Roz Kaveney’s Dialectic of the Flesh may be pocket-sized, but the poems in this book open up into pathways dark and guttural, witty and wistful. A finalist for the 25th annual Lambda Literary Awards, the thirty-one poems in the book vary between tightly constructed poems—sonnet variations and villanelles—to free flowing confessional narrative ones.
Offering meditations on corporal self-perception, love, abandonment, intimacy, and lost friends, Kaveney’s subject matter and minute aesthetic adjustments crack the poems’ conventions and constructedness into tiny but malleable surprises. Take, for instance, in “Tangle,” where “[t]he human heart is but a maze of meat / where muscle tangles in a gorgeous knot” (14). Or in “Awkward” where Kaveney writes, “[y]et sometimes, when love comes, you have to hurl / yourself into it, crazy for some girl” (7)—ostensibly playing on both the physical act of throwing oneself “into it” and the ill affects associated with it.
Other poems deal with aging: “All bodies of my age are made of scar / and callus and the aching bit of bone / I broke at ten” (“Calluses” 30); and “[m]y hernia just like a cooling fin, / I try to hide it with a shoulder bag” (35), Kaveney writes, in the haunting form of the villanelle where the lines “I wish I thought my beauty was within” and “My body is far older than my skin” serve as the poem’s two refrains.
Moving towards a political landscape, Kaveney’s “Stonewall” breaks away from the formulaic nature of the majority of the poems, opting for shorter lines, enjambments—a general loosening of form—that highlight and intensify the urgency of Kaveney’s imaginative reconstructions. As the speaker writes:
It wasn’t a bar
you went to
if you were
too poor, too queer, too young, too brown.
It was a bar
down the street. (44)
We don’t know all their names,
the people in the bar
when the police went in.
And then things changed.
So make them up. (46)
Kaveney goes on to provide several imagined lives and in these small, intimate worlds that she builds. Everything blooms visceral, becoming delicate, erotic, nostalgic, and elegiac. We’re thrown into a world where there are people “[i]n jeans that looked like you could peel them off / like fruit skin, / like peach skin, / like grape skin” (50).
Dialectic’s confessional tone allows for an intimate read. Yet, it isn’t burdened by an overbearing or self-obsessed tone. Rather, Kaveney welcomes her readers into a private world where looking isn’t supposed to be sympathetic or intrusive but honest—accented with well-timed quips that give us enough distance not to be fraught with despondence. “I’m sick / of being told I’m bitch, or whore, or pig,” the speaker in “Mirrors” writes, “of feeling less than loved. I’ll kiss the glass / and feel my own hands warm up my arse” (29).
As the title of Kaveney’s book of poems suggest, the bodily dialectics between the corporeal and the imaginative are echoed in her poems through the tensions between her subject matter and conventional poetic forms. The oft familiar structures and rhythms become acutely displaced, rendered just a bit horrid, or weird, by the turns put forth by Kaveney. “Fragile and yet tough” (15) is an apt description of these poems.
Closing her poem “For my Transdyke Sisters,” Kaveney writes that “[w]e bite and lick and groan in sweet surprise, / then check our lip gloss in each other’s eyes” (13). Here’s a book of poems to stand in with raw humility, anguish, and self-love.
Dialectic of the Flesh
A Midsummer Night’s Press
Paperback, 9781938334009, 64 pp.
“I think my dad felt that there was just no place in the world for me, that I was just such an unpopular [kid], such a nerdy mess, that if he could mold me into a different kind of person maybe I would stand a chance.”
More than two decades after making his Public Radio debut, David Sedaris remains the preeminent humorist of his day, as popular with gay audiences as he is with straight ones. His books Holidays on Ice, Me Talk Pretty One Day and Naked, to name a few, are perennial best sellers of the genre. With his new collection, Let’s Discuss Diabetes with Owls, the literary funny man turns his rapier wit on a host of subjects including aging, straight men, taxidermy, and, as always, his own family. Sedaris possesses a keen ability to satirize broadly, but he’s at his best when he’s zeroed in on the quieter moments of life. The foibles of his own character, for instance, or when discussing the sometimes-motley fans he enjoys teasing on a nearly nightly basis. The busy author took a break from his hectic tour schedule to chat with Lambda while on a recent visit to San Francisco. We spoke at length about the enduring power of camp, the importance of keeping up appearances and the difficulties of life on the road.
Thank you for taking the time to chat with me. I know it’s been a bit of a headache to arrange this.
We were supposed to do it a while ago. I think that day my flight was cancelled. I was going from St. Louis to Des Moines, Iowa. I never learned to drive, so they put me in the back of a car for six hours. I got to the theater and the power was out, so I read with a flashlight and no microphone. The next day my flight got cancelled again, and I had to hire a private jet to get to Louisville, Kentucky. It cost $10,000.
That’s no joke.
Yeah, and the theater doesn’t pay for it. There’s just been a lot of days like that. I’m not complaining, though. Far be it for me to complain.
I first found out that this interview was going to happen while I was in the bathroom, and I wanted to know what was the best news you ever received while on the toilet?
I don’t think I’ve ever received any news on the toilet. I don’t have a cell phone. Hugh, my boyfriend, has been mad at me because he says that this trip I’ve been writing in people’s books the kinds of things you’d find on a bathroom wall. I learned this Romanian curse and it’s one of the things I’ve been writing in people’s books. It translates to “I shit in your mother’s mouth.” It’s a good curse, isn’t it? I explained to someone the other day, “Look, I’m not actually going to do this. I’m just writing it down so you can remember it.”
I have a friend who the only bit of Spanish he knows is essentially that.
Well, my Spanish version is “me cago en la fiche de tu madre,” which is “I shit in your mother’s pussy.” Somebody taught me that. But, again, I tell people, “Look, I’m not really going to do this.” The week before last I wrote, “I shit in your mother’s mouth,” in this guy’s book, and the guy said, “My mother’s dead.” I said, “Well, I’m gonna dig her up. I’m gonna dig your mother up, and I’m going to open her casket, and I’m going to kneel over her face and I’m going to shit in your dead mother’s mouth. How would you like that?”
You really want to make sure they keep coming back, don’t you?
Well, I said it in the nicest possible way. I think I’m pretty good at scoping people out. Every now and then I make a mistake and realize it too late. Like this kid wanted me to write something filthy and insulting in his mother’s book. He was 19 years old, right? So I thought for a moment then I wrote to his mother—let’s say the guy’s name was Jason and his mother’s name was Susan. I wrote, “Dear Susan, Jason left teeth marks in my dick.” And then his face, it was like “what did you just do?”
Hugh gets really mad at me for stuff like that, but I mean, look, he asked me. I put some thought into it. I mean, don’t ask me if that’s not what you want, or if what you want is some watered down version of it.
There’s been a lot of talk about how as gay rights become more and more prevalent there’s a loss of the subversive or the camp side, but it strikes me that something like that—and someone like you who writes for a popular audience and who offends people in a good-hearted way—that’s how camp lives on forever.
I was at lunch a couple of weeks ago with my friend Ted. He’s my oldest friend. I’ve known him since junior high school. The waiter brought the dessert menu, and I said, “Do you wanna split a dessert?” So anyway, Ted and I split this coconut cream pie. I looked around the room and there were two other men also sharing a piece of pie. And I thought, Straight men don’t do that. So I started polling straight men while signing books. This one guy said, “You know a plate of Buffalo wings is one thing, but dessert, that’s just crossing a line.” I talked to this other guy, and he said, “You know it’s so funny you should ask. I just had dinner with a buddy and we shared a dessert, and we made a point of telling the waitress that we weren’t gay.” I’ve gotten in the habit of eating dinner while I’m signing books. So now, last night I had steak. I was sitting at my signing table and when an obviously straight man would come up I’d say, “Can you cut me a piece of steak while I sign your book? Now, I need you to fork it into my mouth.” I worry that it’s too aggressive, but I just think it’s funny to make straight men feed me. If it gave me an erection, then I would feel bad about it, but it doesn’t. It just makes me laugh.
