a blog post by Anne Reis, HoCoPoLitSo Board Member
Poetry is alive and well at the Homewood Center, Howard County’s alternative school. I know this to be true because I am Homewood’s Media Specialist and for the past 10 years, with the support of HoCoPoLitSo, I have been able to host poetry workshops in my library.
Students who attend Homewood have not succeeded in the comprehensive school environment. Poetry gives these students a safe and therapeutic way to express themselves and exposes them to the power of the written word. The transformative power of poetry was never more apparent than earlier this year when HoCoPoLitSo’s Writer-In-Residence, Joelle Biele came to our library for a visit.
From the moment that she greeted the students with her calm spirit and razor sharp intellect, she engaged them in a different way of thinking. With so much emphasis in school curriculum on STEM related subjects, students are rarely given the space or the time to think creatively.
Ms. Biele began her presentation by literally opening the space in the room with a Youtube video of Sandhill cranes migrating. The peaceful images of cranes in flight gave our students a moment of Zen and the background knowledge that they needed to understand her poem, Autumn. Ms. Biele challenged our students to think about what it means to write and the types of writing that they do in their daily lives. Is a text writing? Can a Facebook post be poetry? And from where does a writer find his or her voice?
Students were also asked to respond to the prompt called “I am.” Such an important question for every young person, and perhaps even more important for the struggling learners at Homewood: Who Am I? Who asks students such questions and who cares about their answers? The answer is loud and clear: poets!
For many of the students at Homewood the time spent with Ms. Biele was their first encounter with a poet, but hopefully it won’t be the last.
a blog post by Laura Yoo
It was my very first visit to the famous Dodge Poetry Festival. It was Saturday, October 22nd in 2016, right around 7:15 in the evening. There stood on this enormous stage at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center a petite Asian woman, speaking with a slight accent and a lot of voice. She read her poem, “One Child Has Brown Eyes.” First I googled “vacuity.” Then, I was mesmerized. Also on stage were poets like Martin Espada, Robert Haas, Claudia Rankine, and Jane Hirshfield, but it was Marilyn Chin who spoke to me that night. She was smart, powerful, and funny – and she looked like me.
Ever since getting a serious high on Macbeth in high school, I’ve been studying and loving English literature. In college, I chose all of my electives to be in English literature, and I studied abroad in England to nerd it up with Shakespeare and Jane Austen – and to drink a lot of beer. My area of study was eighteenth-century British literature (which even other English majors didn’t want to touch) so I can say for sure there were no likes of Marilyn Chin in my curriculum. In the last 10 years, thanks to HoCoPoLitSo, I’ve met many wonderful writers and poets, and among them a few Asian American writers, too. But the poet embodied and represented by Marilyn Chin was something new for me.
See, I always wanted to be like Sandra Oh’s character in Grey’s Anatomy, someone who wasn’t on the show to play Asian. She was just another doctor, who happened to be Asian. Her name wasn’t Johnson or Smith. Her name was Cristina Yang, best friend to the main character, but the “Yang” part did not define her character. Sandra Oh, who is Korean-Canadian, plays this “best friend” role also in Sideways and Under the Tuscan Sun. In both of these movies, she is just the best friend, not the Asian best friend. I applauded these characters. Yes! Finally! Asian people are just people! In retrospect, however, I am seeing that in some ways this is denial, a kind of self-imposed erasure. Yes, it hurts to be locked inside the limits of stereotypes, but it also hurts to deny my self from myself in an apparent fight against such stereotypes. At this point, I can hear a frustrated voice saying to me, “What do you want, then? You want Cristina Yang to be Korean or not?” Well, I think I want Cristina Yang to be her self, all of the things that she is.
Recently a Korean-American writer, Mary H.K. Choi, posted this:
From this post, I suspect that, like me, Ms. Choi has been struggling – maybe unbeknownst to her – with her relationship to the Korean part of her “Korean-American” identity. So, I have been thinking about my own going home (or coming home) and how art helps me on that journey. A great example of such art is Ms. Chin’s novel, Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen, which Sandra Cisneros called “bad ass,” Maxine Hong Kingston “What fun!” and Gish Jen “Deeply provocative and deeply Chinese.” The story of two Chinese girls growing up in California focuses very much on their grandmother’s voice and legacy, weaving 41 separate stories together into what Ms. Chin calls a “manifesto.” The story is magical, mythical, and yet so very painfully and beautifully real. The opening story is heartbreaking, shocking, and ultimately triumphant.
