poetics & pandemics is conceived as a Quarterly virtual publishing & performance platform that takes seriously the role of word, voice, ideas, and semiotics in framing how pandemics like HIV & Covid-19 root themselves in cultural landscapes. We will curate a quarterly open mic that features the written and performance work of artists, poets, critical thinkers. Open mic will be a mix of performance and interview as we engage contributors work and ideas in context to the current and historical events delimited by a focus on our anticipated changing theme.
To make the most of our time our exhibitions, curated open mics, art/artist/artivist showcases will be framed among four key themes:
race: dna of disparities and underlying conditions
health disparities and co-morbidities are not new; pandemics do however occasion the re-opening of these systemic, pervasive, insistent sores and pushes them in the face of new publics in arresting uncomfortable ways. through the voices of keen artivists and organizers whose lifework and cultural contributions make way for the artivist spaces we occupy now
we want to animate our lived and living histories and hold these in conversation with contemporary voices and movements. In the American context COVID-19 lays bare
how these disparities structure around world historical organizing principles like race and white supremacy. The focus here hopes to hold the emergent themes surrounding this new pandemic in conversation with that of HIV/AIDS in the American and global contexts.
[Other Countries, Colin Robinson]
desire: the 3-D & the geosocial
the logics of DNA everywhere is bio-diversity and reproduction. Human DNA is no different. Pandemics invariably change how humans weigh the temporary and long-term risk of all things conjugal. We explore here how cultures mitigate the sex, sex work, sexual acts, gender and sexual identities, and norms attendant to desire against the imagined and real-life risks of transmission, illness, and death.
We insist on being a venue that centers the voices of all bodies, gender and sex expansive identities and communities. By zooming in on desire and each its tidy and untidy manifestations we hope to place how bodies find themselves and each other in virtual and 3-D spaces in conversation with public and political norms contending with the new realities pandemic induce.
poli-cliques: political and culture war
pandemics cleave to the boundaries and fissures in society and twist them into new, often malignant nodes. The terror associated with disease, risk, exposure, and spread grab hold of our penchant for groups and induce anticipatable and unexpected realignments. In the social media age this reconfiguring is catalyzed and amplified perhaps like no other time in human history
poisoned pill: science, faith & myth
pandemics create new worlds out of our collective and individual imaginations. These new terroires are rife with opportunities to spur scientific and cultural innovation. They are also fraught with new corrosive incentives to aggrandize and succumb to our darkest fears and genocidal inclinations. Explore how the life of the mind push and pull societies across the beautiful and brutal provinces of science, myth, and myth.
To do this work in a way that is both exciting, engaging, interactive, and nuanced, our collaborators and cultural production will be anchored along four key axis:
generational: survivor insight & instincts
showcase the first-hand expertise, insight, and lived experience of survivors, artists, activists infected or deeply impacted by these pandemics;
context:parochial, regional, & global
common/familiar themes live very different lives as we move in, through, and out of local and region discourse and territories into global ones; our work hopes to elucidate these distinctions and explore how they engage and co-create even as they influence unique and sometimes divergent outlooks and outcomes
dimension: disciplines & praxis
we will enlist a multi-disciplinary approach as we curate the work of our collaborators across a range of academic and creative disciplines and praxis; our systems level approach understands the value-added to curating work that arises out of multiple contexts and diverse voices.
innovation: posters and PSAs:
pandemics are dynamic material and non-material environments. They create and produce language, discourse and semiotics that marshal new communities and organizing principles. We aim to explore these histories as they draw upon discipline specific jargon(s) and historical and contemporary cultural memory to deploy instrumental and transformational memes in our virtual and physical worlds both old and new.
Could Be The Ballroom was always our Nuclear option A rock scrabble bunker become a threshing floor How we survived our Coldest War
A Mother a Father an entire house full of babies tucked into mangers woven out of street corner filament limber enough to parent those of us:
born with and with out parents with and without islands
begat inside flags with and without stripes while reading for A-level exams
stretched astride Empires and Queens too Black to be British too gay to be queer—
too poor for the crowns we deserve
Boys and girls born beyond signage onto intersections above and below 42nd street where hormones traffic themselves,
Run all the rules. Busts all the lights cum shot out of blackness too Pentecostal for its own beneficence
Could Be the Ballroom Scene laid its own bedrock atop an inference. As if by subterfuge. As if by stagecraft. As if by premonition:
The way we live The way we die The way we transition
In and out of space In and out of time In and out of academies & boarding schools With and without degrees.
