Sunday, 9 April 2017

Political Correctness, Precious Bane

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

'…Let none admire
That riches grow in Hell; that soil may best
Deserve the precious bane.' (Milton, Paradise Lost (Book I, lines 690-692)

Precious Bane is probably as well-known for the novel of that name by Mary Webb as its place in Milton’s epic poem. It refers to the love of money, which, as Webb’s heroine, Prue, records, blights love and destroys life; the title also refers to her deformity, a cleft lip which she comes to recognize as the source of her spiritual strength.

[Note: a cleft lip is sometimes referred to as a harelip  (as happens in the novel) considered insulting as it compares the deformity in humans to the normal cleft lip of a hare. In so far as political correctness is intended to put a stop to insulting comments and behaviour, it works quite well, at least to outward appearances. 

I am not suggesting that being gay is any kind of deformity! Political correctness, for all its frequent abuse, means well. Moreover, for me, personally, it encourages the spiritual strength I take in being gay from both nature and the kinder, more discerning side of human nature. (Fortunately, the latter is in greater supply than the media’s focus on it is often inclined to suggest.)

Bad attitude is only half the problem. Too many people use the political correctness card to turn tables in their favour when it is they who are at fault. Time and again, various authorities (who should know better) side with guilty against innocent, perpetrator against victim rather than risk a bad press. Here in the UK, for example, there is far too much walking on socio-cultural eggshells these days; without being seen to do so, of course, although I often wonder just who thinks they are fooling whom…

Wherever there is no legislation for political correctness, the darker side of human nature continues to flex its predilection for insults, prejudice and bigotry. On the other hand, of course, you cannot legislate for bad attitude which simply proceeds to do a good job of keeping out of public sight and hearing. 

Whatever, we positive thinkers who prefer to believe that forces for good will always better those for bad (in the end, at least) struggle to avoid a black hole of cynicism.

POLITICAL CORRECTNESS, PRECIOUS BANE

Once, in another country,
we spoke of love and being gay
in a world where sexuality
has no need of political correctness
to leap to our defence

We lay beneath a willow tree
shedding tears for the likes of us 
having to justify even love
in the glare of a political correctness
meant to educate bigots

Oh, but so many excuses
(all perfectly legitimate of course)
playing political correctness
at its own game so none dare criticise
for fear of causing offence

Hypocrisy, no mean weapon
in upholding the various integrities
of socio-cultural traditions
passed off as icons through centuries
of human division and abuse

Ah, but who are we to accuse
those who may accuse us of offending
all they hold dear if only
because it makes them feel secure, safe
from all talk of LGBT rights?

Oh, yes, we may well speak up
where political correctness established
despite all its back-stabbing, 
self-styled ‘betters’ fronting and calling
on socio-cultural immunity

As for the world’s higher clerics
seeking handouts even among the poor,
no need for a satirical press
where actions speak louder than words
and both contradict each other

Around the world, ordinary people
whisper behind closed doors of being gay,
in love and free where sexuality 
can’t even call on political correctness 
to try and put the record straight

Copyright R. N. Taber 2017



Thursday, 30 March 2017

An Open Letter to the Vatican OR G-A-Y, a Thorn in Whose Side?


While Pope Francis is a BIG improvement on his predecessors, and a welcome one, the Catholic Church still has a long way to go as far as relating to LGBT people. To suggest being gay is OK so long as we are not having sex is not only absurd, but also offensive.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, too, has made this unrealistic comment about same sex relationships; as an attempt to portray Christianity as showing a more enlightened attitude towards LHBT communities worldwide, it fails miserably. (Whatever else Jesus of Nazareth may or may not have been, he was no bigot. On the contrary, he was an open-minded, openhearted humanitarian from whom we could all learn a thing or two, regardless of colour, creed, sex or sexuality.)

I am not disrespectful of religion although I subscribe to no religion myself. However, is it not high time all the world’s religious leaders got real about the kind of world we live in and imposed less hypocrisy and guilt on those followers worldwide struggling to reconcile their faith and sense of spirituality with how they live their everyday lives? Homosexuality has long been a thorn in the side of world religions, not least, I suspect, because it forces them to confront an intrinsic hypocrisy. 

Millions of  gay men and women among active Christians and other religious-minded people around who still feel they must remain in the closet, made  to suffer years of guilt imposed on them by a blinkered religion that cannot relate to a born sexuality and its natural need to freely express itself. Various closed-shop religions proceed to pass judgement on us; many have our blood on their hands.

