A Professional Bull Riders Competition in Reading
Pennsylvania, a Bent Review by The Queer Critic-That’s me.
bring to you a “crit” unusual from most that I have done before, in that I had to cross the line; cross the aisle;
cross the gulf, if you will, of my own preconceived notions, and for an evening at least try and participate and assimilate
in an objective, un-opinionated way, the methods in which my host, The United States Army, might, I feared, present and perhaps
slant to some degree, the presentation to its guests of a fast growing national sport that I do enjoy for reasons I will elaborate
on as I go. Given my past and current politics and my personal displeasure with the current state of domestic and foreign
affairs, I presumed the army’s presentation would be, if not completely opposite to, at least in a large degree, alien
to this artist’s point of view. To quote the original “Queer Critic”, Quentin Crisp, commenting upon daily
passing a New York bar spewing Hell’s Angels and other such rough-trade, biker types out onto a Big Apple sidewalk:
“They've never murdered me. When I take my laundry to the laundry on First Avenue, I pass between their house and their
row of Harleys. I pass with bowed head to show I accept their supremacy, and they've never murdered me.” I came with
very much the same forebodings as Quentin, here, and as I am still here writing to you, and so you see, the United States
Army did not murder me. I feared for the worse given their recent reputation, but I had laundry of sorts to do, and I was
bent on seeing and enjoying this competition in a season of competitions presented by a host of different sponsors. I was
brave and found my way into the Sovereign Arena in Reading, Pennsylvania [That’s in the US of A] to watch the latest
event in a season of these events that lead up to a world championship week in Las Vegas, Nevada later this year involving
a cool 3.2 million dollars in prize money.
My excitement for once overcame my fears and I faced these fears, braved the unusual landscape, and the
unfamiliar kind of crowd to go and gawk and be bedazzled by the marvelous talents and expertise of that icon of my “man
of all men”, the beloved American cowboy!
Although there are cowboys from Mexico, Brazil, and other lesser places, none of these in my opinion are
the original, and although talented as they may be, and cute as any can see, they do not have for me, coming as they do from
foreign places, the mystic of the American cowboy. No, I will not give up this territory claimed in the American Old West,
and I am happy to say still alive and thumping and judging from the money in hand growing and prospering to boot, the pun
get one thing straight at the “get go”. Cowboys and cow girls are sexy! I’m talking hot,
hot, hot! Please someone douse me with cold water or better yet take me into their showers! But, let’s not dwell upon
the obvious, and let me instead tell you of all the lesser distractions, not so tall and big perhaps, but things of which
you may not already know.
if the United States Army, and the cowboys, were not American enough, we had also that favorite American obsession and pastime
working overtime this night, pushing all else aside, [never mind the talent or the art], that is to say everyone was making
and spending money. Not since Rome, has there been to such a degree, such a people so loose and free with economy! You see,
besides sex, we have a common denominator. These spurs are made of gold, honey, and the cowboy hat is trimmed in real fur,
not fake, like any found at the Five and Dime- that’s Walmart, today.
Money, honey, makes the world go round. Everything and I mean everything,
including the rodeo clown’s bum had an advertising logo on it. We’re talking advertising and advertising everywhere,
both visual and verbal. Now if you think I mean this as a criticism, I do not. It all, like in the movie, Talladega Nights
came together in a beautiful cocktail of colors, shapes, and text, just beautiful to behold, especially on a cowboy’s
chaps and other areas unmentionable. This is the American way. We led this way and still do lead despite rumors from Beijing
to the contrary. Andy Warhol, where are you when we need you? Sex sells. Cowboys sell. The army sells. I sell. Everybody sells.
It generates capital. It provides jobs. It is capitalism. Don’t look now, but it won! We were even shooting beer, or
maybe it was cans of pop, out of bazooka guns into the crowd. Oh, It was fun! And the gun carried a message, not of war so
much, as “buy me”. Here’s the first one free! There were hawkers in the stands and on the address system,
too. There was the big screen, visible to all, telling you of the many opportunities to buy this or that. It was snap, crackle,
and pop even before anyone got atop the bull.
