Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

This afternoon, I went to see Wild Nights With Emily and was blown away.   With a comedic actress in the lead (Molly Shannon), the movie was billed as  a comedic drama, but by the end I was stifling sobs.  It’s true that I kept thinking “poor Emily” at various places in the film, but when all was said and done, it was the sound of the eraser of history that sent me over the edge.

When it came out about two years ago, my partner and I went to see A Quiet Passion — the movie about Emily Dickinson that starred Cynthia Nixon.  While that movie was worth seeing, it erased all mention of Emily’s documented love affairs with women, especially with her sister-in-law Susan.  As I remarked after this movie, what really can be said about Emily when her sexuality is erased?

Her sexuality was crucial — in her development as a poet, in her wring and in her poems which were included in the movie.

My partner and I thought we better see the film while we could, because like all things lesbian, it probably will be dismissed and marginalized.  I do hope this time will be the exception and Wild Nights With Emily will get the acclaim it deserves.

I have long been an admirer of Emily Dickinson and have written about her love of women. Decades ago, Emily’s niece (Susan’s daughter) writing in the New Yorker decades ago described Emily as a “valiant knight” to her mother. I am reprinting a shorter piece that I wrote on Emily below.

A longer essay titled, “The American Sappho: In Pursuit of a Lesbian Emily Dickinson” that I wrote was published in the Vol. 3, Number 3 2002 edition of the Harrington Lesbian Fiction Quarterly (now out of print).

 

Emily Dickinson and I did not hit it off on the first date. That is to say that on introduction to her work, I saw her–or rather was taught to see her–as a lady like poet writing of hearts and flowers, tendrils and vines, the stuff of which had absolutely nothing to do with my life. In junior high when I came across Dickinson’s work, I was already a hell on wheels hard drinking adolescent, a product of my 1970s working class environment that put me on a collision course headed toward disaster.

Emily Dickinson color

It was my love of language that got me through. I’ve often heard it said that poetry serves no purpose. Perhaps that is true if one takes a completely materialistic and emotionally bankrupt view of life. But the fact is that two lines of poetry saved my life: Shakespeare’s “Tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow/ creeps through this petty pace from day to day.” I didn’t know it at the time, but that I could recite this part of Hamlet at will, even if I was on my way to being blasted or hung over from the night before, embedded in my mind that I would have a tomorrow. A tomorrow was not a petty thing to have: a few of my friends didn’t make it.

I wonder if things could have been different, for myself and for the close-knit gang of teenage girls I hung out with. I wonder if a Lesbian reading of Emily Dickinson could have halted our self-destruction and consequently saved a few young lives. It took a few more years for me to grow up, stop drinking and come out as a Lesbian. And when I did I found myself falling head over heels in love with poetry. Emily Dickinson was someone I returned to again and again. There was something clever, yet profound, in her verses that I memorized. The lines were deeply personal, as if they had been written just for me. I found her public personae intriguing. She was portrayed as a spinster, a recluse dressed in white, the eternal virgin who had nothing to do with men.

A few more years passed and I went to visit the Dickinson homestead in Amherst Massachusetts. I was there with a group of friends, some of whom lived in the area and were just visiting her home for the first time. It was ironic really– there we were a room full of Lesbian poets listening to the tour guide’s official wrap about the cloistered and asexual Emily Dickinson, trapped in her father’s house. There was something sinister about the house, foreboding. But behind the house, in the flower garden, was a beautiful wash of colors. And as I sat in the garden, on a white wrought iron bench, I peered through a shady grove to the neighboring house. I remember it being painted in the glowing hues of peach, at once golden and pink. There was something mysterious about this house, set back as it was from the road, directly approachable from the Dickinson homestead. If I were Emily I could not have resisted its magic lure.

I found out later that this house is where Susan Huntington Dickinson lived. She was Emily’s sister-in-law, married to Emily’s brother, Austin, and she was the love of Emily Dickinson’s life. She was Muse to Emily, her intended reader, thoughtful critic and, by more than a few accounts, she was Emily’s lover. In correspondence to Susan, Emily wrote that Susan was “imagination” itself. The two women were close friends for 40 years, and they lived next door to each other for 30 of those years.

In “Open Me Carefully: Emily Dickinson’s Intimate Letters to Susan Huntington Dickinson” (from Paris Press), the editors, Ellen Louise Hart and Martha Nell Smith, point out that over the course of their lifelong friendship and love affair, Emily sent countless numbers of letters, poems and a form of writing that Emily came to call the letter poem. And on many of these letters, placed for Susan to see when she unfolded them, Emily had written her careful instructions: “Open me carefully.”

