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

“Cycles of Grief Go On and On” By Jeanette Powers

 

 

Cycles of Grief Go On and On

In no good world is it right
for a mother to leave behind
two young boys when she dies
or for the family to fight
over her crumbs, her car
the paint by number of a white horse
the hand-painted sculpture
of a monkey, hanging
from a real rope
the raining oil lamp
with the naked woman inside
there’s no justice
in fighting over her wedding ring
while those two boys
sit in pews praying
for their mom.

There is no kindness in giving
your queer granddaughter
a bible for graduation
after fifteen years of her
hiding behind the pulpit
knowing she can’t be baptized
into the faith of her family
and cutting off her college fund
when she’s caught red-handed
with a woman at the movie theater
then sending her out into the world
without a safety net
unable to pray without
remembering being cast away.

For the abandoned
it feels like everyone
is beating on them for their whole lives
and they are the only ones paying the price
it seems like everyone
is just getting away with so much cruelty
dressed up as the Christian thing to do
and we, abandoned through grief,
loss, through being different
find our own solace
and too often in razor blades,
another dozen bottles
always bashing our heads
in prayer against a wall
we can’t find our way out from behind.

Are we raising a generation
of hungry ghosts, sleeping
with clenched fists, ready to punch back
at first waking, unable to be given
an apology they can hear
every reason just an excuse
always believing everyone
is going to be right at our throats
the second we show our self
our rage an impacted tooth
our memory a suppurating ulcer
the only cheek turned, always our own?

 

About the Author: Jeanette Powers: poet, painter, philosopher, professional party dancer and working class, anarchist, non-binary queer. Here to be radically peaceful, they are a founding member of Kansas City’s annual small press poetry fest, FountainVerse. Powers is also the brawn behind Stubborn Mule Press. They have seven full length poetry books and have been published often online and  print journals. Find more at jeanettepowers.com and @novel_cliche

 

More By Jeanette Powers:

Reflections in the Windows of Your First Car

 

Image Credit: Karl Blossfeldt “Dipsacus laciniatus” (1928) Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

A Review of Daniel Crocker’s Shit House Rat

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A Review of Daniel Crocker’s Shit House Rat

By Stephen Furlong

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In a blurb for Daniel Crocker’s Everyday People and Other Poems (Green Bean Press, 1998), A.D. Winans writes “Daniel Crocker is one of a lively band of modern poets who write…from the heartland of the people, and I stress HEART, because Crocker’s poetry comes from deep inside him.” Daniel Crocker is a poet who lays it on the line, the poetic line, to provide his readers with impassioned honesty and the rawness of an exposed nerve. In Shit House Rat (Spartan Press, 2017), Crocker explores belonging, popular culture references, and sexuality.

In one of the first poems of the book, “Growing Up”, Crocker investigates youth and belonging. Channeling the 1990 documentary Silence=Death written and produced by Rosa von Praunheim, the speaker of the poem writes: “I saw Silence/equal death/and stayed silent/anyway.” The documentary focuses on the AIDS epidemic and includes appearances by Allen Ginsberg and David Wojanarowicz. This poem hints at a recurring theme in Crocker’s book which is, to borrow from Patricia Hampl: carry[ing] our wounds forward with us. Crocker’s poetry carries wounds forward in order to bring light to them and his poetry is remarkably admirable given today’s tumultuous climate of trying to hide, even deny, one’s misdeeds of the past. Crocker doesn’t hold back and doesn’t hide making his poetry powerful, even with its vulnerability.  Returning back to “Growing Up”, the popular culture references continue with the early 1980s Midwestern-driven sitcom “The Day After” and late 1970s “Roots”. The poem, itself, is honing in on these popular culture phenomena in an attempt to understand the Reagan administration and growing up during that timeframe.

In addition to these popular culture references, Crocker’s poems channel snuffleupagas, Wolverine, Reed Richards and writers who have influenced him throughout the years like Adrienne Rich and Lord Byron. In the last portion of the book, Crocker writes the poem “I Wish” for his wife, and longs to be Whitmanesque. The poem is gentle, heartfelt, and sincere which reveals growth and maturity throughout the course of the book. Throughout the course of the poet’s life. These references are entrances into Crocker’s livelihood, they are sometimes dark corners of the brain, but channeling back to A.D. Winans—they reveal Crocker’s heart. That makes all the difference in this collection.