Let me tell you of the bulls for they were making money too. You see, it’s all about staying on the
bull for just eight seconds. That’s all. Just eight seconds, Partner, and you’ve won, if not very much, at least
the applause of the crowd, some points, and the ire of the bull’s owner. Those bulls that cannot be rode are, for eight
seconds, famous. Those bulls who like gladiators, are for a while unconquered, unseating all the cowboys who dare, are treated
very well and their owners do not complain. The scoring of each eight-second ride is done in equal measure: a score for the
rider and a score for the bull. The Superstar bulls, for however long they’re famous, earn big bucks and they are not
worked hard. They are rode, so I am told, for approximately twenty four seconds a season. I kid you not. They make thousands
of dollars by the second. That’s better than any call girl or call-boy in the world, unless I’ve missed something
or someone quite special. We won’t mention the stud fees to come later. I don’t want you too excited.
It goes without saying that the cowboys are not
poor. The one final prize at the end of the season is a cool one million dollars, and that’s on top of all the rest
and the perks to boot. It is not just the football players, the hockey players, and the other jocks we reward all too well.
Mind you they all deserve it for all the other money they churn not to mention the very dangerous jobs they do. Oh, it’s
unfair, but didn’t I tell you. This is America. Like Ancient Rome we are not in financial matters anything to do about
fair! Are you so naive? We after all pay a fair minimum wage, do we not?
I counted the coral if that is what the main platform and the stanchions are
called, where cowboys and sacred beasts await their turn in the main arena. I counted in human numbers perhaps seventy-five
men and a few women. This is upfront, anyway, a male thing. Do not fear, though. The money surely trickles down. The point
is that outside this “coral” are thousands and thousands of other jobs for both men and women. There is the city.
There are the sponsors. There is the technology and the media. There are the parking lots, the hotel rooms, and the security.
It all adds up, you see. It is about money, lots and lots and lots of money. The big camera boom alone, I so admired, must
have cost a mint. When leaving the center, I saw a vehicle parked outside that had what must have been a hundred little TV
screens glowing in the night. I think you see where I shine my light.
But when it is all said and done, it was more than the mundane American process
of making money. True to all art, it was more about the contest, eight seconds long, between man and beast, a contest waged
since the dawn of time. It is as exciting now as it was in cavemen times, and it still puts food upon the table. I cannot
begin to tell you how much I admired this dance. It was an art form as beautiful as any ballet, and I take my hat off to the
cowboy and this noble beast. I am an artist in every way. I loved it all, and I can assure you it was not wanting in creativity.
Most everything that man strives to do with grace and perfection is art or didn’t you know? - at least when it is pursued
with passion sometimes to an extent it becomes compulsive. How many people world wide are glued to the telly in some obsessive,
seasonal, ritual, following something involving what they call sport and I bestow an adjective on; “art”.
I’d like to invite you to
at least see one of these cowboy things, if nothing else, just for the fun of it. The United States Army was a good host and
the thing was only political in that it welcomed some of our soldiers back from a tour from you know where. In the end, no
matter on which side of the aisle we are, that is what we all want; to see them safely home and far from harm’s way.
There was no political posturing either, as the rules and history of the Professional Bull Rider’s Association do not
allow it. The crowd too was not anything I expected. I felt perfectly at home. I am after all in my own country, peacefully
about my own pursuits, perhaps not high in a tower, but in a civic and civilian place.
And too, if you go to one of these cowboy events, whether it is
a bull rider competition or the more traditional rodeo you’ll surely see, some eye candy, and you will have participated
in a historic ritual. Have any of you been to a bull-fight? It is more to do with ancient ritual than the killing of any bull.
Some would say it is religious. Some things have a history and are best left alone. It is perhaps pompous of me, and I’m
sure many disagree, but I suggest that for one generation to, too quickly, trump so many generations before, is this not unwise?
It seems to be not our history and not the American way. The constitution, indeed the Supreme Court may be flawed; it is not
for me to say, alone. I’d merely take my time if I had my way, and not be too hasty to change anything that has worked
so well for so long.
the end, under the starry skies above, I will forever long to be just one thing. I will forever long to be free. Sing, yippie
yi yo kayah!
