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 Path Lit By Lightning |The Life of Jim Thorpe

 By David Maraniss

Hardcover; photos; 650pgs

https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Path-Lit-by-Lightning/David-Maraniss/9781476748412

Simon & Schuster

Pulitzer Prize winning Journalist David Maraniss’s main arena is political biography (Clinton, Obama, Gore, et.al) and culturally defining eras of post WWII American history- from the‘Red Scare’ of the 50s to civil unrest of the Vietnam War. But without doubt Maraniss brings his full game to his bios of sports legends and is again in top form with ‘Path Lit By Lightning: The Life of Jim Thorpe.’ The latest in a trilogy- (with Vince Lombardi and Roberto Clemente) about legendary athletes whose achievements went far beyond their fields of play.

There is so much mythology about Jim Thorpe’s truly remarkable life, that the real man and his struggles get lost. Since his Olympic victories at the 1912 Stockholm Games and going on to become a football and baseball headliner on the US semipro teams, he broke records on the field, but set goals for himself that were impossible to achieve in his country.

Thorpe was exploited for all he was worth, and never reaped the rewards he deserved. In fact, he went through periods of near destitute and yet whatever hardship was thrown at him throughout his career, as Maraniss reports, he remained true to himself and rose above everything with dignity. ‘Path Lit by Lightning’ vanquishes all of the myths, good and bad, in Maraniss’s fine-line portrait of the man and his tumultuous times.

As he did with in Rome 1960: The Summer Olympics (with superstar cast of athletes including Mohamed Ali, Wilma Rudolf, et.al.) Maraniss is expert at detailing the political and cultural backdrops of the sports worlds. In Thorpe’s era it is the pervasive layers of prejudice and racism that Indigenous people from the government and the culture that Thorpe, along with millions of others with tribal heritage, had to surmount on a daily basis.

Jim Thorpe was born in 1878, The son of the Sac and Fox Nation in Oklahoma, when Indigenous nations were being driven from their traditional lands by the ‘Dawes Act’ decree and white landgrabbers and businessmen. His father Hiram Thorpe was a hunter and rough riding bootlegger. His life started in hardship and tragedy. His twin brother Charles died when he was 9 and his mother Charlotte, died two years later during childbirth.

His mother told Jim that he was a direct descendent of Chief Black Hawk. Jim ran away but was returned to his father and stepmother who sent him to the infamous Carlisle Indian Industrial School when he was 16. a former Revolutionary war military barracks now established by Col. Richard Pratt in 1878 as an institution to indoctrinate Native American children with the stated goal to “Kill the Indian and make the man.” Assimilationist and culturalization

Among other indignities the institution would force the students are not what was derisively termed “blanket Indians”- dressing in buckskin, ornamented in tribal beads- as well as forbid them not communicate in the tribal language. Carlisle hid the fact that many escaped at their first opportunity. And the institution covered up the many deaths from diseases that the compound was not prepared for. Seriously ill students were sent back to their native territories to die, but many were buried in a hidden graveyard at Carlisle, denying their relatives a proper tribal burial on their own lands.

‘ Many Indigenous leaders rejected this type of ‘education’ in the words of Sinte Galeska (Chief Spotted Tail) of the Sioux Nation, through an interpreter, told Pratt that “all white people are thieves and liars.” citing being deceived by “the government on the Black Hill treaty. We refuse to send our children because we do not want them to learn such things.”  

But many Carlisle students were the sons and daughters of tribal chiefs saw Carlisle and other government boarding schools for ‘Indians’ as their only opportunity to survive in the US after generations had been driven from their lands, and the near total genocide that US government perpetrated against Indigenous Nations.

The students were also forced to go through summers of ‘Outings’ being required to work as domestic servants for further ‘cultural assimilation’ (as Carlisle School phrased it) in neighboring family farms and town homes of white families ‘sponsors’ of Carlisle, the students, at $5 a month. In other words, it was indentured servitude. Thorpe was 19 and in grade seven, when he tried to run, but as a noncitizen ‘ward’ of the state, was tracked down and forced to return.

The first legend of how Thorpe ended up on the Olympic team is walking past the Carlisle Track team, wearing overhauls and casually jumping over the high-bar that was too high for the other athletes, but Thorpe, untrained in the sport, cleared easily. The coach immediately recruited him for the team.

The Carlisle football team played against Yale, Harvard and other elite institutions, even though they racked up impressive wins, they took hits by those institution who claimed they were a rogue team. And as Maraniss tracks, newspapers used racist language covering them.

 Thorpe did not want to continue at Carlisle after his five year course, he returned to Oklahoma with plans of playing making money in the minor leagues, with plans to homestead in oil rich country. He was lured back as a ringer for the Carlisle’s football team by Carlisle’s legendary coach Pop Warner and to train with track teammate Lewis Tewanima, a Hopi long-distance runner, for the US Olympic team.

Carlisle’s rout against the U.S. Army team the ‘Indian’ team was symbolically more than just a grudge match, it was historic and Maraniss’s account is one of the many play by play highlights of the book.

 The 1912 Stockholm Olympics, Thorpe one of three native nations athletes joining all mens’ American teams. Crossing the Atlantic on the SS Finland, just two weeks after the Titanic sank. Reporters jumped on the story that Thorpe had injured himself training, but it didn’t stop him from winning a medal on the first day of the Stockholm Games.