In and out of dimension The lives we all span is a performance
1986: What a performance it was! In the year of our Lord June 30, 1986 adjudicating case: 478 U.S. 186 otherwise known as Bowers v. Hardwick the Supreme Court upheld Georgia’s Sodomy laws in a 5-4 decision.
This year 1986 according to dissenting Justice Blackmun—enjoined by William Brennan Jr., Thurgood Marshall and John Paul Stevens—our nation’s highest court became “obsessively focused on homosexual activity”
So happens this same year 1986 a midsummer night’s dream is bequeathed to Reverend Charles Angel; a new faith begins its practice inside the living rooms of Black Gay men fagged playing Russian roulette with their secrets the waters break. Gay Men of African Descent is born
June 14, 1986 Daniel Garret freebases on a James Baldwin line: “Our history is each other” and a group of Black Gay Men exhale enough pride inside a writer’s workshop to inscribe for themselves a new nation:
I cared not how rich he was How Caribbean he was How Ivy League his poison oak How much southern fruit pickled his veins
When My Brother Fell
I cared not how many Prospect Park trees bear witness to his lovemaking. I paid no attention to which butch-queen-voguing-fem he was fucking in between bushes
Or to how big how thick how heavy the thorns
he let ride his back into Heaven
When My Brother Fell I picked up his weapons and never questioned The category he walked how much make-up he had on or which label she wore behind closed doors
I never questioned If his momma knew If his daddy cared
I kept walking
Essex said, “there was no one lonelier than you Joseph” 30 years later, we not gon’ do it that way this time The Ballroom collapses whole classes into nations
Every call gets a response Every name every category every non-binary is an intention
A Universal law makes its own rules Divines its own boundaries causing legends to be born
While Paris Burns Assoto’s Saints and Willie’s Ninjas stand guard
a whole river of boys born without bones boys born without spoons let alone silver
bright boys born on islands in between boroughs that rupture beneath their salt water promise
Somehow the Ballroom always knew why Boys and Girls born too-fluid-for-homes
Essex said, “If we must die on the front line don’t let loneliness Kill us”
If There’s a Cure For This I Don’t Want It
1986 1986 1986 is a house song at morning mass a break beat, a beat box, a carol, a love song, a dirge a Brooklyn Children’s Museum born again inside a Donald Woods’ forest
1986 is a GMAD, an NMAC, an ADODI a god-accented ebonic surviving for Joseph, for Essex, for Donald, for Willie, for Assoto Saint, for Craig Harris
For all Us born Survivors of the Coldest War With and without parents.
Born too gay, too queer for the crowns we deserve.
*Images are from ‘Bobó for Yemanjá’, a February 9th event celebrating Love Positive Women 2020 in NYC at which Brad performed 1986 and other poems.
 In Atlanta, Georgia, August 1982 Michael Hardwick was issued a citation for drinking in public. Hardwick missed his court date and an arrest warrant was issued. However, before receiving the warrant, Hardwick paid the $50 fine. Nevertheless, two weeks later, police arrived at Harwick’s home, were admitted by roommate, and found Hardwick in his bedroom having sex with another man. The police arrested Hardwick and his companion for sodomy, a felony under Georgia law. Hardwick challenged the statute’s constitutionality in Federal District Court with the support of the ACLU. The case challenging the constitutionality of Georgia’s sodomy laws reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 1986. The Court issued a divided opinion holding that there was no constitutional protection for acts of sodomy, and that states could outlaw those practices. The case drew attention to sodomy laws across the country and in the years that followed several state legislatures repealed such laws. Finally, in 2003, in Lawrence v. Texas the Supreme Court overturned its ruling in the Bowers v. Hardwick case and invalidated the 13 remaining state sodomy laws insofar as they applied to private consensual conduct among adults.