by E.D. Ridgell
Creative Commons License
*The above was
a review I wrote in 2006 in the "voice" of Quentin Crisp,"The Queer Critic" who used to write reviews
in New York, City. I acted as a while as "The Queer Crit" for "Walt's World", in honor of Walt Whitman
a bascically Gay 'zine at Journalspace.com
As I recall we had the first Studebaker,
not the second, yet. That's how I kept time then, and I was just beginning to count those, warm, idyllic summers at Grammy's,
down south of the fence at Leonardtown that always told me we were almost there, to Scotland Beach in St. Mary's County, Maryland,
just a block or so from The Confederate Monument at the turn in the road. Behind that monument, spread out a half mile or
so, stretched land that had once been a confederate prisoner of war camp. This is at a tip of the bay where the Potomac River
collides with the mighty Chesapeake Bay. Automobiles had long, door to door, cushioned, front seats, then, and I would stand
between my Mom and Dad on the yearly, long, summer's drive down to visit family. I don't recollect seat belts at all. It was
the early Fifties when there weren't a lot of frills, or laws for that matter to tie you down and in, always for your safety,
Grammy was a comfortably, fat woman with snugly bosoms that welcomed
me in her warm embrace that smelled of eu de violet. She was always dressed in a flowered, bart clothe dress and had the air
of one who ran the place which she did, a nursing home for twenty or so retired, old, naval sea dogs, with my grandfather
mixed in, though I never quite warmed to him, or mores so, vice versa. The white wooden house, with red trim, floated on cinder
blocks, all above where the wild cats lived, underneath- no mice safe or welcome. Mary Allen, a young woman who was
in some way related was her right arm, and Dick an old man and another kin kept the pigs and gardens. To this, finally was
added two or three black women, hand picked and upstanding, who seemed chained to two huge black and white enamel gas ranges
that seemed to always be in use. There was one other black woman or negro as people of color were sometimes called, who seemed
to reign over these, much the way my grandmother reigned over all. This was Sophie, and it was to Sophie, that I was charged,
a nanny or mammy I suppose depending on if you'd seen Gone With The Wind yet.
I was a wild little thing, nicknamed Butch, a perfect balance of sweetheart and devil, as is often the case. Somehow,
without ever a mean word, Sophie commanded my complete obedience. All adults were the same to me as I had no brothers or sisters.
I was three and as happy as the pigs in the mud out back in their log stye.
summer in particular, and this brings me to the point of this here yarn, I wandered into the long front room that had once
been the dining room, but for now for some odd reason had a made-up, big bed, with one of those all white, chenille bedspreads
with a million bumps all over it, pushed right up under the open windows. I climbed up with difficulty and, before I knew
it, I fell into a deep sleep. I still remember to this day as this being the best sleep I've ever had. The breeze felt so
good, and the smell of the fields, drifted through the open windows. Here, I must have slept in innocence for a good while,
and then I awoke and opened my eyes.
There, sitting at the foot of the bed,
was the most beautiful boy, smiling at me, a little older I felt, but more importantly he seemed to be so clean, that is he
had no tan. He sat there smiling at me, invitingly, and I made to get down off the bed and go up to him, but when I again
turned around, the boy had gone. I looked one way and then the other, but I knew, as a child knows, that he was simply magical.
And I've known ever since, I had a magical, friend and later that this secretive friend was my own guardian, and still later
that he was an angel, a guardian angel. I call him Michael although I'm not quite sure why to this very day, do you, Michael?
c. E. D. Ridgell, 2014
Countess Comes to Dinner
In the fall of seventy five we had the Countess of …
to dine. The entire house was in turmoil in preparation: a House of Queens awaiting the visitation of a Countess…Charles
had met her in that invariable way he had of meeting the widest possible diversity of people while on a visit to Paris only
the year before. And here she was, in Baltimore, God only knows what for, and to dine with us.
We were an unusual communal gathering under one roof: a three
stories high, red brick, row house with the required three white marble steps in front. Larry, its protector was a stately
homo of Baltimore and our benevolent patron. We were the latest of his collection of trophies come together to amuse him for
little rent, and to lend support to one another in a then less than amenable world for those of our persuasion. Don’t
misunderstand. Larry was no Madame though I do hope that house, which still stands, keeps its secrets.
She, the Countess, was so far as I remember a descendant of those
last Bourbons now the proprietress of a small hostel in Paris where Charles met her. She was a survivor in every
way. Her husband, the Count, sadly had been imprisoned, tortured, and shot by the Nazis during the occupation of Paris. She
had known suffering. She had known hunger. All this Charles had let us know.
Larry would cook that evening. Of course, he was
the best of cooks this being one of those prerequisites to being not just any Queen but “A Queen”. We were still
mere princesses. Charles was to die two years later visiting his recently released con. He had looked forward to this for
years penning love letters and receiving something like them in return, communications with striped designs. He died on my
twenty eighth birthday. I took the call from Frisco telling us of his death and promptly went into shock. Larry witnessing
all was there, brandy in hand. I learned that day that brandy really does work on shock. One shot and poof goes the shock.