Emily Dickinson lived at the end of the Victorian-era in New England from 1830 to 1886. After her death, any mention of Susan was carefully removed from her poetry and this essential body of correspondence was neglected. Still, even with this erasure of Susan’s name, which Emily had written at the top of so many of her poems, it is obvious that they are essentially Lesbian love poems. Consider, for example, the piece that begins with the line “Her breast is fit for pearls…”

“Susan, / Her breast is fit for pearls, / But I was not a “Diver”– / Her brow is fit for thrones / But I have not a crest, / Her heart is fit for home– / I–a Sparrow–build there / Sweet of twigs and twine / My perennial nest. / —Emily”

In Victorian New England, Emily Dickinson certainly could not mention her most intimate body parts. But she did a pretty good job of using the birds and bees as metaphor: “These days of heaven bring you nearer and nearer, and every bird that sings, and every bud that blooms, does but remind me more of that garden unseen, awaiting the hand that tills it. Dear Susie, when you come, how many boundless blossoms among the silent beds!”

To separate Emily Dickinson from her Lesbian passions is a cruel and unnecessary act. Not only does it do a disservice to Emily’s poetic genius, but it also deprives her readers of a deeper comprehension of Emily and therefore of a deeper understanding of themselves. That’s what literature, at its best, does. It leads us home.

It really doesn’t matter if Emily Dickinson ever made love with a woman. (Although my guess is that she did and most likely did so rather skillfully.) What matters is that she experienced deep rending passion, that must at times, under the circumstances, have been painful.

A Lesbian reading of Emily Dickinson places her firmly in the center of her own page. When I think back on my visit to her house, I can see her clearly now, sitting down at her desk after her daily chores were done, as she smoothed the white folds of her skirt and picks up her quilled pen. As she writes, her cheeks are ablaze with longing and desire, that essential Lesbian desire.

 

Available through you local library, THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders is also available through your local bookstore or online.

To learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.

they_cover1_300

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Janet Mason is holding her book launch for her novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon — 2018) at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore on July 26, a Thursday evening, at 7 p.m.  The Big Blue Marble Bookstore is located at 551 Carpenter Lane, Philadelphia 19119.

Amazon THEY

 

Mason, who teaches at Temple University Center City and the Mt. Airy Learning Tree, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for a section of the novel.

Mason is also an award-winning creative writer, teacher, radio commentator, and blogger for The Huffington Post. She records commentary for This Way Out, the internationally-aired LGBTQ radio syndicate based in Los Angeles. Her book, Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters, published by Bella Books in 2012, was chosen by the American Library Association for its 2013 Over the Rainbow List. Tea Leaves also received a Goldie Award. She is the author of three poetry books. Mason is a lay minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of The Restoration located on Stenton Avenue in East Mt. Airy.

From the back cover of THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders:

Janet Mason has a storyteller’s gift, weaving rich imagery with provocative twists to create a world where gender is as complex and fluid as the emotional bond between twins. With its Biblical, Pagan, fantastical and modernist roots, THEY is not easily categorized – and even harder to put down.

Susan Gore, PhD, Editor, Coming Out in Faith: Voices of LGBTQ Unitarian Universalists

 

To read an excerpt from THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders, click here.

Read Full Post »

After hearing about the controversy on Samantha’s B’s Full Frontal, I decided to repost this blogpost featuring my poem, “The Cunt Sonnet.”  I originally wrote it in about 1992 when I attended The Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado.  It was so long ago that Allen Ginsberg, alive and well, was on the panel when the poem was read by the theatrical Bobbie Louise Hawkins.

I heard that the word cunt — as in that “feckless cunt” — is regularly used in Canada (where Samantha is from) and in Europe.  “Cunt” has a long and regal history.  (Obviously Samantha was upset by the news — and justifiable so.) Let’s give her another chance.  And let’s take back the word in the United States!

The cunts are coming, the cunts are coming!”

 

I heard that recently, on Face Book that there were some derogatory references going around containing the word “cunt.” Someone remembered my poem from the old days, “The Cunt Sonnet,” which I posted below. I came of age in a woman-affirming lesbian feminist community. No doubt that entered my thinking when I wrote “The Cunt Sonnet”. Now, more than a quarter of a century ago, I was at Naropa Institute for the summer in Boulder Colorado (when Allen Ginsberg was still there) when I was inspired to write the poem.  After one of the faculty members, the writer Bobbie Louise Hawkins, read it on the farewell panel, I took a bow as “the cunt who wrote it.” Indeed.  It is always time to reclaim the word “cunt” — perhaps now more than ever.