As an essayist, do you have a line you won’t cross?
So there’s a new story I wrote and it’s about my three sisters coming to visit for Christmas. And, believe me, my sisters said some things over Christmas that were horrible. They’re really funny and shocking, but I wouldn’t write them. Even if they died, I wouldn’t put those things in a story because it’s private. I’m pretty good about that. I just don’t want anybody’s feelings to be hurt. On the other hand, you know how sometimes there’s the one person in the family who keeps all the self-esteem for himself? That’s my dad. My dad doesn’t have any doubts about the kind of parent he was. He’s proud of it. You’ve never met anybody with more self-esteem. You can’t hurt someone like that.
We first encounter your father in this collection as someone to be feared, but by the end you’ve reached a kind of equilibrium. Do you think gay men, in particular, are reaching a new understanding with their fathers?
I’m 56, and for most my lifetime it was understood that even a horrible straight person was better than a gay person. Not too many people believe that anymore. That can allow for a kind of forgiveness or a deeper understanding. Part of it can just be getting older. This 18 year-old kid, a relative of Hugh’s, came to visit us in England last summer. And he was such a nerd, this kid. You just wanted to correct him on every possible level. I found myself getting so frustrated with him and I thought, Oh, that’s what my dad must’ve felt in regards to me. I think my dad felt that there was just no place in the world for me, that I was just such an unpopular [kid], such a nerdy mess, that if he could mold me into a different kind of person maybe I would stand a chance. I can see that now. When I was having those feelings toward that young man that was visiting, I thought, Well, maybe that’s what my dad was feeling all those years. He was trying in the only way he knew how to mold me into his idea of a likeable person. I much prefer that view of my dad. And I wrote him about it after this relative of Hugh’s left. I wrote him about it and I said I think I understand now. When I watch my brother with his daughter it’s just beautiful. She’s not afraid of him. I hung out with my brother and my niece a couple of months ago and that was the first thing that struck me. We were terrified of our father.
I wanted to talk a little bit about the story “A Guy Walks Into a Bar Car.” At its heart it’s a story about respecting yourself before you can love someone else. It’s a universally important sentiment, but it seems especially resonant for gay people. Do you ever tailor your writing for a particular demographic?
I don’t feel I tailor to the crowd. If I write about Hugh, for instance, I write in the sense of trying to make a life with someone in a way everyone can relate to it. I’m not hiding anything. Sex just isn’t my subject. I remember I was in Paris and Edmund White did a reading at this place called the Village Voice Bookshop. The audience was maybe 10% gay people, and when he read you could see people were like, “He just talked about sucking somebody’s dick; I didn’t sign up for this.” I don’t think it’s fair that they freaked out. When a straight couple kisses in a movie you don’t see us go, “ewww.” So, on the one hand, it only seems fair. But I just don’t write that way. In that story, [“A Guy Walks Into a Bar Car”] I felt like anybody could relate. It’s just a story about an opportunity that you didn’t take, and for the rest of your life when things get bad you think, “If only I would’ve picked that person up.” When you’re brooding over an alcoholic straight guy, that’s when you’ve hit bottom.
Do these people from your past ever resurface?
There’s a story in the book about being on the swim team, and there was this kid on the team who my dad would not shut up about. I was so jealous of the kid. Well, the story was in the New Yorker, so the fact checker tracked him down. He has a business selling sex toys in North Carolina.
I bet you didn’t anticipate that.
I did not.
It’s funny that you should bring up childhood friends because in the book you seem almost proud of the fact that you don’t have any friends now.
I lived in Chicago from 1984 to 1990 and I think that was a time in my life when I had the greatest friends. Then I moved to New York and I met Hugh and I kind of stopped trying. Most of my friends now are friends that I had from Raleigh. I met my best friend my first day of college in 1975. These people I’m in constant contact with. I met a couple of friends when I moved to Paris, but I’m more of a cat friend than a dog friend. I have my schedule and my deadlines, and those come first, and it’s understood that those come first. I’ll talk to you, but not during my office hours. I’m not an available friend.
I assume you met Ira Glass in Chicago.
I met Ira at a reading in Chicago, but it wasn’t until I moved to New York that I got involved with NPR. He called me one day and asked if I wanted to be on the radio.
A lot of people on radio insure their voices, since you have a very distinct voice that makes up a large portion of your career, do you insure yours?
Nobody has ever asked that before. No, uh-uh. I met a guy the other day when I was signing books. I remarked on his voice. He’d had a horrible accident or cancer or something. I said, “Can they do that to me too? Can I recreate that accident?” I mean, I don’t want the cancer, but can I get that treatment on my throat? It just sounded fantastic. If I were to call room service right now and order something they’d say, “We’ll have that right up to you, ma’am.” I guarantee it. I don’t think I sound like a woman. I was on tour last year and this guy in the audience said, “You know I’ve been listening to you and then all of a sudden it hit me: This guy sounds like a Muppet!” That’s closer to it. I sound like a Muppet. I don’t mind the softness of my voice; it just has that Kermit quality to it. That’s what I want to say to people: “Don’t you know the difference between a Muppet and a woman?”
While preparing for this interview, I was happy to discover that you’re a bit of a clotheshorse. What’s your favorite recent acquisition and why?
I heart Union Made on Sanchez Street, here in San Francisco. Have you ever been?
No. I’m still pretty new to the city.
Best men’s clothing store in the United States. And I travel around, so I can say that with authority. They stock these Japanese brands that I’ve only seen in Tokyo. I went there on Friday, and with no trouble at all I spent $1,100. In general, I love looking at clothes even if they’re not for me. When I was in Reno the other night, my most commonly asked question was, “Why did you wear that t-shirt?” I couldn’t believe people had paid 50 bucks for a ticket and they would dress like they’d been mowing their lawn and then all of a sudden they were transported into the theater. I mean, if they didn’t have a “Shirts Required” rule, who knows what people might’ve been wearing? I met this woman and she was wearing [this] t-shirt—it was her good Count Chocula t-shirt. I said, “I don’t mean to be giving you a hard time, but I’m just curious: Will you wear anything to the grocery store?” And she said, “Yeah, I figure who’s gonna notice?”
Have you ever thought about instituting a dress policy for your readings?
[Laughs] We’ll, I’m curious to see tonight. Usually San Francisco audiences are the best dressed. One of the show business rules that I figured out years ago: You should always be better dressed than the audience. I was on stage a couple of weeks ago and I saw a five-year-old in the audience. And I thought, Well, I have to say the word cunt tonight, and I’m still going to say it. If you come on stage with a tie on, people will say, what an interesting word choice. You have a t-shirt on and you say the word cunt, and people say, “Ugh, filthy, this guy is filthy.”
In the new book you write about going to a big box retailer to buy condoms to hand out at your readings. Do you plan on distributing any goodies tonight?
Yeah, I bought some taffy at the Ferry Terminal. This guy from Salt Lake City gave me these cards a couple of days ago. They’re vintage, about the size of business cards, and they have flowers on them, and they say: “You’re too cute to smoke. A message from the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.” Mormons. Those are really special, so I’ll give those to special people.
You’ve been called America’s pre-eminent humorist. Who’s out there that you think, This person’s got talent?
Lena Dunham. I love her essays in the New Yorker. I think they’re really well crafted, and I think they’re funny. She throws in these really surprising, profound details that turn something that could’ve been ordinary into something else. I think she’s really talented.
Have you had a chance to meet her?
Yeah, I’m going to do a reading with her at Carnegie Hall in New York. I just wrote her because with an on-stage reading there’s nothing much for the audience to look at. I proposed to Lena that for Carnegie Hall, what I would like to do is hire two women to breastfeed on stage during the reading. It’s exactly the right amount of activity. When you see a woman breastfeeding you want to stare, but you feel like you can’t. This way you could stare all you want. Probably after five minutes you’d think, Okay, there’s nothing really going on. I think I’ve seen it all. I’d like a black woman and a white woman, or maybe Hispanic. I’d like them to be different races, and I’d like them to be on either side of the podium breastfeeding.
