Monday, 26 September 2016

Reality Check, Warts 'n' All OR G-A-Y, Nothing to Hide


As we are growing up, many experiences - and the emotional context in which we relate to them - are new to us; sometimes we guess how we are meant to behave, guess wrong and try to mask our confusion and any embarrassment by playing the fool if only because it takes the heat out of whatever situation it is that we haven’t a clue how to handle. (Heaven forbid we should appear ignorant of the appropriate conventions!)

As we grow older, we (hopefully) find the self-confidence to express our own views and feelings without fear of being contradicted or even put down because we are more adept at holding our own in this or that situation, this or that point of view. We can dispense with masks, up to a certain point…at which we may well feel the need to retrieve one that has helped us out in the past.

I suspect most if not all of us all have a variety of alternative faces hanging in that wardrobe of the mind we call memory, one for every occasion. I do, although I binned the heterosexual mask with which I grew up more years ago than, at 70, I care to remember; my own face will have to do, warts ‘n’ all.

This poem is a villanelle.

REALITY CHECK, WARTS ‘N’ALL or G-A-Y, NOTHING TO HIDE

I was never any good at school,
my schooldays were a sham,
I’d mess around and play the fool
because I couldn’t quite get to grips
with who I am

I had a working class education,
didn’t ever dare aim high,
couldn’t see the point of ambition,
so I’d mess around and play the fool,
content to live a lie

I had a real problem with identity,
couldn’t bear anyone to know
it was an awakening homosexuality
saw me mess around and play the fool,
put on a side-show

I’d have sex in sly, secret places,
even fancy guys in the street,
could sense revulsion in their faces
though never one sure, all-seeing eye
would I ever meet

There came a time as I grew older,
I wearied of playing the ham,
resolved to get real and be bolder
about letting on to this sorry old world
just who I am

I came out to just about everyone,
and it was scary, but, oh, so cool
to be free at last of secrets, have fun,
be a man, walk tall, and less of playing
the fool

In those days I never had much of a life,
my early years were a sham;
now, though. if I sometimes play the fool,
it’s because I’m relaxed, happy, content
to be who I am


Copyright R. N. Taber 2011; 2016


Sunday, 21 August 2016

At Home or Away, OR G-A-Y, Going Places


[Update (July 21, 2016): I don’t use social media but friends have been in touch about abuse aimed at Tom Daley there. Appalled and saddened, I posted an update earlier today to my poem ‘Olympic Games’ on my general blog: http://rogertab.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/olympic-games-or-old-gods-new-gods-and.html You will be pleased to know that, as a result, more (heterosexual) readers have contacted me already who are equally supportive of Tom than abusive towards me; whether or not they liked the poem, they clearly approved of my comments regarding what sadly remains a homophobic majority worldwide. No worries, we ARE getting there, thanks to people in the public eye like Tom. Despite the social and religious bigots, the whole world may yet realise that people are people, deserving of equal rights and mutual respect regardless of colour, creed, sex or sexuality.]

Now, I rediscovered today’s short poem (dated 1982) among a pile of papers while clearing out my studio apartment in London some time ago. To be honest, I don’t recall writing it, but the date is significant as I was still recovering from a severe nervous breakdown; it would be some time before I was well enough to start looking for a job and nearly a year before I started work.

Poetry, as regular readers will know, has always been a form of creative therapy for me,. Having suffered from depression since early childhood - at a time when depression in children was either dismissed or not taken seriously by either parents, doctors, teachers or social workers – it became a restorative escapism for the harsher realities of life, and remains so to this day. (I am 70 now.)

Growing up at a time when gay relationships were not only a criminal offence here in the UK but being gay was considered ‘sick’ by the heterosexual majority, I had to stay in a cold, dark closet during my teenage years and as a young man. Indeed. So hard was it to shrug off those years that I was in and out of the damn closet for a long time after gay relationships were decriminalised in 1967. I am in no doubt that this ordeal made a significant contribution to a nervous breakdown in my early 30’s..

Sadly, even in so-called ‘liberal’ countries like the UK, gay men and women growing up in a gay-unfriendly home and/or school and/or work environment. I can only urge them to discover the power of positive thinking and let everyone know that most stereotypes still that continue to attach themselves to gay people in the minds of the less enlightened are not only misleading and offensive but invariably a pack of lies.

