Hella Close: Stories of Queer Intimacy is a three-part series of RADAR’s Queering the Castro Project at Magnet Men’s Health Clinic. This series is offered Autumn 2015- on October 26th and again on November 17th.
By Mud Howard, Radar Editorial Intern
This night was the first of a three-part series of Queer Intimacy readings, part of RADAR’s “Queering the Castro” program—a yearlong sneak-attack project designed to inject the Castro with some much-needed queer sass. This was evident as the space filled up with people squeezing into chairs, huddled in corners, and sitting against the wall. In the buzzing minutes before the reading began, no one’s wandering eyes could miss the multitude of psychedelic gay male erotica artwork lining the walls—a thousand dicks spinning. It’s quite possible that the Castro hasn’t seen this many dykes and PoC in one place since…before it was gentrified!
“So many people didn’t want this, but we want it,” Juliana Delgado Lopera notes as she takes stage in her black lipstick to introduce the readers for the night. Amongst them is the hilarious Nikki Darling, fierce Jezebel Delilah X, lovely Roberto Santiago and show-stopper Ben McCoy.
Nikki Darling brought the night into focus by reading a long, hilarious and heartfelt story about a girl who “grew up nestled in the armpit of other people’s luxury.”
“I just took a Sudafed so it’s gonna be an adventure for all of us,” Darling confesses before diving into her story. The crowd waxed and waned with each of the performers as they revealed stories full of the tender failures and bittersweet successes of queer intimacy.
Jezebel Delilah X read next, with a performance that can be best described as the embodiment the cry-laugh. She is an explosion of intimacy from the moment she opens her mouth—confessing that, “As a writer (and hopeless romantic) I always feel like when I date people I should make them sign a contract.” Delilah’s work is all about her uncompromising delivery, with a voice and jovial tonality that makes me wish every bad news I ever received could be relayed back to me through the words of Jezebel Delilah.
Robert Santiago took the stage third, doing the audience a favor with his outfit choice, a red cardigan draped elegantly over his shoulder. He decided to take that big risk that poets constantly avoid all the while knowing it is crucial for our survival as writers—reading new shit. His poem “Becoming Turquoise” was a beautiful and translucent account of a young boy coming into his own.
But the moment that truly sealed the Queer Intimacy chamber of our hearts was the unexpected and vulnerable performance that Ben McCoy gave as the last reader of the night. She stole the air out of the room with the raw story she shared of her father, his illness, and the undying love and fight he inculcated in her throughout her adolescence.
I’m telling you…do yourself and the Castro a solid and come to Hella Close Pt. II on October 26th at Magnet. If you’re looking for a place to accidentally run into your Tinder crush IRL, trust me, this is the place for you.
Mud Howard is a queer trans poet with a lot of feelings who fiercely believes in the healing power of the selfie. Mud is a recent graduate of the IPRC’s low-res MFA Poetry Program and recently moved to the Bay Area for big, new dreamy things. Gemini Rising/Cancer Sun/Libra Moon.
By Mud Howard, Radar Editorial Intern
What’s a better way to spend a Tuesday evening than refusing to witness how much earlier the sun sets in autumn, going to the basement room in the San Francisco Main Library and getting your queer lit fix instead? This month featured the four distinct San Francisco voices of writers Nomy Lamm, Daphne Gottlieb, Carolyn Ho and writer/illustrator Diego Gómez. Each artist stepped into the pink corner of the room to read from their respective novels, new projects, elusive manuscripts and uncovered dissertations.
Nomy Lamm first took the stage, unwrapping a scarf from which the only copy of her experimental novel 515 Clues emerges. The thick leather bound cover looks as if it holds behind it all the esoteric magic and self-revelation one could ask for. Lamm reminds us in her writing, just how close to queerness God really is, as the young girl in the novel “sits naked on the dining room table, waiting for Jesus to enter her.”
“Did I break it yet?” Daphne Gottlieb coolly asked after unapologetically clanging through a microphone adjustment. This charisma and force was a presence in the room as she read aloud from her surreal collection of short stories, Pretty Much Dead. She charged the audience with her sharp, lyrical cadence describing the cyclical conditions of transient life in San Francisco. These stories might have broken something in the room, but it certainly wasn’t the microphone.