Yeah, I don’t want them in chairs. I want them standing. With spotlights.
André Aciman’s new novel, Harvard Square (W. W. Norton & Company), a story of two young men trying to come to terms with their outsider status in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has been receiving a lot of buzz about its timeliness in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings. But it’s the timelessness of the book’s themes—assimilation, finding one’s place in the world, deciding who you want joining you there—that will make it a novel worthy of discussion and admiration for many years to come.
Ignoring that the main characters are in their mid-twenties and early thirties, Harvard Square starts off as a typical coming-of-age tale. The unnamed narrator, a Jew from Alexandria, Egypt, is a lonely outsider desperately trying to stay enrolled in graduate school at Harvard University in the summer of 1977 when he meets a Tunisian taxi driver named Kalashnikov—”Kalaj” for short—in a local coffee shop. The latter is everything the former is not: a charismatic, controversial, womanizing taxi driver in possession of very strongly held opinions regarding just about everything and a machine gun for a mouth.
From the first moment they meet, the narrator experiences a near-constant internal tug-of-war regarding whether Kalaj is his friend or foe; his double or his opposite; his hero or a repository of all his pity and scorn. This back-and-forth consumes the majority of the novel’s pages, and while the give and take can sometimes be maddening for the reader, it’s an accurate representation of a loner in a near-abandoned town, left with too much time to himself and his own pessimistic thoughts. It’s when the narrator’s friends and colleagues return to Harvard in the fall and the barriers between his two separate lives begin to crumble that he really has to decide what he’s willing to do to finally feel like a part of the world he’s chosen for himself.
It’s to Aciman’s credit that despite the swirling, thorny topics of belonging and otherness, it’s the unlikely relationship between two young men that really shines through. He writes about their courtship in such a way that, even as they are boasting about their respective heterosexual conquests, there’s an unspoken sexual tension between them that ripples off the page like heat shimmering off of concrete under the August sun. And let there be no mistake about that: these two men are courting each other, experiencing the same feelings of exhilaration, self-consciousness, doubt, and warmth that they receive from their attempts at seducing members of the opposite sex.
Harvard Square has been called a near-perfect encapsulation of the immigrant experience in America. And yet, the narrator’s desire to fit in with the Harvard WASPs that surround him on a daily basis—and his simultaneous longing to tell them all to screw themselves—is one that anyone who’s felt like a minority within his or her own home should be able to heartbreakingly relate. And this may be Aciman’s greatest accomplishment with his latest novel: the crafting of a thoroughly inclusive love letter to those who have ever felt excluded.
By André Aciman
W.W. Norton & Company
Hardcover, 9780393088601, 292 pp.
How does one write a biography about someone who has been dead for 40 years, was a bit of a recluse his whole life, and whom few people really knew? If you are Mary Blume, and the subject is Cristobal Balenciaga—one of fashion’s most unique and forward-thinking designers in his day—you focus on the fashion itself, the time when the subject was most creative, and on the impact he had on fashion.
The Master of Us All (FSG) tells the story of Balenciaga through the memory of Florette Chelot, the first woman he hired at his salon in 1936, and who stayed with him as a vendeuse until he closed in 1968. He was one of the few Spanish designers in the fashion-world, dominated primarily by the French and the Italians. Being based in Paris may have contributed to his shyness; he was apparently self-conscious that he spoke French with a Spanish accent. Here was a man who never took a bow after his shows and preferred to keep his distance by watching the models and the audience though a peephole in the curtains. So removed was he from his clientele, he hardly ever met them when they came to his salon on Avenue George V. He was not part of Paris’ social scene.
Blume does a commendable job in giving us a taste for how the fashion world operated in pre- and post-WWII Paris. Balenciaga’s friendship with the other top haute-couturiers, Hubert de Givenchy and Christian Dior, are mentioned, as well as his connection with Coco Chanel—whom he fell out with over a disparaging interview she gave to Women’s Wear Daily. Because most of the book is from Florette’s perspective, we learn much about the workings of his salon, how the customers were treated, his use of unconventional-looking models, his quarrelling with the ateliers, how strict and often lonely the work atmosphere was, and of his acute sense to forgo the traditional display of his merchandise in his windows. He preferred more abstract creations.
Through Florette we learn of how obsessive Balenciaga was about his craft, particularly in his construction of the sleeve, which he constantly changed. The baby-doll dress, pill-box hats, the bracelet-sleeve and silhouettes that were made to flatter not just size zeros are part of Balenciaga’s legacy. He emphasised the waistline less and less, earning him the reputation of liking to dress a woman with a belly. “Give me an imperfect body and I will make it perfect,” he stated. Blume, a former writer for the International Herald Tribune, aptly shows the reader the impeccable influence this man had on fashion and highlights the talent and craft he possessed as a designer who refined his look, collection after collection, by dabbling with color, changing the sleeve’s length and shape, the hemlines and the silhouette. He mastered his singular vision—a far cry from many other designers whose aesthetic changed drastically from collection to collection. Where Blume fails though, is in her ability to form a view of his personal life. His partner of twenty years, whom he loved dearly and shared his home with for many years, gets very little coverage. Blume leaves too many stones unturned; her brief mentions of Balenciaga’s lover simply lead to more unanswered questions. Apparently, the impact of his partner’s death was so strong that it nearly sent Balenciaga into seclusion, contemplating the closure of his house. The impact resulted in Balenciaga’s famed sad, mournful, all-black collection. It is the seldom dropped anecdotes like these that add a humane spark to Blume’s book. While this book is definitely a must read for knowledge hungry fashion fanatics, the biography details the life around Balenciaga, more than providing an in depth study of the man himself.
The Master of Us All: Balenciaga, His Workrooms, His World
By Mary Blume
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Hardcover, 9780374298739, 240 pp.
The Obscenity Party – In celebration of Angelo Nikolopoulos’ publication of OBSCENELY YOURS with special guests Wayne Koestenbaum and Edmund White, and a cabaret performance by Daniel Isengar.
Wednesday, June 5 – 6PM
Cornelia St. Cafe
29 Cornelia Street, NYC
Daniel Isengart has performed his solo act Off-Broadway, in countless supper clubs and cabarets, multiple art museums and theater festivals abroad. Isengart has been called the Darling of Café Sabarsky, the city’s only established German Cabaret venue, where he has presented a record of over 9 different programs, including a highly controversial solo-version of Weill and Brecht’s Seven Deadly SIns. He has also been a mainstay and star at the annual Museum Mile Festival on Fifth Avenue.
Wayne Koestenbaum is the author of several collections of poetry, including Blue Stranger with Mosaic Background (2012), Best-Selling Jewish Porn Films (2006), The Milk of Inquiry (1999), and Ode to Anna Moffo and Other Poems (1990), which was named one of the Village Voice Literary Supplement’s Favorite Books of the Year. His prose works include Humiliation (2011); Hotel Theory (2007); the novel Moira Orfei in Aigues-Mortes (2004); Cleavage: Essays on Sex, Stars, and Aesthetics (2000); and National Book Critics Circle Award–nominated The Queen’s Throat: Opera, Homosexuality, and the Mystery of Desire (1993).
Angelo Nikolopoulos’ first book of poems is Obscenely Yours, winner of the 2011 Kinereth Gensler Award (Alice James Books 2013). His poems have appeared in Best American Poetry 2012, Best New Poets 2011, Boston Review, Fence, The Los Angeles Review, The New York Quarterly, Tin House, and elsewhere. He is a winner of the 2011 “Discovery” / Boston Review Poetry Contest and the founder of the White Swallow Reading Series in Manhattan. He teaches at Rutgers University, New Brunswick and lives in New York City.
Edmund White has written over twenty books. He is perhaps best known for his biography of French writer Jean Genet, for which he won the National Book Critics Circle Award. He is also the author of a trilogy of autobiographical novels: A Boy’s Own Story, The Beautiful Room is Empty, and The Farewell Symphony. His most recent novel is Jack Holmes and His Friend. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, he teaches writing at Princeton and lives in New York City.