Thankfully an increasing number of religious-minded heterosexuals understand that having little or no vision beyond narrow boundaries that passes for dogma does humanity no favours. Religion should be an open door for anyone to enter (or not) as they choose; for those who choose to enter, it deserves better than to be  transformed by its so-called 'betters' into an open prison. 

The poem is a villanelle.

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE VATICAN or G-A-Y, A THORN IN WHOSE SIDE?

Who will praise His Holiness,
above Earth Mother’s cries of protest
for child victims of HIV-AIDS?

Let hypocrites gather en masse,
(keen to put their faith to a litmus test)
who will praise His Holiness

Will the Bishop of Rome confess
any blame for a kinder acolyte’s unrest
for child victims of HIV-AIDS?

In the papacy, he’ll surely press
the devout to place unquestioning trust;
who will praise His Holiness?

Oh, but among the lapsed, no less
anxiety to have consciences put to rest
for child victims of HIV-AIDS

Among the lasting parables of Jesus,
a Good Samaritan puts compassion first;
who will praise His Holiness
for child victims of HIV-AIDS?

Copyright R. N. Taber 2010


[Note: During the four years this poem was posted on my general blog, I received a number of abusive emails, but am delighted to say that these were considerably outnumbered by emails from gay (and straight) men and women who feel their religion lets itself down by failing to acknowledge the integrity (including sexual integrity) of LGBT people worldwide. Indeed,  the unattached, hot-blooded gay person may well go looking for sex…while the unattached heterosexual person does not?]

Friday, 10 February 2017

No Strings, Says Who? or G-A-Y, On Open Relationships


It can (and does) happen to anyone, gay or straight, male or female, young and old alike; we fall in love and, in return, are offered an ‘open’ relationship, no strings. It all sounds very ‘modern’ and we convince ourselves we are OK with the arrangement rather than reject it (and be rejected, in turn) for the raw deal it is. I know people who have spent the greater part of their lives persuading themselves that any deal is better than no deal, any arrangement better than none, all the one-sided sacrifices worth every heartbeat,

This happened to me once. At the time I was feeling lonely, unloved and could see no light at the end of a long tunnel. I savoured every moment we spent together closing my mind to those aspects of his life in which I was never invited to play a part. I convinced myself I was a martyr to love and almost enjoyed the role.

Ah, but only almost…

Few people knew about us, such was the nature of our relationship. One day, I confided in a friend who told me I was a fool to dance to his tune. I protested, insisting love was a tune to which only a fool would not dance. “On your own?” he asked, incredulous. “Sometimes, yes, but all the time…?

I knew he was right, of course, but it was a few years before I would admit it to myself, thereby freeing my tearful heart, from self-imposed shackles I had convinced myself were pretty ribbons around a box of delights I could not nor should not resist. On opening it, though, I saw only what I wanted to see, failing to understand the psychology of an empty box.

Like most learning curves, it was a bumpy ride but, yes, worth every heartbeat to get my life back. 

NO STRINGS, SAYS WHO?  or G-A-Y, ON OPEN RELATIONSHIPS

For a body preoccupied with public perception,
yours offered but a temporary haven, no strings

You warned me not to fall in love with you,
that it was sex alone not love, your spur;
for love is only for fools (you said) its course
running true but in dreams, and we 'worldly' types
know better

Gladly I’d let your incredible body take mine
in the hope you would come to love me,
despairing as each frantic, mindless, orgasm
ripped into us, much like that double-edged sword
we call honesty

My lover, ever as indifferent to true love’s needs
as the hypocrisy upon which its loneliness feeds
  
Copyright R. N. Taber 2007

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Ode to Love or G-A-Y, Rhyme and Reason

Regular readers may recall how my partner died many years ago after only a short time together. As it turned out, I never met anyone else with whom to share my life. Even so, I have some good friends and have met some wonderful people whose life stories – happy and sad alike - have inspired many of my poems.

Sometimes people ask me how I can face growing old alone. Well, yes, I live alone but that does not mean I am alone. I have plenty of company, not least my poems.  Besides, love, in all its shapes and forms, sustains and inspires me just it has always done, especially whenever I am feeling low or start feeling sorry for myself for whatever reason.  Friends, places, nature, they haunt my memory and invariably come to my rescue to help me rise above whatever may be troubling me at the time.

My long-ago love is never far from my thoughts and our love continues to guide me through the complex maze we call life. He brought out the best in me and it is that which prevents me dwelling on mistakes, letting wishful thinking distort all the Here and Now has to offer me and (hopefully) I, it.