Thorpe won two Olympic Gold Medals in the Decathlon and Pentathlon, came back home and was the star football player for the Carlisle School. The most celebrated athlete in the world and he was not an American citizen. Stories were spun about him in the press, most laced with racist tropes, many outright fictions about his behavior off the field, he wanted to be away from the spotlight. The press was making an issue that he had been paid seasonal player in NC minor league baseball two years before.

Pop Warner and other officials denied that they were aware of Thorpe, like many other students were earning money during the summer playing summer minor-league professional sports for extra money. But instead of backing him up,

Thorpe took the fall and was summarily stripped of his Olympic Medals. IOC official Avery Brundage made the permanent decision that Thorpe had to forfeit the medals because he played and was paid as a semipro baseball two years before. Even as everyone from President Dwight Eisenhower, and a host of other Olympians lobbied Brundage to return the medals to Thorpe, he would refuse, even as he would hypocritically praise Thorpe as the greatest athlete ever.

Thorpe was contrite, unnecessarily, but accepted it with grace. Meanwhile baseball teams were scouting him. And even though baseball was his weakest sport, teams knew he would be a huge draw. Thorpe went with the Giants. He had just married Avi, and they were off on an overseas tour to Japan, the Philippines, and Australia.

 Pro football was in its infancy and completely deregulated, the safety of the players was rarely a consideration, it was a true blood sport. Collegiate football was more of the money game and taken more seriously, but still the rules were all over the place. Thorpe was voted in as the league’s first president for the inaugural pro season, but by the following year, it was decided that a businessman should take charge or the organization.

 The Carlisle athletes were in the ‘bush’ and semipro teams, the press continuing to cover them as undisciplined , hard drinking, carousing ‘Injuns’ among other racial tropes, Maraniss writing “The pervasive view of the debilitated Indian athletes failed to consider the corrosive effects of a dominant culture that left them straddling two worlds, constantly fighting against the odds, romanticized, and dehumanized at the same time.”

Thorpe was in his mid-30s and still bouncing between football and baseball. Wowing the crowds in spurts but dealing with injuries and money pressures. Iva stood by him, but she was fed up with his long stretches away from the family and especially his drinking. His press got nastier and always laced with racist tropes. Every season, he vowed to quit the games, but money concerns lured him in. He still drew crowds.

Iva and Jim decided to separate. Jim stayed on the road, Iva and their three daughters went back to Oklahoma. And a year later she got full custody of the children in their divorce settlement. Jim was then

trying to make smart career moves off the field starting with landing small parts in the movies and as an ‘Injun’ consultant. But he got mostly work as an ‘extra’ on scale pay gigs.

He married Freeda (Libby), but he remained on the road trying to hustle jobs as player-coach. Maraniss has 2 chapters of Thorpe’s love letter to Freeda in the book, which strike as filler and seem out of balance, since. Maraniss he doesn’t delve very deeply into either marriage very deeply. Like his father Hiram, he was on the road a lot of the time. When Iva filed for divorce after 11 years of marriage, she and their daughters hadn’t seen Jim in over a year.

Thorpe and Freeda had three sons and they were making the best of things in California; Jim was getting gig work as an extra and also advocating for Native Americans to be better represented in pictures. Eventually the marriage broke apart, their sons sent off to boarding schools.

Thorpe’s 3rd marriage was equally disastrous in different ways, as he was on an endless road to “keep hustling” for jobs in his field and eventually, anywhere he could get work. Patsy Thorpe driving him with one scheme after another in various business that would capitalize on his celebrity. They ended up broke and he suffered two heart attacks in their years together.

The 1932 L.A. Olympic officials did not invite Thorpe to the opening ceremony until a government official intervened. Thorpe took it all in stride, but he was lobbying once again to have his medals restored.

He became a spokesman for the cause of his people at schools, sports, and civic organizations, reminding his audiences:

“Indians, you know, are misnamed. We aren’t Indians we are Red Men, and we settled this country long before the white people ever came to these shores why then should we be deprived of citizenship until we can qualify with a written examination none of you here is a government ward you are citizens because that heritage has been passed on to you, but red men are wards of the government.”

The IOC restored Thorpe’s standing as an Olympic champion, but only with a symbolic ceremony in returning his medals had presented them to his children, 30 years after his death. Officially he was named as co-winner with the 2nd place athletes, who all along refused the medals from the start, wanting Thorpe to remain the gold medalist in his events.

But as Maraniss movingly details, the Thorpe’s ultimate victory lap was the achievements of his seven children writing”

“For all of Jim’s troubles– his struggles with alcohol, his nomadic lifestyle, his Sisyphean cycle of finding and losing jobs, his bad luck and mistreatment, his dysfunctional marriages, his time away from his sons and daughters when they were young– the Thorpe family did not wither but thrived from one generation to the next, producing military officers, government workers, college graduates, and Native American activists.”  

The scope of this biography, in its meticulous research and rigorous prose style should make Maraniss a contender for a third Pulitzer, meanwhile it’s definitely a must- read sports bio-histories of this or any other championship season.

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http://www.fsgbooks.com

 Robert Lowell Memoirs:  I II III

Edited and with a Preface by Steven Gould Axelrod & Grzegorz Kosc

Farrar, Straus & Giroux384 pgs; photos 

Robert Lowell emerged as one of the most celebrated poets of the mid-20th century, as well as a sought-after academic, lecturer and socialite, but he was equally famous for his very public episodes of outrageous behavior ignited by cycles of depression that landed him at the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic for what would now be diagnosed as bipolar disease.

