Polari Evensong

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Thursday October 29th

5:30 pm Marquand Chapel at the Yale Divinity School

Sponsored by The YDS LGBTQIA Coalition

What Is Polari?

Polari is a mixture of languages and slangs as diverse as Yiddish, Lingua Franca, Molly Slang, a Traveler language called Palare, Italian, Rhyming Slang, and Thieves’ Cant that were all spoken in and about English cities. It is the language of those in and on the fringes of the fringes: gay folks. A cipher idiom used in Britain at a time when the crime of “Gross Indecency” (homosexuality) was punishable by imprisonment and hard labor, Polari was a way for gay people to identify each other and communicate with each other (see the recent short film Putting on the Dish). Polari can also be quite camp as depicted in the Julian and Sandy sketches from the 1960s BBC Radio program Round the Horn. Although Polari has enjoyed a bit of popularity of late, it all but died out after the repeal of the English sodomy laws in 1967.

Why Polari Evensong?

“Polari Evensong” is a liturgical experiment in which we may explore what happens when a language of, for and from the fringe, a language that may be considered transgressive, is used to express worship and prayer.  It is an attempt at queering the liturgy of Evening Prayer, locating the queer within the compass of faith, and recovering for Christian tradition a sense of its own intrinsically subversive jouissance. In transducing Evensong into Polari, the hope is that just as Jesus welcomed the outcast (tax collectors, widows, and sex workers, people on the fringe, people often overlooked by the Church), today we might follow in the footsteps of his daring, boldly and outrageously welcoming the Queer (both human and divine) in a way never before attempted. The Evensong office on which this offering has been modeled is the same as that used in England in the 1960s, at the time when Polari was experiencing its height of use and popularity. The readings are those appointed for the day in a more contemporary, yet still approved, cathedral office lectionary from England. The only way in which the office text has been changed is in its transduction (by Erich Erving) into Polari. This transduction was modeled after the Polari Bible, a project of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Manchester Chapter, from which the readings of Scripture have been taken. The Sisters describe themselves as “a leading-edge Order of queer nuns . . . devoted . . . to community service, ministry and outreach to those on the edges, and to promoting human rights, respect for diversity and spiritual enlightenment. We believe all people have a right to express their unique joy and beauty and we use humor and irreverent wit to expose the forces of bigotry, complacency and guilt that chain the human spirit.”

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