Xavier, Emanuel. “Pier Queen”, with photography by Richard Renaldi, Queer Mojo (A Rebel Satori Imprint), 2012.
I must first state that I regard Manny Xavier as a friend. I have only seen him twice, however—once three years ago at the Saints and Sinner Literary Festival in New Orleans and then in June in New York City at the Lamdba Book Awards and the party afterwards where he danced all night, it seemed. Nonetheless, we hit it off from the first hello and he is proof of a sincere and quality person who is there for his friends. The way I feel about him as a person does not affect how I feel about him as a person but I will say that he is one terrific writer who manages to pull me out of lethargy and make me think. I also feel that is why I can call him my friend. He and I are American minorities—he is a Latino gay male, I am a Jewish gay male and we both know what it is like to be “the other”. Our experiences may be different but the emotions involved with them are quite the same.
Xavier self published this book in 1997 and in it he was the voice of queer Latinos and people of color. He dared to say what so many thought but were afraid to be vocal. Now it has been republished with wonderful photographs by Richard Renaldi and the photos are records of various periods of time. In the introduction, Xavier tells us that he had worked as a hustler and was just recovering from drug addiction and he was forced to deal with his emotions by the pressures of society. It certainly was not considered “macho” to become a poet. He wrote thus poems out of the hurt and anger he felt back then along with his fear of learning that he might be HIV positive (he is not). He had heard of other gay poets some of whom did readings but he could not imagine himself doing something like that. It wasn’t enough that he eventually read publicly but he was accepted and his self esteem began to rise. As he wrote he learned about himself and as he learned, he began to share, He had come from the piers to the nightlife of the big city and he should be very proud of himself. He has influenced me by his writing and I am sure there are many others who can say the same.
The poems here are instant classics and that is because we felt the sincerity in the voice of the poet. We are aware of his background and we read about it in his verse, he strips off the clothing and gives us the bare bones of Emanuel Xavier and then he gets dressed again and we learn more. His poems are vibrant and candid and he is visionary. He opened the door for other gay Latino writers to enter and even though many of the poems are not new, they are still very relevant and I personally feel that they are monumental.
Xavier confronts his own demons in his poetry and whether he writes about male prostitution or finding oneself, he does so with lyrical beauty. We read of the mean streets and oppression and homophobia and we follow a life spinning downwards and then rising and leaving it all behind. He writes of a tough world where survival means hard work and that even in the ghettos of America, there is faith, “There are gods among us in these ghettoes” and they watch and protect those that live there. One of those gods took care of Emanuel Xavier and all of us are benefited by that.
I would not say that these poems are easy to read—they represent a period in the poet’s life that he feels he must not only remember but he must also tell us about it. He writes to his mother”
“Don’t tell me
About how happy and perfect
I could have been”.
Now he is that which could have been and we are so lucky to have him around us.