So much has been written about Lowell’s life and work, and by Lowell himself, a through the glass darker self-portrait ‘My Autobiography’ written at a crucial time in his life. It is part of a new collection of Lowell’s previously unpublished prose edited by Steven Gould Axelrod and Grzegorz Kosc. The editors preface each of the book’s distinct sections and, when needed, bring context with concise footnotes.

A photo of Lowell as a young man graces of ‘Memoirs’ and you immediately want to know what is behind his steely gaze and you find out quite a bit, however fragmented. The first section ‘My Autobiography,’ Lowell wrote during his stay at Payne Whitney. in 1954 as part of his treatment therapy. Under the circumstances of his experiencing a breakdown,

Lowell writes not only a clear-eyed character studies of his parents, Robert, and Charlotte (nee Winslow). It is written from the perspective of the Lowell as a toddler to age 13. His writing is so dynamic that you are just swept along, never mind that he is describing astute emotions and thoughts experienced at that age.

His adversarial relationships and lineage inspired (however darkly) some his most lauded books of poetry, ‘Life Studies’ and it was well known that Lowell also believed that that his bouts of manic depression fueled his most dynamic poetry.

He viewed his father as a self-absorbed military officer and his mother, a steely Bostonian who resented the uprooting duties required of an officer’s wife.

Bobby was alienated from both of them for in different ways in vividly unsentimental terms, but reliving all of his resentments in his memoir, with droll, if sometimes merciless accuracy about his parents’ dysfunctional marriage. His mother bitterly resented being away from what Robert describes when Robert Sr. was commissioned to other cities. Charlotte wanted to live in what her son calls ‘Antebellum Boston’ and observes the customs of the gentry with snarky Jamesian precision. The most animated are his intimate remembrances of many of his noted Lowell and Winslow relatives.

However formulated Lowell’s prose writing stuns in its energy and objectivity. Stylistically it is as unforced, crafted, and vivid as anything he achieved in verse. A sense of raw discovery about his own nature, wry observation of the titled world around him, a astute observer of family demons that would haunt his poems that established his style and craft in such collections as ‘Lord Weary’s Castle’ ‘Life Studies’

Lowell reports on his family’s dysfunction, and his own volcanic anger, with ugly episodes of acting out. He mocks a friend, for instance, after she urinated at her desk. In another incident he started punching boys on the playground and hurling manure at 3rd grade students during a playground recess.

Both rational and irrational behavior are chronicled by Lowell in the ‘Crisis and Aftermath’ chapters of the book, with such droll titles as ‘I had periodic wild manic explosions’ ‘ Seven years ago, I had an attack of pathological enthusiasm’ and ‘For Two Years I’ve Been Cooling Off’ and other short essays in which Lowell describes his experiences of breakdown, treatment, and incidents at Clinic.

Again, the verisimilitude of the prose and his dynamic style, just sweeps you along, but raises questions about and how much of the stories are spun for effect. It is total recall, or the feral expressions of a literary savant, or performative?

In one episode he describes what was going through his manic mind when he attacked a fellow patient listening to another patient play the piano in the day room at Payne Whitney. Annoyed by the pianist’s tight dress and the man’s yellow socks so much so that he pulls the man off the chair by is feet.

He recalls detouring his travels deliberately when he was informed his mother died in Italy after a series of strokes and he had to bring her body back to the US. And Even after his father’s death, Lowell’s bitterness is expressed on an unpublished ‘draft’ poems collected in his private archival documents.

The final section of the book- ‘My Life Among Writers’-he weighs in on his peers and his sharp assessments of their literary merits and deficits of heavyweights including T.S.Eliot, Anne Sexton, Silvia Plather William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, John Berryman, et al. The best among them is his portrait of social theorist and philosopher Hannah Arendt who he obviously admired personally and for her work,

After Lowell’s dynamic and incisive writing in ‘My Autobiography’ and ‘Crisis and Aftermath’ the final chapters on writers and an appendix with ‘Fragments’ of Lowell’s private prose, everything from a single page essay on his parents bickering to his mother’s compulsiveness neatness, and notes on his grandfather’s funeral, but will be of interest to devoted Lowell readers as extra pieces of the puzzle.

&Poetries

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Danse Macabre

Down and outward my gray heart

Gargoyle limbs to earthy plies

feral notes of bodies in flight

Silhouettes whispering

fragments of night.

 Venal lunges hide livid eyes

heart on heart the

Tongues rush by

emotion in motion

infinite redoubt

An Inner sculpture

 forced the hell out

 surround another form

Of rebirth of  

consciousness

Amniotic streams of the gods

then

Only a trace of imbued skin

or figure

freed from Terpsichore’s

untamed heart

infinitely searching

that silence

drowns out her lyre.

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The Letters of Thom Gunn  |  selected & edited by August Kleinzahler, Michael Nott & Clive Wilmer | Farrar, Straus & Giroux | Hardcover $45. 800pgs; photos

The Letters of Thom Gunn (macmillan.com)

 British poet Thom Gunn was just out of Trinity College when he published his first collection of poetry ‘Fighting Terms’ in 1952, even though he avoided poetic styles of the era-such as blank verse, confessionals and other devises were the rage. Instead, he wrote with in an anonymous voice, for instance, emulating the Elizabethans, as well as poetic meter. By the 60s, Gunn had become one of the most acclaimed poets of his generation in both the US & England, along with his peers.

