Tuesday, January 8, 2013


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Introduction: The Elemental Prance of Life            
It's a summer day, and I want to be wanted more than 
anything else in the world.  
                                          Frank O’Hara   

Measure, measure your life in love.  

‘Rent’ lyric (cited in Román’s Acts of 
Intervention, 283)  
death comes in it doesn’t say hello it stops and will not go   
death comes in I taste it on your lips your  ass your cock your 
                                          Joe Lewis  

death . . . I taste it; At the outset the stage is set for a collection of 
poetry that simultaneously laments and celebrates both life and 
death as elemental to each other’s existence. Any rudimentary 
online thesaurus reveals the presence of prance -  “the elemental 
prance of life” - as something akin to strutting, flouncing, cavorting, 
frolicking, swanning. Thus death is introduced within a complex 
lexicon of living life to its fullest without forgetting – by re- 
membering – the love that has left us but continues to live – to 
prance - through our hearts.  

to prance: The list of verbs describing fey physical gestures is 
endless. In David Román’s formative text ACTS of Intervention; 
Performance, Gay Culture, and AIDS we are reminded of the 
“anxiety and sense of inevitability already experienced by gay men 
in daily life.” (Román 237). In the poetry of Joe Lewis this prance – 
this anxiety - becomes a kind of self-elegy, an almost musical 
refrain for the poet himself to begin with and to go back to over 
and over again over the course of twelve elegant meditations that 
move in and out of mirth and tragedy, testifying poetically to the 
life of someone living with HIV for a prolonged period. Within a 
larger personal scheme this self-elegaic quality radiates outward 
toward a single object of desire (dedication to Michael Kelly). But 
within that singularity lies the central paradox about sharply 
personal poetry that attempts to speak of historic tragedy around 
mistaken perceptions of illness. When we speak of a kind of death 
still so fraught with scapegoating and homophobia we speak to a 
multitude of  suffering and surviving as we speak privately and 
intimately of and to ourselves. 

death sentences/syntax; The AIDS pandemic, having claimed so 
many lives, finds a quiet knowing solitude in this collection of 
poems, and garners strength for those of us coming into the 
awareness of HIV within our own lives and bodies during a very 
different period than the one when Joe was first diagnosed. When 
I was diagnosed, almost twenty years later, Joe was among the 
first people I spoke to about it. I had remembered telling him, when 
I first heard his news, that this was not a death sentence, and 
soon after, when I first heard Joe read some of the work included 
in this collection, I was struck by Joe’s repetition of the idea of an 
approaching death. It became – and continues to be – an affirming 
and cathartic moment for me, where I can simultaneously embrace 
and expel the intense fear of the kind of death that has taken the 
lives of my closest friends. Joe is among the few who survived that 
early period and his poems speak of a survival that sustains itself 
through what he calls a “re-membering” throughout the collection. 
His sentences and stanzas are crafted with the syntax for 

die laughing; In Die Laughing we are confronted with a journey 
through a party-like loop of sorrow laced with fun-loving, lightly 
erotic and popular images that bring us this sense of mirth and 
sadness through a wondrous run-on lyricism. 

dreams ending forgotten re-membering lush undergrowth 
mould, oxidized copper broken glass sometimes I feel like 
laughing in your face kissing your eyelids your spine making you 
mine I hold you we cry yesterday a friend of a friend reported your 
death last night I saw you and,,, .stillness in my heart dreams 
ending forgotten like Roy and Dale we ride off into the sunset 
make history bake pies swim in the Nile and die laughing  

And then Sing Me A Song, with its beautifully hedonistic litany of 
remembered screams, games, and unsung possibilities;  
 . . . We danced drank beer in discos too old and too young to care 
about yesterday and too unaware to make plans for the day after 
      Too much was left unsaid I’m too mad to be sad and so sorry 
for you to care about myself   
I can not believe we still play these games, but the game isn’t over 
till the last man is gone but we can still sing       songs . . .  
      I don’t need to know “what’s going on”   
      Just sing me a song  

But finally, with the closing poem Really I Forgot, the sum of the 
poet’s collected parts - whether they exist in twelve poems or over 
a prolonged period of a profoundly unwelcome awareness of 
mortality – they rise up out of this extended elegiac refrain, as it 
soothes us, frightens us, and teaches us to survive through the 
presence of memory. 
You tell me a well constructed poem is like a house,   

      I laugh and call you a louse, love like art like life is a bad 
dream, sometimes, sometimes its just good plain fun, a deep dark 
green woods overgrown and dank, decaying, feeding on itself, a 
video image courtesy of the rock and roll industry, my mother, old 
and broken down on hands and knees planting tulips in suburbia, 
you stand screaming alone and forgotten loved   

      I said I’d call, say I didn’t have time, but really I just forgot 
      It is now September the cool night air, that smell one 
remembers so well the colour of the sky, moon light, memory.   
This is not a dream, not a sad song, but life, sweet life. You reach 
back a day a year a minute and you forget grammar. You lose 
language you scream you laugh and in-ability you pull stones from 
the earth.  

      You look forward to yesterday and you love yourself.  

The mocking playfulness of the opening rhyme, followed by the 
notion of looking forward to the presence of yesterday as it filters 
in and out of daily – hourly - consciousness - identifies those of us 
who have used performance - whether it be poetry on the page or 
aloud onstage or in a cherished conversation with a close friend 
and/or lover we do not want to lose too soon - a suitable 
conclusion and introduction to the beauty and the value of these 
twelve poems.  

postscript - rent; An especial love of Broadway and the many 
conflicted attempts to bring our lives to the musical stage finds 
subtle expression in these poems as they majestically move from 
one death refrain to the next, soaring across years of life and loss, 
ultimately ending and beginning in a thirst for what Joe has called 
“look[ing] forward to yesterday and loving yourself.” Past and 
present commingle strategically and beautifully as Joe Lewis 
allows himself and his reader to measure our lives in love. 

David Bateman

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