Time and again, life calls on us to learn and move on from our experiences, good and bad. We can but do our best. At the same time - as I have said many times on the blogs, and doubtless  will again - it is always worth remembering that moving on doesn’t mean leaving anyone behind, especially those we have loved.

ODE TO LOVE or G-A-Y, RHYME AND REASON

I so love you for a smile on your lips, 
the laughter in your eyes, the way 
your hair blows in a summer breeze,
how tears fall like a gentle rain
from heaven whenever we watch 
soap television

I so love you for a song in your heart, 
how it echoes all around, 
sweeter sound even than skylark 
or nightingale, lifting my soul 
on wings of a prayer given thanks
for your being here

I so love how you flare like a candle 
in the wind whenever 
we quarrel, making up before 
the day closes, recharging 
our bodies, the more joy and power 
to each other

I so love how you shoulder hardship,
brave and true, my hero
though folks tread roughly
on our dreams
you’ll keep us safe, hold my hand, 
quick to reassure

Who could ask for more...?

Copyright R. N. Taber 2002; 2016

[Note: An earlier version of this poem appeared under the title ‘Ode to my Love’ in 1st eds of First Person Plural by R N Taber, Assembly Boooks, 2002; revised ed. in e-format in preparation.]

Monday, 23 January 2017

Inner Self, a Truer Picture or G-A-Y, Historical Perceptions


As a child, my mother would often read or tell me stories. Consequently, I became an avid reader. I loved fairy stories, myths and legends. I used to have a collection of stories by Hans Christian Andersen and many surface in my head even to this day. (I am 71 now!). I could not appreciate the value of those tales at the time, of course, but as I grew older I began to realise how many home in so sensitively on aspects of human nature, and with disconcerting accuracy.

As a teenager, I was past reading fairy stories, but several made a valuable contribution towards shaping those troubled years, I realised I  am gay, but felt obliged to keep this observation to myself. Being gay, I had been told, was something dirty, ugly. I often felt dirty and ugly although that did not stop me seeking out sex with other boys and men whenever the opportunity arose. Andersen’s tale of The Ugly Duckling was an inspiration then and, to a lesser extent, remains so to this day. It took some time, though, before I saw that what looks ugly from one perspective can appear beautiful in another.

So where does Red Riding Hood fit into my life? Well, for one thing, I learned that appearances are often deceptive and we need to guard against wolves with human faces…

Saturated with perceptions of human nature though these tales were, some had happy endings, in the hopeful search of which I have spent the greater part of my life. I experienced some for only a short time, others for longer, but the quintessential Happy Ever After remained beyond my reach. Even so, any share of happiness is better than none and never to be taken lightly or resented for never quite living up to expectations. Happiness, like love, comes in all shapes and sizes whether it relates to a person, place, whatever; if it remains in the memory and inspires us to adopt a positive rather than negative perspective on life, even on its downside, it remains a treasure without comparison. [Why do so many people insist on making comparisons when they are invariably irrelevant; we are all different, with different aspirations and views on life; different, too, in what (and who) makes us feel happy, sad,  inspired …whatever.

As I have said many times on the blogs, our differences don’t make us different, just human. Many if not most of us learn soon enough that life is no fairy tale, but I learned more about human nature from them as a child to help me find my way through its maze. Oh, yes, I have had my share of bad times as well as good, made mistakes (and plenty of them) but - not unlike the ugly duckling - I came out to the heterosexual world with pride and took my place among swans…[I was in my 30's and it had taken a severe nervous breakdown to make me see that being gay is - to borrow the title of one of my poems - worth every heartbeat.)

INNER SELF, A TRUER PICTURE or G-A-Y, HISTORICAL PERCEPTIONS

The child I was…
would regularly go for a swim
with the Ugly Duckling
or go rushing off into dark woods
to warn  Red Riding Hood
about a wolf on the prowl likely
to devour her

The youth I was …
would regularly wish himself
a very different person
to the one haunting every thought
and move, each hour   
of each day on the prowl likely
to devour me

As a young man…
I would eagerly make friends
with gay characters
in this book or that movie, share
their roller coaster lives,
suffer a thousand cuts from wolves
with human faces

Growing older…
I gave my ghost-self the heave-ho
left make-believe behind,
began to enjoy being who I am
without a thought
for that sad other ‘me’ living in fear
of being discovered

Growing old…
just as I take others as I find them
so I expect them to pay me
the same courtesy without rushing
to any judgement
coloured by stereotypes, tailored
to fit small minds

Grown old…
I still swim with the Ugly Duckling
whenever the whim takes me
and regret I was always too late
to warn Red Riding Hood,
but take in my stride that it is as it is
or so the story goes…

Copyright R. N. Taber 2017

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Couplet for an Heroic Poem or G-A-Y, A Late Evening Surf

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

Readers sometimes ask me how I cope with being gay and growing old on my own without a partner. (What has being gay got to do with growing old?)

