Sunday, February 27, 2011

Joy Is Power

Returning home a few hours ago from a trip to DC, I caught up on my emailing duties and then, ever the optimist, opened the latest issue of PMLA in case there was something not boring therein. After a quick perusal of the ToC and a more thorough read of the letters pages, I decided that the book ads in the back were most likely to be not boring. In between the letters and the ads, however, in tiny print, there was an alphabetical list of recently-deceased literature professors that began with the name of the wonderful Rane Ramon Arroyo. It seems that Rane Arroyo died at fifty-five last May, of a cerebral hemorrhage.

The Chicagoan gay Latino poet Rane Arroyo appears in my author bio as the young prof who asked me "Are you a gay student?" A newly-hired Assistant Professor at YSU in 1994, he gave me indispensable advice on grads school and gentle critiques of my tyro essays in Exquisite Corpse, commenting accurately on my dismissal of Wordsworth as anti-science, "It's more complicated than that." He was, I believe, the first out gay instructor the YSU English department had hired; and there was much "How will the students react to this guy?" hand-wringing among his colleagues. The students, including the brothers of the frat he and his partner lived beside, had no problem with this guy; some of the faculty were less liberal. After a few years as a very popular teacher at YSU, he found work at Toledo, where he taught until his death at fifty-five.

There are many great lines in Arroyo's poetry, such as "You are given refuge in Utah where everyone is blonde by law/and interbreeding" (from "Rudy") or "Most attempts at globality/Turn consciousness into commerce" (from Portable Famine). I remember seeing him perform some of his poems in 1993: he read pieces that would be collected in The Singing Shark and The Roswell Poems, about the only media images of young Puerto Rican men he saw on tv as a child (singing Sharks), about Latino superheroism, about "men in white shirts taught not/to weep except through the armpits." His most vivacious performance was of "Juan Angel," a monologue by a character type whose analogues I would later recognize in Paris Is Burning and some of Chip Delany's essays. Published by Marilyn Hacker in The Kenyon Review, "Juan Angel" concerns a young single man, born to Puerto Rican "immigrants," who photographs himself in drag and lives on dreams of stardom: "I dream big, but no matter how big I/dream I'm smaller than life, smaller." From Juan I first learned that "it was Puerto Rican drag queens and/Black drag queens that started/the Stonewall riots." I can still hear Rane, after having performed the wild mood swings in the last section of the poem, wrapping it up with a beatific "I'm Juan Angel" followed by a tentative and unconfident "Hello, hello?"

"Joy is power. Real power." comes from a response Rane made to a fan letter on his facebook page about a month before he died.

[ETA fuzzy video footage of the end of an Arroyo talk in Brockport. "Dance! Live! Then write."]

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