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Showing posts from August, 2006

Reading at The Stone

R. Nemo Hill's Active Ingredients is presenting a series of poetry readings every Monday in October. I'm reading with Jane Ormerod, Paco and Thomas Fucaloro on the first Monday. It'd be lovely to see friends there, if you are in New York.

Date: 2 Oct 2006 (Mon)
Time: 8 p.m.
Tix: $10.00
Place: The Stone, 2nd St. & Ave C
www.thestonenyc.com

Night Training

It’s like moving through a jungle,
alone in an Indian file of soldiers,
ears buzzing with insect static,
the radio held at the back squelched.

The jungle is so dark you only see
the half-inch blue cyalume straw
rubber-banded to the helmet in front.
You're a blue straw to the man behind.

Then the air flinches into lightning
and trees tilt into view. The soldiers,
like bayonets shedding green scabbards,
flash steel, then are sheathed again.

The lieutenant shouts, Antenna down!
You obey but your radio crackles
into life, a voice growling, Gold now,
gold! Final fire before the assault.

This happened many years ago
and you've always wondered
what it means or what it describes.
You are at a loss to explain it

though you know you are the radio,
and the lieutenant, and the men
in front and behind, in Indian file,
following a bobbing blue straw.

Gym Membership

I pound and pound this what-do-you-call-it,
Elliptical, EFX546,
pumping the body all that chemical shit,
shooting my morning its new daily fix,

instead of pondering over an old sonnet,
a room of straw for spinning into gold,
a debt requiring its pound of meat,
a mini made from an injection mould.

It’s true I haven’t moved although I’ve run
3 miles, and, like in writing, I’m as far
from what the mind wants and the mirror sees,
and though it’s true I pound like everyone
on manufactured wheels, my chariot-car
signals I’ve lost four hundred calories.

Floyd Burroughs

Image
After viewing the Susan Sontag photographic exhibit at the Met, the images that stay with me are Walker Evans'. Here's one by that American social realist photographer, from the Snite Museum of Art collection:



ALABAMA TENANT FARMER (FLOYD BURROUGHS), 1936, printed 1950's silver gelatin print

In Alexandria

Still on Forster, here's an old poem about his relationship with Mohammmad, an Egyptian, when Forster was working for the Red Cross during World War I. This relationship might have been Forster's first sexual experience. The epigraph, found in Robert Aldrich's Colonialism and Homosexuality, quotes a secret diary, which Forster presumably never showed to Mohammad.

[Poem removed for submission to journal]

Revised Part 7 of "Only the Scene Has Changed"

I've revised "Parting Gifts," last section of the sequence, in order to round up the themes better. The original and the first six parts of the sequence are here. I will add the epigraph later.

7. Actual Landing

Here’s one more for your album. Let me give you Queens,
the one borough you couldn’t see. A boulevard
of body shops and billboards, it’s an old graveyard
abandoned by the Irish and Italians it weans

from suckling at familiar pubs and tombstone tits.
Others have moved in, with their gods and groceries,
and make (lawyers as mediums) with authorities
their various accommodations, their different debts.

In the day they maneuver, working their consoles,
their bodies up the stairs and round the city’s screen;
at night, the same computer game. Only the scene
has changed—-the maze, pitch or battlefield is the soul’s,

in which the aim, as in the day, is to arrive.
Their children, born American, will be their signs
of actual landing in the city, citizens
of Flushing, 56th Street or Forest …

Cynthia Ozick on "Maurice"

It is a shock to read Ozick's essay, "Morgan and Maurice: A Fairy Tale," written soon after the posthumous publication of Forster's Maurice. The shock lies less in Ozick's convincing argument that the novel is an artistic failure than in her evaluation of Forster's humanism, a humanism publicly demonstrated in his anticolonial writings and court appearances to defend artistic freedom of expression. Ozick's appraisal, or more accurately, a re-appraisal, resulted from the startling revelation of Forster's homosexuality. The question was, what does that homosexuality means for Forster's humanism? Ozick writes,

The shock of the publication of Maurice, then, is not what it appears to be at first sight: Forster as Forerunner of Gay Lib. Quite the opposite. He used his own position as an exemplum, to show what the universe does not intend. If that implies a kind of rational martyrdom, that is what he meant; and this is what shocks. We had not thought of h…

Or Your Money Back

After disaster there is disease controlled with a regimen of pills.