$8 cover includes a drink
Released this past March by Nightboat Books, Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics is a riotous omnibus of queer poetics. The first comprehensive collection of poetry by trans and genderqueer authors, Troubling the Line offers a lyrical investigation of issues ranging “from identification and embodiment to language and activism.”
The poets in the collection include:
Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhrán, Aimee Herman, Amir Rabiyah, Ari Banias, Ariel Goldberg, Bo Luengsuraswat, CAConrad, Ching-In Chen, Cole Krawitz, D’Lo, David Wolach, Dawn Lundy Martin, Drew Krewer, Duriel E. Harris, EC Crandall, Eileen Myles, Eli Clare, Ely Shipley, Emerson Whitney, Eric Karin, Fabian Romero, Gr Keer, HR Hegnauer, J. Rice, j/j hastain, Jaime Shearn Coan, Jake Pam Dick, Jen (Jay) Besemer, Jenny Johnson, John Wieners, Joy Ladin, Julian Talamantez Brolaski, kari edwards, Kit Yan, Laura Neuman, Lilith Latini, Lizz Bronson, Lori Selke, Max Wolf Valerio, Meg Day, Micha Cárdenas, Monica / Nico Peck, Natro, Oliver Bendorf, Reba Overkill, Samuel Ace, Stacey Waite, Stephen Burt, Trish Salah, TT Jax, Y. Madrone, Yosmay del Mazo & Zoe Tuck.
Lambda Literary Review recently talked to the collection’s editors, TC Tolbert and Tim Trace Peterson, about the process of editing this groundbreaking anthology.
TC Tolbert is a genderqueer, feminist poet and teacher. Assistant Director of Casa Libre en la Solana, instructor at University of Arizona and Pima Community College, and wilderness instructor at Outward Bound, s/he is the author of Gephyromania (forthcoming, Ahsahta Press, 2014) and chapbooks spirare (Belladonna*, 2012), and territories of folding (Kore Press, 2011). TC is co-editor, along with Trace Peterson, of Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics (Nightboat Books, 2013). TC writes monthly lyric essays on the trans body, intimacy, architecture, and public space for The Feminist Wire and s/he recently curated a trans and queer issue of Evening Will Come for the Volta. TC is a regular curator for Trickhouse, an online cross-genre arts journal and s/he is the creator of Made for Flight, a youth empowerment project that utilizes creative writing and kite building to commemorate murdered transgender people and to dismantle homophobia and transphobia.
Tim Trace Peterson is a poet, editor and scholar living in Brooklyn, NY. Author of the poetry book Since I Moved In (Chax Press), Violet Speech (2nd Avenue Poetry), and numerous chapbooks, Peterson is also Editor / Publisher of EOAGH. Peterson has co-edited, with TC Tolbert, the anthology Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics (Nightboat Books), and with Gregory Laynor the forthcoming Gil Ott: Collected Writings. Peterson is currently a Ph.D. candidate at CUNY Graduate Center.
What was the impetus in pulling the collection together? What sparked the idea?
TC Tolbert: As I say in my intro, I’d been searching for a collection of trans and genderqueer poetry for years – simply looking for mentors, a sense of community, friends. In that time I was reading a lot of other collections of marginalized writers and I admired the breadth of work and the way the books, themselves, were an occasion for connection (readings, tours, etc.). After feeling frustrated and a bit lonely for the kinds of community I saw other folks creating, I met Michelle Tea at a reading she gave at Antigone’s in Tucson (one of the authors and editors I admired – she edited Without a Net: The Female Experience of Growing Up Working Class). This was about 5 years ago and we just talked for a few minutes but that interaction (and meeting her a few years later and getting to know her better) was a significant source of inspiration because she reminded me of how human (as opposed to super-human) this whole process (of publishing, gathering folks around an idea) is/can be. I don’t know if she knows this but she really helped me to see that pulling together a collection like this was completely possible and that I needed tenacity and passion more than any sort of institutional/academic support—I think her work has inspired lots of queer folks this way. All of this coincided with a deepening friendship with Samuel Ace. And it was at Sam’s house that I stumbled onto Trace’s book.
I decided to reach out to Trace for a few reasons. First, I just loved her work from the minute I picked it up (Since I Moved In, published by Chax Press). But I also felt strongly that I should collaborate with someone who was not just like me. I wanted to work with someone with a different gender identity and expression, a different class background, a different poetic emphasis, a different geography. If I had to do it over again, I would still want to co-edit with Trace but I would want the editorial team to be bigger and more diverse. Even though Trace and I are different in lots of ways, we’re both white and we both have graduate degrees and it is always good to have more voices from a variety of perspectives at the table.
Sam was, in many ways, the third co-editor–always listening as I talked through what I was thinking, what I was reading, how the book was progressing. And Trace and I were really able to figure out how to play to our different strengths and this helped us create a book together that neither of us could have created individually and I really like that.
What was the hardest part about choosing what to include? Were there any poems/work that you loved but didn’t make the final cut?
Tolbert: I was floored by the enthusiasm. We received work from over 200 folks (10 pages each) so the first challenge was reading all of the work and holding space for all of it. I felt so honored to receive work from strangers across the continent—there was something incredibly emotional about it for me—all of that trust in us as editors and in our vision. I had a few moments of doubt about my own ability to make these decisions—I asked myself several times, who the hell am I to say which poems make it into this book and which ones don’t? And although I didn’t completely come up with an answer to that question, I could trust myself to be attentive, patient, reflective, and thorough in the process of choosing poems for the book and that is the best I could ask of anyone.
One of the most profound experiences of this process was being introduced to so many incredible poets. I mean, talk about undoing that loneliness and wondering, are we out there? The answer is a resounding YES—trans and genderqueer poets are everywhere!
And yes, there were several poets and poems I loved that did not make it into the book. That’s just the nature of collaboration, and that was hard but fair. We made plans to publish a supplement in EOAGH (online literary journal that Trace edits) with several poets we both admired who didn’t make it into the book. We still need to figure out when and how that will all happen but hopefully soon. People are clearly excited about trans and genderqueer poetry and that is a beautiful thing to see.
Two editors working in tandem on such a big project I am sure can pose its own special roadblocks. Care to share any editorial difficulties in pulling together an anthology of this size and scale?
Tim Trace Peterson: The biggest challenge from my perspective was coordinating a massive number of people (55 authors) and a massive amount of information which was constantly changing and being updated. This is a 544 page book which at one stage might have been 100 pages longer. As the person in the process who probably wore the most hats simultaneously, I was the co-editor and the graphic designer and copy-editor and proofreader and several other things at once (I’m in the book as an author too), which meant that at times it was harder than usual to create healthy boundaries between these different roles, and therefore editing this book consumed most of my life for the past year or two. In the early stage of the book I was also the publisher, before Nightboat Books took on the project—and I am so grateful to Stephen Motika for his generosity and his unerring instincts. In terms of the process of working on the book, TC and I both have our strengths and weaknesses when it comes to organization, follow-through, approach to deadlines, other impinging life responsibilities, general knowledge of publishing process, where and when we tend to be most detail-oriented, etc. But in terms of carrying out the actual book and getting it done, from beginning to end, I can’t imagine having done this with anyone other than TC. We’re both really intense and relentless, both really driven, and I think that is what carried us through this process—we both just believed in this book so much. His particular kind of intensity matched up with my particular kind of intensity quite well in a really functional way throughout most of the process, though there were also some hiccups and some disagreements too, as is bound to happen with any project of this size.
