The Singer

O Sappho, player of lyre,
raise up your voice to accompany the strings.
Share with us your untamed philosophy,
your wisdom that will survive the ages. 

O Sappho, poet of desire,
raise up your voice to light a flame in us.
Share with us your uncensored views on love,
love that can exist between two women.

O Sappho, leader of the choir,
raise up our voices, spark inspiration in each word.
Share with us your courageous commitment to the truth,
the truth that love is worth burning cities for. 

Charles K. Carter

3 Questions for Charles

What was your process for creating this work?

These particular poems were ones that do not fit my typical creative process which often starts with some small, seemingly random inspiration – a word or phrase, an image, a memory – followed by a quick passion draft before multiple rounds of editing and revising. “The Creators” and “The Singer” were intentional pieces that came from researching queer history with the goal of writing in response. Once the idea for each of these pieces was ignited, research drove the form of each too. Research often does come up in my writing processes but more often it manifests a need in the revision stages instead of throughout the whole process like with these poems.

What is the significance of the forms/genres you chose for this work?

While crafting “The Singer,” I wanted to call on Sappho like an ancient Greek muse. Perhaps Homer was more of an inspiration in that right; however, I did take Sappho’s typical four-line stanzas with three long lines and a fourth shorter one but I flipped it around: starting with the shorter line and ending each stanza with the longer lines. My attention to meter is not as concise as the ancient Greeks but the content of the poem is, hopefully, more the romantic idealism that honors Sappho’s works.

“The Creators” was inspired by traditional call-and-response songs which may be attributed to African roots. These songs also took on meaning to Native American storytelling. Joy Harjo’s call-and-response poems in her phenomenal collection An American Sunrise probably inspired me the most with choosing to write in this form. This piece takes statements of true events, each echoed by a refrain until the last few stanzas break the mold. The call becomes a question and answer about little-known history followed by a final, revised response.

What is the significance of this work to you?

This work is important to me as I begin to learn my own history as a queer person. I have written a lot about queer trauma, which is valid and does need to be recognized, analyzed, and discussed; however, I also want to begin to look at how to spark queer empowerment and queer joy. There may be darkness in the world, there may be hate but queer people have been brave in the face of such hostility. Queer people have been honored and respected throughout time. To paraphrase the end of “The Creators,” we have been gods and goddesses, kings and queens. Let’s resurrect these voices, reclaim our histories before they are lost!   

Charles K. Carter is a queer poet and educator from Iowa. He shares his home with his artist husband and his spoiled pets. He enjoys film, yoga, and live music. Melissa Etheridge is his ultimate obsession. He holds an MFA in writing from Lindenwood University. His poems have appeared in several literary journals. He is the author of Chasing Sunshine (Lazy Adventurer Publishing), Splinters (Kelsay Books), Safety-Pinned Hearts (Alien Buddha Press), and Salem Revisited (WordTech Editions).

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