When the towers fell, you say, I was barebacking this guy from Therapy.

I watched on CNN the second tower fall and knew I had to get away to America.

Your boyfriend is a medical intern who thinks there’s no safe sex with you.

Cops underground everywhere but I’ve never seen unattended baggage.

Your boyfriend’s favorite line is, I’m courting disaster; his second favorite, I’m leaving on a jetplane.

My landlord told me yesterday he’s going to Montreal for counter-terrorism training.

I love the city, you say, glass in hand, but does the city love me?

A Room With A View

I found myself happily vulnerable to Forster's brand of pagan humanism in this, his third novel, written between "The Longest Journey" and "Howards End." In a tale of heterosexual romance, the erotic center is the determinedly cheerful and healthy episode of 3 men bathing in the woods, two of whom are young in years, the third, a clergyman, young in spirit. Do they strip to their birthday suits or are they semi-covered in the obligatory loincloth? Forster is coy. Mr Beebe, the clergyman, seems to have jumped in with his underwear since, upon discovery by a trio of his parishioners, he crawls "out of the pond, on whose surface garments of an intimate nature did float." George, the romantic lead, confronts his discoverers "barefoot, barechested, radiant and personable against the shadowy woods." So he is presumably girded but the description lingers all over his nakedness. Pessimistic and passionate George, rumored to be a train porter (with p…

SQ21, Modern Metrics, After the Fire

Edited by Ng Yi-sheng, "SQ21-Singapore Queers in the 21st Century" is a collection of 15 coming out stories, told by men and women, including a mother of 2 gay sons (the Singaporean novelist, Suchen Christine Lim).

Modern Metrics:a new, independent NY press that publishes chapbooks of formal poetry.

Boey Kim Cheng's new book, "After the Fire," collects selections from his three earlier books and new poems written after this itinerant Singaporean's migration to Australia.

There Is No Safety in Distance

I've posted the different parts at different times but not the sequence as a whole. All sections except one were written in April this year, as part of the NaPoWriMo. The exception, Section 9, was written on Aug 14. I've been moving the parts around and also taking out and putting in other parts. I think the present sequence makes the most sense and impact, primarily through narrowing the focus and capitalising on repeated imagery.


There Is No Safety in Distance

1.

The body is an authority
on heartache, burned or slashed.
The bottom of an amputee
drops like a bottle smashed.

The empty-chested veteran,
decorated with dread,
crumples like a soda can.
Despair, don’t you trash my dead!

2.

The cause of pain is cruelty,
concentration’s wire.
Bodhisattvas disagree;
they claim the cause, desire.

Biologists explain that genes
are really quite germane
while bombers show just what cause means.
The effect is the same.

3.

Tell me what your pain is like.
When did it begin?
In the ear of bone or muscle
or the eye o…

The Folded Star

Alan Hollinghurst's prose in this novel is as sensuous and sensitive as his later Man Booker Prize-winner. His style was an accomplished fact before writing "The Line of Beauty." Quiveringly and ironically, it traces the outlines of unrequited love and loss in the highly sexed-up world of homosexuals. What the earlier novel lacks is the political dimension of that world, the Thatcherite atmosphere and events so brilliantly captured in "The Line of Beauty." Though it depicts non-white and non-bourgeois characters, the earlier novel also lacks the texture, the tangled web, of class and race. What "The Folded Star" offers is an imagined Belgium, dreamed up by Edward Manners, the Englishman who falls in love with a boy he tutors. England, depicted in the middle of the three sections, is viewed in Edward's memory of his past romances, again giving the external world the feel of a dream, lost and irrecoverable, whether symoblized by the fatal motor acci…

Death Comes Like a Revolution

Pitchforks and pikes in hand, the women stroll,
all maenads, down the park to the menagerie,
cull the roses and smash the coterie
of apollonian statues. Guns explode
and urge. The women free the cognac-gorged
lions, zebras, the snorting dromedary
and, hunger-maddened, raid the aviary
for heron, parrot, goshawk and flamingo.