 

 

The Cunt Sonnet

The cathedral of my cunt is a real cunt-nundrum:
what and who it wants often I do not.vaginal art five calla lily
since the days of the cunt-iforms,
ancient Persia and Babylon,
this had been engraved in stone.
Still the English midwives,
those working class cunt-esses,
call a cunt a cunt.
Hark their cries in the dark night:
The cunts are coming!
The cunts are coming!
Join the cunt-ilinguists.
Scream it on the tastebuds of our common cunts
as they rise in my cunty swagger
for I am a cunting woman by day and by night
when those invited and not enter my dreams:
Cunts all, I embrace them warmly.
With my woman, cunt-ilingus is our pleasure boat
Sometimes slippery canoe or runaway yacht.
Each morning I hasten to salute:
My cunt-ry tis of thee
Sweet land of liberty.

by Janet Mason

first published in When I Was Straight, poems by Janet Mason from Insight To Riot Press (1995)

 

thanks to CA Conrad for encouraging me to submit to EOAGH, A Journal of the Arts

(CA may have been the guest editor at the time)

https://chax.org/eoagh/issue3/issuethree/mason.html

 

To learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (just published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.
Amazon THEY

Read Full Post »

Note: This piece is re-airing worldwide this week on This Way Out (TWO), the syndicated LGBT radio show.  Click here to listen to the entire show.

(TWO is the first international LGBTQ radio news magazine.)

History is a messy business.

After all, it does involve human beings.

I have not thought this until now — specifically when I read the 2017 biography titled Oscar’s Ghost, The Battle for Oscar Wild’s Legacy by Laura Lee by Amberly Publishing in England.

 

Oscar Wilde

The book covers some new territory. It portrays the struggle for literary control over Wilde’s estate.

But the first one hundred and fifty pages or so were about the events of Wilde’s life — event that led up to the struggle over his writing by the two men in his life.

This was fortunate for me because (in full disclosure), I had not read any of the previous biographies about Wilde. Here’s the short version. Wilde was born in 1854 in Dublin, Ireland, went to college in England, married a woman as custom dictated, became a well-known writer, discovered he was gay, fell hopelessly in love with a younger man named Lord Alfred Douglas and went to jail for that love in 1895. He was then released from jail in 1897 and in 1900 died penniless.

It was interesting to read that the well-known line — “the love that dare not speak its name” — was a line of poetry written by Lord Alfred Douglas that was used in the court case against Oscar Wilde. It was equally fascinating to read that when Oscar spoke of his devotion to Lord Alfred Douglas (nicknamed Bosie) in the courtroom that the attendees of the trial applauded. This is proof that people (at least some of them) are always more enlightened than the laws that govern them.

Oscar was found guilty and went to jail. In prison, he wrote what is arguably his best work titled De Profundis (Latin for “from the depths”), a letter to Lord Alfred Douglas. We have this work because Oscar handed it to his good friend and literary executor Robert Ross who was also his occasional lover.

The long-essay did not portray Lord Alfred Douglas in a good light. After all, Douglas was the reason that Oscar had gone to jail and lost everything. Nevertheless after Oscar’s release from jail the two men reunited and for a short time lived in Naples. After Oscar died an untimely death from a rare disease in 1900, Lord Alfred Douglas learned of the existence of De Profundis and that it was written as a letter to him. Because of this, he considered it his personal property and went into a litigious rage.

The two men knew of Oscar’s involvement with each other and for a while they were good friends. The enmity that grew between them after Oscar’s death was unfortunate. But we do have Robert Ross to thank for establishing Oscar Wilde’s legacy.

In the conclusion, the author notes how fast things have changed:

“In March 2014, same sex marriage became legal in the UK. A little more than a year later it became the law of Oscar Wilde’s native Ireland. In January 2017, Wilde was posthumously pardoned, along with 50,000 other gay men who had been convicted under a law that no longer exists. It can only be hoped that we are finally entering an era when men who love men can, indeed, be dead to all sense of shame.”

To learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (just published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.

Read Full Post »

Following is a YouTube video of me reading from Catwalk a new novel that I am currently revising.  The same story — that of revisiting and revising Sodom and Gomorrah — is printed in my blogpost below the video.

Based on a fictional interpretation of the life of my maternal grandfather,  Catwalk opens in 1927 when Joseph leaves his wife and two daughters to find himself.  He is in love with his best friend Vince, but does the love that dare not speak its name exist in the 1920s?

