This fall, queer poets are gathering and performing not in bars or bookstores, but in people’s homes. Reviving the notion of the salon, when living rooms were used to host creative people for an intimate evening, not one but two groups of queer poets are honoring women in this refreshing venue.
Michelle Antoinette Nelson, better known as nationally renowned performer LOVE the poet, is one of the minds behind The Revival: A Black Lesbian Poet tour, now in its second season. LOVE the poet (whose name is from her days as a college RA, when she would hold poetry readings and have the audience snap and chant “Love!” after each poet read) performs spoken word with a ferocity and heart that would leave Nicki Minaj tongue tied. A member of the Punany Poets, who were featured on HBO’s Real Sex, she for awhile was known as the token lesbian poet, and thought to only write erotic poetry. But LOVE the poet is far more dynamic, as seen in her most recent publication, Black Marks on White Paper, a poetic memoir.
“I am black, gay, and a woman born in America,” LOVE told Lambda Literary in an interview, “and thus my work is a reflection of what I have seen and experienced as the complete opposite of what and who is deemed ‘the norm’ in America. Sometimes my perspective may be just as ‘normal’ as anyone else’s or it could be completely to the left of the general consensus.”
Also headlining is t’ai freedom ford, an award-winning slam poet who’s a constant presence on the spoken word scene. She is forthright and generous jane-of-all-trades, who also DJs, teaches, writes and publishes fiction (she has an MFA). And her charm is palpable: When asked why she performs as a poet, she answers, “Most poets would lie and say it’s about sharing their message or rallying a cause, but let’s be honest: it’s about ego. Signifyin’ and looking cute.” Her sensual poetry will surely have everyone who attends The Revival in the palm of her talented hand.
These two poets alone would draw an incredible crowd, but The Revival, with tour stops in DC, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and Chicago, are joined by the acoustic folk-soul duo SolRose, and guest poets in every city, including Bettina Judd, E. Kairo Miles, R. Erica Doyle, and Patience Rowe. For anyone who has looked at the queer literary scene and wished for more people of color, more lesbians, more gender non-conforming queers, this roster is enough to make one weep. There’s a serious lack of a diversity of voices in literature, let alone queer literature, and Cereus Arts, the group who organizes The Revival, is taking radical action by gathering these poets together. Asked to define The Revival, Dappho The Flow-er of SolRose said, “I think it’s a gathering of queer black women sharing their artistic expertise to the world.” To be able to see these women and queers perform in someone’s living room, an intimate venue like no other, is something not to be missed.
Other queer poets have resurrected the notion of the salon, including Alex Dimitrov, who began the now-infamous Wilde Boys queer poetry salon in 2009. While the poets and writers in attendance were originally just men, Dimitrov made sure this changed, and women began popping up soon after. “I never meant for Wilde Boys to be an all male space,” Dimitrov says. “I wanted it to be a queer space – a queer space where we could talk about literature at an informed, challenging level. And also socialize and have great conversation. Sounds better than a bar, doesn’t it?” If poetry salons are the new gay bar, then, by all means, count me in.
This season, Wilde Boys is hosting Women We Love, Women We Want to Be, and have asked three outstanding female poets to be their guests, including Eileen Myles, who will be reading from her Lambda-Award winning book, Inferno. “I chose women poets that I love,” Dimitrov says. “And poets that I felt could contribute to an ongoing dialogue about queer culture.’ What’s great about salons is how they create a space for everyone to dialogue about writing, creativity, and in this case, queerness. This isn’t an awkward Q and A happening in some Barnes and Noble; this is happening right in front of you. Wilde Boys’ salons break down not only the wall between established poet and emerging poets, but also the walls between queer men and women.
Dimitrov feels strongly about what a radically queer space means for queers beyond the gay white male. “My generation of gay men needs to be a better generation of gay men to women, and to trans people, and to a lot of people in the queer community who haven’t been heard and whose issues haven’t been addressed as a result of our white gay male privilege,” he says. ‘I can’t emphasize enough how strongly I feel about this and how hard I’m willing to work in order to change the gay male focused approach to queer politics.”
They say the revolution will not be televised, but with The Revival and Wilde Boys happening in our time, it will be coming to a living room near you.