By the way, readers contact me from time to time to complain that my blog post/poems are somewhat repetitive.  I offer no apologies for tackling similar themes time and again although I do my best to vary form and content. I have been happily and openly gay for a good 30+ years but am painfully aware that many gay people around the world are (still) unable to come ‘out’ for various reasons; it is one of the more appalling and tragic aspects of the 21st century.

AT HOME OR AWAY or G-A-Y, GOING PLACES

Some people, as a matter of course,
ask what being gay means to me,
and then (oh, so subtly) put forward
perspectives on perversity

I take them by surprise when I reply
that I’m proud of my sexuality
in the sense that it inspires me to try
and make good a native spirituality

Being gay doesn’t make us different
in how we live (except sexually);
sadly, some will rush to judgement,
compromise other people’s integrity

The world has troubles enough, I say,
without refereeing Bigots v Gay

Copyright R. N. Taber 1990; 2016


Monday, 8 August 2016

G-A-Y, Time in the Garden


I was born in the county of Kent, often referred to as the Garden of England, although the part where I was born - Gillingham, in the Medway area, so-called after the river Medway that runs through it - was more like a backyard. Its salvation is nearby Dickensian Rochester, and I still get a thrill whenever I spot its castle and cathedral from the train as it crosses the Medway on approaching Rochester station.

It was a very gay-unfriendly place when I was a boy, youth and young man; gay relationships were a criminal offence. 50+ years on, I can’t say as I have noticed much difference in attitudes towards gay people there, and I know for a fact that numerous gay groups have folded (or never got started) due to either lack of local support or plain hostility. A gay guy I met there only recently said he left Kent because ‘It was like an open prison where I was serving time for my sexuality.’ So much for Progress...

Whatever, I confess I will always have a special place in my heart for Gillingham, and don’t bear it any grudges.

There are many places in the world where gay men and women are made unwelcome; so much so that many feel they have no alternative but to live out their lives in some anonymous closet as it is not always possible to uproot and move away.

There is always an alternative; we just have to find one that’s right for us, and then act on it.  Life is too precious to waste, and sexual identity too much a part of us to neglect. If it takes time, as it often will, so be it.

This poem is a villanelle.

G-A-Y, TIME IN THE GARDEN 

My battlefield, England’s fair Garden,
self-esteem in free fall,
nature pleading peace for everyone

Listen, hear the cries of a generation
denied freedom’s call;
my battlefield, England’s fair Garden

For homosexuality, no brief or pardon,
branded a criminal,
nature pleading peace for everyone

No one to ask, confide in, place to run
or peace at home, school…
My battlefield, England’s fair Garden

A new spirituality here among my own
finds me walking tall,
nature pleading peace for everyone

May love, like the Medway, freely run,
answer dawn and sunset’s call…
My battlefield, England’s fair Garden,
nature pleading peace for everyone

Copyright R. N. Taber 2010; 2016


[Note: This poem has been slightly revised (2016) and an alternative added since it first appeared in On the Battlefields of Love by R. N. Taber, Assembly Books, 2010; revised ed. in e-format in preparation.]

Monday, 1 August 2016

Conversation over a Garden Wall or G-A-Y, Good Neighbours

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R._N._Taber

This poem was originally written in in the 1990’s and published on the blog in 2009, about the time I started writing it up. People keep telling me that attitudes towards gay people - and all those with HIV - have changed for the better, and how there is even legislation (in some countries) to back this up…so why don’t I just shut up and count my blessings?

Well, yes, attitudes amongst some people in some countries have changed for the better. Yet, there is still a lot of hypocrisy around, not to mention old-fashioned bigotry.

A third person was present during the conversation recorded in this poem who happens to be a respected cleric. He had nothing to say, merely nodded his head sagely although it was unclear at whom or what part of the conversation he was nodding.

Only recently, I sat behind two people on a crowded bus having a similar conversation on the subject of  contemporary society; one as loudly vocal as the other was quietly defensive, the former receiving the greater murmurs of agreement from other passengers. While debating with myself as to whether or not I should make a positive contribution to what was, after all, meant to be a private conversation, I was pipped to the post by a guy who said (very loudly) as he left the bus, “I’m not especially proud of being gay or HIV, but I’m damned if I’ll be made to feel ashamed of it by other people’s sick ignorance.” I am pleased to say that several people clapped him (very) loudly among whom, of course, I was one.

During the time that passed before my alighting a few stops further on, no one spoke.

CONVERSATION OVER A GARDEN WALL or G-A-Y, GOOD NEIGHBOURS

I tell you, homosexuality
is no less a blasphemy in this
twenty-first century…

Why on earth should we
accept, let alone tolerate those
committing sodomy?

