April is full of topics to write about. April Fool’s Day, Tax Day, and the springtime holidays all offer opportunities for articles. Likewise, Wilton Manors decision to fly the Transgender Flag on Transgender Visibility Day on March 31, offers plenty of material one could write about.
I decided instead to remind everyone that April is National Poetry Month. To many, poetry is some obscure form of writing, an elitist art form, that requires too much effort to write and understand, and is no longer relevant in today’s electronic world. However, the power of just a few words, the intensity of language, the ability to spark great controversy, and the capacity to change lives and influence young minds are what makes poetry so important. This is why we should stop and ponder this medium during National Poetry Month.
Take a moment to look back to a time when smartphones did not dominate our lives, when communication was not governed by 140 characters of Tweeting, and when we read, we consumed information and gained knowledge that gave us the ability to move beyond ourselves. As a young gay man, reading and specifically reading poetry showed me a whole different world. It gave me the awareness that there were others like me who lived in silence amongst the many, but who craved acceptance, understanding, love, and especially freedom to be who we are.
Many suffered humiliation, hatred, violence, but remained beautifully optimistic and longing for better days. As with many young gays of the 70’s, aware of the inequality, lack of civil rights and protections, I was inspired by the black civil rights movement and its leaders. The talk of rights and liberties for marginalized minority groups demanding their fair share of the American Dream and the fight for equality of those who had been pushed into an inferior class of citizenship inspired me to become involved.
No wonder two of my favorite poets are Langston Hughes and James Baldwin. They wrote about oppression and prejudice, but also about the wonders of freedom and equality, with hints of their homosexuality woven into their words, words that allowed eager young minds to gain awareness of themselves.
In “Café: 3 AM,” Langston Hughes protests an early morning police bashing at a gay bar, not an unusual occurrence back in 1960’s America. In “A Lover’s Question,” James Baldwin writes about facing the truth of one’s own self, looking in the mirror, the mirror being the reflection from his lover’s eyes.
Another of my favorites is Maya Angelou, especially her groundbreaking work in 1969, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” Those of us growing up with the labels of “faggot,” “nigger,” and “low-life” and feeling marginalize and inferior as we searched to understand ourselves can gain inspiration, confidence, and self-assurance from this amazing work. Years later, Maya wrote a poem of the same name, which gives us the answer to why the caged bird sings, “… The caged bird sings for freedom.”
I recently came across an amazing poem, entitled, “James Baldwin,” about the life of the gay black poet and author. Here are a few lines:
They don’t have a holiday
For the Black and Gay
No one wants you if you don’t say
The right things or belong to the right church.
White Society has no use for you.
You are not the Black Boogie man
They can use to scare their women
Black Society is through with you.
You are not the Brother man
That can spread his seed
And keep the race strong.
You fight the causes,
Longing to belong in your home,
To live in your skin,
Breathe your air,
Sing your song.
Wondering when will you be free?
While we enjoy great freedoms here in wonderful Wilton Manors, able to be who we want to be, we must never take it all for granted. The rights we fought so long and hard to win must be cherished and guarded at all costs. Thank you, Michael Rajner, for leading the charge to display the Transgender Flag. Thanks to our Mayor and City Commission for their decision to have the Transgender Flag fly alongside the Pride Flag at Jaycee Park, showing support for members of our community who are faced with enormous obstacles to be free. Those who wish to chip away at our rights will begin with the weakest among us, and we as a community must unite and stand strong together. This is the only way everyone in Wilton Manors can continue to say “… Life is just better here!”