The night wouldn’t have been complete without Carolyn Ho’s undying sardonic brilliance paired with Diego Gómez’s thoughtful, intricate artwork. “I tend to write about dogs and my mother in obscene ways,” Ho confessed as she shared her visceral poems. Gómez took the stage last, and by took I mean stole, with their curated drag persona Trangela Lansbury in full garb. Imagine Disney’s Little Mermaid with a full glitter beard and mustache taking some serious style tips from Mystique in the X-Men (or rather, Ex-Men as Gómez sees it). Gomez’s comic “”EX-MEN ’63: The Feminine Mystique” chronicles a history of injustice and identity politics wrapped in American cultural snapshots of the 1960’s.
The reading ended with a hot tray of fresh baked cookies. Each cookie is a powerful bargaining chip, an incentive for the audience to ask questions and propel us through the nail-biting silence that is the first sixty seconds of every Q&A. Everyone was curious about the physical forms of these authors’ work. In the age of rising digital availability, those of us who go to readings still want to get our hands on a copy of our favorite writers’ work. When asked why she keeps writing, even when the economic prospects of poetry are slim-to-none, Carolyn Ho puts it simply: “I write because my therapist tells me to. Plus, there are so many things to get angry about.” And let’s be honest, getting angry about these things always feels better when we do it together. So come out to RADAR’s rad events and let’s do it together!
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Mud Howard is a queer trans* poet with a lot of feelings who fiercely believes in the healing power of the selfie. Mud is a recent graduate of the IPRC’s low-res MFA Poetry Program and recently moved to the Bay Area for big, new dreamy things. Gemini Rising/Cancer Sun/Libra Moon.
RADAR brings thoughtful programming focused on the Queer Literary Arts to your Campus! Read on & share widely…
Radar Productions is a San Francisco based non-profit focused on queer literary arts. Radar produces 25+ events each year, introducing our audiences to emerging queer artists for low or no cost. Radar prioritizes the experiences of writers and poets who are trans* and queer identified as well as those of people of color. Bring Radar to your campus to introduce students to the vitality of the queer literary scene in the Bay Area!
For questions and booking rates inquiries please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Professionalizing the Arts
Radar realizes that many young artists face anxieties about professionalization: will I be able to find a job in the arts? how can I monetize my art? In this talk, Radar’s Executive Director and Managing Director team up to bring your students an hour-long presentation and Q&A focused on strategies for professionalizing. This presentation offers concrete tools we have used to develop Radar artists.
Radar Artist Talk
This hour-long talk will begin with a performance from one of Radar’s artists, followed by a facilitated conversation on process, method and politics with Radar’s Executive Director, Juliana Delgado Lopera.
WHO IS RADAR?
Founded in 2003 by writer Michelle Tea, RADAR Productions nurtures queer artists and audiences by organizing literary arts programs that authentically reflect Queer communities’ experiences. RADAR’s presenting, commissioning, touring and professional development programs give voice to innovative Queer writers and artists and explores the community-building role played by literature and the arts.
MEET RADAR’S NEW EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Juliana Delgado Lopera is an award-winning Colombian writer/educator/oral-historian based in San Francisco. The recipient of the 2014 Jackson Literary award, and a finalist of the Clark-Gross Novel award, she’s the author of ¡Cuéntamelo! an illustrated bilingual collection of oral histories by LGBT Latin@ immigrants awarded the Regen Ginaa Grant from Galería de la Raza and a 2014 National Queer Arts Festival Grant from the Queer Cultural Center. Her work has been published in Four Way Review, The Bold Italic, Weird Sister, Revista Canto, Transfer Magazine, Raspa Magazine, Black Girl Dangerous, and SF Weekly among others. She’s performed in countless events around the Bay Area including Action Fiction!, Red Light Lit, Beast Crawl, Lit Quake and lectured at Wayward Writers, SFSU, 826 Valencia.