Ms. Chin’s poem, “How I Got My Name: An Essay on Assimilation,” is another good example. It starts like this:
I am Marilyn Mei Ling Chin
Oh, how I love the resoluteness
of that first person singular
followed by that stalwart indicative
of “be,” without the uncertain i-n-g
of “becoming.” Of course,
the name had been changed
somewhere between Angel Island and the sea,
when my father the paperson
in the late 1950s
obsessed with a bombshell blond
transliterated “Mei Ling” to “Marilyn.”
And nobody dared question
his initial impulse—for we all know
lust drove men to greatness,
not goodness, not decency.
And there I was, a wayward pink baby,
named after some tragic white woman
swollen with gin and Nembutal.
My mother couldn’t pronounce the “r.”
The assimilation happens with the choosing of an “American name.” I am also named after a white woman, Laura Ingalls Wilder, but more accurately the character Laura Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie the TV show. My mom had watched this show in Korea and loved the character. This custom is seen as practical as it is difficult for Americans to pronounce Korean names. Luckily, my family – like most Korean people – also could not pronounce the “r” and has always called me Yoonji, by my real name. Now, my little sons hear my mom calling me Yoonji and once in awhile, very quietly, they test it out in a kind of whisper “Yoonji” and then giggle. It’s like they’re wondering, “Who is this Yoonji? She’s like a whole another person from my mom who is Laura.” Maybe so. Maybe not. All of this, of course, is not to deny the name Laura, which my mom gave me and therefore an important part of my identity. Besides, it’s a beautiful name. But it’s complicated, you see.
I know it sounds cliche to say this, but Ms. Chin’s poetry, novel, and her performances have raised my awareness. No, it did not happen like a bolt of lightning or anything that dramatic, but rather like a gradual stewing and simmering in this idea about who I am and what I am. So, on this International Women’s Day, I want to thank her for being on that stage on that day at Dodge Poetry Festival to help me widen the way I might think about my cultural identities.
I am ecstatic that I will have another chance to meet Ms. Chin and maybe – if I have the guts – thank her in person on April 26th when she reads at the Blackbird Poetry Festival at Howard Community College. Read more about Marilyn Chin’s visit here.
A blog post by Laura Yoo
I did not grow up with Dr. Seuss because by the time I came to the United States from Korea, I was already 10 years old and my parents certainly didn’t know who Dr. Seuss was. That’s right. I had a Seuss-less childhood.
It was when I was in high school and doing a lot of babysitting that I came across Dr. Seuss. The children just loved his books, almost as much as they enjoyed watching Disney movies. I learned quickly that Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham were some of the kids’ favorites. As a 15 year old, I didn’t see the real value of these books, of course. They were just fun.
Now as a mom to young children, a teacher of writing, and a human fascinated by language and literature, I have a whole new appreciation for Dr. Seuss. Hop on Pop, The Lorax, The Cat in the Hat, and Green Eggs and Ham are probably some of the most popular of Dr. Seuss’s books. My own two boys say Fox in Socks and One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish are their two favorites.
While all these are wonderful stories, my personal favorite is Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book. This is the book that truly showcases Dr. Seuss’s genius.
Oh boy, does it work. Try to stifle the yawn while you read it. You can’t do it. At least half way through, someone – you or one of the little listeners – will yawn. And once that first yawn comes out, there’s no stopping the flood of yawns to come. As Dr. Seuss says: “A yawn is quite catching, you see. Like a cough.” Turns out – just reading the word “yawn” or seeing illustrations of creatures yawning will make you yawn. That’s how powerful a yawn is.
So, by the time you reach the end of the book to read “When you put out your light, / Then the number will be / Ninety-nine zillion / Nine trillion and three” I swear the little ones look sleepy – and I am also sleepy.
And this is one of the many magical powers of Dr. Seuss. Yes, the silly names, the nonsense words, and the insane rhymes are so fun to read. Yes, the books have valuable life lessons. In addition to all that, it will help your kids go to sleep. Now, if he had just written a book called Dr. Seuss’s Clean Up Your Room Book…
Happy Dr. Seuss Day!
