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Three Gay Scientists
I first heard, "Poetry
is the gay science," in 1984
or '85, and understood
Gay men explore
language and living and in poetry
I googled "gay science" and learned
that Friedrich Nietzsche wrote an essay
about poetry entitled "The Gay Science" (1882, 1887).
Three gay scientists,
Harold Norse, Jack Spicer, Allen Ginsberg,
(b. 1916, 1925, 1926, respectively;
a Cancer, a Capricorn, a Gemini)
three worthy, important gay scientists:
Three American Gay Scientists:
T.A.G.S.! Faggots. Labels.
A title, a study, homage, illumination
of diverse poetic talents.
(I'm hungry, I'm horny,
unemployed, dreaming of
editing a Harold Norse reader,
distilling 600 pages of poetry
plus his memoirs to the essentials.
Poets give it away.)
If this were a story -- it's not, it's a poem --
I'd presume the reader
knows nothing of Norse, Spicer and Ginsberg.
So, too, the poem.
I could try, in describing each,
to imitate their poems (Norse: short, sexy things;
Spicer: episodic chapters about and amounting
to nothing; Ginsberg, one
long, orgasmic and famous howl). Instead:
I'll describe three gay scientists (a Ginsberg poem
is titled, "Describe: The Rain on Dasaswamedh"):
Norse, the neglected one,
the intermittently noted one,
Beat, expatriot, hard to pin down.
Harold Norse, born in New York City
of an unwed Russian Jewish immigrant
mother, squalid childhood from which
literature was a college escape along
with early love Chester Kalliman who
landed a bigger catch in famous poet W.H. Auden.
Norse was chosen by William Carlos Williams
to read at the Museum of Modern Art in 1952.
After his first book was published, Norse
moved to Europe, settling, in 1954, in Italy.
Ginsberg, the famous one, wrote
one great poem and a few
good ones. Norse wrote no
great poem, at least no famous one,
but lots of good ones. Spicer
wrote neither of the above but
is nevertheless an important gay scientist.
Norse, eldest by almost a decade (all three
included in Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse where
Norse's birth year is listed erroneously), has outlived
the other two -- Ginsberg died in 1997,
Spicer in 1965 at the age of 40.
Spicer, briefly, was a drunk,
lived in Berkeley, California,
among friends who regularly read poetry.
Spicer knew his stuff and
would read his poems twice and
knew his stuff and disparaged the fame
of Ginsberg and the Beats by calling
his circle The Berkeley Renaissance.
Spicer called for depersonalized poetry.
"The poet is a radio receiver," as he put it.
Even he couldn't get that right.
His influence was stronger than his poems.
His book-length poem, After Lorca, 1957.
is a series of letters to Lorca and
short poems addressed to friends. Spicer then
renounced all his earlier poems and thereafter
wrote only "book" poems, saying poems needed
a larger context, while he drank and held court
in a North Shore bar. He worked,
but it seems very little, as a linguist
for the University in Berkeley and could identify
the county of someone's birth by
hearing the person speak.
a lecture tour to Vancouver, B.C.,
where his poetry was popular, Spicer
was found unconscious in the elevator
of his apartment building, drunk,
taken to the hospital, unidentified for a week,
"thought he was a homeless drunk," he
died there a month later.
Briefly. Briefly? Ginsberg, briefly?
Famous for writing a poem, "Howl",
which he first read at his first public reading
along with four other poets on Oct. 7, 1955,
in San Francisco, the Six Gallery Reading,
the only famous poetry reading I can think of.
When the poem and others were published
the following year, the book was siezed
by San Francisco Customs for being obscene.
A trial was held. The publicity was good for
Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, whose On the Road
appeared shortly after the trial. The Beats
were suddenly famous but no longer were
in America but in Paris at the Beat Hotel.
Ginsberg, the first famous homosexual!
(I mean in America, I mean since Oscar Wilde's tour.)
Ginsberg, forever my mentor and only role model.