There’s a devastating piece in this collection titled “Brutal,” which reminds me of Bruce Weigl’s “The Impossible”—a poem which talks about physical, namely sexual, abuse. The last line has stayed with me ever since I first read the poem: “Say it clearly and you make it beautiful, no matter what.”  Of trauma, Weigl says in an interview “to understand that this (trauma) was not something that I was going to get over, but instead something that I needed to find a way to live with.”

In writing “Brutal” Crocker tries to live with this memory instead of trying to get over it because, frankly, overcoming abuse is just not done, or for certain, easily done. Crocker’s speaker in this poem is young and, under peer pressure, has what is called a gay night. The individuals of the poem, Crocker and cousin Terry, reveal themselves and fall prey to an older cousin named Larry. Crocker confesses around halfway through:

…if I ever have the guts to write about it, it’s going to be brutal. It’s going to be honest and detailed. The details, however, are like an impressionist painting. Parts of it, like the monster, are painfully vivid. Larry’s white, white teeth. His beautiful body. The rest is images, textures, feelings. Feelings of guilt and desire are all mixed up in one.

The form of this piece, set in prose, reveals the blurring of everything coming together, of the pieces of this pain being fused with feelings of guilt and desire. Crocker has written extensively about his bisexuality and alludes to it in this piece as well, which makes the piece even more dizzying, even more crushing when this memory sticks out in his history. The poem later reveals Larry, the perpetrator, has died in a motorcycle accident, a fact which used to bring Crocker happiness; “I’m not sure I am anymore,” he then confesses immediately afterward. This poem reflects the confusion and anger abuse leaves in its wake. It also discusses the wretchedness it can have years after as both Crocker and Terry, both drunk mind you, discuss it. And the pain comes back. The frankness of this poem’s language haunts me because the poem doesn’t try to hide in veiled language or metaphor; it just speaks to the horrors of abuse and it does it directly and does not hold back.

To me, the success of Daniel Crocker’s poetry is exactly that: He does it directly and does not hold back. It’s admirable, it’s damn hard work, but it’s healing. Daniel Crocker’s poetry and writing helps my writing because of their frankness and honesty. Those qualities push me to do the same; they push me to be honest and detailed. I am convinced Crocker can’t write any other way. And I don’t think he would choose that.

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About the Author: Stephen Furlong is a recent graduate of Southeast Missouri State University located on the Mississippi. His poems, reviews, and interviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Yes Poetry, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and Pine Hills Review, among others. He also had a poem in A Shadow Map: An Anthology by Survivors of Sexual Assault published by Civil Coping Mechanisms and edited by Joanna C. Valente.

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: JEN CAMPBELL

Jen Campbell


Vaginaland
By Jen Campbell


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“Vaginaland” was previously published in English Pen “Poems for Pussy Riot” and appears here today with permission from the poet.


Jen Campbell is an award-winning poet and short story writer. She’s also the author of the bestselling Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops Series. Her poetry collection, The Hungry Ghost Festival, is published by The Rialto and her latest book, The Bookshop Book, will be published in October by Little, Brown.


Editor’s Note: What is a girl? What is her mouth, her body, her words? Who is that girl when the world tries to hold her down and shut her up? When “She has been baked / as a blackberry pie and / now everyone wants a piece / of her”?

“Vaginaland” was originally published by English PEN as a political act. In an act of solidarity. In support of three members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot, who were then in prison for their outspoken feminism, LGBT advocacy, and opposition to the policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Who — and what — does a girl become when she stands up, breaks free, and fires out the words that are deep inside of her? When those words are political? When her voice is political? When “She says: this is the capital of me”?


Want to read more by Jen Campbell?
Jen Campbell Official Website
The Hungry Ghost Festival
The Prose-Poem Project
Jane Martin Poetry Prize 2013
The Plough Prize

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: LAURA E. DAVIS

LEDavis-2014

By Laura E. Davis:


ATTITUDES TOWARD SEX

attitudestowardsex.small


THE BOYS ARE ALWAYS TALKING

about their cocks, naming
names—Rebecca, Elizabeth,
Ashley—we see these girls
all lined up, waiting to admire

the boys’ cocks. And the boys
talk about size of their cocks,
seven inches becomes ten, then
thirteen. They tell us how

they measured their cocks
after their first wet dream: they
woke up sweaty, quick-covered,
got their cocks hard again, pulled

out the ruler. Boys and cocks
everywhere. A boy shows his
cock to a girl on the playground.
Another boy watches girls from

a parked car while he touches
his cock. On the subway, boys
unzip their pants, put cocks
on display. Baby boys discover

their tiny cocks during every
diaper change. I didn’t see
my own clit was until I was
twenty-three. I had to hold

a mirror just to see it rise
like slow-motion stalagmite.
Had to hold back my own skin
just to show it to myself.