It does – in speakeasies, honky tonks, in the back rows of silent film houses, the alleyways near Times Square, between sailors in Gulfport, Mississippi and in the Merchant Marine where Joseph and Vince enlisted at the beginning of the Great War. Still, Joseph is torn between being a “normal man”  (in the vernacular of the time) and a “degenerate.” He tells himself that he is not a “fairy.”  He just loves Vince. He day dreams about the two of them setting up house, and  having a life together.

But this son of a Southern Baptist deacon raised in Biloxi, finds himself constantly at odds with his own demons.  Catwalk is a tale of romantic adventure where historic settings come to life. This excerpt of Catwalk takes place when Joseph falls asleep on the beach in Biloxi Mississippi and dreams of a different world.

 

 

 

Joseph opened the car door and stepped out onto the shoulder of the road. He walked around the front of the car to the beach. He felt the sand sink under his shoes. Unsteadily, he put one foot in front of the other and walked to the water’s edge. He relieved himself and when he was done he staggered backwards and found himself sitting on dry white sand. He sat cross-legged and dug his right foot into the sand.  A clump of sand fell into his shoe. Joseph reached down and untied his shoe. He took it off and held the black leather shoe upside down. He emptied the sand onto the beach. He put the narrow toed shoe on again and tied the laces tightly. He ignored the grains of sand clinging to his pant legs. He tied his shoes. He felt the sand in his shoe again. Joseph started to reach for his shoe to empty it out again but let it go. What did it matter?
He stared up. Bright stars punctured black sky. Vince was out there somewhere.  Perhaps he was looking at the stars, too. Joseph wanted to stop thinking about Vince, but he couldn’t think of anything else. Joseph clutched his hand to his chest and rocked back and forth. He rarely cried. He didn’t even cry at his mother’s funeral. But now he was alone in the dark. He was drunk. He spent the day with a cadaver that looked like Vince. Joseph could still smell the acrid scent of the embalming fluid. Joseph looked to his left at the sand dunes and then to the right at the vaults and tombstones. He twisted around and stared back at a vault that was behind the tombstones at the top of the beach. The cross atop the vault shimmered.
Joseph was alone with the tiny white stone house of death that was waiting for him. A flash of inspiration came to him. The only way that he could escape his memories of Vince was to leave Biloxi. Vince’s presence was too strong here. The two of them had grown up here together as boys. They had run off together and joined the Merchant Marine when they were young men. As adults, they had talked about returning to Biloxi.
Joseph lay down on the sand and curled into a fetal position. The humid summer’s night air wrapped around him like a blanket. He shut his eyes and listened to waves wash over pebbles. His crossed his arms so that they made an X across his chest. The fingertips of his left hand burrowed into cool grains of damp sand. He fell asleep and dreamed that he was standing in the cemetery with a shovel.  He was digging into the sand — digging and digging.  A familiar voice called. It was deep and pleasant   But it was distant. Joseph had to find Vince. The voice brought back everything that he had ever loved. They had been boys together, sitting next to each other in church, swimming through the waves to a deserted isle where they could pretend they were shipwrecked sailors. Vince was a part of him.  His voice brought everything back: Vince being bullied when he was a boy; the scar that was left on his cheek when Joseph had defended him — the two of them becoming fast friends, boys growing to men. The first time they had made love was in the memories of sea foam. Even Joseph’s jealousies of Vince’s girlfriends seemed important now. He realized that this had been part of the love that formed him, before and after they had joined the Merchant Marine.  Their shared experience of being fathers was part of their love for each other, too.  Vince was at his happiest when he had become a father, twice over.  Joseph had been genuinely happy for him. He had almost been as happy when his own children were born.
Vince called to him in a deep, melodious voice that was separate from Joseph but part of him, too. The voice was louder with every shovel full of sand that Joseph dug up and flung over his shoulder. He began digging faster, faster. The voice still sounded like it was far away. He dug the hole so deep that he could no longer reach the bottom. Joseph thought he saw translucent arms reaching toward him from the hole. They were attached to broad shoulders, a barrel chest. Joseph saw Vince’s olive skinned face with the scar above his cheek.  His mouth was open. He was calling to Joseph. Joseph could see Vince’s chiseled face, but Vince looked like a ghost. Joseph hoped that Vince wasn’t dead.
Like a man dying of thirst, Joseph peered at the apparition. His eyes were that parched for a glimpse of Vince. Suddenly the apparition became filled with blinding light. Joseph stared into the light. He saw that it was a tall figure with wings the span of an Albatross.