Well, I have some good friends so I don’t feel so alone, and my Muse may be fickle but she can be inspiring when she likes. Besides, I live near Hampstead Heath so there’s always plenty of trees and bird life to sustain me whenever I feel the need, whether or not any human company on hand.

It may well be too late for me to find love again, but maybe not. I was 71 on the winter solstice, but only recently I met a couple about my own age in a local gay bar celebrating their anniversary. When I asked how long they had been together, both grinned from ear to ear and told me how they had met in that same bar just two weeks to the day. They were so happy, their years falling away even as we chatted. I might have been in the company of lovers in the first flush of youth.

As with many (by no means all)  of my poems written in the first person, the poet-storyteller is Everyman with whom the reader may or may not choose to identify to the extent I do as I let imagined experiences take me wherever…

Never, but never, say never… 

COUPLET FOR AN HEROIC POEM or G-A-Y, A LATE EVENING SURF 

Friendly fingers ruffling my hair,
Apollo’s belated kisses
bringing blushes to my cheeks
as I slumped by the sea, let your tears
drip rainbows on my heart
if low, grey clouds all but refusing
to be titillated

I’d thought your feelings for me
were as mine for you,
but your, stunned expression
when I took a leaf out of Apollo’s book
had me pinioned to a crab’s back,
scuttling over sand pebbles mocking
all human despair

Sea horses prancing all around,
daring me choose one,
head for lost horizons shrouded
in a shadowy mist harbouring pirate ships
and slavers crewed by ghosts
last seen flailing among sharks’ fins
alerted by bad blood

Friendly fingers ruffling my hair,
your belated kisses
bringing blushes to my cheeks
after you caught up with me, let your tears
drip rainbows on my heart,
low, grey clouds capitulating to Apollo’s
surprise breakthrough

Two gay men, couplet for an heroic poem, 
charging a sunset on bold, white horses

Copyright R. N. Taber 2011

Monday, 19 December 2016

Brief Encounter or G-A-Y, the Two of Us

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

Reader ‘Jean-Claude’ who lives in Paris once emailed me about this poem to say how much he could relate to it. What better praise for a poem than it lets the reader into it?  I wrote it as my thoughts turned to a particularly memorable June night there many years ago...

I would also like to take the opportunity yet again to recommend a delightful DVD  'Juste une question d'amour' ( Just a Question of Love) which take a delightful and sensitive look at the difficulties the parents of some gay people experience in coming to terms with their son's homosexuality.

I have a friend who lives in Lille who still feels he cannot break it to his parents that he has a boyfriend even though they have been in a relationship for some years. Sadly, there are gay people worldwide who feel they cannot be open about their sexuality for one reason or another. In my friend's case, he is burdened with a whole load of Catholic guilt; in other parts of the world, gay people have anti-gay legislation to contend with and live with the threat of imprisonment or worse. It is a sad indictment on a 21st century from whose socio-cultural-political and religious elements we deserve better.

I find the rise of the Far Right across Europe very disturbing, not least because it plays on people's fears regarding the extent of immigration. While it is true that many immigrants are from cultures that are intrinsically homophobic, and many seem unwilling to change their attitudes towards gay men and women, we should never forget that the policies of the Far Right are as essentially homophobic as they are racist. No one who deplores prejudice of any kind should ever vote for these people.


Gay couple outside a cafe in Paris; photo by Braden Summers (Internet)


BRIEF ENCOUNTER or G-A-Y, THE TWO OF US

Under Paris stars, 
one night in June - a nightingale 
sang our tune;
we embraced, 
exchanging vows - with tongues
of fire;
no chill of darkness
undermining or intruding upon
our happiness;
your hand in mine 
as kissed and exchanged rings
said it all...

Come morning, 
sweet night bade us each a fond
au'revoir;
a minute’s silence
for two singles joined together
(no matter what);
cock crows 
as we embrace a parallel dawn,
bask in its glory;
love, icon
for all seasons, opening its petals
to the sky

Story told, the world over, me 
and my gay lover

Copyright R. N. Taber 2002; 2016

[Note: An earlier version of this poem appeared as ‘The Two of Us’ in 1st eds. of First Person Plural, by R. N. Taber, Assembly Books, 2002; revised  ed. in preparation in e-format.