For me personally, the design stage was just basic hard work. (I’ve coordinated a gazillion details at this level in the past, working in architecture and with my own graphic design company PTRSN Design, so that was not unusual for me.) But actually the stage of the book that I found most challenging was earlier on when TC and I had to convince many of the poets to revise their poetics statements and say more than they had initially said. This process involved reading the poetics statements closely and listening for spots where they seemed incomplete, or where someone might have more to say about a particular issue. As with the rest of the editing process, he and I split up these duties equally and we each approached a certain group of poets and tried to convince them to expand their poetics statements, say more about aspect x, etc. I found this part of the process hard, both communicating to people that the prose was not quite there yet, and simultaneously being responsible for helping the person fix what was missing and push their writing further. It was hard because in several cases, people simply refused to cooperate. There were a few authors who insisted that the poetics statement was exactly what they wanted to say, or they refused to connect the relationship between formal aspects of the poem and trans issues in a more explicit way. One poet simply wouldn’t give us a poetics statement. So I think you can give people a writing prompt, but as I know from many years of teaching, you don’t have a lot of control over what someone does with that prompt, how they will read it, or whether their response will even be on topic in the way that you expected. And perhaps that’s for the best, really. Getting poets to do anything is like herding cats while trying to nail Jello to the cats. I think we did remarkably well with the poetics statements, considering this.
The other most difficult part of the process for me was having to turn down so many people at the beginning who really wanted to be in the book. But after receiving submissions from 250 people, we had to narrow it down enough to 55 in order to have a book of a manageable size where the reader could have time and space to get to know the different poets. It was not hard choosing our favorites because TC and I tend to have similar tastes in poetry, but it was hard communicating to people that though the work they are doing in life is important, and we would love to hang out with them if we ever met, unfortunately we just weren’t into their poems. We did come up with one solution of doing an online gallery of 20 or so trans poets in EOAGH, mostly people who are not in the book yet. This should be going online sometime soon.
Tolbert: I don’t think our challenges were particularly surprising – just regular old human communication. Working on something this size and scale requires (I think) some kind of foundation and, as I mentioned earlier, when I asked Trace to collaborate with me – we didn’t know each other at all! I just wrote to her—I think I even got her email from Facebook (or did I send her a Facebook message?)—and I said, this is who I am, this is what I do, we both know and love Sam, want to do this thing with me? And Trace was amazing about it—she said yes right away and we arranged a phone call, then hit the ground running. I think the website for the book was created and the call for work was posted within a couple of months of that first phone conversation.
So, with such breakneck speed on the project (which was really, I think, just a product of our utter thrill about seeing a book like this come into the world), we didn’t know how to communicate with each other—which quirks we shared, which quirks we didn’t, that sort of thing. To compound that, we were mostly communicating via email because we live across the country from each other and setting up a phone date was sometimes challenging. We all know how email can actually hinder communication rather than smooth it. So we got bogged down in different misunderstandings about timeline, or roles, or expectations. But I really think most of that could have been more easily navigated if we could just go out for coffee. Instead, it was like we emailed a few times and suddenly we were having a baby!
Given the challenges of distance and email and new relationship-building, I’m pretty impressed by our ability to come together and see the book into fruition. We were both always so clearly dedicated to the project and so in love with the idea of bringing trans and genderqueer poets together—the crunchy stuff naturally recedes. It goes back to that idea of being human. I’m proud of both of us and how we just brought and worked with our humanity. I think we made a damn cute (and smart) little baby!
As editors, how did your own particular aesthetics shape the work that was chosen for this collection?
Tolbert: I think Trace and I made a different book than I would make with any other collaborator, even given the same pool of work. I think that’s just the nature of it.
My aesthetics certainly influenced my choices—whether that be what I felt compelled by instantly or where I felt there were gaps that I wanted to see balanced out in the book. One of my beliefs about a collection like this is that it should include a range of poems—from narrative to pastoral to conceptual to slam to lyric, etc.— not just the kinds of poems that I happen to love right now. An aesthetic that I was working toward in this book was a diversity of aesthetics. I wanted to identify and highlight good poems in as many schools or with as many influences as I could.
That said, I know I could never totally neutralize an emphasis on the kinds of poems that I love—and I don’t think that is necessary either. I see the book as a conversation starter—not, by any means, the final word.
I quote E. Tracy Grinnell in the intro because I deeply appreciate her thinking around all of this. She said: anthologies are inherently, undeniably, always problematic. Even when necessary, they cannot be inclusive. That is a limitation of the form and I worked with that the best I knew how. But it’s something I still think about. This book would be different with different editors. And I would be a different editor with different life experiences. Totally.
Trace: There are similarities between TC’s taste in poetry and my own, and I think we were very lucky in that way because this made choosing poems fairly easy—we nearly always agreed on which poems from the submissions we liked. We had both attended the MFA program at the University of Arizona, he following just a year or two after me, and we both also had a healthy amount of participation in the poetry scene outside of that MFA program too. I would say that more than any aesthetic battle or platform in the larger scheme of things, to me what really makes the aesthetic perspective of this anthology possible is the eclectic literary culture of Tucson, AZ. My own aesthetic was very much shaped by POG and Chax Press, and if I recall correctly, when any poet gives a reading in Tucson, something like 200 people show up—which would be a large turnout in New York. So I think the sense of permission that Tucson as a literary community encourages, the sense of not having to fight other people’s battles, while at the same time treating poetry as something with a great deal of consequence that should be taken seriously—all those things inform my aesthetic perspective.
I suppose if you were to do an overall chart or map of poetry, you would find that both of our tastes tend toward the “experimental,” the “avant-garde” or the “innovative,” however one defines those terms. This is largely a coincidence, given that I don’t think “avant-garde” writing has been any more sympathetic to queer or trans issues historically than other types of “mainstream” writing. But given how marginalized such types of poetry often are, it’s a pleasant surprise to have the first anthology of trans and genderqueer poetry feature so much experimental writing in it. At the same time, I’m also proud of the wide range of aesthetics in the book. I think it’s a very balanced book in a way that few anthologies are.
TC, in your intro, you talk about your hesitancies/fears in choosing to label the collection “Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics” because of the dangers in a potential restricted audience (those who may not pick up the book due to thinking “this is not about me”) and the dangers that some readers may question the merit of the poems due to the emphasis on the identity of the authors in the title. However, you also talk about how giving marginalized people a voice is important in proving such assumptions wrong, especially seeing as how little trans and genderqueer poets are included in mainstream anthologies and collections. You ask a really interesting, and I think relevant, question: “Why aren’t we seeing the work of trans and genderqueer poets in other collections, at academic conferences, on a variety of presses, at slams, and in literary journals?” What do you think the answer to this question is?
Tolbert: I don’t think a surface level answer can touch that question which is why I didn’t try to answer it in the book. Or rather, I tried to answer it by making a book.
I do have some ideas but they might be rants more than they are theories. So, I won’t bore you with all of them. I’ll just say this:
I think trans and genderqueer identities threaten a monolith of gender essentialism which includes assumptions about safety, capability, intimacy, knowledge, etc. To really engage with trans and genderqueer people—to make space for our (incredibly diverse) experiences, perspectives, expressions, identities, etc.— to welcome trans and genderqueer people as equally valued participants in poetry, in politics, in science, in engineering, in love—is to allow that these gendered foundations we’ve built so many institutions and cultural norms around may not be so solid after all. For many folks, that’s very scary business.
What do you think is needed to improve the visibility of these authors?
Tolbert: At least two things. I think the trans and genderqueer folks who feel safe and able to be out and visible should make some noise—which is certainly happening already and I just want to add my voice to that uprising. I also think it is equally as crucial for allies (in journals, in academia, at slams, at presses, at conferences, etc.) to reach out to trans and genderqueer folks—to say, Hey, we want you involved! Will you work with us? Will you apply? Will you collaborate? Will you submit your work? Will you read here?
It’s too easy (and always puts the onus back on trans and genderqueer folks) to say, come out, come out, wherever you are. That’s fine, if you are safe and if you can come out. But for lots of trans and genderqueer folks, that kind of safety is not a given and allies have to really do that work to step up and make a space safe and inclusive.
Each author is given 5-10 pages, a mixture of several poems and a couple of short essays talking about the relationship between the body and language. Although not every author included these essays with their poems/work, how do you feel these essays work in conversation with the text?
