too did I petition to be moved into any upper room
that might have me. Let the next who comes invite me so if night can take it shall
we thread it like a spider, glance around its unlit cistern
complexing our moonstruck strands toward the vortices we’ve
kept from thus exploring. Let him knock with a promise of
books, good looks, cutaway collar, skinny black tie, the pocket
protector with his name engraved. For the bandages were still to be unwound had I ever
thought about being saved. No, I had only ever
thought about being spent. And unmined in my bones I
fostered such attraction to this ardent host himself, the aseptic argent lancet
brought to pierce me in my side. It was his first penetrating glance
that filled me with a sudden surge of blood, rack, rent
and bungle of my corpus. Let me say I stank like the
rim of hell in all my lust and would’ve blushed
at my own heat if not for the shameless eagerness
in his eyes. The world is full of
lovely but tragic boys. Get me on the joy bus I said, nobody
ever really rides the joy bus. He prepared a place for
me in the empty houses, received me in the
shaded summer lawns, wrapped in our own light
jackets at the river bottoms, hid in Manzanita clumps
the break the brittle fern. In the foyer of a Pentecostal
church where we took our gladness to spite the pious, took the
praise of God as an offering of our bodies each of us
crouched in the doorway in turn. Mouth to the vine,
lips to the Eucharist, flesh of my astonished flesh. John my elder, John my boy, the body
is dead to us naughty then gone. Suffer me to kiss thy mouth of
John, I will kiss thy mouth. Let him be born of every ash
that glows in the oil drums of winter parks, let
lesions disappear, let brittle bones be
knit, let the integrity of every artery be restored. There is no God, but that
which visits us in skin and few and pleasing face he
offers up this body. By this body we are saved. [ Applause ]>>Dan Vera: It’s a great
delight to read today and to follow such astounding verse. I’d actually — when I was asked
which poet I was going to read from I’d originally
mentioned James Broughton, a poet that I corresponded
with before he died. But discovering that
today’s actually — would’ve been the 88th birthday of Alan Ginsberg I
decided sort of to switch. And so I’m reading two
poems by Ginsberg to begin. The first is in the collection
and the second that I know of isn’t published anywhere, but due
to the Rainbow History Archives here in Washington, DC they have an audio
recording from the very first march on Washington 35 years ago this
October, October 14th, 1979. A poem at the very first march on Washington — gay
march on Washington. There were two poets
present, Alan Ginsberg was one and Audre Lorde was the other. And those audio recordings
are evidence of their words. So the first poem, he read two
cones so I’m reading what he read on the other side of the capital. The weight of the world is love
under the burden of solitude, under the burden of dissatisfaction. The weight, the weight
we carry is love. Who can deny in dreams
it touches the body, in thought constructs a miracle, in imagination anguishes
till born inhuman. Looks out of the heart burning
with purity for the burden of life is love, but we carry the
weight wearily and so must rest in the arms of love at last. Must rest in the arms of
love no rest without love, no sleep without dreams
of love, be mad or chill, obsessed with angels or machines. The final wish is love cannot
be bitter, cannot deny, cannot withhold if denied. The weight is too heavy, must give
for no return as thought is given in solitude in all the
excellence of its excess. The warm bodies shine together
in the darkness, the hand moves to the center of the flesh,
the skin trembles in happiness and the soul comes
joyful to the eye. Yes, yes that’s what I wanted,
I always wanted, I always wanted to return to the body
where I was born. Congress and American people
how can you help yourself? We have come out here to help you
to ease your grief-stricken hearts. Fear of gays is claustrophobia,
closed minds, violence, accusation, hypocrisy, tough hearts
hiding panic. This day’s gay liberation can mean
liberation of heterosexual dignity, social delight, city
playfulness, country tolerance, national nonaggression,
international charm and spiritedness, enlightened
masculine gentleness, feminine mutual affection, granny wisdoms old-fashioned
open-mindedness. Diversity of the physical body
politic, yay a self-acceptance of body, humor of speech,
spaciousness, friendliness, sensitivity, the dignity and
wisdom of the whole blue sky of the mind we stand under. So a poem that opens my last
book inspired by Joan’s reading, the title is in Yiddish
so it’s titled Fetch. As my gentile tongue screws up that perfect Yiddish sound
him complains we have no right to a word if it’s pronounced. I tell her cry me the river
Grande River and recite the litany of the beautiful mid bland. They made [foreign language]
[inaudible] merely jolly and drove the angels
right out of Los Angeles. They even made [foreign
language] into what a loop. And then I learned it’s from the
Arabic Guadalupe from Waddy Lupus for the valley where wolves reside. Folded up and carried over oceans
and epochs, syllable reminders of our grandmother’s voices
that reside inside the hollow of the ear till they
come cascading miraculous out of a stranger’s mouth mangled
accents and twisted tenses all. This next poem was inspired
by something in the Library of Congress collection which is
a wax cylinder recording that’s believed to be the only existing
recording of Walt Whitman. And many believe, you
know, Whitman to be one of the pillars of American poetry. If there’s another pillar the other
pillar would be Emily Dickinson. And thinking of that wax
cylinder of Whitman made me wonder about Emily Dickinson’s voice. And this poem titled Emily
Dickinson at the Poetry Slam. I will tell you why
she rarely ventured from her house it happened
like this. One day she took the
train to Boston, made her way to the darkened room, put her name down in cursive
script and waited her turn. Poets before her stood and rhymed,
followed a meter tight and expected, outdoing one another
in a monotonous clip. When they read her name aloud
she made her way to the stage, straightened the papers in her
hands, pages and envelopes, the backs of grocery bills. She closed her eyes for a
minute, took a breath and began. From her mouth perfect words
exploded, intact formulas of light and darkness she dared to rhyme
