This is the first in a new series of posts remembering the work of poet and activist Jeffrey Betcher (1960-2017).
Preface: Left “believing in the pack mentality of strays,” the poetry of Jeffrey Betcher speaks from the entire collective of American queer stray culture, that very lost-and-found narrative of reinvention on the docks of survival. These docks, being the green-heeled sanctuary of San Francisco from 1986-2016, these docks gave birth to an examination and liberation of meaning, as wildly honest and true-to-mirror as every queer breath weʼve danced. From this collection of Jeffrey Betcherʼs poems, “The Fucking Seasons, Selected Poems 1986 to 2016,” we hear the journeys into witness, touch the lips of knowing “love has been here. Hungry footsteps, breath released, and touch can change the land forever.” A San Franciscan born of rural Ohio, Jeffrey Betcherʼs poetry informs the landscape of nature, saying simply, “Iʼm a witness. Love has been here.”
– Toussaint St. Negritude,
Poet, bass clarinetist, composer
Dear Allen Ginsberg
Dear Allen Ginsberg, you won’t remember me whose mother’s howl,
as she delivered me, evaporated off the hills of Ohio while you
I should have written sooner, from the road between chance and a
San Francisco that was Beat if not terminal when I arrived.
But news of you suffered surgery at every Midwest border, and by
the time Doug Woodyard introduced us I probably thought you
would be made of marble.
That was at a queer writers’ conference long before any of us knew
that one day James Franco would lend you his voice and pretty
James Broughton held my hand and twinkled snow from withered
brow while Joel, his impossibly handsome lover, looked on amused.
We huddled in the lobby of the Cathedral Hotel as it crumbled into
the margin of San Francisco’s notorious beauty. (Doug is dead now,
by the way.
HIV of course. His glorious passing exasperated nurses at Davies on
Castro as he alternated between Sobranies and an oxygen mask.)
You didn’t even bother to flirt, in fact seemed wary as I stammered
at something I don’t recall, ready with a sexless reply before I
Had I noted the address you gave in your keynote, you asked. Will
you write a protest letter? Don’t admire, you seemed to say. Act.
Then act. Then act again. Squinting through a face locked in
counter-clockwise swirl, you were serious as sin.
More steel than marble, you leaned into a lethal bluster from
Washington that shook the Cathedral, while I nodded and fell into
Despite homo-haters and wars set on automatic, no matter how
bare the ranks of sign-swapping protesters, your faith swelled fat as
a bloody lip.
In an unthinking world, you left me believing in the pack mentality
of strays, the meander of meaning and the promise in every tap on
a stuck compass.
(C) 2017 Jeffrey L. Betcher Living Trust
About the Author: Jeffrey Betcher donned many hats over more than 30 years in San Francisco, yet maintained an integrity of purpose. A writer, an educator, an advocate for the prevention of violence against women and children, and a grassroots community organizer, he gained national attention as a leader in the “guerrilla gardening” movement, helping transform his crime-ridden street in the Bayview neighborhood into an urban oasis. His intimate poetry was also cultivated over the decades, exploring survival and engagement, and the labyrinth of the heart. Though he dodged the HIV bullet in the plague-torn years, a terminal bout of cancer cut his life short in 2017. In addition to his chapbook of Selected Poems (1986-2016), he completed an epic sonnet, Whistling Through, an odyssey into the cancer machine and death itself
Image Credit: Tony Schweikle “Poet and activist Allen Ginsberg with the protestors – Miami Beach, Florida.” (1972) Public Domain