Tolbert: I think they work just like you described—as a conversation. And like any conversation, there are these delightful leaps and gaps and delicious wanderings into other territories. I don’t see the poetic statements as a translation of the work, at all. I just see them as a different entry point—and a possibly very useful one for folks who don’t read poetry but are interested in trans and genderqueer studies.
Trace: The notion of the “poetics statements” in the book specifically comes out of my own perspective on the state of discourse in contemporary poetry. Poetics—often a term used by “avant garde” writers—is sometimes defined as any critical writing about poetry, though most often understood as critical writing about poetry by the poets themselves, often involving discussion of what polemical premises frame the writing. I have a slightly different, idiosyncratic
understanding of the term, one which was very much the outcome of a talks series I curated from 2009-2012 at CUNY Graduate Center, titled TENDENCIES: Poetics & Practice. The idea behind this series, created in honor and fond memory of my teacher Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, was to bring together the notion of queer poetry and writing about one’s process. This idea of poetics as something “behind the scenes” often involved a discussion of where the poets’ writing came from, what motivated them to do it, and what specific personal practices they used in the process of writing. This has less to do with a polemical view of poetics but, I would argue, is just as urgently and radically political in its aims, at the location of where the personal and the political meet. With TENDENCIES there had not been an existing critical or poetics discourse around queer poets. I wanted to ask what would happen when poets were invited to help create such an idiosyncratic or personal critical context for their own work. (My next project is to publish the talks from the TENDENCIES series as a book of essays on “new queer poetics.”) So the poets who submitted work for the anthology were encouraged to try their hand at being both poets, critics, and in some cases writers of memoir—to stand beside themselves, not just in the sense of one’s original relation to gender, but in relation to one’s original text, and see what kind of generative discussion this might reveal, for themselves, for other trans poets, and even for beginning writers who are just learning that, as Eve Sedgwick was fond of reminding us, “people are different from each other.”
Were there any that you found particularly surprising/illuminating?
Tolbert: I picked Trish’s piece for this excerpt because I love how she hybridizes the poetic statement as a form. How she queers it. As you might guess, I really love that sort of troubling.
Trace: I found all of the poetics statements surprising and illuminating, because they often provided a framework that would be most relevant and helpful for reading the work—they let you know to what extent the poet wanted you to see the poem as an extension of themselves or to what extent the poem was not intended as autobiographical but engaging with other issues, for example. Given a question like yours I would love to go through and list what I liked about everyone’s statements, but I think the most useful thing for me to do in this case would be to list a few of the trends I saw among them.
Poets such as Max Wolf Valerio, Stephen Burt, and others talked about the persistence of the imagination in relation to gender, and the importance of that term to their own practice of poetry, whether they felt the imagination was something related to autobiography or not. Another theme I was surprised by was the notion of poetry as a gut experience, an intestinal experience, which is an idea that appears in the statements by Kit Yan, TT Jax, and a couple others—the notion of a visceral aspect to trans poetry interests me very much. A surprising theme I saw across maybe fifteen different people’s poetics statements was the tendency to go back to childhood when asked about the relationship between poetics and gender identity—for these poets childhood was seen almost like a locus at which one’s poetics concerns and one’s gender identity were both galvanized, almost as in Wordsworth’s Prelude, except here the childhood experiences are often (not always) traumatic, and sometimes involve abuse, bullying, or other kinds of violence related to one’s identification as transgender. I was inspired by seeing a lot of narratives about becoming stronger or building oneself back up after a trauma that blocked one’s self from fully emerging into the world. Yosmay del Mazo describes this situation as “an attempt to reconcile place and identity within a builder who learned to distrust body and language to survive.” Stacey Waite says “I believe that if all the genderqueers keep writing, keep talking, keep creating, we can take back the playground from the norm-protecting bullies. We can turn gender and genre themselves into a playground.” This seems to me not a notion of poetry as therapy so much as a notion of poetry as survival.
Another particularly inspiring theme I found among different poets was the paradoxical notion of the poetics statement as a self-deprecating excuse for why one can’t write the poetics statement, or why one doesn’t like such statements in the first place. Zoe Tuck admits to being able to write such a “fairly typical spiel,” but instead feels it is more important given the situation “to shout from this lovely rooftop: trans and genderqueer comrades, let your voices be heard.” Ari Banias in his statement says, “I don’t sit comfortably in binaries that posit ‘tradition’ and ‘experimentation’ as mutually exclusive, and I fidget & buck when I’m expected to pledge allegiance.” Similarly, Y. Madrone’s statement is punctuated with complaints about Madrone’s tendency to “fidget” and interrupted by asides such as “I promised myself I’d make a statement already.” Trish Salah’s brilliant poetics statement is framed by the recurring refrain “I need coffee…I haven’t had my coffee yet,” in which not having had the coffee becomes a kind of apologetic allegory for not being fully oneself at the moment, for being in a state of incompletion or a state of about to become.
This brings me to another, really essential aspect of the poetics statements, which are the complicated, very eloquent constructions different poets articulate that go beyond binary thinking and enact other types of freedom for the writer and the reader. Meg Day describes the notion of “the selves we are just barely discovering” and how this discovery will hopefully allow us to “bring our particular amalgam of margins to the core.” I think that’s a really beautiful phrase. Burt describes the “both-and, neither-nor, what-if-but-also, something other than a continuous story about one body in one life” which I also find to be a very moving formulation. As Leslie Scalapino was fond of saying, it “wrecks the mind” in a very good way. Salah makes a point similar to the bridge/gap issue we were discussing earlier when she eloquently states “It is troubling, where language makes a bridge, but there’s no firm.” EC Crandall describes a paradoxical relationship between performance, body, and text when he says “A grounded poetry is melodramatic, the electrostatic between two bodies.” These boundary issues are expounded upon further with an odd and memorable inside-outside figuration, “My body should make a quarter turn when you read it, inside your skin.” Banias has a really wonderful and similarly confounding statement which I think is also amazingly precise and which I sympathise with very much: “Writing often feels like a process of tricking myself into saying something I didn’t know I meant, or something I didn’t mean to know—an encounter with the almostness of what I’m trying to look at but not be obliterated by.”
These confounding yet very precise poetics formulations that go beyond binaries are one of the most noticeable patterns in the anthology—[everyone] is trying to go beyond gender binaries so other kinds of binaries involved in critical writing and thinking are being challenged simultaneously. kari edwards asks us to wrap our minds around a notion of textual layering that includes self-appropriation as a practice—hir statement “a narrative of resistance” folds and condenses the language of hir earlier books into a really beautiful summary of the important conerns in hir work. Micha Cardenas talks about the notion of “the Transreal” which is “crossing boundaries of reality and existing in multiple realities simultaneously.” This groundbreaking notion “was much like the crossing between realities, virtual and physical, fantasy and reality, symbolic and imaginary, that people do every day. I decided to respond to people who denied the reality of my gender, my body and my sexuality on a daily basis by claiming the space of the transreal, rejecting the real/unreal binary by living between multiple realities.” Eileen Myles describes a position beyond binary constructions this way: “In terms of gender I wasn’t either (Alice Notley had invited us in a workshop to write a poem in the opposite gender and I thought opposite what) all the time and that’s what my poem wasn’t so much worried about but was attempting to resolve.” Samuel Ace articulates a body space prior to the performance/gender binary by stressing sex as a factor: “I take lessons in poetry from sex. Because in sex is where all narrative truly falls apart. Where narrative breaks out of corners. Where narrative stops in syncope.” Monica/Nico Peck in a statement called “Real Poetry Tranifesto” ambitiously tries to articulate the connections between the language of poetry and everything in the universe, “& what I think of as poetry is poetry, too, but also what I don’t even know exists is also poetry. I don’t mean this in some sort of namby-pamby way. At all. I mean that language ACTUALLY is the connective tissue between consciousness & material realms. It transits from the most mundane to the most ineffable. Just because I don’t have words for it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have words for me.” Oliver Bendorf’s statement notes “I’m interested in poetry that invents or cobbles together a vocabulary for all those little loves and miseries between or outside existing taxonomies.” Max Wolf Valerio says “While post-modern, I feel apocalyptic.” To read these statements and think about how they relate to the poems is truly to stretch one’s mind toward a dozen new directions, a dozen new possibilities for poetry and poetics.
