On August 30th 2014, L. Lamar Wilson took the Miami Beach Botanical Garden back to church. “Sacrilegion: The Gospel Truth,” the closing event of the inaugural Reading Queer Festival, was a poetry reading and a spiritual experience. L. Lamar Wilson performed selections from his acclaimed book Sacrilegion alongside singers Kunya Rowley, Lloyd Reshard, and signer and musical director Carl DuPont. Wilson’s poems, both personal and otherworldly, were accompanied by haunting a capella renditions of Negro spirituals. One of the stand-out performances of the evening was Wilson’s reading of the poem “What Do You Do to Yourself: Finding Fault” and his singing of Nina Simone’s classic “Sinnerman.”
In “What Do You Do to Yourself,” Wilson wrestles with his identity as a gay man, an identity his pastors call sinful and “unnatural.” Wilson says in the piece, “I was born and lived to darn myself a cocoon/I used to feel everything everywhere….” He goes on, “I couldn’t marry who I want anyway/Every Sunday, we sing Yes, Jesus loves me/to the children and I cry…” Despite Wilson’s rejection from his church, he remains proud of who he is and “[thanks] God [he is] a natural beauty…”
As the poet proved with his use of Negro Spirituals and Biblical allusions during the event, Wilson honors black religious culture but refuses to adhere to any of its segregating rules. Wilson followed the poem, fittingly, with his goosebump-inducing cover of Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman.” In “Sinnerman,” a “sinner” tries to hide from his past and finally gives up, finding freedom in “[running] to the devil.” The pairing of Simone’s song and Wilson’s poem made the narrators of both pieces feel like the same person. The poet ripped into Simone’s lyric “Don’t you see me crying Lord, don’t you see me crying, Lord?” with all of the torture, heartbreak and frustration of a man who has struggled with religion his entire life. If you were there, you had chills.
The last piece, “Ars Poetica: Nov.7, 2008” was both a catharsis and bonding agent for the 70+ guests who attended the closing event of the Reading Queer Literary Festival at the Botanical Garden. When Wilson said, firmly, “I am the what-are-you/I am the brown, the red, the white, the sometimes blue/ & I am all-American/What are you?” he spoke from a personal and highly relatable place. Some audience members wept during the poem; everyone in the room was moved. Wilson’s “Sacrilegion” performance connected with the diverse and dynamic Reading Queer audience. “You’re okay, who you are is okay,” a message we all should embrace.