The Fierce Revolution of Marilyn Chin
HoCoPoLitSo and HCC’s Tenth Annual Blackbird Poetry Festival
Award-winning poet and author Marilyn Chin headlines the tenth annual Blackbird Poetry Festival for HoCoPoLitSo and Howard Community College (HCC). Born in Hong Kong and raised in Oregon, activist poet Chin unflinchingly explores the intersection of the Asian and American worlds.
The Blackbird Poetry Festival, held April 26, 2018, on the campus of Howard Community College, is a day devoted to verse, with student workshops, book sales, readings, and patrols by the Poetry Police. The Sunbird poetry reading, featuring Ms. Chin, as well as Washington, D.C., poet and educator Joseph Ross, local authors, and Howard Community College faculty and students, starts at 2:30 p.m. Ms. Chin will read from and discuss her poetry, including her most recent work, Hard Love Province, during the Nightbird Poetry Reading, starting at 7:30 p.m. in the Smith Theatre of the Horowitz Center for Visual and Performing Arts. Hard Love Province won the 2015 Anisfield-Wolf National Prize for Literature that confronts racism and examines diversity. Former winners of this prize include Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, Toni Morrison and Maxine Hong Kingston, Gwendolyn Brooks and Oprah Winfrey. Nightbird admission tickets are $20 each (seniors $15 and students $10). Click here for tickets.
Marilyn Chin co-directs the MFA program at San Diego State University and has won numerous awards for her poetry, including from the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard, the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, Stegner Fellowship, the PEN/Josephine Miles Award, four Pushcart Prizes, the Paterson Prize, and many others.
Chin is the author of four poetry collections: Hard Love Province (2014), Rhapsody in Plain Yellow (2002); The Phoenix Gone, The Terrace Empty (1994); and Dwarf Bamboo (1987). She is also the author of a novel, Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen (2009). Pulitzer Prize-winner and Anisfield-Wolf juror Rita Dove noted about Hard Love Province, “In these sad and beautiful poems, a withering portrayal of our global ‘society’ emerges – from Buddha to Allah, Mongols to Bethesda boys, Humvee to war horse, Dachau to West Darfur, Irrawaddy River to San Diego.” In his review of The Phoenix Gone in The Progressive, Matthew Rothschild said Chin “has a voice all her own — witty, epigraphic, idiomatic, elegiac, earthy…She covers the canvas of cultural assimilation with an intensely personal brush.” Booklist contributor Donna Seaman described the tone of Rhapsody in Plain Yellow as “Chin paces the line demarcated by the words Chinese American like a caged tiger, fury just barely held in check.”
Joseph Ross’s newest collection of poems, Ache, was published in 2017. Sarah Browning, director of Split This Rock, noted “The poems in Ache do just that, they ache – from the wounds inflicted by racism, from history’s ravages. The wail, the poems insist, ‘is the language/inside every tongue.’ Joseph Ross’s moral vision is unsparing, truth-telling, fierce.”
Google started with a good motto: “Don’t be evil.”
A new policy on the Google-owned YouTube channel though, seems like a teeny bit of corporate evil to thousands of small, independent channels.
The new policy, announced this week, forbids smaller channels to monetize their videos – earning pennies per view – because they don’t have enough subscribers or time that viewers watch their videos.
YouTube sent HoCoPoLitSo an email Jan. 17 that read as follows:
Under the new eligibility requirements announced today, your YouTube channel, hocopolitso, is no longer eligible for monetization because it doesn’t meet the new threshold of 4,000 hours of watchtime within the past 12 months and 1,000 subscribers. As a result, your channel will lose access to all monetization tools and features associated with the YouTube Partner Program on February 20, 2018 unless you surpass this threshold in the next 30 days. Accordingly, this email serves as 30 days notice that your YouTube Partner Program terms are terminated.
Grammatical errors aside – and those truly bother us literary types – the announcement is another cut that the arts cannot afford.