Trace, in your intro, you talk about how there are several authors included in the anthology whose concerns you feel very close to, but you also talk about the three poet in particular (Samuel Ace, kari edwards, John Wieners) whose work expresses perspectives that are central to the book’s concerns as you understand them. What are the concerns that you identify with most?
Trace: My aesthetic position (it’s a political position with identitarian allegories built in) seeks to bypass the debate between performativity and biology. It’s a position which I stated in the introduction to the anthology this way: “So as a trans-identified poet, editor, and scholar, what do I want? I want a poetry with a connection to the biological, but a biological that relies upon neither ‘gender essentialism’ not reproductive teleology as defining characteristics.” What this would look like in practice is coalescing gradually, but I think that the best examples of it so far are the consciousness and perspectives of the poets in this anthology. Each of them navigates the relationship between performativity and biology in different ways, but each of them I think shows that it is a false binary, while simultaneously keeping the body present and the consciousness of the writer in play.
And how do they compare/contrast with the other authors in the book?
Peterson: Well those three authors I mentioned are older than the other poets in the anthology, and they are also among the authors with a more established oeuvre of books that we can look to in thinking about trans poetics. They start to anchor the anthology in what might become a historical context. One of the things I have been trying to do in my scholarly work for several years is address why this category (“trans poet” or “genderqueer poet”) has not been common in literary discourse as a group formation or as an aesthetic set of concerns. But going back to your question about that list of three poets in my introduction: I could just as easily have listed some of the other more established trans poets who have been trailblazers in this area: Stacey Waite, Max Wolf Valerio, Eli Clare, Joy Ladin, or Eileen Myles, to name just a few.
This book has been a kind of balancing act, in order to try and make the category “trans and genderqueer poetry” more visible. It’s really hard to say who the representative trans authors might be—we’re in a situation where there is no easy synecdoche or shorthand, and that’s why we need an anthology with 55 very different poets! A friend of mine had the critique that for the more famous people in the anthology, such as Eileen Myles, trans may not be a primary identification. My answer to that is that you’d have to ask Eileen, but she certainly wanted to be in the anthology and was enthusiastic about the book. I think the emphasis on fame in that comment highlights exactly why this group of people needs to be gathered together. One reason for us making this anthology was that “trans and genderqueer poets” are not very visible. We fall between the cracks of other discourses and we lurk in the margins of other categories much of the time. So many poets in this anthology have been around but have not been as famous or as visible as they should be. Our criteria for inclusion in the anthology was “self-identification,” which I think holds at bay some of the policing which goes on in identity politics, and instead means that each contributor is describing hir own specific idiosyncratic relationship to a common category. One thing I loved about co-editing this book was that some of the authors changed their “author names” during the process because they felt so empowered by the project. Similarly, on the panel that I moderated at AWP dedicated to the anthology, Dawn Lundy Martin talked about how thinking of herself and her writing as “genderqueer” helped make a lot of things possible that had not been before.
When I make that comment in the introduction about poets whose concerns I identify with, I am also commenting on my multiple roles in the anthology. Not only am I a co-editor with the responsibilities that involves, but I am also an individual poet with creative concerns and with my own poetics. So what I say representing the anthology as an editor is always going to be a little different from what I say as an individual poet with influences and aesthetic concerns of my own. We worked hard to have a wide representation of different aesthetics in this anthology, and that’s healthy for trans poetry. But this is not to say that everyone in the anthology is someone who I aspire to write like or who I even feel a particular aesthetic kinship with as a poet myself. There was a lot of give and take in gathering this group of writers and making this intervention possible. From an aesthetic perspective, I was writing the introduction in the only way I can given that I’m an editor/author. But of course the concerns of the poets involved run the gamut, especially the younger poets we included who may turn into very different kinds of writers later in their careers.
Trace, also in your intro, you also talk about how, in the past, you were often perceived as “trans” or a “poet” or neither, but never both at the same time, and how walking the bridge between these two identities—poetry as a career and trans as a category—for over a decade sometimes led to feelings of isolation due the inability to “articulate or make visible the position that one occupies in publicly, socially, or politically understandable language.” How do you think this anthology works in bridging those gaps and in what ways? Why do you think those kinds of distinctions are drawn in the first place?
Trace: This anthology is the first time that such a large number of trans and genderqueer poets have been gathered together. So I think it helps us all because when accompanied, we don’t lapse into “only gay in the village syndrome” or trope that state of being as if it were a constitutive condition of our work. When we’re together, we have this chance to look around and put our work in perspective, and understand our unique accomplishments as well as our collective clichés better. The specificity of our achievements shines, both as trans/genderqueer poets and as literary participants in a larger sense. I hope everyone teaches this anthology and I think all the poets in the book call for our responses and our attention. To respond to your metaphor of the gap in the most direct way possible, I think the anthology is simultaneously trying to be a bridge AND a gap, depending on what you say the gap is between. And I like the impossibility of that—my own poetics statement in the book is titled “Channelling and (Im)possibility: A Poetics and Erotics” and I am drawn to that kind of thinking.
There is a weird unarticulated space between the category “poetry” and the category “trans / genderqueer”—you almost never see them together in the same place. I’ve done some research into this for the past few years, and am developing my thinking and writing in my graduate work in looking at why this has been the case in poetry as a genre. In the case of someone like Max Wolf Valerio, he mentioned on the AWP panel that when his memoir The Testosterone Files came out, people were always really excited to hear him read from the memoir, and he would always say in response “but I’m really a poet.” In the introduction to the anthology I tried to talk about the troubled relationship between the terms this way: “Perhaps one reason for that is the paradoxical situation Viviane K. Namaste evokes when she quotes Michelle de Ville in a fanzine interview: ‘The drag queen in the gay world is meant to be on the stage or ‘walking the streets.’ Don’t get off the stage, baby! It’s like the bird in the gilded cage’ (10-11). Perhaps poetry has tended to be understood by the public not as a stage for performance, but as an introspective personal space in the normative sense—an ‘intimate’ space from which trans people are barred or where we remain invisible unless we are playing the role of an externalized, hypersexualized being…But in the language of Namaste’s quote, surely there must be an alternative somewhere in between performing on the stage and prostitution on the streets, and surely such an alternative must include a space in which the consciousness, reflections, and concerns of trans and genderqueer poets can be heard, understood, and nurtured.”
I would add to all this that one of the main mechanisms we have for propagating poetry as a medium in this country in the apprentice system of writing workshops, one of the central assumptions of which is that there is a normative “general reader” that everyone must write for, and in which one common question becomes “how does this effect the reader?” or “what does the reader think of this?” It’s not unlikely, depending on who you’re studying with, that this projection, this presumed general reader probably has an essentialist attitude toward gender and an investment in reproductive teleology. I am making a lot of generalizations here, but these might be some of the reasons why we haven’t seen more visible trans and genderqueer poets as such.
Can you talk a little about the inclusion of author photos in the anthology? What sparked the decision to include photos of the authors.
Trace: The author photos and the poetics statements were my main contributions to the overall idea of the anthology. My issue from the beginning of this project has been finding a way to make trans and genderqueer poets visible, because for so long the subjectivity of “the creative writer” in poetry seems assumed to have been someone with an essentialist or unproblematic gender identity. The poetics statements and the author photos were both elements I introduced into the anthology as a way of trying to show us in three dimensions. As co-editor and graphic designer, I framed each person’s section with these elements as bookends: the header images that announce each section with a portrait of the poet at the beginning, and the poetics statements which provide a sense of context for the poet’s work at the end. This is an open structure that allows flexibility and encourages the kind of depictions I’m talking about in relation to subjectivity, without in the process sacrificing any seriousness of intellectual rigor.
