The second installment of poet William Leo Coakley’s autobiographical essay about his life with actor and writer Robin Prising takes us from the couple’s move to West 4th street to Jane street, then from New York to Rome. Along the way scores of legends make appearances – Jack Wrangler, George Barker, Djuna Barnes, James Merrill, Franz Kline and Iris Tree, to name but a few. Check back next week for the conclusion!
When I first came down from Harvard to the Village I lived at the corner of West 4th and West 12th (only in New York, I thought). I remember sauntering hand in hand through the pre-Stonewall Village with my charismatic mentor and friend the English poet George Barker. He was 99% straight, having many mistresses and more children, but the soldiers and sailors of World War II had been his lovers too and he was the body in Willard Maas’ 1943 film Geography of the Body. He had such dynamic energy that just walking and talking with him was a sexual experience. “Go and do it, Baby,” he urged me on to poetry, “Go and do it, Dirt.” He said that to strengthen my poetry I must listen to the “compulsive recurrence in the little matter of fucking.” I later found out that Robin had independently known him in the 1950s in London. There is a fabulous picture of the two of them in the 50s staring at each other over cigarette smoke (that lost aphrodisiac), the sexual vibrations, never consummated, alive in the air between them. When we lived in London and Europe in the mid-60s George was amazed to discover we had found each other and that cemented our life-long friendship with him. When he visited us in New York around 1966 we stopped by the writers’ bar the White Horse Tavern for a drink—and were barred at the door by a bruiser of a bouncer: we were not accompanied by “ladies.” The police were cracking down on gays in bars. George told him to go fuck himself, pulled out his wallet with pictures of his was it 13? children—and put a curse on the dive. It must have worked: the place is foolishly known as the bar where Dylan Thomas drank himself to death and now only tourists congregate there to stare at tourists. More…
Since abandoning a lucrative advertising job in his native Colombia and moving to New York six years ago, Juan Betancurth has set about making work exploring the intersection of his sex life and Catholic upbringing. His latest project “For Faith, Pain and Pleasure” is a series of peculiar sculptures made out of vintage household objects that can be used for a variety of purposes, both kinky and holy. I met up with Juan earlier this week to explore the dual sides of his work.
You do a lot of different things in your practice. How would you describe it?
Honestly, I have a kind of hard time describing my work because of that. Sometimes I feel that it’s really complex. It has to do more with personal experiences, things that I want to do. My work depends on an idea or situation that I want to recreate.
Have there been similarities in the experiences you like to recreate?
It has to be experiences from my past that I want to overcome or understand. For me my work has always been a way to try and understand my reality and find out who I am. And I feel, if I have something from my past that’s limiting me, I just bring that out and put that in an installation, photograph, video, that I think is necessary, and it helps me out. It’s a tactic. More…
One of the big moments of 2011 was February’s massive blizzard that dumped mammoth amounts of snow all over the North East and kept many New Yorkers huddled inside for days on end waiting for Mayor Bloomberg to finally get around to clearing the snow. Colombian artist Juan Betancurth kept his composure by projecting X-Tube videos on a large screen in his Bushwick loft. When he saw the way the reflection of the video appeared in his window, he made this short video documenting it. As an unnamed hunk disrobes and starts his show, people scurry by below, desperately trying to make it home in one piece. We’ll feature an interview with Betancurth about his other work this week. Stay tuned.
In keeping with our poetry focus this week, young poet and Queer/Art/Mentorship fellow Tommy Pico offers a poem about butts and the men who love them and the way that can boost one’s self-esteem. Pico is the founder of birdsong, a Brooklyn-based poetry and prose zine whose contributors are committed to “social movements of feminism, anti-racism, queer positivity, class-consciousness, and DIY cultural production.” The new issue of birdsong (#16) has just been released and features contributions by Kelly Bourdet, Cat Glennon, Joey Parlett, Daniel Portland, Rita Sangre, Lauren Savitz, Max Steele, and Pico himself. If you’d like a free copy of the issue, Pico will send you one if you email firstname.lastname@example.org, before December 31st.
A few months ago we were delighted to receive a Tell Your Story entry from New York-based poet William Leo Coakley. Poignant and dishy, in the vein of Edmund White’s memoir City Boy, the five paragraphs Coakley sent us whetted our appetite for a larger untold tale of gay life amongst the avant-garde artists of the 1950′s and 1960′s. We asked Coakley if he would be up to the task of expanding his story and only last week we received a sprawling and wonderful memoir which we will publish in a three-part series over the next two weeks. Apart from the details about the lives of the artists Coakley knew, the most poignant story told is that of the author’s relationship with his partner Robin Prising.