Likewise Death overthrows the body’s shed--
the zoo assembly, parliament or diet--
over which the king surveyed his power and pomp.
Dragoons, attendants, nobles, all have fled.
Night closes on the unaccustomed quiet,
hushes the squawk out of the draining swamp.

Night Country

I'm flying from a place that banned my poem
to one that gave the poem. I have my papers
and fingerprints, ready to enter your home,
pull one of your white cotton shirts over me,
and when you come to bed, my night country,
rest my uncovered head on your left shoulder.

Burn all flags except the flesh

Burn all flags except the flesh,
the banner hung from bone.
Soul, burn the five stars down to ash.
Burn the crescent moon.

Kiss the tits, the low brown stars
cresting heaving hills.
Kiss the folded belly scar,
kiss the testicles.

Kiss, oh, kiss the crescent slit,
uncover the full moon,
till the body present-lit
burns and does not burn.

Sheila Majid's Legenda Concert

Image
Sheila Majid sang at the Esplanade Concert Hall last night a song selection from her twenty years in music. She was a consummate performer, artistic in her song delivery, friendly and teasing with the audience. I don't understand Malay but the language in her voice became fully expressive in a way I had not heard before. She sang the ballads with particular feeling; the sayang tenderness of the language, potentially cloying, sounded a range of emotional clarities and nuances. She helped me hear a universe of expressive possibilities in a language I had thought, in my ignorance, unsophisticated and derivative. She made me see again what artistry can do for ignorance, prejudice and callused hearts.

Like a Seed with Its Singular Purpose

Cyril Wong's fifth poetry collection is out. It is a good read. It is also Cyril's most experimental to date: prose poems; long, sectioned poems; lists. The poem, "Before the Afterlife," about he and his partner moving in together, is a fine long poem. The plants on the balcony are there; I saw them.

Going Home from Church

First night in my old bedroom, I found myself reaching for the anthologies in which my early poems were published. Reading the poems made me squirm with embarrassment over their inexperience and infelicities. I am too much in love with them to wish them destroyed, so they will have to remain as testaments of a younger poetic self. "Testaments" is too solemn a description; more like acne, except that these poems are, unfortunately, not adolescent efforts, but a young man's stumblings.

I am intrigued by the thematic continuities in my writing: dislocation, religious revelation, memory. Same-sex desire, a present preoccupation, was a subtext.

"Going Home from Church on Bus 197" was published in "No Other City: the Ethos Anthology of Urban Poetry" (2000). It means something to me partly because a Singaporean blog quoted the poem's last line years ago, and thus I feel that the poem, with all its weaknesses, has met Auden's definition of poetry as &qu…

Censored?

The Media Development Authority of Singapore, which is tasked with media censorship, licensed ContraDiction, a gay poetry reading, on the condition that one of my poems would not be read. The offending poem was "Come On, Straight Boy." MDA did not stop the printing and distribution of the poem, together with all the poems read that evening, in the event pamphlet but it drew the line at performance. I don't understand what logical and consistent rationale could be given for prohibiting the reading, but not the distribution, of a poem. Under the law, a poetry reading is considered a performance, and not a talk/lecture. Recent changes to censorship laws allow for the latter, in a private venue to an audience of a certain size, but a performance still requires a MDA license. What did the MDA fear I would do while reading the poem? Pull down my pants and waggle my dick at the audience? Go up to a straight boy and seduce him into a public same-sex act? Or does a performance, u…