Liz’s Weekend Poetry Series: Homosexuality

by lizard

While the Gay Agenda is busy trying to destroy the institution of marriage by demanding equal recognition under the law, I’d like to shift the gay spotlight for this week’s LWPS to look at two of my favorite poets, Jack Spicer and Frank O’Hara.

Before we get to their poems, I’d like to offer a little snip from this review of a book by Christopher Reed, titled Art and Homosexuality: A History of Ideas:

If alien anthropologists were to visit our world, one of the weird things they’d promptly investigate would be the (apparent) connection between art and homosexuality. From Oscar Wilde to Robert Mapplethorpe, it seems that being artistic and being gay are, somehow, connected — even if only in the collective imagination.

I haven’t read the book, but the review distills it’s inquiry into a look at identity, and how focusing on identity links artists and homosexuals through a modern obsession to medicalize and label any types of people who deviate from conventional society:

Art and homosexuality feel connected to us, Reed concludes, because artists and homosexuals asserted their identities around the same time, and in ways that emphasized their independence from an increasingly airtight society. (Think of Oscar Wilde, who declared independence from every kind of convention simultaneously.) There’s nothing intrinsic about art that connects it with homosexuality, or vice versa. The connection, really, comes from the fact that “the artist” and “the homosexual” were two of the most challenging identities to emerge during the golden age of identity. That story is particularly, and peculiarly, modern. As for the future — Reed doubts that the connection has staying power. History, he writes, shows that “the definitions of art and homosexuality are multiple and constantly evolving.” And identities that once seemed vivid and threatening come, inevitably, to seem conventional and familiar. The special magnetism that brought these two identities together will only lessen with time, until it seems inexplicable — something for art historians of the future to puzzle over.

Food for thought.

In any case, it’s safe to say identifying yourself as a gay man in post WWII America took guts, and both Jack and Frank lived and wrote in supportive artistic communities where their sexual orientation was allowed to flourish and inform their work.

Jack Spicer was an integral part of the San Francisco Renaissance, along with the power couple, Robert Duncan and Jess (Jess is a collage artist who I absolutely love, check this out:

On the east coast, around the same time, Frank O’Hara was an integral part of the abstract expressionist movement, and Frank’s most well known and anthologized poem, Why I Am Not A Painter, speaks for itself.

Ok, enough of the commentary. Here are this week’s selections:

*

ON READING LAST YEAR’S LOVE POEMS

The heart’s a sprinting thing and hammers fast.
The word is slow and rigid in its pace.
But, if they part once, they must meet at last
As when the rabbit and the tortoise race.
Words follow heartbeats, arrogant and slow
As if they had forever in their load,
As if the race were won, as if they go
To meet a dying rabbit on the road.
Then, step by step, the words become their own.
The turtle creeps ahead to win the prize.
But, ah, the sweeter touch, the quicker boon
Is lost forever when the rabbit dies.

—Jack Spicer

*

TO THE HARBORMASTER

I wanted to be sure to reach you;
though my ship was on the way it got caught
in some moorings. I am always tying up
and then deciding to depart. In storms and
at sunset, with the metallic coils of the tide
around my fathomless arms, I am unable
to understand the forms of my vanity
or I am hard alee with my Polish rudder
in my hand and the sun sinking. To
you I offer my hull and the tattered cordage
of my will. The terrible channels where
the wind drives me against the brown lips
of the reeds are not all behind me. Yet
I trust the sanity of my vessel; and
if it sinks, it may well be in answer
to the reasoning of the eternal voices,
the waves which have kept me from reaching you.

—Frank O’Hara


  1. Anything that cannot be expressed openly will be expressed in other ways, as with song writers hiding drug references between the lines. In the 1950’s even hetero sex had to be disguised. Songs expressed deep yearnings without explicitly laying it on the line. Which is better – “Blueberry Hill” , “Wake Up Little Susie,” or “Let’s Spend the Night Together”? I prefer a little subtleness.

    And then there is Mathis’s “I Once Had a Secret Love” – the pain in his voice as he sings of his gay lover is heartfelt. John Lennon’s “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” is supposedly about Brian Epstein, who was gay. Both are beautiful and heartfelt expressions of what cannot be expressed openly.

    Anything that is forbidden will come out through art. That’s why art appeals to us.

  2. appalachianfreedom

    Great post. To the harbormaster is amazing!

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