with words like cochenille and describe the skies like diadem. Obscurely worded incantations
filled the room with an alchemy that made the very molecules quake. The solitary words she
handled in her upstairs room with keen precision came rumbling out to make the electric
lights flicker. Forty members of the audience
were treated for hypertension. Twenty-year-old dark haired beauty’s
found their heads had turned a Moses white. Her second poem erased the memory
of every cell phone in the nightclub and by the fourth line of the
sixth verse the grandmother in the upstairs apartment had
been cured of her rheumatism. The papers reported
the power outages, area hospitals taxed their emergency
generators and sirens were heard to wail through the night. Quietly she made her
way to the exit, walked to the terminal
and back to Amherst. She never left her room again and
never read such syllables aloud. A praise poem for a radical
fairy brother named Coca. This poem is titled Balanesia
[assumed spelling] in Suburbia. Praise Cocoa born Bruce who every
week bought an orchid for his cell between the elevator
and the board room. Who misted the meticulous and thus
transformed suburbia into Balanesia. Everyone knew Bruce for the ways
he broke forth from blandness with the spotted cowls
of [inaudible], cymbidium striped fingers and
the purple mouths of dendrobium. All of them pouring over
the cubbyholes of work life. Praise what resided in Cocoa to know
what could love a light florescent and make the stale
air bloom with hue. So my father who I had a loving
and troubled relationship with passed away a little over
a month ago and given the topic of the reading I thought
I would read this poem for my first book titled
Father’s Day for Gay Boys. One beside another
brothers seven dividers of what lies beyond the
truths we have uncovered. One makes three, then four, then more until we move
beyond our numbers. There is thunder over
the city tonight and of the million hearts
we may never see here in the circle we make commitments. We push the limits of earthly
loving, electricity visits again and the black skies pulse
with light, currents of power by some capillary action,
sons kiss their fathers, sons kiss their fathers to sleep and the rose eyed boy
remembers himself again. We are not the sons they ordered
with their patriotic dreaming, we are not the sons they
expected to come down the line, but we unfold beyond such
kind paternal ignorance, we unfold within the measure
of our time and we make peace with the fathers inside of us. We give birth to a hidden
long carried joy within. I wanted to read a poem
by William Meredith who was the first gay
poetry consultant. I’m not sure exactly how out
he was during his consultancy, but certainly by the end of his
life he and Richard Hartley, another writer, wrote and talked
about their lives together. This poem is titled
A Couple of Trees. The two oaks lean apart for light,
they aren’t as strong as lone oaks, but in a wind they
give each other lea. Daily since I cleared them I can see
them tempting to chainsaw an axe, two hardwoods leaning
like that for light. A hurricane tore through the
state one night picking up roof and henhouse, boat and dock. Those two stood leafless,
twigless, giving lea. Last summer ugly slugs
unleafed the trees, environmental kids
wrote Gypsy mods suck. The V of naked oaks leaned
to the light for a few weeks, then put out slight second
leaves, scar tissue, pale as racks, bandaged comrades lending
each other lea. How perilous in one another’s
V our lives are yoked in this yoke two men
leaning apart for light, but in a wind who give
each other lea. And two more poems. This was written — I’m
forgetting now I think it was when Delaware enacted marriage
equality, it was written for that day, but it seems
to have been repeated. This is titled On a Day
When Another State Sees Us. Recognizes us for who
we are, how we love, how we commit ourselves
to one another. I tell you look lover laugh a
little to say the word husband, so strange to me, two syllables I
never believed it could be mine much less take the appearance
of one so sweet and kind. Years from now perhaps at the
insistence of gentleness has its way who we are together will not be
remarkable, merely the first names on the role of some
kind of permanence. The words do not mean more than our
promises, but they are something, they a reality longed
for lived and died for, I will not make light of it. Although I will giggle a little
thinking this is our life together. And I’ll close with a poem about
[inaudible] the 60’s it opens with am epi thingy from the New
York Times, actually from an article in the New York Times
dated December 17, 1963. The poem is titled
Lingering Fraction. Some homosexuals claim
infallibility in identifying others of their kind by the eyes. There’s a look that lingers a
fraction of a second too long. Growth of overt homosexuality
in city provokes wide concern. New York Times. Hail the lingering
fraction that secured us. That inborn longing that led
us to one another one by one on the corners under the
streetlamps of the inviting city. Hail the steal of spirit
that attempted to believe that ventured forth from body to
body when the law and word was to condemn, to revile, to electrocute a mind
so wedded to love. Hail the glimmer of recognition
in the eyes of those we sought, who reflected back that
fraction of belonging, who spoke without words what
the heart would dare to admit. Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Mark Manivong: Thank you again
to our poets for being here today. My name is Mark Manivong and
I’m a curator in the Rare Books and Special Collections
Division here at the library with specific responsibilities
in LGBT studies and poetry. I’ve always been lucky that way. The Rare Books and Specials
Collections Division holds more than a million items spread
across more than 90 collections. We’ve arranged today a small
display, a small fraction of those materials in the back room
which I hope you’ll stop by to see. I hope it illustrates some of
the treasures that we hold, as well as some of the
presses that we collect, such as the Shameless Hussy Press,
the Jargon Society and many others, as well as some of the
individual authors that we collect, such as James Merrill, Adrienne
Rich, Moon, Larkin, Powell and Vera who are now going to mingle
among our collections. So without further ado please step
back and follow me and have a look. [ Applause ]>>This has been a
presentation of the Library of Congress, visit us at

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