Wednesday, August 20, 2008

In this Body: Reflections of a Recent Reading of To Be Left With the Body

By Raymond Berry (TWLWTB Contributor)

To Be Left With the Body held its first major reading in New York, at the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) on Thursday, August 14, 2008. The reading featured co-editors, Cheryl Clarke and Steven G. Fullwood. I was also one of the presenters. The audience for this reading consisted of a support group for men of color called The Barbershop, a weekly discussion group for Black men who have sex with men. Each week the group focuses on a different topic, pertinent issues confronting participant's lives. The Barbershop’s intent is to provide an atmosphere for thought-provoking conversation with the end goal of skills building and increased community support. It is a program sponsored by GMHC.

I came to New York (for the first time) specifically for this reading. It was important that I share this work and prove that “positive” individuals can transcend “this body” of existence. Co-editors Steven and Cheryl sought to create a work that is universal to show that “we” are still in crisis, and that communities at large are capable of splintering this wall of inhumanity that separates us.

There were about thirty people present. We did not start by introducing ourselves or the work. Instead, we brought this audience into this world, one in which silence, shame, fear, and invisibility serve as clouds that block possibility -- the light within ourselves that we often suppress, somehow trapped under the weight of what we’ve done. No longer people, but monsters inside ourselves, broken by moments.

We read various selections of the work that spoke to us. Some are own, and some by the other contributors. Cheryl read excerpts from Samiya Bashir’s poem “Clitigation,” and Naomi Jackson’s short story “Before and After.” She also provided a unique interpretation of Marvin K. White’s “14.” Her reading of her own poem, “Body Double,” seemed to resonate most with the audience.

I was simply ecstatic to be in the company of this great woman writer.

Steven - what can I say about him? His reading of “Death Poem” was amazing. The way I imagined it. The way I maybe would have read it. But it is “his” way that brings us in the center of it - able to touch it, smell it, crave it, then wish we could forget. “It tickles,” he writes - my favorite line of the poem. So many entendres here. So many memories I relived, and that of those listening or reading these words. I was anticipating his reading of “Here,” but he did not read it. However, he did read “Popeye’s” by Pamela Sneed, and it reminded us of the journey - the one that has been, the one we travel, and the one we fear will swallow us.

I read some of the poems that I am deeply connected with. They include “Sustiva,” “Dirty,” “Truvada,” “Transformation,” “1995,” and “Journal.” Some of these works do not appear in TBLWTB, but they are equally important. I felt most comfortable here, not afraid to experience the moment. The silence of it. Sometimes we read, disconnecting ourselves from the world of the poem. Meaning is lost here. The audience made us feel welcome and free to explore the feelings we experienced when first crafting these poems.

Following the reading, there was a Q & A session, in which we had an opportunity to comment on the work and answer various questions, including what the work does aesthetically and contextually, and our assessment of the work as a whole, and how it’s compared to previous works. I responded by saying that one should not compare works, although it is the work of literary critics. It does a disservice to the work. TBLWTB is a continuation of what has been done, but experience is transcribed differently. The perspective is fresh.

One person said that he appreciated the authenticity of the work, but I got the impression that he assumed that “we” the authors, personally experienced the world of these poems.

This may or may be so, but I felt it necessary to explain that one should not assume the writer of a work and its speaker are the same. It was also brought to my attention that parts of this work can be transformed into film. I would love to see this as a series of monologues, a one-man show, or even a short play, especially the “Journal” suite.

We concluded by signing copies of the work. One audience member planted his lips on my face, and held on, as if he knew we both needed it. It was in that moment, that I felt his connection to my work, and came into the knowledge that when I read these poems, I do not have to be ashamed of them or be afraid to let go.


Swagger said...

wow .... i'm glad it was a wonderful event ... that death poem joint is fyah .. lol .... A-to-the-V-to-the-E-to-the-R-to -the-R (DOT) - YOUNG

R.L. Berry said...

This is message to all TBLWTB contributors. Are any of you interested in an on-line workshop?
I would like to e-mail new work bi-weekly.