angel in city
Joseph realized, as he stared into the light, that it was Vince disguised as an angel. Vince was one of the angels who came to visit Lot in Sodom. But instead of an angel disguised as a man, he was a man disguised as an angel. But it wasn’t one angel that visited Lot. There were two angels. Joseph knew that Vince was alone and lonely. He was searching for Joseph. Joseph could be the other angel. They would be together again. Together they had visited Sodom where the neighboring men from the town had knocked on Lot’s door, saying that they wanted to “know” the angels. But in his version of the story, the angels would leave together, arm in arm, rather than assisting God in burning down Sodom and Gomorrah.
They would leave together and fly off with their Albatross wings to a land in the clouds where two men could love each other. Their love would be bright and true.  Their love would be so strong that it could change everything, including a world that denied they existed.
Joseph only had to tell Vince that their love could change everything — that they could create a world that was so good it was brilliant.
If only Joseph could touch him. Joseph cast down his shovel and dove into the hole. When he reached the dazzling angel that was Vince, he fell right through him. It was as if he was plunging through flaming hoops at the circus.  Yet the flames did not burn or scorch him. The fire cleansed him. It was as if he were precious metal. He could feel the dross dropping away. His intent was purified.
The Bible said that Godly fire would consume the wicked, but not the righteous.
His love for Vince was righteous.
He fell through the light into the darkness.  As he entered the darkness, he knew that his love was as pure as the fire of God. Vince returned that love. They would be reunited.  Together they would spread the gospel of love.
Love was the energy that created the world.
The fire did not destroy him.  It fueled him.  He would find Vince. He had faith in the power of love. He would seek love, and he would be rewarded in this life and the next.
His joy would be fulfilled through Vince. This was his word.
Joseph tumbled heels over head through the long tunnel that he had dug.  The apparition of Vince and the blaze of the angel vanished.  But Joseph could hear Vince calling to him from far in the distance.
“Joseph. Joseph.”
Joseph kept falling through darkness.
“Joseph. Come closer. Closer.”
Joseph kept falling. He created a V with his arms behind him so that he could fly more smoothly with the wind rippling off his body. He was no longer falling. He was soaring downward.
Vince was somewhere in this tunnel.  Together, their love would illuminate the darkness.
Joseph kept soaring.  He was determined to find Vince — even if he had to plunge straight through to the other side of the earth.

Read Full Post »

Several Sunday’s ago, I co-led a Unitarian Universalist service with Tim Styer (who is also the church’s moderator) and had Becky Birtha come and read her latest children’s book — Far Apart, Close in Heart (Being a Family When a Loved One Is Incarcerated (published by Albert Whitman & Company). The YouTube video of part of Becky’s reading is below. The service took place at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration on Stenton Ave. in Philadelphia.

For Tim Styer’s sermon on Martin Luther King, Jr., and Unitarian Universalism, click here.

For my reflection on visiting the memorial of Martin Luther King, Jr., in Atlanta, click here.

 

 

Beckys Book

 

Read Full Post »

Note:  this review is being aired this week on the international LGBTQ radio syndicate This Way Out, headquartered in Los Angeles. To listen to the entire news wrap, click here.

rainbow leaf

leaf of love 2.jpg

A very interesting read that I picked up recently is Aunt Sookie & Me, the sordid tale of a scandalous southern belle by Michael Scott Garvin (2017; CreateSpace). This book is a Southern coming of age story about a young girl on the cusp of adolescence who lives with her riotously funny aunt in Savannah Georgia in 1968.  The main character has a secret and — because it makes the character and the plot more complex – I’ll tell you what that secret is.  Despite the fact that she declares that she is a girl, the narrator – Poppy – was born Samuel and on moving to Savannah from another small Southern town decided not to tell anyone … for a time … about her carefully guarded secret.

Aunt Sookie & Me is a novel about difference in the midst of the sameness. The aunt is eccentric, the mother who drops in now and then has more than her share of problems, and the ice cream man is gay. On a grand level, this novel  is about conformity – and how this often doesn’t work – especially for people who happen to be female.  It is also a novel about acceptance including, perhaps starting with, self-acceptance.  Ultimately, this extremely well-written novel is about love.  After reading it, I will never view any small southern town with the same eyes.

Not only does the novel contain some important history, it proves that yes, we do exist. And because of this, we make things more interesting.

This is Janet Mason with commentary of queer life and literature for This Way Out.

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »