“Dear Allen Ginsberg” By Jeffrey Betcher

 

 

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
became famous.
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
bones.
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
began.
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
wide-eyed silence.
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

“One of Pessoa’s Ghosts” By William Taylor Jr.

 

 

One of Pessoa’s Ghosts

Under the kind and forgiving influence
of three glasses of cheap red wine

I haunt the city like
one of Pessoa’s ghosts,

adrift in the beauty and the terror
of an ordinary Tuesday afternoon.

At Vesuvio Cafe the tourists
drink and laugh at balcony tables.

I take my wine and sit among them,
the soft music of their faces,

my heart forever breaking a bit
for something I can never
quite name,

and it’s all I’ve ever
asked of the world.

 

About the Author: William Taylor Jr. lives and writes in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco.  He is the author of numerous books of poetry, and a volume of fiction. He is a five time Pushcart Prize nominee and was a recipient of the 2013 Kathy Acker Award. He edited Cockymoon: Selected Poems of Jack Micheline, published by Zeitgeist Press in 2017. From the Essential Handbook on Making it to the Next Whatever is his latest collection of poetry. 

 

More By William Taylor Jr.:

The Fire of Now

 

Image Credit: Eugène Atget “Petit Bacchus, 61, rue St. Louis en l’Ile” (1901) Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

“The Fire of Now” By William Taylor Jr.

 

 

The Fire of Now
for Ursula Nichowski

Sometimes it feels like there’s not much
other than the fact of death
waiting just beneath the flimsy
surface of it all,
and the crass dullness of our hours
wearing us down like the ocean.
The poets are useless, having
broken with the music of things,
the day an unfortunate
accident no one will cop to.
You find no solace
in the misty gray sky
or the sad old buildings
propped against it,
still haunted by ghosts
of decent things long gone.
You wander the streets
in the soft rain
looking for that old place
with the perfect juke,
but they tore it down
and replaced it
with a world of safe spaces
when all you wanted
was a bit of pretty danger.
And then suddenly her face
like a prison break,
her lips like a pardon
from this world and the next,
reminding you that the fire of now
is forever equal
to the smugness of the void.
You are struck by the bravery
of her beauty in the face
of whatever remains of things.
You tell her as much
and she laughs and says,
why don’t you write
a poem about it,
and you do.

 

About the Author: William Taylor Jr. lives and writes in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco.  He is the author of numerous books of poetry, and a volume of fiction. He is a five time Pushcart Prize nominee and was a recipient of the 2013 Kathy Acker Award. He edited Cockymoon: Selected Poems of Jack Micheline, published by Zeitgeist Press in 2017. From the Essential Handbook on Making it to the Next Whatever is his latest collection of poetry. 

 

Image Credit: Giuseppe Arcimboldo “Fire” (1566)

A Review of Bushra Rehman’s Corona

bushra rehman corona

A Review of Bushra Rehman’s Corona

By J. Andrew Goodman

Bushra Rehman’s Corona is a witty and moving story of liminal spaces and the narrator Razia’s abuttal with the thresholds of sex, ethnicity, and place. The novel follows Razia from her childhood in New York City and through her dangerous initiation to adult independence. She was expelled from her home after refusing an arranged marriage by her orthodox Muslim parents, and her long search for a new home frequently begs the question: What am I willing to compromise for freedom? After reading Rehman’s quick and elegant prose, the wide world seems intimate, awaiting the will of one displaced woman.

The title, Corona, refers to a poor neighborhood in Queens, New York, whose hegemony shifts generationally between different ethnicities—Italian, Puerto Rican, Korean, and Pakistani. Razia, her family, and nearest neighbors are Pakistani. They are unified by their faith and the generosity of Razia’s father. He is the owner and butcher at Corona Halal Meats. Their Muslim community holds two books in high esteem: the Quran and the tab her father keeps of goods he’s given away.

In one scene, Razia brings tea to her father and his friends, as she does every day at lunch. She notices her father always eats the least, takes his tea last, and cleans up after everyone, including the thoughtless imam. Razia is endeared by the small sacrifices her father makes for the sake of courtesy and the authority of faith. When he weeps during prayer, Razia feels closer to her father than before:

The azan came through over the loudspeakers. Men and women everywhere came out on the street. Everyone in the neighborhood tilted their heads and listened. Out of basement apartments and six-floor walkups, Muslim men started walking toward the sound, pulling their topis out of the backseats of their pockets.

The sun went down, and the clouds bent low over the buildings. I stood in front of the masjid and held my father’s hand. The light was turning pink and darkening, and I saw my father was weeping as a sleepy, blue light settled on everything.

Rehman softens the image of Razia’s father and displays the neighborhood’s solidarity, writing such moments with a deep reverence and tenderness that intensify our ambivalence toward Razia’s home.

Outside of Queens, as a young adult, Razia is defined by her romantic relationships. She substitutes the comforts of home with men, women, or drugs. She isn’t fortunate in the affections of men. Through a series of boyfriends, she travels the breadth of the United States—New York City to San Francisco and back to the Atlantic coast. Her first relationship after refusing the arranged marriage begins well enough; Razia and Eric escape the tumults of their respective homes, but their relationship deteriorates as they fail to hold jobs and as Eric becomes volatile and belligerent. Razia realizes the world she inherited is not fatalistic; she decides hunger and escape are more agreeable than abuse.

Razia is thirty or near thirty before she meets Ravi, a man she believes she can love despite his inability to always please her sexually. He is “on loan” from India, a decade-long student with a visa. He is heavy, hairy, and can answer questions with encyclopedic diction; he and Razia also share the same political views and maintain a moderate respect for their parents’ religion. During a sleepover at a mutual friend’s, Razia says Ravi looks good, even in traditional Muslim sleepwear. Ravi reminds Razia of her father and uncles, she confesses. Her childhood home is always on her mind, and Rehman’s writing makes the ugly, tan brick under the railroad tracks tangible upon utterance.

Finally, their relationship plateaus. Ravi explains he wants to see other women before he leaves the United States, but Razia wants them to be exclusive. She has, at last, found something she has been looking for. The moment has potential for derivative melodrama, but Rehman delivers the two lovers from each other with cool, comedic, and empathic dialogue. At every turn, there is an appraisal and a concession. Razia has to run shorter and shorter distances.

Razia eventually returns to New York, but not to the mythologized neighborhood she loves. She learns there are degrees of separation, and decides for herself how close she must be to her family and where she grew up. She will not agree to an arranged marriage, but to a truce, to the small comforts of conditional love. Razia’s home is as constant as the North Star. On clouded nights, when the oldest navigational tool is rendered useless, will we circle around it, lost, or stoop to build our fire.

Bushra Rehman, Corona. Sibling Rivalry Press, 2013: $14.95

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J. Andrew Goodman is a recent MFA graduate from Murray State University and an intern for the independent literary publisher, White Pine Press. He currently lives and works in Louisville, Kentucky.