WOMAN AS HUMAN BEING

woman as human being.smaller


“Attitudes Toward Sex” was originally published in iARTistas. “The Boys Are Always Talking” was originally published in Muzzle. “Woman as Human Being” was originally published in Toad Journal. These poems appear here today with permission from the poet.


Laura E. Davis is the author of Braiding the Storm (Finishing Line, 2012), founding editor of Weave Magazine, and founder of Submission Bombers. Her poems are featured or forthcoming in Toad, Stirring, Corium Magazine, So to Speak, Muzzle, and others. Laura teaches for Poetry Inside Out, a K-12 a bilingual poetry program in San Francisco, where she lives with her partner, Sal.

Editor’s Note: This week I had the honor of working with an artist to create an artistic response to the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision. I have already written an editorial response to the ruling, but I wanted to speak out against this injustice in many ways, through many voices.

Today’s poems speak for womankind. They speak for our bodies, for our vantage point within a man’s world. When read together today, they are meant to be a shout from the rooftops. That no one exercises control over our bodies but ourselves. That we are human beings whose rights are superior to the rights of corporations. Yes, that we are human beings. Beautiful, complex, powerful human beings who are as capable of a battle cry as we are of “a vigorous and radiant sigh.”

Want to read more by Laura E. Davis?
Dear Outer Space – Laura E. Davis’ Blog
“Quiet Lightning” on Youtube
Buy Braiding the Storm from Finishing Line Press
“Relics” in Sundress
“Vessels” and “Red Storm” in The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: NO

no


from NO
By Ocean Vuong


TORSO OF AIR

Suppose you do change your life.
& the body is more than

a portion of night—sealed
with bruises. Suppose you woke

& found your shadow replaced
by a black wolf. The boy, beautiful

and gone. So you take the knife to the wall
instead. You carve & carve.

Until a coin of light appears
& you get to look in, for once,

on happiness. The eye
staring back from the other side—

waiting.



HOME WRECKER

And this is how we danced: with our mothers’
white dresses spilling from our feet, late August

turning our hands dark red. And this is how we loved:
a fifth of vodka and an afternoon in the attic, your fingers

sweeping though my hair—my hair a wildfire.
We covered our ears and your father’s tantrum turned

into heartbeats. When our lips touched the day closed
into a coffin. In the museum of the heart

there are two headless people building a burning house.
There was always the shotgun above the fireplace.

Always another hour to kill—only to beg some god
to give it back. If not the attic, the car. If not the car,

the dream. If not the boy, his clothes. If not alive,
put down the phone. Because the year is a distance

we’ve traveled in circles. Which is to say: this is how
we danced: alone in sleeping bodies. Which is to say:

This is how we loved: a knife on the tongue turning
into a tongue.



Today’s poems are from NO, published by Yes Yes Books, copyright © 2013 by Ocean Vuong. “Torso of Air” previously appeared in BODY Literature, and “Home Wrecker” previously appeared in Linebreak. These poems appear here today with permission from the poet.


NO: Anyone who has already sensed that “hope is a feathered thing that dies in the Lord’s mouth,” should get their hands on NO. Honest, intimate, and brimming with lyric intensity, these stunning poems come of age with a fifth of vodka and an afternoon in an attic, with a record stuck on please, with starlight on a falling bomb. Even as Vuong leads you through every pleasure a body deserves and all the ensuing grief, these poems restore you with hope, that godforsaken thing—alive, singing along to the radio, suddenly sufficient. —Traci Brimhall, Our Lady of the Ruins


Ocean Vuong is a recipient of a 2013 Pushcart Prize as well as fellowships from Kundiman, Poets House, and The Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts. Poems appear in Poetry, The Nation, Beloit Poetry Journal, Passages North, Quarterly West, Denver Quarterly, and American Poetry Review, which awarded him the 2012 Stanley Kunitz Prize for Younger Poets. He lives in Queens, NY.