For questions and booking rates inquiries please email: email@example.com
Joshua Jennifer Espinoza’s poetry gives me the feels. I met this glasses-wearing goddess at a poetry reading at the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at USC. She went like second among a group of contributors to NEPANTLA: A JOURNAL DEDICATED TO OUEER POETS OF COLOR. The evening’s emcee, Christopher Soto, wHispered to me (thru the internets) that Nepantla’s goal is to preserve diversity, and one güey Nepantla accomplishes this is by drawing a diversely sexy oddience. No exaggeration, the queerdos listening to verse and the queerdos reading verse at ONE another were all just really good-looking peeple. Not that that matters but it does.
Okay, so what grabbed me about Joshua Jennifer Espinoza’s poetry? This. And I mean this with TOE-tull sincerity. Eye can be a lexical ( and Mexican) asshole. My word choices <insert a snobby synonym for drip> with elitism. Like I have been known to say the word pernicious before 8 a.m. My writing suffers from baroque assholishness. I think. Joshua Jennifer Espinoza, however, pulls from a grab bag of wordz I’ve watched teenagers text to one another over and over and over, alphabetic sentiments that ought to be printed on queer valentimes candy, and Joshua Jennifer Espinoza assembles her alphabits into poems that manage to push all the tender buttons the muses-Calliope, Eutwerp, Erato, and Polyhymnia-finger best. Fingers, fingers, fingers, butter butterfingers writing verse connected to heartstrings, and that’s not to say that Joshua Jennifer Espinoza’s work goes overboard. With sentimentality. It flirts with doing that but then cuts back with a ferocity, a sharpness, a jab, a turn of phrase that moves us towards a whoa image or an encounter with Joshua Jennifer Espinoza’s body (which is there and not there, much like the present). Dead, alive, and dead and covered in daisies that float against pale denim. Its as if we’re moving forward. All the time. We’re discovering the future together, and we choose to like it. Its Joshua Jennifer Espinoza’s version of over the rainblow.
The cover of her book is blue.
Joshua Jennifer Espinoza is blue.
I bought Joshua Jennifer Espinoza’s I’M ALIVE/IT HURTS/I LOVE IT and just looking at the cover makes my brain go to work placing her writing in conversation with the work of one of my favorite creative peeple, Sarah Faith Gottesdiener.
JOSHUA JENNIFER ESPINOZA: The moon is trans.
SARAH FAITH GOTTESDIENER: The <insert moon emoji> is Feminist Art.
JJE: She is waiting for you, pulling at you softly.
SFG: YOU ARE NOTHING WITHOUT FEMINIST ART.
JJE: she is not delicate and she is not weak
SFG: Witch! Witch! Is Witch?
JJE: She will outlive everything you know.
Where does dis poetry fit into the larger scheme of queer poetics and bee yond?
Well, it tetrises into the schemas of internetty and texty poetry that hearken to the werk of twitter’s poet laureate, Patricia Lockwood. And then Joshua Jennifer’s Espinoza’s work also cuddles up to Tao Lin’s prose, which happens to be in luv with linguistic bunality. It forsakes the baroque by saying no thanks. It’s so fresh. Clean. Minty and crisp. If American Apparel was uncomfortable in her body AND wrote poetry, she would churn out a book and call it I’M ALIVE/IT HURTS/I LOVE IT.
QUESTIONS I ASKED JOSHUA JENNIFER ESPINOZA THROUGH THE OUIJA BOARD KNOWN AS THE INTERNET
RADAR: How did you come to get involved with Nepantla?
JOSHUA JENNIFER ESPINOZA: Christopher Soto sent me a Facebook message asking if I’d like to read my poetry for Nepantla and I was happy to say yes! We then ended up meeting and reading together in San Francisco and Oakland this past July while I was on the Trans Planet poetry tour (with Manuel Arturo Abreu, Jos Charles, Die Dragonetti, and Sarah June Woods). I really enjoyed the time I spent with Soto and was so excited to hear their work.
R: How do you feel about having your work classified as “trans?” Sometimes it bugs me to have my work labeled as “Hispanic” or “lesbian” or whatever because I feel reduced to that as a thing, like that is the principal part of my identity and therefore the principal part of my work.