James Merrill, the richest American writer (thanks to his father’s Merrill Lynch millions) had a personal foundation during his lifetime that helped his fellow poets. One of them was my friend Helen Adam, the traditional Scots balladeer who somehow was taken up in San Francisco by the Beats and other poets there like Robert Duncan. The grant helped her take her popular ballad-opera San Francisco’s Burning to New York where it had a beautiful performance at the Judson Church Theatre in Washington Square with a new score by its gay minister-composer Al Carmines and Helen’s reprising her bewitching role as the Worm Queen. But a bitchy ex-lover of Carmine’s, then the reviewer for the Village Voice, published his nasty review that killed the opera’s chances.
I was already living with the actor, writer, and pacifist Robin Prising (we would stay together until his death three years ago). Helen was introduced to us by Robin’s previous lover, who had lived in San Francisco on his way to teach in Japan, and she soon became our fast friend. Helen introduced us to many queer writers and film-makers of interest, notably the poet Marilyn Hacker and the novelist and hotly gay memoirist Samuel “Chip” Delaney. Their queer marriage understandably didn’t last, but it brought forth a remarkable daughter.
I had first seen Robin, gloriously all in white, leading an anti-capital punishment protest march he had organized in the spring of 1960 with Elaine de Kooning and the great American Socialist and pacifist David McReynolds. More…
On the last day of shooting, Keep the Lights On videographer Onur Karoaglu spent some time documenting the final hours of principal photography. If you’ve ever been on a film set, you’ll recognize the mix of exhaustion and jubilation that lingers in the air. Funny to think this was only a few months ago, and now we’re premiering at Sundance in just over a month!
During my twenties, I was fervent Believer in Christ and an in-the-closet gay young man. I worked for a national evangelical organization called InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. I traveled to college and university campuses where I met Christian students, lead prayer meetings and taught Born Again students how to witness for Jesus to their non-believing peers. I was involved in evangelistic outreach on the beaches of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida during spring break, summer camps and weekend conferences, witnessing on campuses, and missionary trips to Central America. By 1983, after many years struggling with my sexual identity, I left the ministry, came out as a gay man, moved to New York City and entered the graduate film program at Columbia University. I was thirty years old.
Jesus Days, 1978-1983 are photographs (originally Kodachrome/Ektachrome slides) that I took of my own circle of friends. At that time, I was an untutored photographer with no ambition to make pictures other than my own pleasure and as a record of my friends and the world in which I lived. More…
San Francisco-based video artist Bill Domonkos does an exceedingly festive Jack and Jill-esque lipsync to Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme’s classic Christmas carol. I have watched it seven times in 24 hours. You may too. Be warned. (t/y Kevin Killian!)
Michael Montlack’s witty narrative poetry and prose are filled with subjects familiar to anyone who grew up in an American suburb in the past forty years – girls lounging by swimming pools, Stevie Nicks songs blasting from a car radio, and parents and siblings alternately loving and hurtful. Yet Montlack offers so much insight and charm that these subjects don’t feel stale or trite. The poems in his latest collection, Cool Limbo deals with his upbringing, his family, and his life in New York after coming out of the closet in both satirical and tender ways. I met up with Montlack to discuss his process.
Adam: Do you consider yourself more of a poet or a writer or how do you characterize yourself?
Michael: I see myself as a writer; the word poet sounds too serious. And I started writing short stories. Prose mainly. I’m working on a fiction book.
Your last book was My Diva. Can you talk a little bit about what that was for people who didn’t read it? My Diva was an anthology of essays that I edited. It came out in 2009. It started with an essay I wrote on Stevie Nicks. My friend who’s a journalist kept urging me saying, “You’re a storyteller, you write great stories. And I didn’t know what to write about so I looked back at this topic I’d written about years ago about Stevie Nicks and tried to deconstruct my strong fascination and attraction to her, since I was a gay boy in the closet. And that led to an essay and then I started to talk to all the gay poets and writers I knew and ask them about their divas and squeeze these essays out of them. Poems too. So My Diva was all essays about divas like Sappho, Cher, Julia Child and Princess Leia. That was a great experience, and now I’m finishing up the poetry version called Divining Divas, due out in February 2012.
What I noticed about Cool Limbo is that a lot of the poems are also about your fascination with women, feminine qualities, your sisters, etc. I was wondering if you saw this book as a new book or as a continuation of the previous one?
I think I’ve always been surrounded by strong female figures. I have an older sister who was ten years older. I always looked up to her. She was a rocker chick, in a band. And I think that’s where my Stevie Nicks fetish came from – my older sister looked like Stevie. And she used to protect me from anybody who she thought was picking on me – although it didn’t happen that much – she was always standing up for me. And then I had this twin sister who had this really strong energy as well. And then my mother, and my mother’s sister – were also these really strong women. It’s always been really comfortable to me. More…
Cinephiles! Just in time for your holiday breaks, director Ira Sachs discusses the films that influenced him during the writing of Keep The Lights On. Why not catch up on these films before KTLO’s Sundance premiere?