Connect with us

Arts & Entertainment

‘D.C. queer poets doing some of the most innovative writing’

Kim Roberts on Washington as home to thriving poetry scene

Published

on

‘Because the federal government is here, people don’t think there’s poetry in D.C.,’ said Kim Roberts.

Cheer up! There’s hope! April isn’t just for filing your taxes. It’s National Poetry Month!

Few people are more important — more vital — to poetry in Washington, D.C. than queer poet, editor, and literary historian Kim Roberts.

It’s hard to imagine any bard in the D.C. region who hasn’t been enriched by Roberts’s editing, poetry, or understanding of history.

“Kim Roberts brings the past and present together with elegance and intelligence,” said Maryland Poet Laureate Grace Cavalieri in an email to the Blade.

“Poetry’s past has gone nowhere at all, thankfully, because of Kim’s work,” Cavalieri, producer and host of the public radio show and Apple podcast “The Poet and the Poem,” said. 

D.C. has been home to numerous poets from its founding to the Civil War to World War I to World War II to our COVID era, Roberts, 60, told the Blade in an interview.

“D.C. is a company town like Las Vegas,” Roberts, who moved to Washington, D.C. 35 years ago, said. “Because the federal government is here, people don’t think there’s poetry in D.C.”

“We get overlooked,” she added.

You might think poetry is a snooze or only for residents of Mount Olympus who are untethered to earthly hopes, fears, loves and losses. But you’d be wrong.

All sorts of people  – from politicos to journalists to teachers to lovers to mourners — seek out and write poetry.

“You turn to poetry in times of great emotion like funerals and weddings,” said Roberts, who is the author of six books of poems.

Recently, this hit close to home for Roberts. “COVID’s been so hard for so many people,” she said, “I feel a bit guilty. Because at my age, I fell in love during the pandemic!”

Roberts was gobsmacked (in a good way) by love — she didn’t expect to find it so late in life. 

At this transformative juncture, Roberts turned to poetry. “My style changed,” she said, “I became confessional.”

Much of her previous poetry has been about other people. The poems in her 2015 collection “Fortune’s Favor: Scott in the Antarctic,” for example, are in the “voice” of explorer Robert Falcon Scott.

“The Scientific Method,” her 2017 book, combines poems about Thomas Alva Edison and Carl Sagan, “the strange mating habits of invertebrates and fish, and rondeaux about the United States presidents,” Roberts writes on her website (kimroberts.org).

Roberts’s poems about her love for her girlfriend Tracey are personal. They are filled with passion and desire.

Five of her love poems are just out from The Last Press. Roberts is the third poet to be featured in an ongoing series of accordion-fold, hand letter press poems called “Quire.” If you don’t feel the passion pulsating through Roberts love poems, check your pulse.

“My desire for you this evening/is not done, where I bridge/inopportune distance,” Roberts writes in her poem “On Roosevelt Bridge,” one of the poems in the “Quire” series, “where I cross/the river into my city, fluid/ around my heart.”

“There’s an ocean inside my belly,” Roberts writes in “Another Lapping Refrain,” one of her “Quire” poems, “and you’re making my tide rise/I want to apologize to the shore/for my past indifference to its beauty.”

The pandemic gave her permission to try different types of projects, Roberts said. One of the things she and her friend Robert Revere, a photographer, missed during the shutdowns was going to museums. Roberts and Revere co-created “Corona/Crown,” a 14-part prose poem with photographs.

“We created a “museum of our own,” Roberts said. “We combined how we imagined people would interact with visual culture with photos of real places.” 

“Corona/Crown” will be published as a chapbook by WordTech Editions in the winter of 2023.

Since childhood, Roberts has felt a strong connection to the English language. “I loved the musicality of words. I made up rhymes and stories,” Roberts said, “it’s inevitable that I would write.”

Roberts earned a B.F.A. in creative writing from Emerson College, and an M.F.A. in poetry from the University of Arizona. In 2000, Roberts became the founding editor of “Beltway Poetry Quarterly,” an acclaimed journal that publishes D.C.-area poets. She retired from editing “Beltway” in 2019.

“Beltway” has published many queer poets (including a special LGBTQ issue). Richard Blanco, Regie Cabico, Jona Colson, Cheryl Clarke and Angelina Weld are among the queer poets whose work has appeared in “Beltway.”

“Publishing queer writers helps us see ourselves as part of a special literature,” Roberts said.

Roberts began to explore the history of Washington, D.C. decades ago when she arrived in D.C. “It helped me to feel connected to the city,” she said.

The anthology “By Broad Potomac’s Shore: Great Poems from the Early Days of Our Nation’s Capital,” which Roberts edited, came out in 2020. The collection covers poets, born between 1800 to 1900 through the Civil War, Reconstruction and World War I.

Their work “spans the gamut form traditional Victorian-era sentimentality through the beginnings of literary modernism,” Roberts writes in the preface.

Everyone knows about Whitman being queer, Roberts said. The anthology’s title comes from Whitman’s poem with the same title. But there have been many other queer poets throughout D.C.’s history, Roberts said.

Take Natalie Clifford Barney, a feminist poet, who lived from 1876 to 1972. Barney spent her early years in D.C. She hosted salons in Paris for artists for more than 60 years. “She was the first woman to write openly about lesbian love since Sappho,” Roberts said.

“The full-sailed rising of your body’s sweep/ – Adrift and safe on joy’s last tidal wave —,” Barney wrote in her poem “How Write the Beat of Love,” “Will toss you on the silver sands of sleep/Forgetful of the ecstasy you gave.”

