Sunday, 2 October 2016

G-A-Y, an Educated Self-consciousness OR Social Awareness, Poisoned Chalice

I have been asked to repeat the link to my informal poetry reading on the 4th plinth in Trafalgar Square as my contribution to Sir Antony Gormley's One and Other 'live' sculpture' project in 2009. [Be warned, my contribution lasts an hour; the entire web stream of 2400 hours is archived in the British Library.] NB. The link cannot be accessed by a keyword search so you need to save should you wish to revisit at any time.

Since today’s poem appeared on the blog/s in 2009, I have received several upsetting emails, mostly from gay men but also from lesbians who have been wrongly accused of being paedophiles.

To suggest all gay men are paedophiles is every bit as absurd as it is to suggest everyone from any one socio-cultural-religious group is a terrorist.

I was only 14 years-old when I realised I am gay. Men I encountered at local gay cruising grounds were no paedophiles. On the contrary, they taught me how to think better of myself after being raised to think homosexuality is shameful.

The less enlightened among the heterosexual majority tend to forget that gay boys and girls, too, need to learn about sexual relationships. It is vital that gay issues are discussed openly and intelligently in schools everywhere - including Faith Schools - so that children do not grow up with false if not warped impressions of what it means to be gay. Sadly, multiculturalism does the gay and gay-friendly among us no favours.


I’ll be your friend a child told an old man,
but he shook his grey head, sighing;
the child took careworn hands in his own,
sad to see the rheumy eyes crying

I’d love to be your friend said the old man
but some people will get the wrong idea;
they’ll be looking at you and looking at me,
and it will be the worse for us, I fear

It’s time I was on my way said the old man,
I’ve been warming this bench too long.
Go child, and have fun, as much as you can,
it doesn’t last, innocence, being young…

The child ran off, puzzled at catching gran
throwing daggers at the kindly old man

Copyright R. N. Taber 2005; 2016

[Note: This poem first appeared a ‘Daggers in the Heart’ in A Feeling for the Quickness of Time by R. N. Taber. 2005; rev. ed. in e-format in preparation.]

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 (well, I did ) 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 if only for token reassurance.

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.


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: 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.


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

Angst in the Garden or G-A-Y, Where Life can be an Open Prison (If We Let It)

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 upon 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. More than half a century 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.


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 (and title) has been slightly revised (2016) since it first appeared as 'Time in the Garden' 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

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.


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


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.


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.]