Wednesday, September 30, 2015


It's been a hectic few weeks, with the usual challenges and some new ones thrown in, but as always, poetry continues to save my life. This time listening to other poets read their work. Last week in an auditorium at The New School, where David Lehman hosted a reading from the 2015 edition in his THE BEST AMERICAN POETRY yearly series, this year's guest-edited by Sherman Alexie.

There were over twenty poets sitting on the stage, as well as David and Sherman, and a pretty full house in the audience seats, when David introduced the evening with some humorous but potent remarks. Then Sherman set the tone of the evening, and I believe raised the bar for the readers, by being funny, honest and inspiring in his completely candid introductory remarks that started out describing how he felt as a young boy on the reservation in Washington state where he grew up when an English teacher had each student pick a poetry magazine to send poems to and he stumbled upon Hanging Loose magazine, which to his surprise accepted his poems and published them, starting one of the most impressive writing careers of our times.

I was there mainly to hear my closest friend Terence Winch read his delightful poem from the anthology and was already a fan of Sherman's prose and poetry, but after his inspiring introduction (he spoke conversationally and candidly, including reminding everyone that the life of a writer, especially a poet, even a more or less famous one, meant rejection rejection and more rejection amid the occasional acceptance) I was excited to hear everyone.

The poets read in alphabetical order and unfortunately I can't remember—and don't have the anthology in front of me—the names of all of them, so all I can share here and now is that there were a few audience favorites that brought the house down but almost every one of the poems read engaged and impressed me as they seemed to do the same for the rest of the very attentive and appreciative audience.

The great follow up to this inspiring evening was going out to dinner later with Bob Hershon, one of the original founders and editors of Hanging Loose (the magazine and press along with Bob and his wife, the poet Donna Brook, received a lot of kudos from the stage from various readers), Donna, Terence Winch, Rachel Diken and Sherman Alexie.

It turns out Sherman and I have a mutual friend from a different reservation outside Spokane where I was stationed in the military the year Sherman was born nearby. He decided there's a good chance I drank with his parents in one of the local Spokane watering holes back in the day. We had other mutual friends and acquaintances in the "Indian" world, which he wasn't surprised by since, as he said, that's not a huge community (he may have meant especially the writers).

The dinner conversation was stimulating, entertaining and informative, as I remember dinners in New York with my creative friends always being. But it was also more full of laughter than usual because Hershon, Alexie and Winch are three of the wittiest people you mighty ever encounter (Sherman revealed that he actually does stand up comedy as well as all his other accomplishments).

Then last night here in Jersey I went to a poetry reading in a cafe to support Rachel Diken, a new but close and dear friend, read her poetry for the first time before an audience, one of many area poets who read their work and who, though not at the level of publishing and awards success as many at The Best American Poetry 2015 reading were, had their own personal stories and thoughts and imagery and artistry to share and once again I was overwhelmed with gratitude for poetry and the ways it continues to save my life.

Sunday, September 27, 2015


I didn't realize there was a call by some groups to boycott the movie STONEWALL until after I saw it tonight, but I can see why. Full disclosure: the poster above imitates a famous photo of Gay Liberation marchers, the group that started after the Stonewall "riot" or rebellion, one of whom (of the original marchers) was the man who convinced me to support the movement and actually when the famous photo was taken I had "come out" (as a political statement and stance) despite my having always been attracted to women (though I did then experiment with my sexuality and gender identification briefly and write openly about it and march and demonstrate and lose my job and many friends and endlessly etc.)...

Anyway, my point is, I have a connection to the history of the fight for LGBTQ etc. liberation and this movie gets a lot of it wrong, but some of it not so wrong. The main problem is the terrible writing and directing. Roland Emmerich is known for directing big budget action flicks like INDEPENDENCE DAY or WHITE HOUSE DOWN and he directs STONEWALL as if it's a big phony simplified action flick instead of a historical document about real people with real emotions and real courage in the face of real problems.

Baitz has written a few good scenes, but only a few. The main structure is the oldest gimmick in movie making, tell the story of black people, or women, or any kind of so-called minorities, but make the main character a handsome white male who acts heroically. So Baitz and Emmerich make up a leading man role that could be from almost any movie in Hollywood history, or Broadway for that matter. Let's pick one, like say HAIR, where in the movie John Savage plays an extremely naive country bumpkin from the simple purity of Midwestern farmland etc. who arrives in the big city to be schooled by the ragtag hippies etc.

In STONEWALL that made up character ("Danny") is played by a British actor (of course, because these days almost all "American" characters are played by Brits or Aussies) Jeremy Irvine and the entire story relies on made up business about his Midwestern country past and family and on his arrival in New York his being schooled by a ragtag band of young homeless street hustlers, some in drag, which some in the Stonewall rebellion were, but who in the movie defer in most heroic acts to the make-believe straight-seeming hunky white boy hero etc. (This made up white Midwestern character in STONEWALL actually gets to be the one who starts the uprising and then the first to shout the slogan "Gay Power"!!!)

I almost moaned right from the beginning at the terrible set that looked nothing like Christopher Street in 1969 (someone wrote it looks more like Sesame Street than Christopher Street) and then almost got up and left when a homeless young street queen admires a hat in a store window and throws a brick through it and takes it and stands around modeling it as if it was routine to do shit like that and get away with it. Ack. But what kept me in my seat was the performance by Johnny Beauchamp as Ray.

Some who believe the character was based on an actual Ray (Castro) who was at the Stonewall uprising, others on gay liberation pioneer Sylvia Rivera, and many more in the gay community, have disparaged Beauchamp's performance, but I found it mostly riveting and believable from my experiences with several young men I knew at the time very much like Beauchamp's "Ray."

But like a lot who are criticizing the film (and there's a lot more to criticize but this is long enough already), I too was greatly disappointed that the director and writer didn't have the courage to let the true story tell itself, and let the true characters who were mostly nothing like the made up hero be the true heroes of the film. But having said that, I also must admit I cried a lot at the end of the film and would have been crying even more if I had been alone in my living room watching it.