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Poetry: Gay Male  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  

The Gay Cultural Renaissance

Consider the following sequence of events in the United States. Each may be, on its own, relatively trivial; but taken together they constitute a significant, even major, development. E pluribus unum.

In 1969, the poet Paul Mariah founded ManRoot magazine and the ManRoot press in San Francisco. In 1970, also in San Francisco, Winston Leyland founded Gay Sunshine magazine. In 1971, the Boston Gay Liberation Front established Fag Rag magazine, and then, in 1972, the Good Gay Poets publishing house.

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In 1973, Ian Young's pioneering gay poetry anthology The Male Muse was published. In 1974, Andrew Bifrost founded Mouth of the Dragon ("A Poetry Journal of Male Love") in New York. In the same year RFD ("A Country Journal for Gay Men Everywhere") was established in Tennessee. New York's Christopher Street followed in 1976.

In 1977, the novelist Felice Picano started the Sea Horse Press. Meanwhile, back in 1975, Winston Leyland had published the poetry anthology Angels of the Lyre under the new imprint of the Gay Sunshine Press; it was followed by a second anthology, Orgasms of Light, in 1977. In 1983, Ian Young followed up The Male Muse with Son of the Male Muse, a collection of much younger writers than had appeared in the earlier book.

For the most part, these ventures involved white gay men. It was not until 1986 that the African-American Blackheart Collective started Other Countries magazine. In the same year, Joseph Beam's anthology In the Life was published.

Essex Hemphill's sequel to the latter, Brother to Brother, appeared in 1991, the same year as Assoto [sic] Saint's The Road Before Us, a collection of work by no fewer than one hundred gay black poets; ten of the same poets were represented in the later collection Here to Dare (1992). In 1992, Vega Studios published A Warm December, a collection of poems by, and photographs of, gay black men.

In 1988, Will Roscoe's Living the Spirit became the first major anthology of gay American Indian texts, but its inclusion of verse was limited.

Although it prematurely ended the careers of many of the poets who had appeared in the journals and anthologies listed above, the AIDS epidemic also energized artists as well as activists. In its way, the crisis provided the impetus for a new "Gay Cultural Renaissance" like the one that had occurred after--or had been occurring ever since--the Stonewall Riot.

AIDS has spawned its own magazines--a notable example being Art and Understanding, the rather pompously named "Journal of literature and art about AIDS"--and its own anthologies. Of the latter, the most substantial is Michael Klein's Poets for Life (1989).

Robert K. Martin and the Pre-Stonewall Gay Canon

In 1979, the pre-Stonewall American gay canon was more authoritatively established than before with the publication of Robert K. Martin's The Homosexual Tradition in American Poetry, a book that, despite the wave of homophobic reviews it received, set a high critical standard for gay academics in English studies to follow.

Martin begins his account by establishing in great detail the textual evidence of Walt Whitman's homoerotic concerns. Thus, as ever in gay re-evaluations of American literature, Whitman stands as the presiding and defining "father" of the tradition.

A second chapter discusses the "Academic Tradition" of Fitz-Greene Halleck, Bayard Taylor, and George Santayana. Chapter three is entirely devoted to Hart Crane, the "bridge" between Whitman and Modernism.

Chapter four offers brief analyses of the work of Allen Ginsberg, Robert Duncan, Thom Gunn, Edward Field, Richard Howard, James Merrill, and Alfred Corn. Finally, an endnote discusses "The Future," in relation to which Martin speaks of "a tradition that seems certain to grow, confident in its readers and lovers."

The subsequent establishment and expansion of gay studies in the American academic world and elsewhere has encouraged young academics to embark on increasingly sophisticated appraisals of gay culture that, far from feeding parasitically on that culture (as antiacademic myth might have it) serve in fact to strengthen and affirm it.

The United States does not have the monopoly on such developments. Similar patterns have been repeated, on a smaller scale, throughout the industrialized world.

Magazines having established the existence of both gay writers and a gay readership, small presses either were established to publish both poetry anthologies and collections by individual poets or were initially set up as general gay publishers, but later, given confidence and cash flow, were able to start publishing poetry titles--which are generally loss-makers relying on subsidy from a company's more popular titles.

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