 Charles Angel (1952-1986), a Pentecostal minister, community organizer, social advocate, and activist, who helped found the organization, Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD).
 Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD) was founded in 1986 with the mission of advancing the welfare of black gay men through education, social support, political advocacy, and health and wellness promotion. (For more information see the NYPL Archives and Manuscripts)
 Daniel Garret was a member of the Blackheart Collective, founded in 1980 by the Harlem-born Isaac Jackson. Blackheart members, all New York City-based black gay artists, produced a literary journal. The publication sought to queer dominant black intellectual traditions such as Afrocentrism and extend the gay liberation movement’s concern with prisoner rights and prison reform to a broader race- and class-based critique of carceral state power. The Blackheart collective disbanded in 1985.
 Other Countries was a writer’s workshop formed to develop, disseminate, and preserve the diverse cultural expressions of black gay men. The group produced two journals in the early years of the AIDS crisis, Other Countries: Black Gay Voices (1988) and the book-length Sojourner: Black Gay Voices in the Age of AIDS (1993).
 Joseph Beam was born December 30, 1954, in Philadelphia. He studied journalism at Franklin College in Indiana where he was an active member of the Black Student Union. Back in Philadelphia in the early 1980s, Beam got a job at Giovanni’s Room, a GLBT bookstore and began writing news articles, personal essays, poetry, and short stories that reflected the life experiences of black Gay men. In 1984, the Lesbian and Gay Press Association honored him with an award for outstanding achievement by a minority journalist. Disappointed at the lack of published gay black male voices, he edited the pioneering anthology, In the Life (1986). Beam helped resurrect the flagging National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays—originally founded in 1978—joining the executive committee and editing the organization’s journal, Black/Out. He died of complications related to AIDS in December 1988, just three days shy of his 34th birthday. After his death, Beam’s mother and his friend Essex Hemphill completed a second anthology of black Gay men’s writing, Brother to Brother (1991), which Beam was working on when he died (extract from Liz Highleyman’s article, “Who was Joseph Beam?” for Seattle News.)
 The refrain from Diana Ross’s 1976 hit song, “Love Hangover,” written by Pamela Sawyer and Marilyn McLeod. The song is one of the anthems of the House and Ballroom community.
 In 1986, the American Public Health Association (APHA) had its first AIDS workshop, and neglected to invite any HIV/AIDS or medical leaders of color to the event. Craig Harris crashed the meeting, taking the stage and the microphone from Dr. Merv Silverman, the San Francisco Health Commissioner. This was the genesis of a national movement and the founding moment of the National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC) that quickly became a voice for communities of color, spreading awareness of the disproportionate impact that HIV/AIDS had on their communities (see https://gay-sd.com/the-national-minority-aids-council-they-will-be-heard/).
 Leaders of prominent minority AIDS organization nationwide – including Paul Kawata, Gil Gerald, Calu Lester, Don Edwards, Timm Offutt, Norm Nickens, Craig Harris, Carl Bean, Suki Ports, Marie St.Cyr and Sandra McDonald – started the National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC) in response to the American Public Health Association’s (APHA) failure to invite anyone of color to participate on the panel at its first ever AIDS workshop in 1986. NMAC members met with U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop when he was writing his historic report on the AIDS. Originally scheduled for just 15 minutes the meeting lasted nearly two and half hours. More than three decades later, HIV still disproportionately impacts communities of color and NMAC continues to provide public policy education programs, conferences, treatment and research programs initiatives, trainings, and electronic and printed resource materials (see http://www.nmac.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/History.pdf).
 Audre Lorde (1934-1992) dedicated both her life and her creative talent to confronting and addressing injustices of racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia. Lorde was born in New York City to West Indian immigrant parents. She earned her BA from Hunter College and Master in Library Sciences from Columbia University. She was a librarian in the New York public schools throughout the 1960s. She had two children with her husband, Edward Rollins, a white, gay man, before they divorced in 1970. In 1972, Lorde met her long-time partner, Frances Clayton and began teaching as poet-in-residence at Tougaloo College. Lorde articulated early on the intersections of race, class, and gender in canonical essays such as “The Master’s Tools Will Not Dismantle the Master’s House.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (1984) collected Lorde’s nonfiction prose and has become a canonical text in Black studies, women’s studies, and queer theory. In the late 1980s Lorde and fellow writer Barbara Smith founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, which was dedicated to furthering the writings of black feminists.