HoCoPoLitSo uses its YouTube channel to show editions of its writer-to-writer talk show, The Writing Life, featuring conversations with Nobel and Pulitzer winners, with local poets made good, with beloved authors like Lucille Clifton and Frank McCourt and Amiri Baraka who have died. Often, we have the most extensive interviews with writers like Gwendolyn Brooks; that’s because HoCoPoLitSo’s founder Ellen Conroy Kennedy had the foresight to begin recording the show to preserve – in a kind of literary time capsule – the moments of writers talking about their craft. Here is a smallest sample, the wonderful Stanley Kunitz talking about the value of poetry:
In a little more than a month, HoCoPoLitSo will be removed from the possibility of making tiny amounts of money on these shows that help fund the taping of new shows, like the one just uploaded featuring Laurie Frankel, and the digitization of archived shows, such as the Michael Longley and Edna O’Brien vintage gems that hit YouTube this week. HoCoPoLitSo usually makes only a few pennies per view, but in this current climate of reduced funding for the arts, HoCoPoLitSo needs every penny. YouTube revenues added a few hundred dollars a year to the budget; that amount could fund a visit by HoCoPoLitSo’s writer-in-residence to a high school.
What can literary lovers do? It’s not too hard. Help us reach the goal of 1,000 subscribers – the channel has 890 now – and 4,000 hours of watch time in a year. Subscribe. Try one episode of The Writing Life while you’re folding laundry or doing your New Year’s resolution sit-ups; Frank McCourt will make you laugh with stories of his Irish childhood, Tyehimba Jess will cause a brain explosion explaining and reading his three-dimensional poetry from Olio, dear Lucille Clifton will warm your heart and put a fire in your gut on five different episodes. Think of the time as a creative respite from the chaos of business and politics. And, as always, donate to help our small nonprofit bring literature to this capitalistic world, which sorely needs it.
Susan Thornton Hobby
Recording secretary and
YouTube channel manager
To subscribe to HoCoPoLitSo’s YouTube channel, click here and then click on subscribe (it’s free).
Friends of HoCoPoLitSo shared their favorite and memorable reads from 2017.
If you haven’t read them yet, put them on your 2018 reading list!
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. Published late 2016, but read it in 2017. Maybe this doesn’t count as a 2017 book. Loved the audiobook! – Michelle
Rogue Heroes by Ben Macintyre. A history of the British special forces (SAS) in WWII. It reads like a novel and is full of vivid descriptions of war and the morality play of the battle against the Nazis and evil. My favorite line in the book. “Tragedy and comedy are brothers.” I couldn’t put it down. – Peter La Count
This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel, is about a family whose little boy feels best as a girl, and the choices the family makes while facing this crisis of identity. The novel is heartfelt, funny, and informative, as well as being a Good Read. – Kathy Larson
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders For it’s language, innovation, multi-genre span and heart, Lincoln in the Bardo has stayed with me all year. The story recreated my image of Lincoln, a historical figure who looms large in the minds of all those educated in the US. The “matter-light-blooming phenomenon” is an idea that crosses the boundaries of fantasy, philosophy and religion and is one of the reasons the book is not just a novel, but also a poem and an inspiration. – Cherise
The Hate You Give – Allison
Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan. A true story of Pino Lella, an Italian teenager, who finds himself working in the upper ranks of the Nazi party and is recruited as a spy for the Allies. – Erin
HAPPY READING IN 2018!
This is a guest blog post by Susan Thornton Hobby in commemoration of #ThankASoldierWeek (Dec 19-25) and sharing #veteranswritingproject
I’m a Quaker. I don’t believe in war. Among my many bumper stickers is this one: “War is not the answer.”
But I do believe in warriors, and in supporting those who believe differently than I do and who serve their countries.
This week is “Thank a Soldier Week,” a commemorative week made up by a marketing company. But I agree with the sentiment. Other than on Veteran’s Day, I don’t believe Americans think about the troops, much less support them enough. Fewer than one percent of Americans have participated in the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of us don’t have direct experience with wartime, unlike in past generations.
My Grandma Jane had five children serving in World War II at one point; her daughter Margaret joined underage and drove a transport truck.
I had three grandfathers, two by birth, one by marriage. All three were in the military. My mother’s father joined the National Guard at 17, then at age 20, when World War II broke out, he joined the Marines. He rose to the rank of sergeant major, and served in special forces in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. He retired after 35 years in the corps. My mother stands when she hears the “Marines’ Hymn.”
My father’s father was in the Marines as well, met my grandmother at Quantico and drove supply trucks through Shanghai during World War II. Fifty years afterward, he could still describe the route he drove through the city.
My stepfather’s father served in the Canadian Army and landed on France’s beaches during D-Day. My stepfather took his father to Normandy for the fiftieth anniversary of the invasion, and for a few weeks, they visited battlefields, villages, and cemeteries together. He remembered distinctly many spots they found.
