Got my hands on a rare book.
Rare in Uganda. Certainly not rare outside, nor impossible to find.
But I got it (long story!), a book titled 'Gay Love Poetry'. Edited by Neil Powell. A collection, a treasure trove from men who fell in love with other men, and poured their hearts out, over the years.
Are all gay men poets?
Surely a fair question? No, it is not, and is prejudiced. Like saying all homophobes are religious. Or similar fanciful thinking that I am prone to. But some gay men can write poetry, and well.
Shakespeare's 18th sonnet. Years ago, like a bolt of lightning it introduced me to love of poetry. But, at that particular moment, I was not even identifying as gay. And it was later that I realized Shakespeare was writing to a male lover. I was fascinated. By the language, the ease of expression, by the enduring emotions wrapped in the words. I understood a little of what it means to read a good poem. A poem that lives, despite the years, and the ages, the difference in culture. How different could Shakespeare have been from me? How come I can understand, a little bit, of his emotions as he writes? Why do I connect with him?
I could never be more different. In time, place, emotions, understanding. In person. But still, his words do live in his works, and I dare believe that I can understand him. Even if it is a little.
When I got the collection of gay love poetry, I naturally looked for Sonnet 18. This time, it was not the first love poem, as usually occurs, so well is the spell of Shakespeare woven on others, apart from me. But it was included.
Now, I quickly own that I am not well read. Certainly not in English, and not in literature. And certainly not in poetry. So, it was a surprise for me to find some of the poets listed as gay. Or gay leaning, or having written gay love poetry.
Walt Whitman, Wilfred Owen, Oscar Wilde. Those I have come across. Christopher Marlowe, surely not Wordsworth? Alfred, Lord Tennyson?
I have owned to my not being well read. So you will forgive my fascination. Browsing through the book, I came across a poem by Sir Philip Sydney. The titles mean nothing to me. The titles of the poet, that is. That of the poem is a classic that has managed to send me to sleep at night, thinking about the exquisite capture of the emotion of the moment. 'My true love hath my heart, and I have his…'
Was reading it yesterday, just before bed. And I looked at my love, and told him there was a poem that I would like to read to him.
He listened, but, he has not been bitten by the bug I have. Not grabbed by the same awe of words. See? I told you not all of us kuchus are poetry smitten! And the language is archaic, and the meanings convoluted. Yet, it still stands out, 'My true love has my heart, and I have his.' The first and last lines of the sonnet.
Yet it is the last poem in the book that has made me carry it to work.
The book's title is very frank. Gay love poetry.
I don't want to be 'caught' reading it. I mean, I am 'out' enough, I don't want to rub it in the face of some uninterested others, to remind some of what I am that they would rather forget. This is Uganda, and I am at work. And of course I do not want to out myself to those who do not need to know.
The poem is 'The Playground Bell' by Adam Johnson. Deceased.
It is about gay life. In Manchester, London, Amsterdam. It is about a decadent, pleasure and sex filled life, and the tolling of the bell of life. Maybe AIDS. Most than likely.
It is about a coming out, and a young life cut short in the prime. Before one could figure out life's very essence, apart from a hedonistic pursuit of pleasure.
What grips me about that poem?
If I knew, I would not be writing about it here.
And I don't think I would be bringing the book to work, or re-reading the poem the umpteenth time. I don't know what fascinates me about the poem. It is enough that it fascinates me.
Not the decadent lifestyle, which at one time I would have loved to lead. Not the futile search for the self, ultimately, apparently unfulfilled. Not for the exotic places mentioned.
I hope, before the bell tolls for me, I will have figured out what fascinates me in poetry. For surely it must be worth it, this fascination and addiction for a language of humanity that differs so much and yet so little from my language?
And, I have to think of having the book nicely wrapped up. To hide the title of course.