The Mail 6/3/15

Poets are People too?

It's always gratifying to see contemporary poetry published in a newspaper or magazine not solely devoted to the subject ("Fiction & Poetry Contest Winners," Features, May 27). So many people in Baltimore are writing, publishing, and performing poetry, yet this is rarely mentioned. For several years now, I've been collecting the work of local poets for the Baltimore City Historical Society and we've a pretty good collection of current material.


I'm not aware of any other American city archiving their poetry—and what a shame. It's sad to realize that even after a few years in print, if this work is not saved somewhere, the books and CDs will disappear. Perhaps Amazon and other booksellers carry Baltimore poetry books, but it takes searching to find them.

While it's wonderful City Paper sponsors poetry and fiction contests, it would be enjoyable if you told us about the winners. How nice if you had included a little biographical detail along with the work. I'm familiar with your (tied) First Place poetry winner Alan Barysh, but Julia Showalter and Terrel Askew did not ring a bell. There is information about Barysh online, but nothing regarding the others. And I did look.

Alan's book "Bugged" is in our BCHS collection and he's a fascinating guy. For as long as he has been a poet, he has been a political activist. I've often run into him at local farmers markets where he's usually handing out counter-culture material. Based on my research, I learned that when Alan was in high school he supported the grape pickers strike and then was active in the anti-war movement. He once worked at the Sparrows Point Shipyard and participated in shipyard union activities. When it comes to radical involvement, Alan is the "go to" guy. He has also read his work at Artscape and other Baltimore venues.

Next time, please remember to give us some personal details. It's terrific to read the winning stories and poems, but it's also important to find out about the winners themselves.

Rosalind Ellis Heid
Save the gayborhood!

I read "Wide Stance: The Hippo is closing, but in a city like Baltimore, what's the point of a gay bar?" by Anthony Moll (The News Hole, May 19). And I felt that the author has the gay "talk-speak" language that has the flair of sass and glitter that this topic would normally get. However, the writer missed the point that is so glaring that it is almost criminal.

Yes, gays can go into straight bars and be "tolerated" instead of bashed. The author acts like this is something new. In fact, homos have been eating at straight bars and restaurants forever. This is nothing new. There has always been that "ambiguously gay" 40-something couple with their his-and-his flannel shirts and their non-scuffed Timberlands eating at a side table and quietly scanning the bar to see how well they are fitting in. It is foolish to believe that gays have been cocooned in their own gay fabulous world and never venture out to spend that coveted "gay dollars" in the real world. This is the media pitch line and it is stupid.

Now, to say that gays don't need a gay bar is also ridiculous. While gays can hang out in a straight club (which we do) and feel pretty comfortable that they are not going to be embarrassed, harassed, or god forbid bashed, try wearing butt-less chaps and lip synch "Bitch give me my money" on the second floor at Looney's. Make out with your lover with a feverous frenzy as the Viagra kicks in at the Cheesecake Factory. Pin a stranger to the wall, and frottage him to the beat of Major Lazer. Let's see how comfortable things get!

You are correct. Things have changed, times have changed, and gays have more choices, and they take advantage of them. And, you are correct. Gay bars may be extinct in the near future. Gays may not need gay bars to live, and they don't realize a good thing when they have it in front of them, and that is one of reasons why The Hippo will be erased from our landscape for good. The Hippo is well managed, well organized, and a landmark of what a quality club should look like.

For the life of me, I don't understand what is better for the community, 700 people spending money at the Hippo, and also checking out the other bars, or 50 people buying chips and soda and some pills at a CVS? And, if history repeats as it does at the Rite Aid on West Chase Street, expect a handful of people staring you down for money, and a lot of police activity. Does this make sense?

No, but that is what you are getting with Mount Vernon Belvedere Association, The North Arts Association, and the City of Baltimore. Their lack of vision is so blatant, so deliberate that their lack of action only fuels many well-worn conspiracy theories. Why are they deliberately killing the night life in Mount Vernon?

The Mount Vernon Belvedere Association/Station North Arts corridor has two colleges, museums, art galleries, theater, a gayborhood, and the best public transportation in town, it is primed to be the hottest spot in the city . . . and it is still a dud. No one wants to party here. They would rather go to other parts of the city, or go to D.C. Even the City Paper from Jan. 1, 2014 wrote a wish-list article, "Make the arts district more accessible."

Philadelphia’s Gayborhood was mired in crime and vacant storefronts for years. Visitors were warned not to go into the area. During the John Street Administration, believe it or not, in 2007, street signs were changed to include the gay flag, a universal homo-symbol of pride. This was monumental because, it said, “Our city acknowledges the importance of our gayborhood, and it is embraced into the city’s tapestry.” It also tells travelers with all that extra “gay money” where the hood is. And for everyone else, it lets them know that there is an alternative vision and reality and you are welcome to come and join the party. And they did; fast-forward to the present, the Philly Gayborhood if one of the hottest areas of the city for straights and gays.