As for lesbians, how dare
they argue that in love and sex,
all is fair?

It’s a poor example we set
when society lets gay people
have a say in it...

How can we ever justify
letting everyone stake a claim
for equality?

What more dreadful legacy
to bequeath future generations
than HIV?

Religion, culture, morality,
better these heed a rich rhetoric
than poor humanity

What’s that I hear you say?
Better we try and save the planet
than rail against being gay?

You may have a point, I guess;
maybe we should make love more,
and war less…?


Copyright R. N. Taber 2008; 2016

Thursday, 28 July 2016

An Existential take on Sadomasochism


When I posted this poem on the blog in 2012, a number of readers contacted me within hours (and in the course of that week) to say they found it offensive. Prior to that, other readers had asked why I had never published a post/poem about sadomasochism although (and I would not deny it, surely?) history testifies that it has always played a part in the gay ethos. I would add that it has always played a part in the heterosexual ethos, too, if not even more so. Surely, I was being discriminatory in failing to address the subject altogether?

‘The practice of S/M is the creation of pleasure. … And that’s why S/M is really a subculture. It’s a process of invention. S/M is the use of a strategic relationship as a source of pleasure.’ – Michel Foucault (1926-84)

I am no sadomasochist, but neither am I judgemental regarding those who do indulge for mutual pleasure at one level or another. I find it hard to conceive of anyone wanting to take the practice to extreme levels, but we all have choices. The few people I know who have indulged in the more moderate forms of sadomasochism insist the experience brings those involved to ‘highs’ comparable with feelings of intense spirituality. I would not know, however, and have no interest in finding out; it is enough for me that I have always found an overwhelming sense of spirituality in my experience of nature. 
.
The poem was inspired less by comments made by various sadomasochists than by the works of French writer Jean Genet (1910-86)

Photo taken from the Internet

"Jean Genet is a criminal and a pornographer," shrilled all the proper Parisiens, promptly seeing to it that even in Paris Genet's writings for years could be sold only under the counter. "Jean Genet is a saint," declares Jean-Paul Sartre, high priest of French existentialism. "I am a pederast. I am a thief," says Jean Genet. – Time, October 11 1963

AN EXISTENTIAL TAKE ON SADOMASOCHISM 

Take me to the limits
of endurance, take me to the edge
of your world;
take me to that place
where pain lets the human spirit
feel its whiplash
and metaphor crashes
into a graffiti wall of silence
that even poetry
cannot pretend is anything
but a surrender of sexual integrity
to self-gratification
for lending all the parts
comprising a customised identity
to an alter ego

Learn to shape our selves
at their will and pleasure to whatever
intention may be
(and, oh, so nebulous motivation)
since we both know there are desires
to be hauled out of closets
that cannot be exposed
to any human heart, yet need to be aired
now and then
at the limits of endurance
taken to the very edge of your world
and mine, where pain
lets us feel its whiplash,
freeing a dark spirit that lies within
to leap into overdrive

Oh, but sure to crash
into the lonely silence of crude guilt
for which even poetry
has no expression,
and only a surrender of sexual integrity
for its own gratification
can start a healing process
likely to mend a broken body on a wheel,
restore its spirit,
return man or woman
to a gate in The Silence where we slaves
know the password is pain
and poetry comes
into its own again for acknowledging
an existential purity

Copyright R. N. Taber 2012; 2016


Monday, 25 July 2016

Infernal Gossip Machine OR HIV, Fair Game for Bigots


It appals and upsets me whenever I (still) hear of people with the HIV virus being demonised for it. While no one can deny living with HIV is never going to be easy, medical research means that people can live with it for a good many years now with the appropriate medication. Those years would be made more bearable and far better spent by those affected if the disease were not (still) treated as a taboo subject by so many people worldwide.

Diana, Princess of Wales' commitment had an amazing effect in challenging attitudes towards people living with HIV and breaking down stigma and misconceptions.


 Sexual responsibility is down to every sexually active person; male or female, straight or gay. It is pathetic - if typical of a universal ethos where everything is always someone else’s fault - that gay men are (still) expected to bear the brunt of the blame for the spread of HIV.

When I was active sexually (sadly, at 70, I am not if by medical necessity rather than choice) I would regularly get tested for HIV and count myself fortunate that the results were always negative. It makes me angry when I hear people saying they won’t have the test because they would rather not know. Maybe they wouldn’t, but what about any partner to whom they could potentially pass it on? Nor is even using a condom a guarantee of sexual health since condoms have been known to leak; safer sex is a (very) low risk option, but there is no such thing as no-risk sex.