I had heard stories of war, some of my grandfathers’ tales and some from my years as a reporter. I had seen old black and white pictures of battles and movies about conflicts. But I don’t think I truly started to understand the horrors of war until I was in college, when I read Tim O’Brien’s masterpiece, “The Things They Carried.”
That’s the power of story, the power of literature, to describe something in a way that thirty years later, I can’t forget the image of a man carrying, through Vietnam’s horrors, a small, milky-white pebble found on a beach by a girl and mailed to him.
O’Brien describes the literal things these soldiers carried – canned peaches and mosquito repellent, rifles and smoke grenades, girlfriends’ pantyhose and letters from home. But he also talks about the metaphorical burdens they bore: “They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried.”
Or later, he writes, “Some things they carried in common. Taking turns, they carried the big PRC-77 scrambler radio, which weighed 30 pounds with its battery. They shared the weight of memory. They took up what others could no longer bear. Often, they carried each other, the wounded or weak. They carried infections.”
His writing humanized the soldiers and the Vietnamese people they were fighting; with the act of inventing characters and story, he told more truth than I’d ever heard about war.
I think the “Thank a Soldier Week” is meant to urge everyone to express gratitude to those who have served, and to maybe put together a care package or two. Those are good aims. But I think we need more stories, more stories about war written by people who have actually been there. I urge people to learn about and support the Veterans Writing Project, which offers free writing seminars and workshops for veterans, service people and their families. Their sister site publishes out a quarterly literary journal, O-Dark Thirty (O-Dark-Thirty).
The Veterans Writing Project describes itself as: “We approach our work with three goals in mind. The first is literary. We believe there is a new wave of great literature coming and that much of that will be written by veterans and their families. The next is social. We have in the United States right now the smallest ever proportion of our population in service during a time of war. … Our WWII veterans are dying off at a rate of nearly 900 per day. We want to put as many of these stories in front of as many readers as we can. Finally, writing is therapeutic. Returning warriors have known for centuries the healing power of narrative. We give veterans the skills they need to capture their stories and do so in an environment of mutual trust and respect.”
We should read more of their stories, so we can understand the troops who keep us safe. Literature brings me joy and solace; I can only hope it does the same for the soldiers who are carrying what most of us cannot.
#ThankASoldierWeek (Dec 19-25)
There are so many books to read in this world and life is so short that I almost never reread a book. This week, though, I had to reread Julian Barnes’ novel, The Sense of an Ending. I had read it a couple of years ago, then I reread it to get ready for my book club discussion this week.
The thing is, though, I have this super power. Or a super weakness. It depends on how you see it, I suppose.
I have this ability to forget – almost completely – the plot of the book I’ve read or a movie I’ve seen. Sometimes, I watch a movie and half way into it – a whole hour later – I realize that maybe I’ve seen it? (Yes, with a question mark.) Sometimes I just keep watching… because I don’t remember what happens.
Although I might forget the plot – the who and the what – I often recall the feeling I had or the impression I got while reading a good book like The Sense of an Ending. And I remember loving Barnes’ effortlessly poetic (and smart) lines and being impressed with the compactness of a novel that delves pretty deeply into big questions about memory, history, regret, and “Eros and Thanatos.”
When I opened my copy of the novel this week, I was struck by how clean the pages were – no marks, no underlines, no comments. This is not usually how I read. I felt like this was a gift from my past self to this future self to come meet the novel for the first time again. This time, much was questioned (with question marks in the margins), noted (with underlines and asterisks), and commented on (with words like “how?” or “selfish”).
That old lesson I learned – the first lesson I learned as someone interested in studying literature – came back to me: look for patterns. Mr. Berkowitz at Wilde Lake High School taught us that one – look for recurring themes and patterns in imagery. Reading Macbeth, we had to write down in our “symbolism journal” every instance of different types of symbols or imagery. It was painstaking. It was beautiful.
In The Sense of an Ending, the theme of faulty memory is very clearly – almost obviously – woven into every aspect of the narrator’s telling of his story. Every few pages, he’d remind us that his telling “consists of impressions and half memories.” Recalling the letter from his friend, he says, “to be true to my own memory, as far as that’s ever possible […].” He talks about his life in terms of “the version I tell myself.”