In Baltimore, you have the oldest gay bar ever, Leon's, you have two major long standing clubs. You have a beautiful location and it is centrally located to everything. Fast forward to the present, the bars are vacant, littered with failed businesses and closed store fronts, and patrons at The Drinkery share their personal mugging stories like they are Vietnam flashbacks. No wonder the bars are slowly dying, the people have moved on. Who needs all this misery with their beer?

And, Baltimore has all the gay street credit it ever needs: rich gay history, John Waters—in fact, Divine ate dog shit down one of the alleys in the Gayborhood. Other cities in America would kill for the gay narrative.

And the City of Baltimore has done nothing to capitalize on it. There should be city recognition of the Gayborhood; learn from Philly. There should be national media attention; listen up "Visit Baltimore" there is actually a story here. And to go after the "gay money" you think is out there, once you clean up the area, do a "Visit Gay Baltimore" campaign on LOGO.  For god sakes, bronze a turd and put a marker on the shit-eating site! You would be surprised how many "selfies" you would get with the turd!

I have talked to gay bar owners in the past and they confirm that there has never been an olive branch from the city, or from the Mount Vernon Belvedere Association, it is quite the opposite. There stories are riddled with fines, and harassment of patrons. It is no wonder that a class act like The Hippo shuts it doors for the last time in frustration. And, that is the "real shame" here.

And to circle back to the same point, “Gay Bars will not die; they will just be called Straight-Friendly.” Do you know how many straight people drive past gay bars through the years and wonder what is going on inside of those doors? Ten years ago, a straight dude would never go into a gay bar for fear that one of their friends or co-workers would drive by and see them. The “Jenny Jones” era is over. Times have changed, and like going to Po-Boy’s to get a taste of New Orleans (OK, I am stretching for an analogy here), straight people want to go to gay bars to get a taste of the counter-culture gay lifestyle. Give me Drag Queens, give me strippers, give me sass and magic!

This lack of vision and foresight again goes back to the City of Baltimore and the especially the Mount Vernon Belvedere Association who are the SS Officers of the area. The Association's recent fumbles are so transparent that you wonder what their motives are. Why are they killing the night life of Mount Vernon? What is really going on here?

Tom Gouker

Correction: In "Now the hard part: jobs" (Mobtown Beat, May 19), we incorrectly stated that Anthony Burks quit his job. In fact, Burks asked his boss to lay him off. City Paper regrets the error.

From the Web, Facebook, and Twitter

With the sad state of hip hop and r&b, I find it interesting that the writer gives a dismissive nod to the best rap cd in a minute. Some thought went into this cd, lyrically and production wise. Between Kendrick and D'Angelo, it shows that there is hope for fine rap/r&b. Maybe both of the latest efforts by them are not "What's Going On" or "It Takes a Nation Of Millions", but they are damned sure better than the current Kanye, anything Jay-Z has ever made or whatever drivel r&b is Clear Channel brow-beating you into thinking is good music. It may be time to re-think the part of a music critic/columnist also. Folks are not paying attention to anything anymore, much less a dissertation on why a good cd isn't a masterpiece. That in itself is very subjective.

—“sherman,” June 1

@sherman Appreciate the thoughtful comments here sherman. I'm a huge Kendrick Lamar fan and think this record's really great and masterful, but I also think that questioning its politics is important. Even more so because as you said, a lot of the other rap that's getting onto the radio is so weak. To me, that seems all the more reason to think hard about the guys doing it well and not just give them a pass for trying to do something ambitious. Too often the attitude of critics and fans when they're confronted by political hip-hop: "Well, he said SOMETHING so let's not criticize it and give him the benefit of the doubt." Obviously it's one of the many things I do here at CP so I'm gonna disagree with you about the role of a critic, but I've had a lot of fruitful conversations with people because of this article so I think people do pay attention to writing like this.

—“brandonsoderberg,” June 1

the current fountain is just fine....clean it up...stop wasting money on nonsense....baltimore plumbing and sewage needs replacing...not some fountain....this shows poor leadership all around....GROW UP!

—“Lorenzo Epps,” May 31
Great review. You really captured the essence of what Kwame Kwei sought to portray about Bob Marley the man beyond a catchy tune on the radio EXCEPT you completely missed it about the ending encore. That was not touristy kitsch as you suggest. It was a gift to the audience to allow us to dance and celebrate the genius of Marley as a musical poet and clear sighted speaker of truth about oppression of the poor. Just as the audience at the Smile Jamaica and the One Love One Peace Concerts would have truly enjoyed the music through dance and movement so too were we the audience allowed to do so. It was appropriate and truly celebratory. I mean Dude! Loosen up!
—“Practical Fashionista,” May 31