As he was establishing his writing career, the literary closet was still very much a reality, but even early on he abstracted ‘otherness’ metaphorically in such poems as ‘Wolf Boy.’ But by the 60s, he was not holding back, with gay themes and imagery, sexual and otherwise. In collections  ‘‘Moly’ ‘Boss Cupid.’  In 1993 his collection ‘The Man With Night Sweats’ was elegiac collection of loss and survival written during the height of the AIDS epidemic. A year later Gunn won the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship (Genius) Award.

He shared a home in San Francisco’s Haight with his lifelong partner Mike Kitay, an American theater director, who he met when at Cambridge in at a cast party for ‘Cyrano’ in 1952 and fell in love and shared an open relationship for the rest of their lives. And in Gunn’s case a sexually adventurous one, he loved the leather bars, dance clubs and the baths in SF, New York, and London.

There has been no biography, but there is now a virtual autobiography with the publication of ‘The Letters of Thom Gunn‘ A sprawling collection of his correspondence. A sprawling (& addictive) collection of Gunn’s correspondence selected by editors Clive Wilmer, Michael Nott, and August Kleinzahler, that are meticulous and thorough in their sourcing and annotation for narrative context. The first correspondence to his father from a 9-year-old Thom in 1937 and the last to his brother Ander, the year of his death in 2004. In between, Gunn is a habitual letter writer-  to friends, family, editors, scholars, colleagues as well as his close friends from the leather bars and sex partners.

 Gunn remained guarded about certain aspects of his tragic childhood in Britain post-WWII, his parents, both journalists, were divorced, his mother committed suicide, when Thom was 15 and Ander 12. It was only in his last book of poems ‘Boss Cupid’ (2000) that he wrote about his mother’s suicide. He sent the draft of ‘The Gas-Poker’  to Ander first, wanting his opinion about how he represented the tragedy. When Thom was 15 and Ander 12, when they discovered their mother’s body on the kitchen floor next to the oven. There are a few references about his parents in letters to close friends. His most affectionate letter throughout his life were to the two Aunts who took him in after this horrible tragedy.

Gunn came to the US in 1954, when Kitay was stationed in Texas. Gunn wrote gorgeous love letters-    intimately confiding, lusty and spilling his guts and without pretention (except deliberately).

Gunn came to the US in 1954, to be with Kitay who was finishing his service in the Air Force in San Antonio. They weathered a scandal after the military interrogated Kitay about being homosexual. It came to nothing and Kitay was honorably discharged.

 They converted a large house on Cole St. in San Francisco, and it became a refuge  for their friends, artists in need, lovers, and other strangers. The fun and dramas all described in his letters as well as Gunn’s passions for cooking and gardening. Gunn enjoyed a  strong bond with fellow British expat Christopher Isherwood, who prose style he much admired.

He was also an academic poetry lecture circuit, even though he was not that comfortable reading his own verse, eventually embracing the format, and even reading his work for broadcast. He never warmed up to the exclusivity of the book world more than professionally necessary. Thom much preferred checking out the leather bars in Frisco and New York.

Gunn himself admits to being bored and was sexually active into his 70s, with much younger men, even as he joked about why anyone his age would be interested. His personal life might be part of the theme in his poems and in his letters, but doggedly doesn’t want to bore. As his letters plainly reveal, it was a concern he never needed to worry about.

The letters are intimate, candid, witty, lusty, and charged with energy and wry observations about everything from poetic form  to his prolific sex life. His correspondence is a paints a vivid self-portrait of the poet and private man, and his uninhibited and gregarious life.

Poet Sean Hewitt’s stunning ‘All Down Darkness Wide’

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All Down Darkness Wide

By Seán Hewitt 

Penguin Press, 2022

https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/688235/all-down-darkness-wide-by-sean-hewitt/

Sean Hewitt is author of ‘J. M. Synge: Nature, Politics, Modernism’ and the award- winning poetry collection ‘Tongues of Fire.’ He has just published ‘All Down Darkness Wide’ his harrowing memoir of love, loss and self-discovery. its evocative imagery and raw intimacy, you can almost forget that is nonfiction.

The title is from a poem by Gerald Hopkins that is engraved on the broken stone structures, in a Victorian era cemetery, referring to ghostly lanterns on, “paths leading me on to this navel of the city.” its labyrinths and shadows also a cruising ground and drug enclave.

Hewitt is there to soul search and escape to deal with his grief. And to keep vigil in remembrance of the gay men who have disappeared from violence, intolerance for decades and in Hewitt’s time, the generation of gay men from HIV/AIDS. Hewitt communes with those realities on this hallowed ground to make sense of his life now in the aftermath of his breakup of a five-year relationship with Elias.

Elias, a Swedish student who Sean met by accident when they were both traveling in Columbia. Hewitt had finished his degree at Cambridge and wanted to travel and begin his life as a writer.

First though, Hewitt recounts his affair with Jack, his first love at Cambridge. who he found out had recently died when he tried to get back in touch with him after his breakup with Elias. Sean’s memories of their first dates together so moving in their immediacy and eroticism as he sheds his shyness and caution, sexually and emotionally.

Hewitt’s generation of GLBTQ+ visibility but, as in many countries still navigating homophobia manifest in entrenched biases and socialpolitical norms. He lost touch with Jack after Cambridge and two years later when he found a photo of Jack, and tried to contact him through the internet, he came across his obituary.

