This is the official blog of Northern Arizona slam poet Christopher Fox Graham. Begun in 2002, and transferred to blogspot in 2006, FoxTheBlog has recorded more than 670,000 hits since 2009. This blog cover's Graham's poetry, the Arizona poetry slam community and offers tips for slam poets from sources around the Internet. Read CFG's full biography here. Looking for just that one poem? You know the one ... click here to find it.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Banned Books Week: "The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name" by James Kirkup

The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name By James Kirkup
(The gay poem that broke blasphemy laws and led to Whitehouse v. Lemon, a 1976 court case involving the blasphemy law in the United Kingdom.)

As they took him from the cross
I, the centurion, took him in my arms-
the tough lean body
of a man no longer young,
beardless, breathless,
but well hung.

He was still warm.
While they prepared the tomb
I kept guard over him.
His mother and the Magdalen
had gone to fetch clean linen
to shroud his nakedness.

I was alone with him.
For the last time
I kissed his mouth. My tongue
found his, bitter with death.
I licked his wound-
the blood was harsh

For the last time
I laid my lips around the tip
of that great cock, the instrument
of our salvation, our eternal joy.
The shaft, still throbbed, anointed
with death's final ejaculation.

I knew he'd had it off with other men-
with Herod's guards, with Pontius Pilate,
With John the Baptist, with Paul of Tarsus
with foxy Judas, a great kisser, with
the rest of the Twelve, together and apart.
He loved all men, body, soul and spirit - even me.

So now I took off my uniform, and, naked,
lay together with him in his desolation,
caressing every shadow of his cooling flesh,
hugging him and trying to warm him back to life.
Slowly the fire in his thighs went out,
while I grew hotter with unearthly love.

It was the only way I knew to speak our love's proud name,
to tell him of my long devotion, my desire, my dread-
something we had never talked about. My spear, wet with blood,
his dear, broken body all open wounds,
and in each wound his side, his back,
his mouth - I came and came and came

as if each coming was my last.
And then the miracle possessed us.
I felt him enter into me, and fiercely spend
his spirit's final seed within my hole, my soul,
pulse upon pulse, unto the ends of the earth-
he crucified me with him into kingdom come.

This is the passionate and blissful crucifixion
same-sex lovers suffer, patiently and gladly.
They inflict these loving injuries of joy and grace
one upon the other, till they die of lust and pain
within the horny paradise of one another's limbs,
with one voice cry to heaven in a last divine release.

Then lie long together, peacefully entwined, with hope
of resurrection, as we did, on that green hill far away.
But before we rose again, they came and took him from me.
They knew what we had done, but felt
no shame or anger. Rather they were glad for us,
and blessed us, as would he, who loved all men.

And after three long, lonely days, like years,
in which I roamed the gardens of my grief
seeking for him, my one friend who had gone from me,
he rose from sleep, at dawn, and showed himself to me before
all others. And took me to him with the love that now forever dares to speak
its name.

Gay paper guilty of blasphemy (Published 11 July 1977)

The Gay News and its editor Denis Lemon have been found guilty of blasphemous libel in the first case of its kind for more than 50 years.

The case was brought as a private prosecution by the secretary of the National Viewers and Listeners Association, Mary Whitehouse.

She objected to a poem and illustration published in the fortnightly paper last year about a homosexual centurion's love for Christ at the Crucifixion.

After the jury gave their 10-2 guilty verdict at the Old Bailey Whitehouse said: "I'm rejoicing because I saw the possibility of Our Lord being vilified. Now it's been shown that it won't be."

The poem, "The Love that Dares to Speak its Name", by Professor James Kirkup, 54, was distributed to the jury and reporters. However, the judge, Alan King-Hamilton, ordered that it could not be published.

Prosecuting Counsel John Smyth told the court: "it may be said that this is a love poem - it is not, it is a poem about buggery."

The defense argued that far from being "vile" and "perverted" the poem glorified Christ by illustrating that all of mankind could love him.

During the six-day trial columnist and TV personality Bernard Levin and novelist Margaret Drabble testified that the Gay News was a responsible paper that did not encourage illegal sexual practices.

Blasphemous libel is akin to the ecclesiastical charge of heresy - once punishable by death - and in the UK is an offense under common law and the 1697 Blasphemy Act.

The last time a case was brought in the UK was in 1921 when a Mr Gott was sentenced to nine months in prison for publishing a pamphlet that suggested that Christ looked like a clown as he entered Jerusalem.

Represented by playwright and novelist John Mortimer, QC, Mr Lemon, 32, sat silently in the dock as the verdict was given.

The gay poem that broke [1697] blasphemy laws
By Staff Writer,

The announcement that the government may support moves to strike down blasphemy laws comes 30 years after Denis Lemon was found guilty of committing libel against Christianity, the last prosecution for blasphemy.

He was the editor of the now defunct but iconic UK newspaper Gay News.

Mary Whitehouse, founder of the National Viewers and Listeners Association, (NVLA) announced her intention to sue in December 1976 after she read the poem entitled "The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name" by James Kirkup, published in Gay News.

Denis Lemon was sentenced to nine months suspended imprisonment and fined £500.

Publisher Gay News Limited was fined £1,000.

They were represented by creator of Rumpole of the Bailey and defence counsel at the Oz "conspiracy" trial in 1971, John Mortimer QC, at the Old Bailey.

An appeal against the conviction was rejected by the House of Lords.

It still 'illegal' to publish the poem in the UK.

However, it was published again in two socialist newspapers few days after the original trial the offending poem as a protest against censorship.

It expresses the fictional love of a Roman Centurion for Jesus and describes him having sex with the Christ's crucified body and is reproduced below.

Her indictment submitted in December 1976 against Gay News stated:

"A blasphemous libel concerning the Christian religion, namely an obscene poem and illustration vilifying Christ in his life and in his crucifixion."

Mrs Whitehouse was appointed a CBE in 1980.

The NVLA, now known as mediawatch, still regards their founder as the 'late, great Mary Whitehouse.'

They maintain their objective that the organisation has kept pressure on broadcasting authorities (they no longer monitor the press) to explain standards of 'taste and decency' and that this objective is as relevant today as it was in the 1960s.

John Beyer, director of mediawatch told last year:

"I think that the prosecution was justified because it was upheld and the appeal was rejected."

He says that with regard to 'that poem.' "The standards for decency still stand."

The fact that the ban rankles sections of society which support gay rights and are against censorship, he says is "irrelevant."

"It has nothing to do with 'rights,' the judicial process was followed and it was found to be a breach of the law. The fact remains that the law has not been repealed – the attitudes may have changed.

"Freedom comes with responsibility otherwise we end up with anarchy. The law of the land applies to everybody."

He refused to express a more personal view on the matter.

"That is irrelevant."

"It is a weakness in the judicial system that the same law cannot be upheld when the poem is re-published in other sections of the media."

The poem can easily be found on the Internet.

The poet, James Kirkup, 89, now lives in Andorra. He continues to work and frequently contributes obituaries to newspapers. [He died May 2009].

Lemon fell ill with an AIDS-related illness and sold Gay News in 1982.

It closed down in 1983. Lemon died in July 1994.

1 comment:

SedonaMike said...

Interesting. Thanks for posting. I didn't know the story behind this.