INFERNAL GOSSIP MACHINE or HIV, FAIR GAME FOR BIGOTS

Some people so love to feed me,  
always, of course, knowing better,
on who’s tested positive for HIV

Outcasts, of course, deserving pity
(imagine, feeling much like a leper)
some people so love to feed me

Shaking wise heads all-knowingly
spilling gossip on every street corner
on who’s tested positive for HIV

Shame on the world’s complicity
in human rites of an unnatural order,
some people so love to feed me

Among a public elite, hypocrisy
refuting any turning a cold shoulder
on who’s tested positive for HIV

Be sure to find the worst bigotry,
where holier-than-thous join together;
some people so love to feed me
on who’s tested positive for HIV


Copyright R. N. Taber 2005; 2016

[Note: This poem was written in the early 1990’s and has been revised (2016) from the original that appears under the title ‘Spelling it Out’ in 1st eds. of A Feeling for the Quickness of Time by R. N. Taber, Assembly Books, 2005; revised ed. in e-format in preparation.]



Tuesday, 12 July 2016

F-A-T-E, Grains of Sand OR G-A-Y, True Grit


NB. Having published this post/poem this poem on the blog only a few days ago, I removed it after niggling reservations about the (original) tittle's persisted.

Now, I have met Christians who insist it is ‘nothing personal’ that I will go to hell for being gay, but ‘just a question of faith.’ I have also met Christians and those of other faiths who take the view that if we all were created by a God of Love, He is unlikely to make exceptions on such discriminatory grounds as sexuality...or much else, for that matter. Oh, and yes, I have also met gay Christians as well as gay men and women of other faiths, many of whom were cast from the fold like demons. So what kind of religion is it that demonises people for their sexuality?  

Regular readers know I do not subscribe to any religion, but take what I like to think of as a strong sense of spirituality from nature. At the same time, I utterly repudiate any suggestion that faith and sexuality are mutually exclusive. It may interest some of you to know that I came to that conclusion at the age of 10 while attending Sunday School. If I had the faintest idea then that I am gay, it was one for which I had neither the experience of life nor articulation to even begin to formulate. Like all children, though, I would overhear things. Rumour had it that a neighbour was a homosexual. My mother was shocked when I asked her what the word meant and said it was one that 'good' boys did not ask about. Naturally, I looked it up in my dictionary. 

Given that God created all humankind (as my Sunday School teachers would have me believe) it struck me as a grave injustice that anyone should be thought any less of simply for the way God had made them. This is probably why I felt no guilt when, at 14 years-old, I realised I am gay, and raged inwardly at everyone around me for years. (No one understood why, of course, or bothered to ask, so sure were they that their assumptions were correct, thereby missing the punch line altogether.)

Although I often write poems in the first person, few are strictly autobiographical. Even so, there are elements of autobiography in all my poems although just where is left for me to know and you to imagine…

F-A-T-E, GRAINS OF SAND or G-A-Y, TRUE GRIT

You were leaving a church,
a Holy Bible glued to one hand
as we exchanged glances,
all sense of body, mind and spirit 
like grains of sand descending
an hour glass, delivering us a world
we barely recognised as ours

You hastened on your way.
all but ran to the end of our street
while all I could do was try
to forget how you had affected me so,
scared you suspected
my returning a shy smile with a grin
exposed a maturing sexuality

I barely slept a wink all night
for thinking of you, me, and an ‘us’
never (surely?) any more then
than just wishful thinking on my part
for fear a secret I kept close
to this lonely heart have its way,
and all hell break loose

You skipped school the next day.
(the rumour was that you were sick)
and my pulse kept racing
for revisiting a subtly anxious glance
reflecting my own hunger
for a same sex relationship, love
but a welcome bonus   

I hadn’t subscribed to ideas of fate
till finding you by my side at the bell,
preparing to head off  
in the same direction, a freak shower
demanding our attention,
inviting us to make a decision,
make a mad dash for cover

Inevitably, we were soon engaged
in the kind of meaningless small talk
that means everything,
reading between lines and innuendos,
the suggestion we be friends...
while acknowledging so much more
without having to find the words

We were lovers but a short time,
(good mates the rest of our lives)
killing demon stereotypes,
exposing a world of prejudices,
religious dogma, bigotry...
as an any-excuses-better-than-none
mindset for abusing the rest of us

Copyright R. N. Taber 2016