Jeffrey Betcher: “Kezar Pavilion”

 

This is the third in a 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

 

Kezar Pavilion

Built for the ghosts of Manifest Destiny at the
Edge of everything … land … days …
Illusion … is Kezar, barnacled when divinity
Stalled and spun to begin the work of an
American Century. From redwood and spunk and
Clay with solid plans, tradesmen
Square-walled confusion, roofed the games their
Children played, plied the fray of a
Westward dream with stitches of structure, then
Clapped red haunch-shaped clouds of
Terra-cotta dust from sturdy britches.

Kick the tires on Kezar today, and
Kezar might kick back. The dizziness of
Migrants whirling to the Pacific is ecstasy
Recalled by Roller Derby Bombers, pagans
Spiraling in winter and tween-teens lobbing
Hormones at hoops. And here and there are the
Undead offspring of Jerry Garcia who
Dig what is buried beneath Kezar’s hull, then
Conjure from the sidewalk what just might rise.

-January 2014, San Francisco

 

(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

 

More By Jeffrey Betcher:

Dear Allen Ginsberg

Billy Dew Meadow

 

Image Credit: Jet Lowe “DETAIL VIEW OF CABLE IN SAN FRANCISCO ANCHORAGE – San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge, Spanning San Francisco Bay, San Francisco, San Francisco County, CA” (1985) The Library of Congress

Jeffrey Betcher: “Billy Dew Meadow”

 

 

This is the second in a 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

 

Billy Dew Meadow

Mountain meadow,
sonant place (and
I thought of love, of
wanting it so) that
only the locals

know. The pass: im-
passible, Barbara and
Robert, old lovers,
say. But they like us,
four wheel drive us

over the folded
earth, along the
tree-toothed grin of
grass. We laugh as
everything is young, or

time doesn’t mean much.
Named for a miner. “A
frenchman.” Ah, then
Dieu, perhaps. Billy, dear,
What is your name? What 

man amongst men were
you? And where are you
buried? With whose lock of
hair? Here’s history un
kempt. Fir shacks sagging. Mer-

ci, Billy, from friends at
play in your sweet
meadow. Jim lying
stoned in grass, and
me perched ready to

fly through men, their
names and touches and
fields and shag of
beard where a stream
presses the center of

story scorched by
prairie-fire, orange
yellow and purple
rods and golden
faces bristling with repro-

duction as dragonflies
swarm. My shadow,
standing on shadow
rock: I’m shirtless and
could be twelve or

Icarus. Expectation
winging long as
afternoon, backlit 
ass on fire! A
halo you may re-

call, dear Billy.
Above the wooded
ridge: it’s blue sky
moon, Billy. Vastly over a
century old. Still,

find my billet-
doux tomorrow, Billy,
find your meadow
tomorrow in every
shaven face.

      -July 25, 1996, Fish Camp, California

 

(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

 

More By Jeffrey Betcher:

Dear Allen Ginsberg

 

Image Credit: Vincent Van Gogh “Wheat Field at Auvers with White House” (1890) Public Domain

“Early Exits: New Books from Two Poets Lost to AIDS” By Mike James

 

Early Exits: New Books from Two Poets Lost to AIDS

By Mike James

 

 

Beautiful Aliens: A Steve Abbott Reader
Edited by Jamie Townsend
Nightboat Books, 2019
$19.95

Have You Seen This Man? The Castro Poems of Karl Tierney
Edited by Jim Cory
Sibling Rivalry Press, 2019 
$18.00

 

One of the reasons Steve Abbott is so refreshing is because he takes his lusts the same way he might drink orange juice: straight up. There are poems and essays about queerness and AIDS (his ultimate killer), but also ones about transcendence, poverty, and fatherhood. This collection pulls together essays (including a stunning piece on Bob Kaufman), fiction, poetry, cartoons, letters, and memoirs across a wide range of styles. His work reads like a mind never at rest.  

Abbott was part of the generation of queer poets who came of age in the 1970’s. This generation, which included Tim Dlugos, Kevin Killian, Steve Carey, and Jim Brodey, did not hide their sexuality even if some did not make it the center of their work. (A freedom taken for granted by heterosexual poets.) Prior to the 1970’s, most queer poets who took sex as a subject were either outliers (Harold Norse and John Weiners) or artfully oblique (Hart Crane and W.H. Auden.) 

