Friday, February 6, 2015

Designation Youth - David Bateman (Frontenac House Poetry)

Today's book of poetry:
Designation Youth.  David Bateman.  Frontenac House Poetry.  Calgary, Alberta.  2014.

I wasn't sure if I was looking at David Bowie's cool Duke or Marlene Deitrich in repose when I first saw the cover of David Bateman's Designation Youth.

Bateman gives it all away with the title of his poem "Boston, 1989: only parts of this are true, but all these are real."  That's how Designated Youth rolls, this book is primarily made up of a series of rambling autobiographical prose style poems.  It might not all be true but it certainly is real.

Bateman toys with the idea of youth and beauty, mantras of truth and beauty.  But mostly he riffs on his gay life, the confusing issues of first awareness and the endless issue of his Herculean sexual ambition, friends and lovers facing mortality with AIDS and all of us facing morality in the face of Queer love.

Designation Youth

when he was young again
in middle age
before that final infancy
he turned to older men
babied them in cubist cradles
splintered by surreal movements into youth
unprepared for that mature impressionistic route designed by fate
post expressions refracting joy and wisdom and trust
moving swiftly out of teen inspired jeans

                          draped like fallen fauvist petals upon such lacy frames

into trousers, cuffs and pleats, stopping long enough
considering cravats, but saying no
Prufrock had it right, no frill across
those firmaments of graying lust
just simple line and shadow
gracing shallow pools of once taut crops

fashion not as folly but the well hung framing
of all those years that pass as light
having known in his first blush of truth
much older men who grazed along
the edges of his snowy thighs
on feathered follicles when summer sun
transformed them into gold

so now he ambles back in middle age
to same sex sites of longing
for the brevity of lust with older men

becoming hope and love and care
parenting lovers in ways in which
his own familial unit failed to dare

so there he goes - bob bob bobbing on the edges of their thighs

he has become too glib for their desire to hold

                             a careful glamour that conceals the syntax of the soul

but somehow he has found a way to set that snare
to beat that drum, to fumble in and out and back
to where his first-last stab began.


David Bateman's Designation Youth does not waste an iota's time on pretense or pacification.  In these trauma's the only innocents are those that don't know yet.

These very humorous and human lyrics are brave.  Why?  Because it still requires bravery to sing that Queer song so loud.  John Barton does it, and very well.  There are a few other voices, but there are still few books of poetry by gay men.  We all need to hear our brother's stories.  Mainstream poetry doesn't give much room for those voices.

(our bumper sticker lives)

am I ready to write about you, two decades later
carrying your little frame in that outlandish snowsuit to the car
that final ride in a blizzard to a hospice named after another lost child

your burning trousers, cannabis smouldering in your flaming crotch
your escapes from the playpen into lavish unaffordable toy stores
my desperate mid-day searches for you in breakfast cafes
my hostility toward prim, crass restaurateurs suggesting
my ragged tank top was inappropriate garb while frantically looking
for you in the hollow well of your early dementia

you selling your drugs at a student pub
in exchange for recreational comfort
fleeing from the terrible pain of not being a child any longer
just an adult trying to survive
the terminal phobia induced boyishness
of being caught with his pants down in the schoolyard

just one last blast from the iconoclast you were you were running, madcap and
infantile, through the streets in search of things, ideas, life

how you loved eggcups and soft-boiled greasy breakfasts alone
waking early to escape from hearth and home

how you returned to the house in a taxi
with a trunk full of computer equipment
pale water colours from a local gallery
we had to return it all
we had to go back to something we could justify in order to see you
crumble in a world of denial and taboo

how I didn't know I was lying when asked what you were dying of
numb and over functional until that sudden moment of recognition
when you just looked at me and said,

when someone's lifespan is suddenly shortened

and then I knew
I simply had to be told by you
I could never just say on telephones, in conversation

Yes, he's dying of it, AIDS. It has him in its grip, tra la.

how I remember your short stocky body
fit and trembling under my touch
how I spread oil on your hairy full and gorgeous tiny torso
and we had sex in my childhood bedroom with my widowed mother
out on the town
with so much lust that love would never speak its name
I miss the past we never had

I miss you
I miss your volatile irrational whimsy
I miss jumping over hedges in Aegean island cafes to escape from the
latest fight you have embarked upon with the waiter, calling him a
motherfucker in your broken Greek
just because the kitchen is closed at midnight

