The Porch and the Neutral Ground May 21, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in books, New Orleans, NOLA, Odds&Sods, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
Tags: GLBT Lit, Michael Montalk, Saints and Sinners, Tennessee Williams Festival
Thanks to Rachel at Dangermond.org for accepting my request to cover any event at the Saints & Sinner’s Festival, the GLBT literary weekend sponsored by the Tennessee Williams Festival. I wanted something for the blog after our extensive write ups of TWF, but since I know doodly squat about GBLT Lit I had to reach out to another literary blogger to help.
By Rachel Dangermond
Here in New Orleans all things are learned on the front porch and so it was on the second weekend of Jazz Fest after too many glass of rosé wine that I exclaimed to four female and two male guests the resounding declaration that if anyone wanted to know what becoming a lesbian was like it was like this – relentless incessant talking, which was what the five women (me included) were doing. And so it was that I came to write about a gay poet at the Saints & Sinners Literary Festival because in Googling the attendees I accidentally came across a poem by Michael Montalk that struck a nerve with me, The Hummus Sexual, where he writes:
The first time he felt he didn’t fit in
was in an all-male bar—so amazed
and disturbed by the artifice
of a completely womanless world.
After coming out as I approached 50, I was not prepared for the manless world that emerged from the lesbian community that surrounded me. It was so disconcerting I became more enamored by men than I had when I married and slept with them.
So on this gorgeous afternoon where the Mississippi is threatening to crest our levees, and news of some barges having struck the old Mississippi River Bridge in Baton Rouge has caused massive traffic jams, and too many art exhibits are occurring simultaneously throughout the city, the Saints & Sinners Literary Festival is under way and 11 people went to hear five gay poets read from their current work at the Bourbon Pub.
I sat next an author who was on panel that followed, Merri Lisa Johnson, who said as I sat down that she had browsed the books at the Bourbon Orleans and Michael Montalk’s looked like one she had to have, his hot off the press, Cool Limbo, and she also said Montalk was a stylish dresser as indeed I had noticed – his awesome brown plaid pants.
And much as I was liking Montalk more and more, especially after he read a poem inspired by his twin sister who he called a drag queen and later admitted that he had been called a hag fag when he first arrived in New York because of his penchant for gal pals, it was the collective voices of these poets that made me realize there should be more than 11 people sitting in the audience.
Bryan Borland, a poet and the editor of Sibling Rivalry Press, read Theresa Senato Edwards’ Touch: The Journal of Healing a poem called The Touch of the Notch:
She’d done absurd things as a child:
the counting of steps up stairways,
the repeating grip of the doorknob in her palm,
always the going back to the knob,
going back to the corner of the door,
it had a notch in one of its grooves,
a smooth wooden pool of calm.
And again my mind went back to my porch, where days ago, during Jazz Fest, my neighbor, a music therapist with OCD problems herself had stopped to sit a spell on the porch, always counting the stairs on the way up and down, and always fighting back the blues that she knew were approaching. Borland’s range from Editor to Publisher to Poet was impressive, and he read We Left Early, his own poem about the lost generation of gay men who came before him.
I was taken by how much Sally Bellerose’s frank verse sounded more like a shout out to my own middle agedness as she read from her Married Ladies Have Sex in the Bathroom, which made me wish that my coming out had occurred when I was much younger, but then I would have missed all the men in my life. As she compared nursing to the Bourbon Street nude who lay there with glazed over eyes, I heard the same plea I had heard for years from my own mother, a nurse, who wanted to reach out to every patient that crossed her path but reality sterilized her noble thoughts.
Brad Richard dissected Thomas Eakins’ painting entitled Swimming down to each symbol of desire he found there; while Jeff Mann’s Thor poetry fit his bear demeanor all the way down to his fur fetish and manly feast imagery. I went back again to Montalk, who I had come to hear, on learning he was adopted, and so was his twin sister and older sister, I rushed to him afterwards to show him a photo of my adopted son, Tin.
I had asked the panel, but pointed it at Montlack, that is now not the time to put aside all these references to other – the heteros, the woman or the men, the family as Borland had described his gay friends and to incline ourselves to inclusiveness? Isn’t that what I was feeling on the porch the other night, where two twenty something year old boys were in our company, bringing some maleness into the mix for a change. That diversity feels better than same?
Montlauk said he had gone to a LAMBDA literary retreat in Los Angeles where it was noted that the 50 to 60 year-old lesbians were hanging out with the 20 to 30 year-old gay boys, who commented in the 1970s that would have never happened. And recently in New York at a reading by David Trinidad who had published a collection of the late Tim Dlugos poems, a young lesbian asked if she could read one because yes, lesbians read what gay men write and vice versa.
And still I wonder why with five poetic voices such as these, this afternoon in the Parade dance club in the Bourbon Pub, only 11 people were there to hear them. Thankfully, you can still buy their books. I picked up Montlack’s on the way out and will look for the others online.