Over the decades, many writers have taken inspiration from the celebrated words of Ernest Hemingway: "There is nothing to writing; all you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." For RJ Arkhipov, a 24-year-old Welsh poet living in Paris, France, however, Hemingway's statement was less of a metaphorical reflection, and more of a proscription. Arkhipov, whose poetry deals with nostalgia, gender, sexuality, friendship, love, travel, and nature, was inspired to present his work written in his own blood.
While he had found a powerful medium through which to deliver his art, it took an uncomfortable encounter to help him realize the message he wanted to convey. "When I was having my blood taken in Edinburgh for the poetry series, the medical practitioner asked me if I had ever given blood before," Arkhipov explains. "I remember feeling slightly ashamed in having to explain that, although it is something I have wanted to do for a long time, I was never able to do so as I fall under the MSM [men who have sex with men] category."
Eventually, that experience led Arkhipov to "Words&Blood," an exhibition and spoken word performance of his poetry, in which the titles are written using his blood. Hosted by the CRISIS Festival, a highlight of the event that takes place in Paris tomorrow, will be the reading of "Inkwell," a poem intended to draw attention to the continued denial of gay men to donate blood. Arkhipov explains:
"I supported wholeheartedly the fight for gay marriage and marriage equality—as a gay man, the personal benefits were a strong motivator. Contrary to marriage equality, blood donation is an act that can be considered more altruistic. I believe humans have an innate desire to help others. The empathy in regards to the refugee crisis very recently is proof of as much. To deny a gay man the ability to donate blood, to potentially save another human's life, to me, is more dehumanising than to deny him the right to call his union 'marriage.'"
Current bans on gay blood donors around the world are hangovers from policies enacted during the height of the AIDS crisis, and Arkhipov believes that it's a lack of widespread dialogue on the issue that allows for the stigma and unfounded discrimination to continue. As he explains:
"If I hope to achieve one thing with my 'blood poetry,' it is to spark conversation on the MSM blood donor controversy in hopes of making change—even incremental—to the legislation currently in place that not only dehumanizes men for whom they choose to love, but which is also based on archaic, inaccurate, and oversimplified data."
'Words&Blood' takes place September 26 at 9:30 p.m., at 59 rue de Rivoli, Paris, France. For more information, visit the Facebook page.