Other queer poets in the “By Broad Potomac’s Shore” anthology range from Charles Warren Stoddard, whose homoerotic writing about the natives of the South Seas was inspired by Whitman’s “Calamus” poems to Rose Elizabeth Cleveland, first lady for two years for her bachelor brother President Grover Cleveland.

Roberts is as committed to LGBTQ poetry in our time in D.C. as she is to queer poetry in the city’s past.

Roberts and filmmaker Jon Gann are co-coordinating the DC Queer Pride Poem-a-Day project. In June, the Project will feature 30 poets reading a poem in short videos online. One poem will be released daily. The website will stay up after Pride. (This reporter is one of the poets who will be featured in the Project.)

“D.C. queer poets now are doing some of the most imaginative, innovative writing,” Roberts said. “It’s important to document the writing of our time.”

Continue Reading
Advertisement
FUND LGBTQ JOURNALISM
SIGN UP FOR E-BLAST

Out & About

10 LGBTQ events this week

Catch upcoming drag shows, an ugly sweater party and Pamala Stanley live

Published

on

From left, Detox appears with other 'RuPaul's Drag Race' alums at a Christmas Misfits show, an Ugly Sweater Party is planned at As You Are and Pamala Stanley is slated to perform at Freddie's. (Blade file photos by Michael Key and Daniel Truitt)

Below are our picks for some of the most fun and creative things to do this week in the DMV that are of special interest to the LGBTQ community.


Mocktail Night

Wednesday, December 7
6-10 p.m.
Pitchers DC
2317 18th Street, N.W.
First Base Room
Facebook

Pitchers is hosting its first alcohol-free night for those celebrating sobriety with festive mocktails. No alcohol will be served, so go to Pitchers for a stress-free social event with other sober LGBTQ friends and allies.


“Flee” Movie Screening

Thursday, December 8
Doors 5:30 p.m./Opening remarks 6:30 p.m.
Landmark’s E Street Cinema
555 11th Street, N.W.
Free/registration required
Facebook | Register

The European Parliament Liaison Office and Capital Pride present a screening of European Parliament LUX Award 2022 finalist, “Flee.”

“Flee” portrays the true story of a man who shares his hidden past of fleeing his home country of Afghanistan to Denmark.


Christmas Misfits: A Drag Holiday Extravaganza!

Thursday, December 8
6 p.m.
Capital One Hall
7750 Capital One Tower Road
McLean, Va.
$69.50-$252.50
Facebook | Tickets

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” alumni Violet Chachki, Gottmik, Detox and Latrice Royale perform at a holiday show on Thursday.


Vernonza Extravaganza Lipsync Battle

Thursday, December 8
8 p.m.
Dupont Italian Kitchen
1637 17th Street, N.W.
Facebook

Monica Vernonza and Lady London host a lip sync battle at Dupont Italian Kitchen on Thursday.


StartOut Baltimore-Washington Launch Reception

Friday, December 9
6 p.m.
Selina Union Market
411 New York Avenue, N.E.
Facebook | Eventbrite

StartOut Baltimore-Washington holds a launch party with cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, live entertainment and networking at the rooftop at Selina Union Market on Friday. The new organization looks to increase the number, diversity and impact of LGBTQ entrepreneurs.


Pretty Girl Rock Drag Brunch

Saturday, December 10
10 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
Hard Rock Cafe
999 E Street, N.W.
$15+
Facebook | Tickets

Evon Dior Michelle hosts a drag brunch with Druex Sidora and Katrina Colby at Hard Rock Cafe on Saturday.


Ugly Sweater Party

Saturday, December 10
9 p.m.
As You Are DC
500 8th Street, S.E.
Facebook

Wear your ugliest sweater and party all night with DJ L Stackz at As You Are on Saturday.


UNCUT: Jingle Balls with DJ Cindel

Saturday, December 10
10 p.m.
Bliss Nightclub
2122 24th Place, N.E.
$65+
Facebook

Kinetic presents the 2nd annual UNCUT Jingle Balls event at Bliss Nightclub on Saturday complete with a clothes check and play zones.


It’s Britney, Brunch!

Sunday, December 11
Doors 11 a.m./show 12 p.m.
Red Bear Brewing Co.
209 M Street, N.E.
$25
Facebook

Desiree Dik leads the Britney Spears-themed drag brunch featuring Elecktra G, Silverware Sidora, Millie Meringue and Tip Boy Pup Indigo at Red Bear Brewing Company on Sunday.


Pamala Stanley LIVE at Freddie’s

Sunday, December 11
7-9:30 p.m.
Freddie’s Beach Bar
555 23rd Street S
Arlington, Va.
$15
Facebook

Pamala Stanley returns to Freddie’s Beach Bar in Arlington for a holiday show on Sunday.


Continue Reading

Photos

PHOTOS: Safe Space

New LGBTQ+ party held at Black Cat

Published

on

A scene from the 'Safe Space' party at the Black Cat on Saturday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Safe Space 2: A Safer Space party was held at the Black Cat on Saturday, Dec. 3.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

Continue Reading

Photos

PHOTOS: Holiday Show

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington perform annual concert at Lincoln Theatre

Published

on

A scene from the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington's 'Holiday Show.' (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington and the GenOUT Youth Chorus performed “The Holiday Show” at a dress rehearsal on Friday, Dec. 2 at Lincoln Theatre. The Chorus has performances scheduled for Dec. 9 and 11. For tickets and showtimes, visit gmcw.org.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Advertisement

Popular