The HIV Here and Now Project uses poetry and other arts to advocate for a world without HIV or AIDS. It is a project of Indolent Books and is directed by Michael Broder. The project grew out of an idea for an anthology of poems, still in development, touching on HIV in the 21st century. On June 5, 2015, an online poem-a-day countdown to 35 years of AIDS on June 5, 2016 began. With the online countdown behind them, the print anthology is currently being edited. The site has been lively with blog posts by contributing editors and guest bloggers, many of whom contributed poems to the online countdown and will be represented in the print anthology. Blog posts address long-term survival, recent infection, racialization of HIV, criminalization of HIV, globalization of HIV, and living with HIV risk, among other topics.
Michael Reading at the Americas Poetry Festival
New York, 2015
THREE poems by michael h. broder
These poems were part of the Tupelo 30/30 Project in December 2015.
I have a shit list
I love my shit list
I want to roll around like a pig in the ordure of my shit list.
My husband hates my shit list, hates that I have a shit list,
not so much that I harbor ill will or that there is a list—
no, he’s an old hand at nursing old grudges
—but rather that it’s a SHIT list,
because it’s not hatred, anger, or resentment that he dislikes
so much as scatology
Let’s just sit with that wonderful word for a moment…
which is funny because my husband
loves Kristeva and her abject
Bakhtin and his bodily grotesque
Bersani and the charnel (or should I say Golgothic) rectum,
but only as ideas—
How he suffered, my husband, reading and writing about Hogg
for his dissertation on the molested boy in the postwar American gay novel,
how he wretches at the sight or even thought of the prolapsed
male anus, associated with fisting and other extreme sex acts
But anyway, getting back to my shit list
my mother had a shit list and I am very like her,
my mother who made frequent use of the Yiddish expressions
Gai kakhen afenyam (Go shit in the ocean) and, my favorite,
Hob dir in drerd, which is literally a rather mild “I hold you in the earth,”
but in force is more like “Go to hell” and which
when spat from my mother’s angry, wounded, despiteful mouth
especially that last word, drerd, uvulated and gutteralized
with all the suffering she had suffered in her battered and banished life,
sounded much more like you are on my shit list.
WHAT WOULD SYLVIA HAVE DONE?
Daddy, you can fuck me up the ass,
but don’t expect me to lick your balls after.
How many poems can I write about the penetrated male anus?
One for each sphincter, maybe—
Two anal sphincters, the external, which is voluntary,
and the internal, which is involuntary,
controlling the exit of feces from the body;
also the entrance of fingers, fists, penises, dildos, butt plugs
and nozzles for anal douching. But there are other sphincters—
pupillary sphincter (in the iris of the eye);
sphincter orbicularis oculi (muscle around the eye);
upper and lower esophageal sphincters
(and…we’re back to fucking);
cardiac sphincter, atop the stomach,
keeping gastric acid from out of your throat;
pyloric sphincter (bottom of the stomach);
ileocecal sphincter (where small intestine meets large intestine,
liminal space between digestion and poop);
Oddi’s sphincter, named for Ruggero Oddi (1864–1913), Italian,
also know as Glisson’s sphincter,
named for Francis Glisson (1599–1677), British physician,
keeping bile and gall in their proper places;
sphincter urethrae, which keeps you from pissing your pants
(and also capable of being fucked, a kink known as “sounding”);
precapillary sphincters, wee microscopic bloodgates;
and finally the preputial sphincter of the foreskin
(may its memory be for a blessing).
I like to think that any sphincter can be fucked; in some
cases, maybe we just haven’t figured out how—yet.
prayer for healing
May the one who blessed our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, bless and heal those who are ill.
—Traditional Jewish prayer for healing
May all who need healing be cauterized, ectomized, frozen
may your healing leave a scar and your scar trace a map,
the map of your scarred wound lead you to a spot marked x
your branded body conceal treasures of love and light
and may god reveal them all, splitting open your wound again,
so that rivers of truth run from your torn body,
may you be grateful for your suffering and learn from your pain
may the shattered parts heal stronger, your torture make you better
may your battered body, beautiful, bring comfort to others
Michael reading in a jock strap and harness at the Radicals Reading at The Eagle
New York, 2015
An INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL H. BRODER
Inklette: How do you think poetry and identity should be related? In other words, does it ever bother you to be defined by some as “a gay poet,” or do you think understanding your sexuality, and other things you identify as, is crucial to understanding your poetry?
