The publishing world is beginning to come to grips with the AIDS plague. LIFE SENTENCES is one of several anthologies offering artistic responses to the various dimensions of meaning attached to the illness. Editor Avena, himself an AIDS sufferer, has brought together an extremely stimulating assortment of poems, interviews, essays, and graphics, all offering a strong sense of the psychological struggles the AIDS victim undergoes.
All of the pieces connect to reflections upon homosexual life-styles; AIDS transmitted through other avenues is not discussed. The writing about sexuality ranges from the discretely autobiographical (the journalistic reflections of William Dickey) to the unapologetically sensationalistic (the graphic poems of Essex Hemphill). Every writer and artist in this collection is unsparingly honest with him or herself. There is no sense of easy self-promotion or justification.
Of particular note are interviews with two HIV-negative artists who have chronicled the plague: photographer Nan Goldin and vocalist Diamanda Galas. Both reveal a sharp awareness of the political forces in the United States which contribute to the suffering of AIDS victims. Both also have known the wrath of politically motivated individuals who have tried to censor their photography shows and concerts.
It is easy to be impressed by how these artists, many of whom have undergone such terrifying physical and psychological anguish during their illnesses, have transformed their pain into art of the highest imaginative order.