JJE: It doesn’t bother me a whole lot. I mean, I’d love to be able to make great work and just be recognized for that, but my transness is inextricable from my work, from my life in general. I can’t go anywhere or do anything without being reminded that I’m trans. Of course, there is a difference between me experiencing my work as “trans” and others labeling it that way—unfortunately, I can’t control what others mean when they understand my work as “trans,” so I do often have the sense that I’m being reduced to a label. But, again, it’s not something I can escape and I’m not sure I’d want my work to be seen as “normal”, since that’s just code for “cis”. As long as this world wants people like me dead, my work will be trans.
R: My favorite poem of yours is THE MOON IS TRANS. Describe your relationship to the moon.
JJE: The moon is cool. There are these two giant spheres in the sky and you’re only allowed to look at one of them. That’s fucked up. I have lots of dreams about being on the moon. They used to scare me, but now I look forward to them. THE MOON IS TRANS is sort of about me having empathy for this object that people stare at and write about. I think she just wants everyone to recognize her beauty and power and leave her alone.
R: I really like how you dress. Everybody I was sitting with at the reading was stoked about your glasses and kept commenting on them when we went out for tacos afterwords. Also, I really do think poets have some of the best style. What influences your personal style? How does style matter to you?
JJE: That’s so kind, thank you! I missed out on being able to wear the stuff I wanted to for the first twenty-something years of my life, so style is definitely something I love experimenting with. My partner has been really helpful with giving advice about putting together outfits. I have extremely femme tendencies, and she can be a bit more androgynous in her style, so she helps balance me out. She’s kind of my style icon.
R: When do you remember poetry really digging its claws into you? Was there a particular writer, a particular work, or a particular performance that got you and gave you a profound aha about yourself as a poet?
JJE: Nothing makes sense in the whole world. Everything about life is confusing and frightening. I’ve found poetry to be slightly less confusing and frightening than most other things. I stopped reading poetry for a while but in the past few years I became excited about it again after being introduced to the work of Caribbean poets like Aimé Césaire and M. NourbeSe Philip. This summer I went on tour with several other trans poets whom I mentioned above and hearing them read every night made me feel extremely excited about poetry. I truly believe that poetry written by trans people, especially trans people of color, has the potential to fuck shit up in a good way.
R: As a writer, I really like knowing what other writers’ creative processes are like. Please share yours.
JJE: Sometimes I’ll say, “I’m going to write a poem,” and then I’ll sit on my couch and write a poem. More often than that I’ll be driving or at the grocery store or whatever and I’ll start writing in my head, or I’ll hear a line over and over and I’ll have to get it down before I forget it. In my phone I have hundreds of notes of lines, fragments, and poems I’ve thought of at some inconvenient moment. A recent poem I wrote came from literally one sentence I had saved in my phone for several months, and all it said was “I dreamt of horses eating cops.” Another time I was having a really bad panic attack while driving on the freeway and I started writing a poem in my head to counter it and, in order to avoid typing while driving, I used my phone to record myself reciting the poem aloud. I was crying and shit. It was quite an image. Those poems that come in moments like that best represent my “process,” I feel.
R: What role do you think politics play in poetry?
JJE: The same role they play everywhere. Every single injustice and oppression you can think of is replicated in poetry, in both the work itself and in the particular scenes the work emerges from and exists within. This is why things like the Trans Planet tour and Nepantla are so important. We can’t just pretend poetry is this neutral space where politics don’t matter. There are people in poetry scenes who wish everyone would be quiet and stop complaining. These people love the status quo because they directly benefit from it. The rest of us are tired and bored and angry.
R: How frequently do you text? Are you into texting? If you could text with any writer, dead or alive, who would it be and what would your introductory text look like?
JJE: I hate texting. I am the most awkward texter in the world. I never know what to say and every time a conversation starts I’m counting down the seconds until it’s over. My dream introductory text to everyone would be: “i apologize in advance for who i am as a person”.
order I’M ALIVE/IT HURTS/I LOVE IT from boost house right now
We are not only being told a tale we are going back in time. Myriam Gurba, author of Dahlia Season and Wish You Were Me, straps us in much like the Disneyland, Haunted House, Doom-buggies of her youth and sends us on our way. From the get go we are ushered into the early 1980’s, small Mexican village of a ghost-telling abuelita who paints portraits of the narrator and her sister, during the few weeks away from school spent visiting. The girl’s homework approved by some LAUSD elementary, deemed fit to continue the semester un-interrupted upon return, is pushed aside for daily outings with Abuelita. Told in the narrative fairytale style of what can be described as ‘old country’ Abuelita links the reader to a colonial European sensibility that at the time still clung to older parts of the country. The baby fuzz of a twentieth century pinking new industrial revolutions and globalizations lurking and waiting behind unseen corners.
