The BAMPFA museum-goer encounters one of the most compelling installations of “Way Bay” before even entering the exhibition proper. Free art lines the wall facing the gallery’s entrance — postcards hand-printed in the museum’s Fisher Family Art Lab and quoting the poetry of over 65 Bay Area authors, plus a selection from each writer’s chosen literary muse. Visitors may select a postcard to take home at liberty, a gift from both museum and writer that pays testament to the museum’s efforts to engage directly with its audiences.
The collection puts on display some of the most skilled and innovative poets of the Bay Area, itself a hub of creativity and ingenuity — as such, the collection alludes to troves of poetry by local artists. These individuals express the seemingly inexpressible. Poetry, at its best, can resonate deeply and at times even challenge deep-seated paradigms we hold about the world around us. Though this exhibit proves exhilarating in its expansiveness, it can also feel overwhelming in its breadth, preventing the viewer from really experiencing the magic of any one poet.
Thus, in the spirit of Pride Month, The Daily Californian has selected from the dozens of poets showcased in “Way Bay” five poets who identify as queer and have composed work grappling with their identities and the world around them.
1. Aaron Shurin
Though born in New York City, Shurin attributes some of his most formative experiences as both an artist and an individual to the Bay Area. During his undergraduate career at UC Berkeley in the 1960s, Shurin found inspiration in the counterculture prevalent on and off campus, from the Free Speech Movement to San Francisco’s Summer of Love. The latter also came to inform Shurin’s exploration of gay identity through poetry, including his own. In the 1980s, witnessing firsthand the AIDs epidemic, Shurin penned a series of reflective personal essays.
Shurin’s work regularly considers the tension between the individual and communal voices, delving into constructions of identity and selfhood. The poet cites Walt Whitman, who is commonly believed to have been gay or bisexual, as a major inspiration for his work.
“Steeped,” from “Citizen:”
“ I thought a forest bound by kinship towers — elusive in the blue glow inside the gray cloudbank — indigo friction — a hurricane cult — where his eyes boring over my shoulders fall like hot breath, gravity failing. … An epiphyte: a love nest. Inextricable, shadow for shadow, rhyme for rhyme.”
2. Cathy Arellano
Cathy Arellano, a self-declared “Queer Xicana,” grew up in San Francisco’s Mission District with her matrilineal family line. Arellano moved to the East Bay during college because of her family’s eviction from her childhood neighborhood. During her undergraduate career at UC Berkeley, Arellano developed her voice as a writer under the guidance of mentors including professor, author and activist Cherríe Moraga.
Much of Arellano’s work centers around gentrification, especially that of the Mission District. Moraga speaks to the fashion in which Arellano’s work invites readers with similar experiences to relate. “So much of this reading invites the humbling nod of recognition,” the teacher writes in the foreword to Arellano’s 2016 collection of poetry and prose, “Salvation on Mission Street.”
Excerpt from “My Pendleton, My Love” from “Salvation on Mission Street:”
“I loved Laura Luz Lavanderos. At least I liked her. Very much. And I knew I wasn’t supposed to. No one in my family told me, ‘Don’t like girls.’ I just knew I couldn’t. Or shouldn’t. But I wanted to be close to Laura Luz Lavanderos.”
3. Reid Gómez
Reid Gómez describes herself as a “Navajo writer and independent scholar.” Gómez grew up in San Francisco and completed her doctorate in comparative ethnic studies at UC Berkeley. Throughout her career Gómez has advanced a vision of pluralism and diversity in the arts across boundaries ranging from race to gender to sexual orientation. Gómez has participated in events such as the National Queer Arts Festival, as well as receiving the Astraea Lesbian Writers Fund Emerging Writers Award. Much of her writing also centers on tribal migrations and reckoning with the effects of white colonization.
Excerpt from “Touch. Touch. Touching,” from “Reckonings: Contemporary Short Fiction by Native American Women”
“There is beauty at the surface. It is there in an eye, on the edge of skin, in a touch once made, unending. If she fell it would be an endless pool of liquid. Smooth and warm and each sensation at the right frequency for the exact duration. Touch. Touch. Touching.”
4. Jacq Greyja / (Jacq)ueline Last
Jacq Greyja identifies as a “queer nonbinary Jewish/Latinx poet.” Greyja grew up in California and completed their bachelor of arts in English at UC Berkeley. They are currently pursuing a master of fine arts in creative writing from San Francisco State University as the 2017-2018 recipient of the university’s William Dickey Fellowship in Poetry.
Greyja’s poetry complicates categorizations, forcing the reader to evaluate preconceived notions of subjects ranging from gender to definitions of “progress.” Their latest chapbook, “Greater Grave,” explores capitalism and the temporary nature of the individual, both as itself and in relation to others.
“out of here and now amorphic i am either unwillingly or foolishly cavorting to a love song : The Finding, The Reclaimed, The Refusal none of which i hear altho the bodies have been said to glitter, the gender mothers strummed the finale into several chronicles.”
5. Robert Glück
Though a Cleveland native, Robert Glück grew up in Los Angeles and earned a bachelor of arts from UC Berkeley. Glück went on to co-found the New Narrative movement with fellow writer Bruce Boone in the 1980s while living in San Francisco. Nonstraight writers largely spearheaded this movement, in search of more fitting reflections of gay identity than popular literature of the time reflected. As Glück writes in his “Long Note on New Narrative,” he and fellow New Narrative writers felt the need for “better representation—not in order to satisfy movement pieties or to be political, but in order to be. We (eventually we were gay, lesbian, and working class writers) could not let narration go.”
Excerpt from “Invaders From Mars,” from “The World In Us: Lesbian and Gay Poetry of the Next Wave:”
“He’s on a knoll & looks up, there’s a big pink / cloud relating by contrast to the steel gray sky. / He says to himself, ‘just look at that pink cloud, / just look at that pink cloud, just look at that / pink cloud,’ to summon more & more of himself / but it’s no use— he & the pink aren’t equals / & everything, even the pleasure, especially the / pleasure, is against him & in spite of him.”