With Elias it was an instant emotional attraction. At first, Elias was elusive, but eventually their casual friendship bloomed into a full romance during their journey. They soon were back home, Sean in England starting his career and Elias in Sweden, finishing his degree. They maintained a long-distant affair, visiting each other when possible, and when Hewitt was on a writing fellowship, they stayed at Elias’ parents, then got their own apartment together as Sean’s pursued a writing career.

Over time, their lives began to unravel, as Hewitt became aware of Elias’ pulling away into his own world of depression and despair which drove him to attempt suicide.

The causes of Elias’ depression that brought him to attempts at suicide, Hewett does not attempt to explain, other than wait helplessly, by Elias side, for a month while Elias was treated in a psychiatric hospital. The worry and crisis consuming his life as he tried to finish his professional commitments.

It is an intense, interior memoir, of a young life examined in real time and the paralyzing reality that he couldn’t Elias from killing himself. His feelings of inadequacy and his eventual resentment that he was put in a position of not knowing how bad it was going to get day to day. Elias becoming emotionally distant and self-isolating. They struggled to deal with the issues of Elias’ increasing mental decline.

Then on an otherwise normal appearing morning, Elias was upbeat and headed off to a busy morning at school. A short time later he called Sean in distress, but he wasn’t where he was supposed to be. He was on a cliff ready to jump and didn’t, but he did swallow the hundreds of pills stuffed in his pockets. Hewitt and Elias’ father save him, get him to the hospital and after he is detoxed, for a month long stay in a psychiatric hospital for further treatment, Sean at his side every day.

When he was released and they returned to their apartment, they both realized that, everything between them had changed. They went through the motions, but they both were fearful that he would do it again. Hewitt’s unblinking and account of the desperation they both experienced of trying to make it work Elias continued to spiral into unrelenting depression.

In its unblinking honesty and beautifully crafted prose, this is one of the GLBTQ+ titles of the year. It belongs on the shelf with Paul Monette’s ‘Borrowed Time’ and Michael Cunningham’s ‘The Hours.‘ Even with a few episodes of drunken forays in Liverpool’s cruising grounds, that strike as too massaged, that said, ‘All Down Darkness Wide’ is altogether courageous in its emotional truths.

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Andrew Holleran’s ‘The Kingdom of Sand’ and Jack Parlett’s ‘Fire Island’ are portraits of GLBTQ+ worlds in stark relief.

Fire Island by Jack Parlett | Hanover Square Press http://www.hanoverSqPress.com

British poet & scholar Jack Parlett was on a fellowship from Oxford in 2019 to research cruising rituals of gay men. and his study brought him to the beaches of Cherry Grove and The Pines. Parlett covers that waterfront and much more in his book ‘Fire Island’ a social history of America’s fabled gay utopia

The queer lore of Fire Island reaches back to the 19th century with tales of visits by Wilde and Whitman. Even without electricity, in the 1920s, it was an idyllic getaway for Broadway performers, and soon a haven for artists and for countless others it was an escape from systemic oppression and rabid homophobia. Parlett chronicles the arc of the history and symbolic importance of what Fire Island represented for gay Americans over the course of a century.

‘Fire Island’ chronicles the tales of famous visitors including Tennessee Williams, Carson McCullers, Truman Capote, Marlon Brando, Janet Flanner, James Baldwin, Paul Cadmus, George Platt Lynes, Jared French, Patricia Highsmith, et, al.

And from there weaves his own his own experiences of self-discovery, exploring the clubs, the social strata and navigating the boytoy beach culture and sexual freedom including forays into the sexual playground of the dunes (immortalized by former dancer Wakefield Poole’s gayporn classic ‘Boys in the Sand’) and the notorious Meatrack.

But before that Parlett had his own symbolic ritual, the first thing he did was etch the name of poet Frank O’Hara in the sand on the exact spot where the poet died in a sand trawler accident in the 1950s.

One of the most stirring chapters in ‘Fire Island’ titled ‘The Plague’ chronicles the harrowing years of the AIDS epidemic is a stirring commentary on the history of loss, community, and activism. It opens with Parlett was part of New York’s 2019 Queer Liberation March organized Reclaim Pride Coalition, a group seeking to return the GLBTQ Pride month celebration away from being commercialized and depoliticized.

Larry Kramer gave his last speech at that march, before his death in 2020. Kramer was shunned on Fire Island after his novel ‘Faggots’ a satire on 70s hedonism in New York, when he became the fearless voice of AIDS awareness and activism. And as Parlett recounts, Kramer was challenging a new generation of gay Americans, intoning “What does Pride mean to you?” in front of 45,000 people in Central Park, as he called for more community solidarity and activism.

Parlett evokes all of the real and symbolic promise of Fire Island as a GLBTQ+ mecca as a vital chapter of American history. And a reminder that we must always be ready to fight for our place in the sun. Cue music!

~

Jack Parlett also pays tribute to the Violet Quill era of writers of the 70s including Fire Island denizens Edmund White, Vito Russo, Felice Picano and specifically Andrew Holleran whose defining 1978 novel “ Dancer From the Dance’ he cites as the “eulogy for the era’s dance floor and for many the ‘Great Pines novel.” Holleran’s latest work ‘The Kingdom of Sand’ is both fascinating and challenging.