Editor’s Note: I’m just going to come right out and say this: Ocean Vuong is one of the best and most important poets writing in America today. I have not been so moved as I am by Vuong’s words since I first read Li-Young Lee. This poet has changed my life. He has renewed my belief in American poetry. That it can be emotional and heartbreaking. That is can be beautiful and full of hope. That modern American poetry can—and does—matter. In my humble opinion your poetry collection is simply not complete unless it houses both Vuong’s groundbreaking chapbook, Burnings, and his newest release from Yes Yes Books, NO.

NO is a surprisingly experimental collection, yet Vuong remains dedicated to the lyric and the narrative, guiding us through its formal twists and turns through emotive language and evocative imagery. Throughout its pages the poet intimately explores themes of love, sexuality, and belonging against a backdrop of devastating loss. It is a brilliant and beautiful collection, a true heartbreaking work of staggering genius. As the book’s publisher did when reading through the manuscript for the first time, when Ocean Vuong says NO to you, be prepared to say “Yes Yes!”


Want to see more from Ocean Vuong?
Buy NO from Yes Yes
The Poetry Foundation
Interview in The Well & Often Reader
Ben Lerner on mentoring Ocean Vuong, Brooklyn College

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: ONLY RIDE

OnlyRide-Front

from ONLY RIDE
By Megan Volpert:


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Today’s poems are from Only Ride, published by Sibling Rivalry Press, copyright © 2014 by Megan Volpert. “You are suspended” was first published in This assignment is so gay, edited by Megan Volpert and published by Sibling Rivalry Press. These poems appear here today with permission from the poet.


Only Ride: If Denis Johnson had written Tuesdays with Morrie, it’d feel like Megan Volpert’s book of prose poems. Clawing its way out through this minimalist checklist of suburban malaise is an emphatically optimistic approach to growing up. These tiny essays carefully detail how to avoid becoming one’s parents, how to manage a body addled by disease, and how to keep having the best possible time in life. After all: this is the only ride there is, and we can only ride it. Volpert’s is a story of Springsteenian proportions, a gentleman’s guide to rebellion complete with iron horses and the church of rock & roll.

Megan Volpert is the author of five books on communication and popular culture, most notably about Andy Warhol. She has been teaching high school English in Atlanta for the better part of a decade, and is currently serving as her school’s Teacher of the Year. She edited the American Library Association-honored anthology This assignment is so gay: LGBTIQ Poets on the Art of Teaching, which is currently a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Predictably, www.meganvolpert.com is her website.

Editor’s Note: Megan Volpert’s Only Ride is a no-holds-barred journey through personal history, with sage wisdom bursting from its rough-and-tumble seams. The book is less Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and more Get a Grip and Ride Like it’s Your Only Ride. This is a book about how to live life. Suck it up and move past the childhood issues that scarred you. Don’t just cope with illness, thrive in the face of it. Live life full throttle no matter what it throws at you, because life is short and living demands fierce courage.

Throughout her journey Volpert takes personal and political stands, inspiring her readers to do the same. Sometimes you’ve just gotta smash things, because “a deep frustration that hurls pottery against the concrete floor… is not the thing to bottle up in shame.” Sometimes a teacher has a responsibility to teach more than just standard curriculum. As “the only openly queer faculty member in [a] public Southern high school,” Volpert is “fully equipped to teach both English & tolerance,” and she’ll write a student up for failing the latter.

Brimming with humor and hubris and wicked wit, the greatest gift of this book is the life lessons it relays. Stand up for what you believe in. Move past life’s bullshit and face adversity with a battle cry. Let go of the small stuff. “Many things annoy me,” Volpert confides, “but I seldom get really angry because now I just feel so lucky to be alive.” And we all should, the implication echoes. In a world where “[d]eath knocks twice: once for introductions & once to take you away,” why waste your precious life letting things get your goat? Having faced death, the poet gave her goat away; she has no goat to give. And we would all be well served to follow her example. “After all: this is the only ride there is, and we can only ride it.”

Want to see more from Megan Volpert?
Official Website
This assignment is so gay
Sibling Rivalry Press
FRONTIER PSYCHIATRIST