My Forebears, Whitman, Brown & Cox

As a poet and writer living and working in DC I like to pay attention to writers like me who may have experienced many of the same things I have.  What I mean is I’m conscious that my work (hopefully) has something to say about the place I live in that is in conversation with others who’ve written here as well.  That’s not to say that all my poetry is place-specific, but a lot of it is.  I become more and more conscious of the poets who have called Washington home.

Bk_leaves Yesterday I picked up my partner from work and we went to have drinks at a little bar in Logan Square (we were enticed by some very crazy martinis they’re famous for at this place).  While we sat there on comfy couches by the front of the bar I pulled out my trusty copy of Walt Whitman and started reading into Pete’s ears.  Just loud enough for him to read…

I am indifferent to my own songs—I am to
          go with him I love, and he is to go
          with me,
It is to be enough for each of us that we are
          together—We never separate again.

And we had our delicious fruity drinks and enjoyed being connected to a poet we both love and admire.

I dance with the dancers and drink with the drinkers.

We would’ve danced if the drinks hadn’t been so powerful.  Now, I’m sure there were a lot of folks wondering what we were doing there in this bar reading from a book.  But Whitman deserves to be read aloud in all places and especially in the Washington he loved so much (the city he probably would’ve been buried in had he not suffered a stroke and had to move closer to family in Camden).  So, I take Whitman with me in a lot of places and I become more familiar with the Whitman-specific things in DC (thanks to Kim Roberts, Martin Murry and many writers).

I also think of Sterling Brown because he lived in Brookland and I live in Brookland.  I sometimes wonder how he experienced these same sidewalks and blocks in our corner of DC.  I think that it’s good to remember you weren’t the first to experience life where you live.  Whenever I think it might be odd to be writing about my life or the place I live I recall those who came before me.  Those who wrote and to whom I’m endebted for populating my historical mind with precedents of verse and imagery.

EdcoxWhich brings me to Ed Cox.  Yesterday I was given a delightful gift by Kim Roberts of an old cover of the Washington Review featuring a great photograph of Cox (by Jesse Winch) on the cover.  Cox was part of the Mass Transit poetry scene of the 1970s. 

I never knew Ed Cox and didn’t move to DC until 10 years after his death.  I first heard about Cox when I picked up a copy of his Collected Poems put out by Paycock Press.  I was stunned by his poems.

Bk_cox_collectedworksAlong with Beth Joselow, Michael Lally, & Terence Winch, Cox was a key figure in that circle that created Some Of Us Press.  As a partner in bringing a small poetry press to life there’s some connection there too.  A group of poets wanting to bring the work of their fellows to life.  His connection to a circle of friends, literary and artistic reminds me of the work I do with Bo on White Crane.

So, discovering a poet like Ed Cox, who made a life here and was so involved and committed to the city and its people and to living an out life as a Gay man in the 1970s is helpful to me.  A poet who was kind and thoughtful and a good listener.  These are all good things to aspire to.

If you don’t know who Ed Cox is or aren’t familiar with his work, we are again endebted to the amazing work of Kim Roberts, whose Beltway Poetry site serves as repository of the brain of DC Poetic history.  There are a lot of amazing pieces there including a remembrance by Richard McCann, and an old interview of Ed Cox by E. Ethelbert Miller which was originally in the old Washington Review (where the above Cox photo by Jesse Winch comes from).  In his gorgeous piece, McCann remembers his old friend as having "a gift for listening deeply, with a patient and even profound attentiveness."  This gift, McCann observes, can be found throughout Cox’s poetry.

I am you,
as you are me in the misery of these avenues
and streets.  Cuddle the bricks, whisper
beneath the great map of stars.

It seems fitting to remember the work of Ed Cox on this Gay Pride Month.

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