In this way the book is reminiscent of Federico Fellini’s great and final Masterpiece, Amarcord. The coming of age tale which loosely translates to ‘I remember’ in Italian follows the life of young Titta, his family and the characters of a small coastal village in 1930’s Italy. Unfolding in a series of vignettes Fellinini never gives us Mussolini in great sweeping gestures, instead we are told details of a life lived in the land of Mussolini, the beforehand knowledge that things will and will not turn out all right, lending itself to a greater sense of melancholy. Gurba, like Fellini gives us life in the every day and shines a mirror across it’s multi faceted surface, letting each shine in small slices. Life lived in ‘simpler’ more imaginative times, a time that in actuality, exists only in the minds of children. Throughout the book Gurba revisits this metaphor of child like reduction and innocence, wonder and blunt honesty. Weaving myth against a backdrop of contemporary ills, to show in some way how our collective child like refusal to take on issues such as racism and misogyny still haunt our contemporary lives, tangled and misinterpreted by our children and finally held back up in that multi fractured mirror. What Gurba gives us is a world on the cusp of change, for the narrator, and the century. Indeed these are ghost stories.
When Mom was the age I was that winter, ten, Mexican death was prettier, slower, and more public. Mom would laze in front of the house, in a strip I guess you could call a front yard, in front of her mom and dad’s bedroom window dangling her chicken legs off the stone bench, a spectator. A breeze might shiver the vines wriggling around the window and bring the smell of cemetery flowers. Mom would hear a signal, horseshoes clacking. She’d look right and see a gelding chosen to do his job because of his color, black, clopping up the avenue, chugging towards her block. The horse would near houses that were twins of the kind Mom lived in, two-story rectangles shaded with mold, loquat trees by the driveways, vines climbing wherever they chose. The animal would be yoked to an old fashioned funeral carriage that truly honored death, its lace gilded windows giving Mom a chance to appraise the size of the coffin – baby, child, or full – and then, once the carriage was past, Mom could observe the ribbon, or ribbons, of mourners in black outfits, weeping, yawning, scratching their necks, wringing one or both fists, adjusting their balls, breastfeeding, moving their feet and taking care of their living bodies’ needs on their way to bury someone.
When we emerge into the second story we have been fully dropped into the recent past, 90’s Los Angeles, and Gurba hits us with the present in the only way to reap the full impact of leaving Abuelita and that child’s imagination. Gangs, music videos, AIDS. Abuelita, Mom and Dad remain, but the world has transformed and Gurba once again thrusts us in. Each short story weaves in the fable of death, sometimes subtlety other times overt, in the case of killing animals on the road in favor of swerving and risking your own life. Ever present is the idea that life is ephemeral and that story telling in the most basic way possible, makes it last a little longer and in the process helps us make sense of it. The universal, existential por que?
Perhaps the most chilling and beautiful story in the book, Chaperones offers us Gurba at her irreverent and spectacular best. She takes on the legend of La Llorona, the Mexican mother who drowned her children in a river, committed suicide and now spends her remaining nights in purgatory looking for them, and perhaps you, too, so she can drown you in her sorrow. Again, linking us to a passage of time that moves like smog through our lives but never turns new leaves. What sticks in our throat is the way Gurba loosens the moral outrage around these narratives, Susan Smith, et cetera, but smacks us with our own hypocrisy. Women’s bodies are always in a state of mourning, wringing out our expectations socially and historically while trying to reconcile them with emerging identities wrung like rags into the bodies of water we drown our babies in. Metaphor for Gurba is a vacuum that sucks the river bed dry until we are left with only a mountain of bones and questions. Not all of them likely offering the answers we want to hear. Each however, rattling howls of dusty streets, the kind Gurba pushes us to walk down, pick up your candle, pull up your night gown and never mind the shadows, they only flicker as we pass, and look, they are just a product of the light.