So while reading this second time around, I complained out loud (to myself – because apparently I had forgotten), “How am I supposed to trust this guy?” And yet, I kept reading, to see what this man has to say and to find out what happened (as he’s trying to figure out what happened) and what happens. It’s like a self-punishing feat, isn’t it? Knowing that the narrator can’t be trusted, you just keep going along because he’s all you got.
And that is the beauty of this novel, of course.
For me, not remembering the plot, and only remembering the impression that it was mysterious and that it was poetic meant that I was in for a treat with The Sense of an Ending for the second time.
This is a novel I’d recommend to friends. It’s smart. It’s full of lines you’ll want to underline. Most importantly, it challenges us to question what we think we remember not only about own own lives (the plot) but also how we remember (or imagine) the ways we impacted the lives of others. In the name of “self preservation” – which Barnes’ narrator claims to be quite good at – what or whom do we save or hurt? When that “sense of an ending” approaches, what will we remember and how? And if we don’t have “corroborators” – something Barnes’ narrator is desperate to find – how will we know what we remember and don’t?
“Agains, I must stress that this is my reading now of what happened then. Or rather, my memory now of my reading then of what was happening at the time.” – Julian Barnes
HoCoPoLitSo’s guest for its 40th annual Irish Evening on February 9, 2018 is the award-winning novelist and short story writer Mike McCormack, whose latest novel is a tour-de-force in a single sentence. McCormack’s reading will be followed by new and traditional Irish music by Narrowbacks featuring Jesse and Terence Winch, with stepdancers from the Culkin School. Irish coffee, Guinness and other beverages and snacks will be offered for sale beginning at 7 p.m. and during intermission.
Mike McCormack’s most recent novel, Solar Bones, won the 2016 Goldsmith’s prize, given to fiction with “qualities of creative daring,” and was longlisted for the 2017 Man Booker Prize. The book, which takes place in the mind of a middle-aged Irish civil engineer, has little punctuation and no chapter breaks, and Goldsmith’s chair of judges Blake Morrison said of the book, “its subject may be an ordinary working life but it is itself an extraordinary work.”
The Guardian subtitled their review “an extraordinary hymn to small-town Ireland.” The Times U.K. named Solar Bones one of the best fiction books of 2017 and noted that the novel, “follows meandering memories of his wife, his adult children and his work; these simple materials make for a beautiful and strangely compulsive read.” The Wall Street Journal also listed it as one of the best new books of 2017. Former Irish Evening guest novelist Colum McCann wrote, “With stylistic gusto, and in rare, spare, precise and poetic prose, Mike McCormack gets to the music of what is happening all around us.”
In 1996, McCormack won the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature for his first collection of short stories, Getting It in the Head. His novel Notes from a Coma was shortlisted for the Irish Book of the Year Award in 2006; in 2010, John Waters of The Irish Times described it as “the greatest Irish novel of the decade just ended.” Val Nolan noted in an article in Ariel (April 2012) “McCormack’s fiction is cerebral and often surreal, depicting a west of Ireland that moves beyond narrow, realistic interpretations and into spaces that exist outside of government and history.” McCormack has also published the novel Crowe’s Requiem (2012) and a short story collection, Forensic Songs (2012).
McCormack joins the long list of illustrious Irish authors HoCoPoLitSo has brought to Howard County audiences, including Frank McCourt, Colm Tóibín, Anne Enright, Colum McCann, and Emma Donoghue. For 40 years, HoCoPoLitSo’s Irish Evening has celebrated the substantial impact of Irish-born writers on the world of contemporary literature. The evening program begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Smith Theatre of the Horowitz Center for Visual and Performing Arts on the campus of Howard Community College. General admission tickets are $35 each; available on-line at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3099986 or by sending a check and self-addressed envelope to HoCoPoLitSo, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Horowitz Center 200, Columbia, MD 21044. Each ticket purchased by January 15, 2018, includes a complimentary adult drink.
HoCoPoLitSo works to cultivate appreciation for contemporary poetry and literature and celebrate culturally diverse literary heritages. The society sponsors literary readings and writers-in-residence outreach programs, produces The Writing Life (a thirty-minute writer-to-writer talk show), and partners with the public schools and cultural organizations to support the arts in Howard County, Maryland. For more information, visit www.hocopolitso.org.
Click here to download a pdf of this press release.
Wrap-up your holiday shopping at smile.amazon.com/ch/52-1146948 and Amazon donates to Howard County Poetry & Literary Society.
