Among the dozens of white tents lined down Santa Monica Boulevard, one took a different route when spreading love at the LA Pride Festival. The City of West Hollywood’s Art Division — or WeHo Arts — brought “Let Love Flourish: A Queer Poetry Pop-Up” to the public as a part of their month-long LGBTQ arts festival “One City, One Pride.” The event allowed attendees at LA Pride to experience poetry on a personal level, not only through spoken work and performances, but through written word as well.
Equipped with two antique typewriters, the booth’s “#PridePoets” sat and created custom love poems for those who stopped by.
“We decided to feature [this] at Pride because we want to highlight the different kinds of love people can experience and have an interactive way that people can get involved in WeHo Arts,” said Gwen Howard, one of the volunteers at the booth.
The booth radiated with affection and looked more like a reunion than an informational booth. The method to create the poems was easy: answer a few questions from the writer and, presto — three to four minutes later, your very own poem is now in existence.
“What do you feel is holding yourself back right now?”
“What would you tell your future self?”
The questions sent stares into the open, but prompted immediate self-reflection and recognition. Even when participants didn’t know how to respond, the #PridePoets took their time in trying to understand the unique state of each individual. Their welcoming smiles and ability to hone in, ignoring the sticky heat and celebratory-buzz, made it seem as though they were old friends. One by one attendees walked up to the poets, each delivering an exclusive biographical narrative, their love stories then molded into written words. To end the experience, the authors read the poems to their owners out loud, deepening the personal element and allowing an opportunity for self-love.
The pop-up offered a theatrical approach to LGBTQ poetry as well. Jason Jenn, a multimedia artist based out of Los Angeles, brought important works from historical queer poets to life, each expressing a form of love and “…a future where we could be loving freely,” as Jenn said.
“We’re all in this journey together and need to learn how to get along,” he added, “the survival of so much depends on it!”
With journal in hand, Jenn stepped out from under the white tents, adorn in a simple, yet striking silver cape handmade by his partner, artist Mr. Voice Love. From Greek poet Sappho to more familiar names like Walt Whitman, Jenn freely maneuvered around the black asphalt, taking what the #PridePoets were doing behind their typewriters and delivering it on a boisterous scale.
“I feel a little bit like Super Queer Poetry Man,” Jenn said, “here to spread inspirational love… I want people to think and feel something from the piece — at times entertaining and amusing, other times educational and informative…”
Even when the sun and noise from the crown proved to be an obstacle, Jenn continued his readings, emphasizing important phrases vocally and physically. It was much more than a mere “see it and read it” reciting, and offered bits of history to listeners as well. At one point, Jenn read work by Emily Dickinson and revealed that the famous American poet was also gay, a piece of information that isn’t always highlighted when taught in classrooms. It was a chance to not only become familiar or re-familiar with the work of these authors, but also a way to understand their work from a different standpoint.
Of all the loud and glamorous events taking place at Los Angeles Pride, the queer poetry pop-up was a quiet gem that successfully delivered the message of love with no boundaries, for one’s self and for all.
*Article originally published in “La Cima Magazine” for Rio Hondo College, Summer 2019.