...The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And, as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
—from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, spoken by Theseus, Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, by William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
Interesting projects have come my way as part of being Florida’s Poet Laureate: judging delightful high-school reciters of poetry, for example, or introducing America’s Poet Laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera, at the Palladium. A recent and moving opportunity arrived recently when I was asked by a young poet-choreographer, Luis Lopez-Maldonado, to write an introduction to The Brillantina Project, a collection of 49 poems written in remembrance of the victims at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, America’s worst massacre since 9/11.
In a way, poetry is about names, and naming things. Don’t write “flower,” I tell my students. Write “amaryllis,” “begonia,” “dandelion.” Instead of “boat” write “sloop,” “sailfish,” “outrigger.” Names have a resonance that is particular and individual and, when writing about people, poetry’s aim is to give these names a kind of immortality, preferable than being simply cut in stone — libraries are warmer than graveyards: We have lived, and our lives had meaning. So the project begins with the names and photos of the 49 victims.
On June 12th, 2016 — fifteen years after 9/11 — a madman entered the Pulse nightclub, the most popular gay bar and dance venue in Orlando, Florida, and shot and killed 49 people, wounding 53. The Brillantina poems are in memory of them, to help us grieve, to celebrate their lives, to recover, and remember.
This wanton slaughter of innocents wasn’t, of course, an isolated incident. In America, the Pulse tragedy, though larger, joins the ones that took place in Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, San Bernardino, Killeen, and elsewhere. America has the longest list, but this isn’t just an American or LGBT phenomenon, as the bloody massacres in Paris, Brussels, London, and Nice have shown. Evil has always been with us, but technology — the combination of instant electronic communication and easy access to automatic weapons — has made us see it more graphically than ever before.
The perpetrators tend to be young males, often speaking of some political or religious cause, but in fact they are unhappy, unsuccessful, sexually confused, jealous of those who seem to be satisfied and enjoying their lives. (The murderer at Pulse, divorced and remarried, was, among other things, a wife beater.) Hence, the attacks take place in restaurants, schools, train stations, and nightclubs like Pulse, busy places where people gather to learn, to travel, to have a good time. The damage the killers do is unspeakable, but they cannot win, and the way to defeat them is to continue on our positive paths with even more resolution than before. In “If I Am Murdered” Miguel Morales writes, “Tell them/they didn’t kill me — they unleashed me.”
The Brillantina Project unleashes the 49 victims on the pages of this moving anthology. Beside their names and photos, poem after poem speaks about our belief and love for them, and brings their lives back. As with the loved ones in our own families, this isn’t metaphorical; they really still live in us.
I’ll close with a few more lines by Shakespeare, our wisest poet, born long before the idea of an LGBT community had emerged; but who knew what evil was, and that every single human life is a poem.
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest,.
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st;
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
—from “Sonnet 18” by William Shakespeare