Saturday, February 11, 2006

Lenny on Rod 2.0 + Tyson Poem

KravitzRod 2.0 knows how to bring it. Today he featured this photo of Lenny Kravitz, culled from Queerty, on his page. There wasn't any real commentary with it, but who needs commentary when it comes to Lenny? Everytime I see photos of him or am listening to him on my iPod, I remember how a friend of mine and I were strolling through the streets of SoHo, back when it was still an art district and not yet another high-priced shopping arcade. We were supposed to be heading to some gallery show or other, and were deep in conversation, when I glanced across the street and saw Lenny Kravitz standing right there on the sidewalk. He still had his dreadlocks then. He might even have still been with Lisa Bonet (see, it really was that long ago). The first thing I thought was, he's even better looking in person. The second thing I thought was, he's tiny. The third thing I thought was, I should go say something. We crossed the street to say hello. I melted like a schoolboy, and was unable to sputter out more than a few words. It was ridiculous. I could hold it together much better now. And he's even better looking these days than he was then.


TysonThe Lenny pic also made me recall that through the years, poets have written poems about famous and beautiful people, and in particular, pop/cultural icons, as have I. Whitman eulogized one of the greatest presidents we've ever had, Abraham Lincoln; Auden ruminated about his predecessor W. B. Yeats, whose fame accrued not only from his poetry but from his political activities; Frank O'Hara wrote about Lana Turner and James Dean, among others; Bernadette Mayer has a poem that extols the virtues of Carlton Fisk; Elizabeth Alexander evocatively imagines herself dating Michael Jordan in a dream, and has persona poems about Muhammad Ali and many others; Kevin Young based a whole book of poems (one of my all-time favorites) on Jean-Michel Basquiat; Reggie Harris invokes Mike Tyson in the ring with marvelous skill; and on and on. But I think I may be the only person thus far to have written and nearly published (because the poem was accepted but then the journal went out of business, or on hiatus, or something of the sort) a poem to model/actor Tyson Beckford. (I can't remember if I've already posted it here once, but hell, why not do it again in 2006?) Maybe other people have gotten into the act, so do let me know if there are other Tyson B. poems out there. For whatever reason, I was trying to write a sonnet some years ago and what came out was this poem about the process. As should be clear, it is not a strict sonnet and is not really to Tyson, but about love in general.

Once when I read it to an audience the first time, several (White) people actually asked me afterwards, "Who is Tyson Beckford?" I had to explain to them that he was (then) the Ralph Lauren model, to which they sort of responded with bemusement, and then I said, "the Black Ralph Lauren model," and they immediately recognized the reference. Another time I read the poem, I prefaced it with an explanation of who Beckford was and is, and several (Black) people laughed and said, "We know who he is!" Indeed.


strikes me as frivolous
in this late September light
the City hunkers down
in stocks and indifference
and children starve
on either bank
of the silver river

but even beauty has its role
on the trading floor of moral reckoning
and though every lyric is a voucher
of our failure there are times
when only a poem
like daydreams or a lover's arms
can satisfy a certain quality of hunger

Copyright © John Keene, 1996-2006.


  1. I officially resign as a "poet."

    Much as I dislike the ostensible subject, (TB), your poem almost makes me like him.

    Can I steal it for the (thankfully almost completed) series?

    (Okay, not that lazy, but remind me not to attempt a countdown to V Day again.)

  2. J: I'd like to apologize on behalf of the mentioned journal, Kuumba, which was completed, designed, cover chosen, editors note written -- then the publisher ran out of money. One of my more depressing literary experiences as you can imagine (and said publisher has YET to respond to any of my attempts to communicate with him since!). It's really great to see that Tyson B poem again (and thanks for the shout out about M Tyson as well).

    Lenny Kravitz....!!! No surprise at ALL that he graces the cover of the "More Body, More Soul: Beautiful Black Men" photo book.

  3. Great Poem.

    Tyson Beckford as the muse really makes the poem spit some soft fire I think. I like it, the way it was inspired, yet had nothing to due with him, but had everything to do with the "presence" of him.

    And Lenny Kravitz.

    And Soho before it became a mall.

    And when Lisa Bonet graced the cover of Rolling Stone in 1987/1988.

    I can't remember.

    Was it that long ago?

    20 years.

    Time is playing a cruel trick on me now.

    I feel younger now than I did then.

    I was such a serious little basket case with a pen and spiral notebook writing poems during lunch break.

    I was trying to hang out with all the kids from the class of '88. Crazy. The Crazy 88's. Funny.

  4. Keguro, Reggie, Littlemilk, thank you. Keguro, you know your poetry works, so keep it coming, and do let a brotha peep it at some point (I mean what I don't see on your net wordsmithy). Reggie, as you saw, I didn't mention Kuumba, and do hope that someday it (or another incarnation) will be in the world. Littlemilk, it was almost 20 years ago. Astonishing. I feel like I've finally got a handle on some things that were just so hazy then. It only took two subsequent decades! :-0