Showing up

By Michael Broder

Today’s post is about showing up.

I’m working on a blog post about why you should write a new poem for the HIV Here & Now print anthology. That’s taking me some time because I don’t want to wag fingers, I want to say something real and true about HIV as a public issue and the poet’s responsibility to address it the way he or she would address other public issues like racism, violence, or poverty.

But here I really just want to show up. To keep my commitment to you who are being so kind as to support this project with your visits to the website, your submissions, your readership, your sharing on social media, liking the Facebook page, following us on Twitter. You are showing up. I am showing up. For poetry and for HIV.

Showing up sounds easy, but it’s not always. I didn’t show up for AIDS 20 years ago. I had so much respect and admiration for ACT UP, and I loved and dated active members of ACT UP, but I went to a few meetings and a few demos and decided it was “not for me.” I did not like the spirit of confrontation. I felt like on some level it was bad for my own health, I mean once I myself tested HIV-positive in the fall of 1990.

I showed up in other ways. My day job as a project editor at a medical communications company that helped the drug company GSK educate physicians about the new HIV drugs—I do believe that made a difference. I edited a newsletter about new developments in HIV treatment, funded with GSK dollars, that was very well regarded among the HIV counselors and allied healthcare workers to whom it was targeted. But I could never get completely out from under the feeling that at the end of the day, I was selling drugs.

Something happened to me in the past year. First I got profoundly depressed; then I showed up. I put my fingers in a lot of pies, maybe too many pies, but I showed up. At AWP last year I got the idea for the HIV Here & Now anthology. A few weeks later I got the idea for the online poem-a-day countdown to 35 years of AIDS on June 5, 2016. After a while I realized the project needed to be about more than poetry. Poetry needed to be a vehicle for advocacy. I want to do more, but for now, I have an advocacy agenda expressed in the hashtags I now routinely append to my posts on social media: #hivtest #hivtreat #hivprevent #nohivshame #nohivstigma #hivPrEP.

Since starting the project I’ve realized there’s a disconnect out there, that many poets would of course agree that HIV was a problem, a tragedy, a crisis—but not their problem, not their crisis, perhaps because: not their tragedy. This is what I want to push against moving forward. I don’t know any poets who feel disempowered when it comes to writing about race, class, gender, sexuality, violence, justice, freedom, war, etc. But I do know that some poets feel they have no right to write about HIV or the impact of AIDS, because it hasn’t touched them personally, or perhaps they have a different kind of scruple, a discomfort, that I do not even want to speculate about here.

Large Blog ImageBut everyone can show up for HIV, regardless of their own HIV status, regardless of whether they have a partner, family member, or friend with HIV. And poets, in particular, come supplied with a vehicle for showing up: their poetry.