The Kingdom of Sand by Andrew Holleran | Farrar, Straus & Giroux

http://www.fsgbooks.com

Andrew Holleran’s 1978 gay literary classic ‘Dancer from the Dance’ captured the spirits and momentum of the gay sexual liberation in New York and Fire Island. His subsequent novels- Nights in Aruba, The Beauty of Men, In September, the Light Changes– have autobiographical threads, His last was ‘Grief” was published in 2005, and ‘The Kingdom of Sand’ picks up the story of its unnamed narrator, a gay man in his 60s, who has returned to Florida to take care of his dying parents and doesn’t leave and sets up a new one, in a barren and hostile environment.

Urged by friends to sell the home and resume his life, but he drifts into inertia, set in his ways, no healthy relationships outside of his friend Earl, a closeted neighbor in his 80s in failing health.

Holleran’s portraits of elderly gay men living dystopian lives in the retirement near Gainesville, Florida. Clinging in desperation to any sign of gay connection, resorting to haunting an old-timey porn arcade for anonymous sex or spending afternoon at a remote dock to pay hustlers to suck them off. Then recoiling into their isolation, trying to live with some dignity, in retirement in otherwise hostile hetero-dominant communities.

For both men, their only direct gay sexuality is to go to the video porn arcade (yes there is still that in this narrative), or a remote beach dock and hookup spot, which now is subject to police shakedowns circa 1955. For the narrator he relates watching porn on the laptop in the spot where his father would play solitaire. He spends many evenings with Earl watching old DVDs. and keeps an eye on a handyman who runs errands and fixes up the house for an increasingly infirm Earl.

Holleran is as obsessive as his main characters, listing, for instance, a laundry list of Hollywood gay cult classics that Earl watches, when a couple of flicks would make the point.

The prose imagery is bleak, some of it this side of Proustian. But he lingers on indulgences, itemizing things for instance, describing two men consumed with passing their evenings watching classic movies, in one section he lists a dozen of them, when one or two would make the point.

Even though the narrator casually mentions that he has a regular sex buddy for 20 years, it is mentioned in passing as he obsesses about the objects in Earl’s home. Forensic bleakness is struck over and over. It is more than a bit heavy going.

Holleran’s subject is death, and the fact that elderly single GLBTQ people face unique challenges. But that worthy subject gets buried in stream of consciousness, elegiac rambles. Doubly frustrating when Holleran’s imagery and symbolism about the natural environment and the flora and fauna is as elegant as ever . Meanwhile, there are long passages the narrator’s stream of consciousness rambles on about detoured roads and boarded up businesses, which after a while are redundant filler.

That said, the dynamics of the unnamed narrator and his friend Earl, in his 80s, are poignant and dimensional. You get glimpses for instance, of Earl and the narrator’s younger lives, oblique references to their past lives and relationships, flashbacks of their more fulfilling experience as a gay man, before the forensic bleakness drags on hitting the same motifs, and it is fascinating that if you hang in, you end up caring about the narrator and Earl.

But their stories are seem a bit out of balance. They are after all old enough to have survived eras of no legal civil-rights as queer men, and post-Stonewall liberation, then the , then community solidarity of the AIDS decades, and the codification of GLBTQ civil rights legislation. Somehow, it fascinates though in the arc of Holleran’s novels from Dancer.’ But only up to a point, as he abandons his characters in queer no man’s land.

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The Culture of Male Beauty in Britain by Paul R. Deslandes

University of Chicago Press

https://press.uchicago.edu

Paul R. Deslandes investigates the generational dictates of what constitutes ‘masculine; appearance and behavior in his book ‘The Culture of Male Beauty.’ The book spans almost two centuries of interconnective analysis with the ongoing subtexts of straight, gay, genderfluid and racial sensibilities.

The coverboy of Paul Deslandes’ book is Edwardian gay poet and star athlete Rupert Brooke in fact was so comely in physical appearance that he was a model for E.M. Forster’s gay classic ‘Maurice’ which the author withheld from publication until after his death.

And Deslandes deconstructs Britain’s oppressive inequities of a century of obsessive sexual mores, propagated by religion, politics and society at large. Most of the rules which only seemed to apply to the lower classes or those trying to live openly on queer street.

Indeed, the hot-house all-male environments of Oxford and Eton, being on the not so down-low was normal rite of passage, but the offense was of course owning it and god forbid, saying it out loud. The repressive rules prohibited any realistic or healthy discourse about sex, straight or gay, sometimes even in marriages.

Deslandes’ chapters on male appearance after WWI are expose the insensitivity toward soldiers who were somehow survived the trenches in France and Germany, returned home with severe injuries and was considered disfigured faces, the victims of mustard gas, bomb shrapnel, bayonets, starvation.

British Military were well aware of promoting the images of handsome, groomed men in uniform that would attract men from poor backgrounds. As much as they would try to hide the images of men returning from war with devastating injuries to their faces.

Of particular interest .  Deslandes tracks the trends of ‘beauty’ trends of men in post WWII Britain. The image makers of fashion houses, salons and increasingly, gay culture at large. But in all three areas, exclusion ‘effeminate’ men and black and brown men.

Deslandes’ investigation on the experiences of soldiers who survived, with devasting injuries to the face and body, is sensitively written and critically important cultural history of Britain’s cynical view in this era of a person’s worth in terms of physical appearance. 60 years later the British tabloids would publish gruesome images, with the stink of homophobia, of HIV/AIDS patients with emaciated bodies and faces swollen and scarred with Kaposi Sarcoma.