Michael: My gayness is central to my poetry. That does not mean every poem I write is about gay relationships or gay identity. But I remain gay no matter what kind of poems I write. I’m not sure if I think readers need to understand my identity to understand my poetry. I’m not sure that’s the goal. Maybe I want my poems to expand a reader’s awareness about gayness. This could apply even to gay readers. To paraphrase Tolstoy (sort of), not all gay people are gay in the same way.
Inklette: How do you capture the individual struggles of your sociopolitical identity and turn them into a universally provocative narrative for those who might not identify with your situation?
Michael: How do I make my gayness relevant to readers who might not relate to it? I don’t really know if I do. I don’t really know if I can. I don’t really think it matters. I used to worry about that. I did not want to be thought of exclusively or even predominantly as a gay poet because I wanted a mainstream audience. But that did not work out very well for me. So now I write whatever I want and I do not worry about who my audience will be. Either I will have an audience or I won’t. Probably I will, if I really want one. But it may be small. But that’s okay too. I think I just need to tell the truth, or my version of the truth or my understanding of the truth. The rest will take care of itself, one way or another.
Inklette: Poetry, in the last few years, has emerged as a platform for young and queer writers to express their identities which are often stifled by society. Do you think poetry often helps us to come to terms with ourselves as people of varied identities?
Michael: Poetry can be a place where the poet can explore the terms of their identity. I’m not sure if that’s the same as coming to terms with one’s identity, but maybe it’s another way of saying the same thing. So, if I write a poem about casual anonymous gay sex, or getting an STD from gay sex, which are two things I’ve written about, it’s not so much that I am coming to terms with my gayness as it is about exploring the semantic field of my gayness— what my gayness includes in terms of thoughts, feelings, ideas, and experiences.
Inklette: Can you tell us about how poetry can inspire people to action? While we know there exist realms of thought that do so, what is that spark which can start revolutions? Shall we believe in poetry to change things?
Michael: Generally speaking, I do not believe poetry can inspire action in the way that songs can, in the way that songs can become anthems that rouse the passions of a generation to fight for freedom or protest a war. Maybe today it is memes that do that as much as songs. I’m much too old to really understand what memes are or how they work, but I get the idea that memes can have that kind of power to incite people to act for change. I believe, again, speaking generally, that the power of poetry is more subtle than music or memes. I believe that poetry shapes or reshapes consciousness incrementally and cumulatively, bit by bit, over time. Poetry can shape how and what people think, feel, and believe, and move people into a state of mind where they may want change and work for change. Poetry can change poetry—I mean, a radical new poetic vision can reshape what poetry is and what poetry can be—as Emily Dickinson did, or Walt Whitman, or Gertrude Stein, or the confessional poets, or the beat poets, or very recently, the hip-hop poets. Same applies to music, theater, dance, and the visual arts. But I think only people can change and reshape society, because society is the sum total of people and their thoughts, feelings, beliefs, opinions, and actions. I guess I’m going way back to the Marxian notion of base and superstructure. Only that’s a simplistic idea that has been deepened, widened, and enriched over time by cultural materialists like Raymond Williams and Alan Sinfield. They give culture a much more instrumental rather than merely an ornamental role in society and history. But in the end, people need to march in the streets, assume roles in government, make new laws, and create new norms for society. People must create conditions for justice to flourish. Poetry can help shape the social imaginary that undergirds political action. But poetry is not the same as political action.
MICHAEL BRODER is the author of Drug and Disease Free (Indolent Books, 2016) and This Life Now (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2014), a finalist for the 2015 Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry. His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Assaracus, BLOOM, Columbia Poetry Review, Court Green, OCHO, Painted Bride Quarterly, and other journals, as well as in the anthologies This New Breed: Gents, Bad Boys and Barbarians 2 (Windstorm Creative, 2004), edited by Rudy Kikel; My Diva: 65 Gay Men on the Women Who Inspire Them(Terrace Books, 2009), edited by Michael Montlack; Spaces Between Us: Poetry, Prose and Art on HIV/AIDS (Third World Press, 2010), edited by Kelly Norman Ellis and ML Hunter; Divining Divas: 50 Gay Men on Their Muses (Lethe Press, 2012), edited by Michael Montlack, and Multilingual Anthology: The Americas Poetry Festival of New York 2015 (Artepoética Press, 2015), edited by Carlos Aguasaco and Yrene Santos. Michael is the founding publisher of Indolent Books and the founding editor of The HIV Here and Now Project. He lives in Brooklyn with his husband, the poet Jason Schneiderman, and a backyard colony of stray and feral cats.