A guest post by Ryna May, Professor of English at Howard Community College:
October is LGBTQ History Month. When I think about LGBTQ history, I am of two minds and the poems included in the LGBTQ collection on Poets.org perfectly reflect that split. Some of the poems are so absolutely ordinary in their subjects, like the poem, “our happiness” by Eileen Miles, and on one hand, I think, that’s progress: the lives of LGBTQ people are written and expressed in the same way as other lives. That’s equality, right? Being a gay poet doesn’t mean that you have to write every poem about the experience of being gay.
But if we’re really talking about history, the conversation is incomplete unless we acknowledge that nothing is really the same. Some might say, hey, you won the right to get married, so what are you complaining about? That reminds me of the poem, “On Marriage” by Marilyn Hacker (1942) where the poet talks about the way in which LGBTQ people “must choose, and choose, and choose / momently, daily” to affirm their commitment to one another, “Call it anything we want” when society doesn’t quite know how to accept or handle this kind of “covenant.”
We talk a lot about “White Privilege” in cultural discourse, but we don’t talk a lot about “Mainstream Heterosexual Cisgender Privilege.” It exists. MHCP allows folks to do very ordinary things like hold hands in public without having to do a quick check of their surroundings. Put it this way: there are times when showing affection to my wife in public – just a peck on the cheek – feels like a dangerous political act.
If we’re talking about history, we have to acknowledge that being an LGBTQ person is a unique and still unequal experience in this country. There are subtle and unsubtle ways that society is set up to exclude and marginalize us. And some of the poems I browsed on Poets.org do address that fact. I find myself drawn more powerfully to these poems because I do want to acknowledge the difference that exits. A great example of this is “A Woman Is Talking to Death” by Judy Grahn. The poem was written in 1940, and the lines that jump out to me are:
this woman is a lesbian, be careful.
When I was arrested and being thrown out
of the military, the order went out: don’t anybody
speak to this woman, and for those three
long months, almost nobody did: the dayroom, when
I entered it, fell silent til I had gone; they
were afraid, they knew the wind would blow
them over the rail, the cops would come,
the water would run into their lungs.
Everything I touched
was spoiled. They were my lovers, those
women, but nobody had taught us how to swim.
I drowned, I took 3 or 4 others down
when I signed the confession of what we
had done together.
No one will ever speak to me again.
A friend of mine, Rob, hid the fact that he was gay the entire time he was in the Navy – it wasn’t just that he feared for his job, he also feared for his life, that other soldiers might threaten or harass him for being openly gay. He hid it until he completed his tour of duty, and then he came out to all of his friends. You might think that passing a law abolishing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would end this discrimination, but you would be wrong. This discrimination still exists in the military – though now the target has shifted from being gay or lesbian to being transgender. Grahn’s poem was written in 1940; it is 77 years later, and we are not there yet. And because we live in the age of vindictive executive orders, we are too afraid that the next step in the movement will be a step backward.
If we’re talking about history, we have to acknowledge that we’re still in the middle of the story right now. What started with Alan Turing, Barbara Gittings, Christine Jorgenson, Alan Ginsberg, Walt Whitman, the Stonewall riots, James Baldwin, and Harvey Milk has led us to the defeat of DOMA, Proposition 8, the victory of Edith Windsor, the success of Tammy Baldwin. But this complicated history also continues with events like the shooting in the Pulse nightclub and pronouncements that threaten the rights of transgender soldiers and that reinterpret Civil Rights laws to exclude protections for LGBTQ employees. Current events are going to write these poems, and I want to read those poems too, not just the ones that try to normalize our experience.
One of the happiest days in my life was November 6th, 2012. That was the day that voters in my home state of Maryland affirmed the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry, and I knew that I would marry my wife. Then, on June 26th, 2015, the United States Supreme Court ruled that we should be seen as equal under the law. In a stunning closing paragraph, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.” To read that, you’d think that we are living in a new era, but in reality, it isn’t quite true.
In “Love Song for Love Songs,” Rafael Campo writes that it is “A golden age of love songs and we still / can’t get it right.” That’s what I think: If we’re going to talk about LGBTQ history and celebrate equality, we have to admit that, despite so much progress in the last few years, the last ten months have shown us that we still have so far to go. Sharpen your pencils – there is so much more to come.