I married or something close to it shortly later:
a suitable man, a man with taste and an income, and left the house. The menagerie would go on for a little longer with new
‘Men In Waiting’ being properly mentored in those days when things like table settings, silver and crystal were
The Great Dane!
When I was a lad and lived in the country-
real country mind you, not just the suburbs, there was a neighbor man who kept a Great Dane chained to a pole in the ground
who lived in such a big dog house it could accommodate both of us.
lived in great fear of this animal and the neighbor took satisfaction in this abjuring everyone to go nowhere near the dog.
I, too, had probably been told, and probably, too, promptly forgot it. Loving animals and being
too young to have any fear, well, the dog and I were soon bosom companions with me often sitting inside the dog house.
Now that dog house would get pretty hot, I want to tell you, so I can imagine the consternation
on the neighbor man's face when one day as he was sitting water out next the pole, I emerged out the dog house to tell him
he really ought to get this here dog an electric fan- a Western Electric fan as I recall!
Some Reflections on Free Verse
Free verse are various styles of poetry that
are written without adhering to strict meter or rhyme, but that still are recognized as poetry in their thoughtful patterns
of one sort or another that come together into a coherent whole. That said, T. S. Eliot wrote: "No verse is free for
the man who wants to do a good job." Many of the same tools used by the poet in one form are used also in free verse;
anaphora, alliteration, assonance, cadence, internal rhymes, onomatopoeia, and so on. Free verse becomes blank verse only
when it adheres to iambic pentameter.
It is not my intention to delve ad nauseam into what free verse is or the history of it. That can easily be researched
at any search engine, library, etc. Neither am I trying to put free verse above any other form of verse. In my opinion the
subject often helps to dictate the form of verse used. Far too often, however, I feel we as poets get “stuck”
in one comfortable form and rarely move out of it. It is for that reason, I will sometimes write in the traditional metrical
forms or experiment with more exotic forms. In my opinion none of us should get stuck. That is why the different forums at
Poetry at the Pub are so valuable when the moderators present us with different challenges, forms, prose pieces, risks, etc.
It is to nudge us to grow in our craft.
I wish to share some personal perspectives about free verse as I experience it.
Free verse is for me the “method acting” of poetry. When
I first started to write poetry, I was very much influenced by Mary Oliver and was subsequently amazed to find how the forms
suggested by her writings would shape the results. I discovered that my words could sound poetic. I think we’ve all
been there. Then I was invited to join a private workshop on-line of poets who in truth were far above me and who wrote in
traditional and free verse. Never had I read such beautiful sestinas, villenelles, etc. open for criticism. Like so many on-line
workshops we had our problems, but all in all, I learned a great deal, and I tried my hand at free verse which up until then
seemed so alien to me. Eventually this workshop for reasons of its own faded away. I took away from it what I needed though
and left the rest.
I took with me was a new appreciation for free verse. In my opinion like method acting for the artist as actor it facilitates
the emergence of your own complicated psyche. And, because at that time poetry became a integral part of my own psychoanalysis,
I learned just how liberating the results could be. I was emoting things I was not even aware of until they were pointed out
to me. I was hooked! I became and still am very interested and involved in poetry as therapy, for myself, for people undergoing
counseling of one form or another, and for the young and old who are experiencing their own unique stages in life. I also
find free verse as challenging as metrical verse but in a whole different arena. For me, it was like learning to play music
by ear without having any knowledge of written notes. In order to become better and better at it, you must continually practice
it. It is a very personal discipline.
I was trained as a visual artist and it was ingrained into me to take risks and to experiment if I was to fully appreciate
the awe and wonder of art.
I believe poetry is no different and in my case I find free verse a perfect catapult for experimentation and risk
taking. In the development of all art unless one artist or a group of artists pushes forward and thinks outside of the box,
so to speak, nothing new happens. Also, I find I learn a great deal from my mistakes. Some of the best art is produced as
a result of the accident. What appears to be a mistake or an accident on my part, particularly in free verse, often ends up
to be poetic to the ear. Whatever the form we use let us not just ignore these opportunities that mistakes and accidents can
produce. History is fraught with the beauty and sound of serendipity. Free verse can be an important vehicle to that serendipity.
© 2009 by E.D. Ridgell