I miss your pseudo experimental theatrics, Beckett in a blender
how you directed Hellenistic classics
with an eye for Fred Astaire induced debacles
filled with maenads matriarchs
tall fey gods hell bent on wining dining
through the haze of quaint Wagnerian tributes to your navel

missing your inane argument with a taxi driver
on our way to the ambulance depot
when I was beaten up in Athens
you found me bent and bloodied in the street

and yes, I mostly miss the sad and sorry self-indulgent tale of me
being told on more than one occasion
by old-school aficionados in a cafe with you
on a Greek island that my left handed ways were wrong
and a sad and sorry testament
to a total lack of self-restraint on the part of my parents,
they should have changed me

and finally, kneeling in the driveway by a car
borrowed from a friend's insane lover
scraping away at a bumper sticker with a box cutter knife in my left
hand in heavy snowfall trying to remove the words from the back of
your final chariot


my fingers bleeding lightly in the tainted white ground covering
asphalt stained with impure blankets blood and snow
the knife slipping on the chrome as it glides through these
apocalyptic hate mongering cliches piercing my mittens dismantling
my denial these callous one-liners only moments before your
withered middle aged carcass becomes my infant cargo as I cross the
threshold and into the driveway to the car with what is left of you
in my scarred arms

the follies and the madnesses that made your life
and the lives of others so exciting
so excruciating

has it been twenty years
it seems like today

you and so many like you always dying inside of me as I wait my turn
patiently, in earnest, for the day, filled with laughter, disabuse,
the familiar rule of male hysteria when snowsuits, burning oversized
khaki shorts seared by clumsy hashish ashes in your lap

eggcups and outrageous expenditures
that moment of promiscuous angelic indiscretion
you told your lover that that had things been different
it might have been me

and now he has gone the way so many of us have been sent

but I'm the one left here with memory in my arms
bare, unabashed remembering you and yours
when all these material trappings
these brash and strident strings of incident and plot
come tumbling down front steps in some unwedded march
into driveways along thoroughfares ending in the same
great sadness singed with ample mirth
invigorating brutal bawdy messages of bumper stickers
caught in wordstorms fraught with love


Today's book of poetry wanted you all to see the poem "Allen" in full.  It is rife with the heart-stopping moments in this book that will resonate in every heart.  Those difficult moments where the crystal of truth is also a moment of condemnation, ugly shit madness.  We learn, early on, with Bateman that it is all tolerable as long as it is real.

David Bateman and I grew up in the same small town, we are the same age, and although we were never close our circles did intersect, we knew many of the same people.  Seeing this brave, bawdy body of work makes me wish I'd known him better.

Dressing Down

after being that beautiful man stepping out of a gown

trading in his tulle for turtlenecks and scarves
of the voluminous kind
fooled by the wooly tales he never chose to pull over empty eyes
the goddesses of daily rhythms made him do it

when the taut teenaged skin and fluttering hairline
fit for one thousand fragile angels abandoned him
at 24

when the cowl necks he admired as a child
sputtered into in his early teens, became his skin
at 39

when his belly fat became that babied hump
he held his breath to hide
at 43

when the body fails to come and go with the curves of Michelangelo
deferring to the fulsome swerve of Rubens and Botero

to have faded out of beauty
into this dismissive survey
of corporeal bliss
come and gone

and then
at 58

there are things far worse than swaddled goosey necks and the
memories of how the flesh will fail us in the mutant glow of
immortal myths we try so hard to tell


True, honest, real.  These are big words in poetry.  David Bateman's Designation Youth is all these things.

Plus he quotes Truman Capote and the Slovenian Milan Jazbec to introduce the same poem.

Today's book of poetry will be looking forward to more from David Bateman.

David Bateman

David Bateman is an actor, playwright, visual artist, and performance poet currently based in Toronto.  His spoken word monologues and solo plays have been presented both nationally and internationally over the past twenty years.  He has a PhD from the University of Calgary (English Literature; specialization Creative Writing) and has taught at a variety of Canadian post-secondary institutions including Emily Carr University of Art and Design (Vancouver), Thompson Rivers University (Kamloops), and Trent University (Peterborough).  His arts and entertainment reviews have appeared in XTRA, In Toronto, and at

designation youth performs precision in its exacting signatures of voice and rhythm. These poems are “speaking poems” that use the “spoken poem” as a prop. David Batemen recuperates the honesty of a personal lyric by a subtle and intelligent attention to the particular way of telling something. And the pleasure in these little fictions is that he so skillfully uses the poem to play them out. 
– Fred Wah

Bateman’s latest continues his questing trialogue via many forms, lengths, and shapes in verse but always with the surefooted emotion, devastating honesty, and poetic pyrotechnics we’ve come to expect. Among his many accomplishments in designation youth is his regeneration of the long poem so loved by the Victorians. They’d be astonished to read what he has done with the form.
– Felice Picano

David Bateman
"Why did you have to go through a car wash on the way to our mother's funeral"
A video by Centre Arts
Capturing Fire - Queer Spoken Work
Summit & Slam


Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.

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