January 24, 2021 The Newspaper Serving LGBT Los Angeles

The Language That Connects Us

The City of West Hollywood has a strong support for the arts, particularly poetry. One of the few cities in California to hold a poet laureate position, WeHo is ready for National Poetry Month, culminating in a 2-for-1 event on Tuesday, April 30. 

WeHo Reads will host a poetry reading entitled “Lingua Franca.” Inspired by Adrienne Rich’s Dream of a Common Language, Poet Laureate Charles Flowers has curated a reading of international poetry by poets from Belgium, India, Iran, and Poland, among other countries. The event features poets Kazim Ali, Laure-Anne Bosselaar, Elena Karina Byrne, Blas Falconer, Piotr Florczyck, and Vandana Khanna. 

That same night, Lambda Lit Book Club will read and discuss Midnight in a Perfect World by Collin Kelley.

The Pride L.A. spoke with Flowers about the event and the importance of poetry. Check it out:

Tell me a little bit about “Lingua Franca”… What can attendees expect?

One of my ideas around being Poet Laureate is to inspire folks to think beyond their borders – with all the national talk about closed borders, I wanted to consider open borders, and to suggest that Weho has open borders. True, there are economic borders that make Weho not possible for some people, but generally, our idea of acceptance and tolerance suggest that all are welcome, we have a mix of international residents and that we do not exclude people.  So I thought of Adrienne Rich, one of the America’s best poets who is also a lesbian, who wrote about the “dream of a common language” – that somehow, we can be united through language.  So I wanted to create an event that unifies through common language, so I thought of poetry as a language that unites (see definition of Lingua Franca) that the subjects of poetry – love, grief, humanity — can unify people who speak different languages. 

How did you select what poetry to include in the evening?

So I chose poets who can bring an awareness of different languages and cultures to an event that seeks to display our difference (languages, culture) but also our connection/sameness.  I haven’t selected the poetry per se, but the poets who can bring that to the table. I expect to be surprised by the poems, and I have encourage the poets to read poems in other languages, not just English. 

Is this a “queer poetry” event, or just a celebration of Poetry Month? 

This isn’t a queer event in the sense of sexually different, but it is queer in the sense that we are “curious” and “different.”  But it’s not about explicitly gay/lesbian/bi/ trans relationships.  Are the poets queer?  Yes, in a broad sense of being intellectually curious and questioning of culture and offering a viewpoint/perspective that may not be traditional/mainstream. 

What is the importance of LGBT poets/poetry in the art/literary world? 

LGBT poets represent a significant portion of American Poetry – from Dickinson and Whitman (who probably wouldn’t identify as LGBT, but whose lives and language would suggest they were) to contemporary poets who contribute to the richness of our poetry (Mark Doty, Adrienne Rich, Carl Phillips, D.A. Powell, Elizabeth Bishop, etc.). 

What does it mean to to you to be the Poet Laureate?

Being Poet Laureate enables me to promote poetry on a public platform that I do not usually have access to – to remind residents of Weho that poetry matters, that it speaks to them, that it is valuable to us as a city, as a residents, etc. 

What is the importance of National Poetry Month?  

The importance of National Poetry Month (NPM) is that everybody gets to celebrate poetry – poets celebrate poetry all year round, as do many readers, but NPM really brings the public’s awareness and allows poets to occupy some of the national cultural stage that they may not otherwise get to.  

For more information, visit weho.org.

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