Comfort! There is hope! The month of April is not reserved only for the declaration of income. It’s National Poetry Month!
Few people are more important — more vital — to poetry in Washington, DC than queer poet, editor, and literary historian Kim Roberts.
It’s hard to imagine a DC-area bard who hasn’t been enriched by Roberts’ editing, poetry, or understanding of the story.
“Kim Roberts brings together past and present with elegance and intelligence,” Maryland Poet Laureate Grace Cavalieri said in an email to the Blade.
“The poetry past hasn’t gone anywhere thankfully thanks to Kim’s work,” said Cavalieri, producer and host of the public radio show and Apple podcast “The Poet and the Poem.”
DC has been home to many poets from its founding through Civil War, World War I, World War II and our COVID era, Roberts, 60, told The Blade in an interview.
“DC is a corporate city like Las Vegas,” said Roberts, who moved to Washington, DC 35 years ago. “Because the feds are here, people don’t think there’s poetry in DC”
“We are overlooked,” she added.
You might think poetry is a siesta or just for the residents of Mount Olympus who are unrelated to earthly hopes, fears, loves and losses. But you would be wrong.
All kinds of people – from politicians and journalists to teachers, lovers and mourners – research 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 poetry.
Recently, it hit close to home for Roberts. “COVID has been so difficult for so many people,” she said, “I feel a little guilty. Because at my age, I fell in love during the pandemic!”
Roberts was stunned (in a good way) by love — she hadn’t expected to find it so late in life.
At this stage of transformation, Roberts turned to poetry. “My style changed,” she says, “I became confessional.”
Much of his previous poetry has been about other people. The poems in his 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 roundabouts about the presidents of the United States,” Roberts writes on his website (kimroberts.org).
Roberts’ poems about his love for his girlfriend Tracey are personal. They are filled with passion and desire.
Five of his love poems just came out of The Last Press. Roberts is the third poet to be featured in an ongoing series of accordion and hand-lettered poems titled “Quire.” If you can’t feel the passion vibrating through Roberts’ love poems, check your pulse.
“My desire for you tonight / is not done, where I cross / inopportune distance”, writes Roberts in his poem “On Roosevelt Bridge”, one of the poems in the “Quire” series, “where I cross / the river in my city, flowing/around my heart.
“There’s an ocean in my belly,” Roberts writes in “Another Lapping Refrain,” one of his “Quire” poems, “and you raise the tide/I want to apologize to the shore/for my indifference gone to her beauty.”
The pandemic gave him 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 the way 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 winter 2023.
Since childhood, Roberts has felt a strong connection to the English language. “I liked the musicality of the words. I made up rhymes and stories,” Roberts said, “it’s inevitable that I write.
Roberts received a BFA in creative writing from Emerson College and an MA in poetry from the University of Arizona. In 2000, Roberts became the founding editor of “Beltway Poetry Quarterly”, an acclaimed journal that publishes poets from the DC area. 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 works have appeared in “Beltway.”
“Publishing queer writers helps us see ourselves as part of a special literature,” Roberts said.
Roberts began exploring the history of Washington, DC decades ago when she first came to DC. “It helped me 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”, edited by Roberts, was released in 2020. The collection covers poets, born between 1800 and 1900 during the Civil War, Reconstruction and First World War.
Their work “runs the gamut from traditional Victorian-era sentimentality to the beginnings of literary modernism,” Roberts writes in the preface.
Everyone knows Whitman is queer, Roberts said. The title of the anthology comes from Whitman’s poem of the same title. But there have been many other queer poets throughout DC’s history, Roberts said.
Take Natalie Clifford Barney, a feminist poet, who lived from 1876 to 1972. Barney spent her early years in Washington. She hosted salons in Paris for artists for over 60 years. “She was the first woman to write openly about lesbian love since Sappho,” Roberts said.
“The full-sail rise of your body’s sweep / – Adrift and safe on joy’s last tidal wave -” Barney wrote in his poem “How to Write the Rhythm of Love”, “You will cast upon the silvery sands of sleep/Forgotten from the ecstasy you gave.
Other queer poets in the ‘By Broad Potomac’s Shore’ anthology range from Charles Warren Stoddard, whose homoerotic writings about South Sea natives were inspired by Whitman’s ‘Calamus’ poems to First Lady Rose Elizabeth Cleveland. for two years for his single brother. President Grover Cleveland.
Roberts is as committed to LGBTQ poetry in our time in DC as she is to queer poetry from the city’s past.
Roberts and filmmaker Jon Gann coordinate the DC Queer Pride Poem-a-Day project. In June, the project will feature 30 poets reading a poem in short online videos. A poem will be published daily. The website will remain active after Pride. (This journalist is one of the poets who will be featured in the project.)
“DC’s queer poets now do some of the most imaginative and innovative writing,” Roberts said. “It is important to document the writing of our time.