Abbott’s work has a freedom and casualness not found in many poets prior to his generation. He’s able to toss off lines like, “The sky is so full / you hear footsteps on the roof” or drop in a line like, “So far as I know / Chairman Mao never wore a dress.”  It’s his knack for not taking the world too seriously which makes Abbott such an endearing writer. His work is casual, but never sloppy. He’s always precise. Check out how he starts this poem. 

It’s A Strange Day Alysia Says, A Green

“It’s a strange day,” Alysia says, “a green
bug in my room & now this mushroom growing in the car.”

She’s right. Under damp newspapers & cigarette
butts, from the floor, protrudes a slimy brown thing. 

Maybe I should get a new car or at least
clean it up, fix the window like the kids say. 

But how can I do this & still talk to angels?

Poets get absorbed in strange quests,
question not the creative regimen of poverty. 

I wanted to meditate on this but before I could
a hitchhiker we pick up crushes…

The poem continues in side-chat fashion, but this gives an idea of his voice. Tucked between the cigarettes, the ampersands, and the hitchhiker, this poem belongs to the 1970’s as surely as shag carpet, disco balls, and Pontiac Firebirds. And just like those well-remembered items, it’s tactile and timeless. The poet records a conversation between his self and soul about parenting, poverty, and poetry and lets the reader eavesdrop along the way.  

Because of Alysia Abbott’s fine and tender memoir, Fairyland, Steve Abbott is better known as a subject than as a writer. Beautiful Aliens should start to correct that oversight. 

Despite some obvious similarities (queer and San Francisco based) Karl Tierney was a different sort of poet than Steve Abbott. The new collection, Have You Seen This Man? illustrates that point. 

First, it must be noted, this collection was a love labor from Jim Cory, Tierney’s friend and literary executor. Tierney committed suicide in 1995 after an AIDS diagnosis. Cory spent the next 20 plus years submitting Tierney’s poetry to magazines and trying to gain interest from publishers for a collection. Cory, a wonderful and heart wrenching poet in his own right, kept the focus on Tierney rather than himself. This collection is a testament to Tierney’s talent as a poet and to Cory’s skill as an editor. Cory’s insightful introduction is worth the price of the book. 

But poets have to be judged by the quality of their work, not by the sadness of their lives. So, what kind of poet was Tierney? In a word: lustful. As Cory correctly notes, Tierney seems to channel the Roman poet Catullus in both his direct, almost comedic, style as well as in his subject matter. Like Catullus, Tierney writes like a man on a mission. The mission is getting either a or b or both into bed and the best poems (there are numerous gems) concern fleshly wants or their aftermaths. 

Here’s are a few lines from a typical piece to shows what he does well. 

Part-Time Whores In Doorways

Some of them are handsome, 
even if two sheets to the wind 

shaking skin and bones. 
Little meat upon them 

except between the legs 
meticulously exposed when rising

towards tweaks, Johns, or numbers. 
There is no need for pity. 

They milk even the bosom of Mary 
and display…

The poems continues and catalogs Tierney’s world of wants, fulfilled and unfulfilled. His characters go to every party and hate to go home alone. Tierney’s characters, are like so many party hungry, lonely people. As a poet though, he is unique. His poems are postcards of fanciful directness, finally delivered after so many years.

 

About the Author: Mike James makes his home outside Nashville, Tennessee. He has been published in numerous magazines throughout the country in such places as Plainsongs, Laurel Poetry Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, and Tar River Poetry. His fourteen poetry collections include: Parades (Alien Buddha), Jumping Drawbridges in Technicolor (Blue Horse), First-Hand Accounts from Made-Up Places (Stubborn Mule), Crows in the Jukebox (Bottom Dog), My Favorite Houseguest (FutureCycle), and Peddler’s Blues (Main Street Rag.) He has served as an associate editor of The Kentucky Review and as publisher of the now defunct Yellow Pepper Press. More information about him can be found on his website, mikejamespoetry.com.

 

More By Mike James:

Grace

Paul Lynde

Two Prose Poems

 

Image Credit: World AIDS Day Ribbon. Public Domain