The elimination of decriminalization of homosexuality, led to the flood of gay pornography in Britain in the 60s, was part key in gay cultural openness and visibility. The liberation march of living openly or expressing their sexual identity was a sea change for the country who convicted Alan Turing, the man who broke the Nazi enigma code and was a pioneer in developing computer technology, Turing was sentenced for gross indecency because he admitted he was gay. The court gave him the option of jailtime or medically induced castration. He chose the latter, and the side effects were so severe they drove him to commit suicide.

Culturally, that was another matter as politicians, religious leaders and straight communities continued to demonize, harass, attack, discriminate and oppress gay people. This also is the subtext of Deslandes’ study. As is the politics of GLTBQ visibility.

It is also a unique history of queerness as expressed in open, subversive, or coded ways in eras of culturally oppressive environments. From the inherent understanding that the naked statuary of a male wrestling with a huge python was purely academic in 18’’ just as it was understood in the 1970’s nude photos of queer men of color in magazines such as Zipper were not about diversity but about the fetishization of black and brown bodies by white publishers.

Comprehensive cultural research to debrief (sorry) such topics as the influence of the ultra-beefy ‘clone’ look of 70s gay men in the US as it became trended in British gay skin mags, for instance, is inadvertently campy by now, There is a lot of valuable history here in Deslandes’ comprehensive approach. Admirably he delves into the negative and unhealthy concepts of proscribing what and who determines what physical attributes are beautiful. And the how notion of attractiveness and masculinity.

Aside from pornography, Deslandes examines the commodification and exploitation of models by the fashion industry recognizing the open market of gay consumerism. The cultural phenomenon of British sport star David Beckham launched as an international underwear model with a huge gay following. As silly as such campaigns always are, the marketing targeted to both straight women and gay men as a profitable campaign changed the corporate fashion and the impact on representation of queer visibility. A picture is still worth a thousand words right, no?

Solstice^&freeverse

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fr Days of Mercury

Silent wail of embroyonic

nova from that

spatial blank moment,

transmuted dust unlock

timemaps as Casandra does the math of Troy

Did I travel then

will I come home to illusion that mocks this place

We fed on the knowledge of iinfinity & wanted so much more

that we knew nothing in the end.

So we blinded ourselves with the end in view

from The Reading
Tarquam

His heaving blue shoulders face away
from the rust moon
singing Father of Water
naked on the dead soil
pierces ground fly
on the specter of the dove
crowned in the avian principality
foretold in jagged mountain
hidden beyond thunder
masque of creativity
closing her eyes
in the afterburn of
quicksilver rainbow

Iris transmoon
she feels a livid sun
thrown by the shade of the lost
digs her feet into the root
envisions the Earth unwelt
from its axis
echos radiant seed sounds

Om Gam Ganapatayai Namah

DanceMetros

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Mark Morris Dance Group

Pepperland

Penn Live Arts-Annenberg Center

Philadelphia,

May 6-8, 2022

http://www.pennlivearts.org

Pepper land dress rehearsal and press night. Images by Gareth Jones

~Pepperland cast May 2022

Karlie Budge, Domingo Estrada, Jr., Lesley Garrison, Sarah Haarmann, Courtney Lopes, Aaron Loux,
Taína Lyons, Matthew McLaughlin, Dallas McMurray, Brandon Randolph, Nicole Sabella, Christina Sahaida,
Billy Smith, Noah Vinson, Malik Q. Williams

I’d Love to Turn You On…

 Choreographer Mark Morris’ dance animation of The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, with a half a dozen of its songs with re-imagined by composer-pianist Ethan Iverson, with some original orchestral interludes conjuring the fantasia of Pepperland.

Sgt. Pepper was lushly produced by George Martin with symphonic fusion, introduced the pop charts to edgy ‘concept’ album and made the Beatles bigger rockstars than they already were. Morris debuted his dance production in Liverpool in 2017 to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the album’s release.

If Penny Lane was McCartney’s pop music confection, A Day in the Life was a chilling view of mundane British life, with themes of self-destruction and the allure of drugs and sex and a line that became lore about McCartney rumored death. That symphonic fade at the end of the album is the note that starts Morris’ freewheeling ode to the album and the era.

The dancers momentarily pose as the stars on the album cover from- Oscar Wilde, Marilyn Monroe, Fred Astaire, Sonny Liston, Albert Einstein, et. al. – Costumes by Elizabeth Kurtzman the dancers all dressed in vivid pinks, purple, yellow, green suits, and mod era skirts go with the choreographic flow.

Morris is expected to be unexpected and Pepperland’s cast of 14 dancers’ possess radiant esprit and infectious energy that win us over even through some static sections, for all around funsies. Except for a few audience members who bolted after a few numbers on this rainy night in Philadelphia, this audience loved it.

Morris’ builds a vibrant dance canvas of petit jetes and flattened out pas de bourrée (which echo Nijinsky’s Faun tableau-choreo) and sections peppered with flashes of 60s dances including the frug, pony and boogaloo and even a breakout Charleston rag.

Ringo’s hit ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ (wonderfully sung by Clinton Curtis) leads into the mise-en-scenes depicting ‘the Lonely Hearts Club’ singles hookups of a bygone era, and in the age of Tinder/Grindr apps, Morris choreographs straight and same-sex couples’ dances. Charmingly intimate, but a bit choreographically anemic in their combined effect. It seemed like a missed opportunity for either passion or comedy. Or better yet both.

