Walt Whitman would be delighted with all the attention paid to him on his birthday. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that if he were alive today, he’d blog more often than Neil Gaiman, post more selfies than James Franco, and have more Twitter followers than Lady Gaga. Years ago when I visited Whitman’s home in Camden, New Jersey – now a museum – then curator Margaret O’Neill told me the poet was very concerned with how he would be remembered. So much so, he spent over $4000 on a memorial tomb that he designed for himself. (By today’s standard, around a million dollars.)
I came to Whitman’s poetry late – Dead Poets Society late. But more so ten years later when I read Gary Schmidgall’s biography Walt Whitman: A Gay Life. I made a two-part radio program featuring the author and my visit to the poet’s home. Since then, his poetry has often infused my work. But to be honest, I’ve never been able to sit down and read my battered 500-page copy of his epic life’s work Leaves of Grass from beginning to end.
On a sunny spring morning in 1985, I walked downtown to the World Trade Center and took the elevator up to the South Tower Observation Deck. I had lived in New York City for ten years. The next morning I would fly to Amsterdam and this seemed the perfect way to say good-bye… Sixteen years later, I watched the towers fall on a television screen in an eerily quiet Dutch newsroom. Within a couple of weeks I tried to put my feelings into a radio feature. A few years later, authors were doing the same in their books. The following piece was originally written in 2005.
After a series of personal tragedies Gustav Mahler composed what he called his most personal work, which he based on Chinese poetry. A few years later, still suffering from serious depression, Mahler traveled to Leiden in the Netherlands to consult with Dr. Sigmund Freud. The date was August 26, 1910.
Click on the link below for more, including 30 minute audio feature I produced in January 2005 for the series Vox Humana. It was a finalist at the New York Festivals & the Prix Marulic Festival in Croatia.
I know. You don’t like to celebrate birthdays. That probably goes double for this year. So I won’t dwell on it. I’m thinking about another celebration: the Gay Pride Parade in New York City. Come to think of it, you aren’t big on parades either. But maybe today is different. Maybe falling on your birthday, this year’s parade might tempt you from your country home to join the jubilation. I imagine you there with Dagmar, an exotic rainbow on your shoulder, marching to your own drummer. Or maybe not.
The auditorium is nearly full on a Friday afternoon as University of Amsterdam Pride kicks off its 2013 lecture series. The topic is the “unassuming word” queer, and its various conceptualizations and criticisms. It’s a long time since I was a student, and I’m unfamiliar with the latest academic jargon. I hope hegemony doesn’t pop up. I can never remember what that means. Likewise efficacy, post-structuralist and heteronormative. Almost immediately I’m in trouble.
As associate professor of Comparative Literature Murat Aydemir begins his talk, I feel myself sink beneath “another discursive horizon” (de Laurentis, 1991). I’m sitting too far from the exit to slink out unnoticed but I remember how to take notes, even if I don’t know what they mean. I smile and relax when the professor gets lost in one of his own sentences, and suddenly the fog begins to lift. I’m actually following the discussion. Continue reading →