 ADODI was born in 1986 in Philadelphia as a movement of same gender loving men of African descent. “Adodi” is the plural of “Ado,” a Yoruba word that describes a man who “loves” another man. The Adodi of the tribe are thought to embody both male and female ways of being and were revered as shamans, sages. and leaders. Adodi currently has chapters in Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, New York and Washington, DC. (see: http://www.adodi.org/)
Essex Hemphill (1967-1995) was a writer who addressed race, identity, sexuality, HIV/AIDS, and the family in his work. His first full-length poetry collection, Ceremonies: Prose and Poetry (1992), won the National Library Association’s Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual New Author Award. He edited the anthology Brother to Brother: New Writing by Black Gay Men (1991). His work is featured in the documentaries Tongues Untied (1989), Black Is … Black Ain’t (1994), and Looking for Langston (1989). Hemphill died of complications from AIDS in 1995.
The Vale of Cashmere is a secluded patch of wilderness in Prospect Park that’s been the unofficial locus of gay cruising in Brooklyn since the 1970s. In his short story, “Summer Chills” in Brother to Brother: New Writings by Black Gay Men, Rory Buchanan writes: “When I got there, I found the park filled with men in the same horny, hungry state of mind I was in … I can’t remember ever seeing so many gorgeous black men in any one place.”
Assotto Saint (1957-1994) was a Haitian-born, pioneering poet, author, performance artist, musician, editor, human rights and AIDS activist, theatrical founder, and dancer. Saint was among the first Black activists to disclose his HIV positive status, and one of the first poets to include the AIDS crisis in his work. After graduating from Jamaica High School in New York City, he enrolled as a pre-med student at Queens College. In 1980, Saint fell in love with Jaan Urban Holmgren, a Swedish-born composer with whom he began collaborating on a number of theatrical and musical projects. Their relationship would last 14 years. They were both diagnosed as HIV positive in 1987. The death of his partner Jaan Urban Holmgren in 1993 profoundly affected Saint. In his poem, “Wishing for Wings,” he concludes that no words can convey his despair over Holmgren’s death. Saint died of AIDS-related complications on June 29, 1994. He had requested that, in protest of the indifference of American society to those dying of AIDS, that the American flag be burned at his funeral and its ashes scattered on his grave. Holmgren and Saint are buried side-by-side at the Cemetery of the Evergreens in Brooklyn.
Willi Ninja (1961-2006) was a dancer, performance artist, and choreographer who was featured in “Paris is Burning.” He was a self-taught dancer who was perfecting his vogueing style by his twenties. As mother of the House of Ninja, he became a New York celebrity, and give modelling stars like Naomi Campbell pointers early in their careers. He also inspired Madonna and her 1990 hit song and music video, “Vogue.” In 2004, Willi Ninja opened a modelling agency, EON (Elements of Ninja), but continued to dance, appearing on the television series “America’s Next Top Model” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” and dropping in at local clubs. Willie Ninja died of AIDS-related heart failure in New York City on September 2, 2006, at the age of 45.
 Donald Woods (1958-1992) was a poet, singer, and creative worker based in Brooklyn. He earned a bachelor’s degree at The New School and did postgraduate study in arts administration. His work as a writer began with his involvement in the Blackheart Collective. He studied with Audre Lorde and participated in Other Countries, a black gay men’s writing workshop. Woods was one of several authors of “Tongues Untied,” Marlon T. Riggs’s film about black gay men. He also appeared in Riggs’s film, “No Regrets.” (see: https://www.nytimes.com/1992/06/29/obituaries/donald-w-woods-34-aids-film-executive.html)
This article was originally published in ArtsEverywhere on Feb 27th, 2020.