Musically and choreographically, ‘Within You and Without You’ George Harrison’s rock meditation is truly inspired, with Morris’ lacing in classical Indian dance phrases and interfaith universality of cosmic connections. Groovy would be the word.

With the reprise of Sgt. Pepper at the end, is busted open musically with a Bourbon St. trombone lead by Sam Newsome, soprano sax, Ryan Keberle, trombone and Vinnie Sperrazza, percussion turns into a Bourbon St. parade, with the dancers linked and lurching over the stage like soused zombies.

‘Penny Lane‘ was slated for Sgt. Pepper but was actually released as single and was, as flimsy as it was, a hit. Pianist Iverson turns a few bars from Penny Lane into a Bachesque allegro lead in, then Curtis belts out the song’s quaint descriptive lyrics about the ‘Pretty nurses are selling poppies/though she feels she is in a play/she is anyway/A barber shaves another customer/when the fireman rushes in from the pouring rain/ very strange. Morris makes this droll lyrical narrative into a simpleton panto(dance)mime of said action.

In contrast, the simplicity of kick line Morris concocts for ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ is truly inspired, as Iverson scrambles the beat and dancers are warped out of count signatures- (explained in the program-(the between 6 & 4 is 5. under the music-hall scuffle). and despite that extra piece of the puzzle, this is Morris at his most inventive and for the dancers, a whole article could be written about their quicksilver precision. It is Morris at his best, a warm and witty dance dervish par excellence.

The startling ‘A Day in a Life’ the most compelling track musically, with its haunting lead vocal by Lennon, is the finale of Pepperland. In the 60s, guitarist jazz great Wes Montgomery turned it into a smoldering jazz jam and Iverson builds it into an elegiac anthem of a mythical cultural era.

His somber piano melody  in duet with Rob Schwimmer’s theremin’s time-bending effects that lead into the Clinton Curtis’ vocal and then the dancers singing its ethereal chorale, indeed, was such a….. contact high….. circa ’67…8…9. I cried.

Classical Philly

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Gil Shaham and The Philadelphians

The Philadelphia Orchestra

Verizon Hall, Philadelphia

April 28-30, 2022

Gil Shaham, leader & violin

Gil Shaham (photo Chris Lee)

Violinist Gil Shaham fronted the Philadelphia Orchestra, as ‘Leader and soloist’ in a string orchestra program of works by Fritz Kreisler, Joseph Bologne and Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.‘ A herculean task, and yet Shaham didn’t run out of steam, in the zone-sans podium-with the full strings in a semi-circle around him. Because his body was busy with his violin, in lieu of the typical maestro choreography, Shaham ‘leading’ everything with a fascinatingly, minimalist physicality. (More on that in a moment).

On Fritz Kreisler’s Praeludium & Allego, Shaham sounding rushed on the first bars, deliberately perhaps, for when he reached the first notes of Kreisler’s central theme, his rich soulful tone engulfed the concert hall, and was a sumptuous warm up to the orchestra’s legendary strings.

The Philadelphia Orchestra’s musical director Yannick Nezet-Seguin has been correcting previous sins of omission and performing more repertory by composers of color. In this concert, Shaham soloing on a long-overlooked masterpieces of 18th century, by Joseph Boulogne Chevalier St. Georges’ Violin Concerto no. 9 for this concert.

Born around 1745, the son of Nanon, an enslaved woman in colonialized Caribbean islands and a French aristocrat plantation owner. Mother and son escaped to France and Boulonge was raised among France nobility. Joseph excelled at fencing and a gifted violinist and composter. He was subjected to racism, along the way, other musicians refused to collaborate with him. when he was orchestrating his own works, because he was biracial, meanwhile, he was a favorite at the court of Marie Antoinette.

 The Chevalier’s Violin Concerto is in its mastery of forms and in that pocket of baroque-classical forward transitional era. St. George, and his soon to be contemporary Mozart, compositionally prescient, exploring ideas of his own. The glittering courtly structure on the first movement is prelude to the somber symphonic expressionism of the 2nd movement. The Chevalier

The finale of the Vivaldi’s ‘The Four Seasons’ performed with such rigor by the Philadelphians, still evokes a mystique that has remained undimmed in the canon of essential world music. It is earthy and ethereal, narrative and abstract, and for string musicians, foundational and challenging repertory. Each Season a ripe sonata form followed by musical depictions of weather furies, flora, fauna and the musical contemplations of the seasons of life.

Gil Shaham commanded throughout, but never eclipsed the rest of the players. This was orchestrated for a large chamber orchestra and the balance, precision and ensemble energy with Shaham was exquisite. Aside from the warm smile and Shaham was a study in maestro-maneuvers, his back to the musicians. At various times, inching toward the individual musicians at key moments of interplay with the principals up front, otherwise signaling tempos or phrasing with tilts of his head, or craning his body as he fiddled, with very expressive eyebrows signaling sonic contours.

Among the outstanding soloists- principal violinist David Kim, Christine Lin and William Polk (2nd & 3rd violin) and principal cellist Ni-Ye Ni, harpsichordist Avi Stein brilliant in the keyboard counterpoint and those eerily dissonant sustained notes.

This ensemble crystalized every musical idea of this perpetual masterpiece, from Vivaldi’s earthy rhythmic drive to the perpetual motion of baroque form, nothing was diluted.