"Howl" is the greatest poem of its century.
Ginsberg, where did you go wrong? Why
is so little of the rest of what you would write
good? Instead of "American idiom" we get
stilted Ginsberg electric flashing Ignu-speak.
His work evolved to chanting and singing.
Power to him. Yet he lived off poetry,
a rare feat, an accomplishment.
St. Allen, bright star in grandfather night.
William Carlos Williams
chose Norse. Ginsberg
chose Williams who then
adopted him. But Norse
is true heir to
Williams called for use of
ordinary language, ordinary events,
the "American idiom"
images (don't call them
ideas) one line
at a time.
St. Gertrude. St. Allen.
St. Harold, what are you doing
in the corner?
In Norse, sex is natural.
In Spicer, sex is dysfunctional.
In Ginsberg, sex is exhibitionistic.
I haven't yet called him St. Jack.
Do I? St. Jack of the Bottle.
I tried to be him without realizing it,
before I knew he lived by the bottle,
had already tried that route, the elevator it led to.
I've been on that elevator. Several times.
Post-masturbation did Ginsberg, Allen,
a Blakean "Sunflower" hear.
Norse, often neglected?
Spicer probably should be neglected
(Lawrence Ferlinghetti, publisher of
"Howl" and editor of City Lights Books, asked,
"Do people still read Spicer?" incredulous)
except that he tried.
He ate, breathed and shit poetry.
(Unfortunately, he didn't drink poetry.)
Ginsberg, bright as a nova, unable to sustain it
yet famous the rest of his life and he could sustain that,
rightly admired, honored.
Norse lives meagerly but relates in his memoirs
his times in the European homes or apartments
of patrons. I can't help but ask, Was it an unknown
gilded age Norse lived in? Where are the patrons
of today? Yellow pages? Central casting?
I haven't said anything of science:
Norse is chemistry.
Jacks off to jpg's.
His sex life consists of
a mouse in hand.
Does that mean
he's into bestiality?
Newspaper weather war
onions on anti-abortion
force employment issues
magazine geology peace
peppers in Spicer-specific
spectacles for the blind.
Hats off to Jack. This is
a Real Novel About Rimbaud:
Poetry is written by the Other
in that it has to fit into the
curriculum and chronology,
reflecting its time and tempo
tempered by that bitch, the Muse.
Secret sex, furtive, speechless
thus nothing more can be said or
written in a clumsy language sex
wet dark yearning receiving
Norse Spicer Ginsberg Erato
falling forward seed of a tree
lumbering into tumults of time
supine on a drunken memory boat,
yes, the boat is drunk. I gave
it up years ago, Walt Whitman, I haven't
mentioned your sexy beard yet.
Gay science moves us forward
word by startling word. Erato.
Footnote to "Three Gay Scientists"
Sunday. Want ads.
Unemployed, uninsured, uncle.
An existential purgatory, dread. Every day.
Dawn, birds first.
Seven clematis flowers where yesterday three.
Allergies. I'll wait again till winter to breathe.
Hunger is constant in the Fast Food Nation.
Off-shore prison/torture camps are not democracy.
Tomorrow is George's annual Fourth of July picnic,
and I'll eat watermelon which I don't buy, depriving
myself of prostate-cancer fighting chemicals
also found in tomatoes
I used to hate but am recently craving.
I am a gay scientist. These are my notes.
Dawn, hungry, horny, tired, unsatisfied.
Did I mention unemployed?
I write plenty, get paid nothing.
Spicer died facing unemployment.
No dawn. No end to blank notebook pages.
Sunday. Want ads.
Want to sleep. Need to eat.
Instead this insistent poetry
masturbates in front of me, mocks me.
The Book of Erato
The Book of Lorca
And Don, the boy in college biology class
I couldn't talk to but stared at constantly
when he wasn't looking. I'll write until
history is rewritten to the point where I
talk to him. Almost thirty years ago,
and still I feel an empty flush of love.
Copyright 2005 by Greg Baysans