The photos specifically I felt were needed because in life my trans acquaintances had never overlapped with my cis acquaintances, and I can’t tell you how many of my relatives and professional colleagues often don’t seem to know what I’m talking about because they have never actually met a trans person—they’ve never even had a conversation with one. So many people’s knowledge is many years behind what’s currently happening in the trans community and trans activism, and the gap can become embarrassing, even in academia. Often people have the mistaken impression of an exotic unicorn grazing in a forest somewhere, rather than the sense of an actual person with problems and struggles, a person who does creative and other kinds of labor behind the scenes or offstage.
Yet as I mentioned in my poetics statement for the anthology, trying to describe trans/genderqueer poetics out in the open is complicated because “It engages with a central dilemma of identity, that we always weigh the risk of making ourselves visible against the possible dangers of targeting, tokenization, or erasure involved, as well as the possible use of our voices against their own interests. My goodness, this is getting exciting.” So yes, all of these are things I had in mind when advocating for the idea of author photos, and also I just felt that the diversity of people’s gender identification and expression was inspiring to see.
Photo of Tim Trace Peterson by Diana Cage
Read an excerpt of the collection here.
This spring the books that most caught my attention were a trio by old friends — Neil S. Plakcy, Jack Ricardo, and Marshall Thornton — plus a 1995 novel by Pete Dexter, which he adapted as the script for a quasi-controversial 2012 film.
A Chicago Serial Killer
Fans of Marshall Thornton’s Boystown series may well begin the latest in the series, Boystown 5: Murder Book, with a gasp of surprise. Its opening sentence is brutal: “Former Chicago Police Detective Bertram Edgar Harker died sometime during the evening of September 28, 1982.” In earlier cases, we have watched Harker valiantly struggle as HIV ravishes his body. But his death is not a consequence of the plague; Harker has been killed by the Bughouse Slasher (first introduced in Boystown 2). When his lover, private investigator Nick Nowak (the narrator of the series), finds Harker’s Murder Book, he realizes that Harker must have connected the clues and cornered the serial killer. Now Nick vows to follow the same trail and bring the psychopath to justice. This time Harker’s former partner on the force, Frank Connors, seems willing to help. But this is the time of the great Tylenol scare: when seven people in Chicago died after taking pain-relief capsules that had been laced with potassium cyanide. As a result, Connors is forced to concentrate on the headline-grabbing case (which, incidentally, has never been solved) instead of pursuing Harker’s murderer. Would-be journalist Christian Baylor, however, is not only ready to help find the killer but also to comfort Nick sexually.
As always, the writing sweeps the reader along. Thornton’s ability to recreate the historical period is formidable. But as before, the apparently obligatory sex scenes annoy me. They stop the development of the storyline cold, so mostly I skip through them. (St. Edgar, help me if ever a major clue shows up in the middle of one.) Nick’s sex drive is totally believable, but I don’t need to be reminded in such detail what sex was like before AIDS overwhelmed us. Plus, Christian here is not only obnoxious but more than a little incredible. Perhaps if I were not so convinced that Thornton is one of our most important mystery writers, I would not be so irritated. My reaction is somewhat analogous to the one I had with the last Bond movie, Skyfall. For the first time in the series’ history I became annoyed with the action sequences as the film progressed. By the halfway point, I had become so involved with the characters and their interrelationships that an out-of-control underground train was so much irrelevant filler. But, yes, I will grab the next Boystown installment as soon as it appears, just as I will watch the next Bond movie.
The case begins when Honolulu detective Kimo Kanapa‘aka and his life partner, fireman Mike Riccardi are simultaneously summoned to investigate a warehouse fire. A body has been found within the burned-out building. Kimo and his police partner, Ray Donne, begin investigating after the medical examiner determines that it is the body of a male murdered execution-style. Dakota Gianelli, one of the youths sometimes attending a gay and lesbian support group that Kimo mentors, was near the crime scene just prior to the killing and offers valuable information. As they delve deeper, Kimo and Ray become convinced that the key lies in the interrelationships within the victim’s former circle of friends: more specifically what happened among them in the period immediately prior to Hawaiian statehood. Once the perpetrator is identified, the detectives must then use all their skills to avert another murder from taking place.
As in earlier novels in Neil S. Plakcy’s Mahu Investigation series, Natural Predators is shaped by family dynamics: in particular, relationships between parents and children. Kimo again evokes the Hawaiian concept of ohana. As he explains, “the technical definition of ohana is family, but to Hawaiians it means much more — a sense of community, of mutual caring and responsibility.” The multiple senses of the word give form not only to the mystery itself, but also shape various other plot threads that enrich the novel’s fabric. Kimo and Mike continue their dilemma, carried over from the previous novel, whether they want to father a child of their own, a lesbian couple having asked them to become joint sperm donors. And what are they to do with Dakota, who has run away from the foster home in which he was placed after his mother was sentenced to prison for drug dealing? And how will it affect their various commitments should Kimo and Ray accept a new assignment to work with the FBI?
I have always liked the way the Mahu series operates more like procedurals than whodunits, taking the reader step by step through the process of pinpointing the suspects before settling, without any sleights of hand, on the most likely perpetrator. Because the lives of the detective team are so fleshed out, each novel in the series becomes richly textured. And here the reader has an added bonus: “Alpha and Omega,” a non-mystery short story that picks up one of the plot threads, appears at the end of the book. Clearly, this is a pivotal novel in the series.
Murder at a Fort Lauderdale Church
After more than two decades’ silence, the return of Jack Ricardo to the mystery scene is a welcomed one. In Desperate Innocence, Fort Lauderdale private investigator Jim Holden is summoned (that’s the appropriate verb) by telephone to appear at the Metropole Community Church at 10 p.m. for an interview with Pastor Pontiac. Nothing about the initial conversation sets right with the irrepressibly politically incorrect private investigator, but money is low, and “a client’s a client.” He is asked to investigate the unsolved murder of a teenaged boy whose body was found in front of the church. Suspects include various misfits who have found a home within the church and one very angry columnist for the local gay newspaper, who despises the church. Intuitively, Jim feels that the key lies somewhere in the aged pastor’s past. So the scene shifts to Arizona and a crash course in Native American culture (with a belated understanding on his part of the unlikelihood that a Navaho would ever be named “Pontiac”). But what he discovers there takes him back to Florida, by way of New York City, to confront the perpetrator.
The time is the mid-1990s. The novel is a sequel to Death with Dignity (though there the P.I. is named Halden). We learn that much has occurred in his life between the two cases, enough to call for another novel to fill the gap. Here, Holden reaches some sense of satisfying closure for those events. (To say much more is to risk spoilers.) The novel is beautifully paced, though, to be honest, the plot construction does not bear close scrutiny. It is peopled with types still rare in gay mysteries. I do wonder how a younger generation will respond to the issues that tear at these characters, none of whom, neither the women nor the men, seem to have come entirely to terms with their sexuality. All in all, these gays are a pretty sad bunch. And yet, because of the author’s skill in presenting them, one does come to care about several of them.
Novel into Film: Florida Justice
Trying to stay abreast of film mysteries with gay interest, I watched openly gay director Lee Daniels’s The Paperboy on video. Matthew McConaughey plays Ward Jansen, the closeted Miami-based investigative journalist who loses an eye when he picks up some truly rough trade. This is the first time his younger brother, Jack (Zac Efron), realizes that his brother is gay. We are informed that he is upset, not because his brother is gay but because he had not confided in him. This is just one of several subplots that vie with the main plot for attention. Convinced that a death row inmate (John Cusack) was railroaded for the murder of a bigoted Florida sheriff, Ward returns to his hometown in 1969 to find evidence to reopen the case. Aiding, abetting, and often getting in his way are his newspaper partner, the unscrupulous and manipulative Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo), and a very mixed-up prisoner groupie, Charlotte Bless (the outstanding Nicole Kidman). Written by the director and Pete Dexter, based upon the latter’s 1995 novel, the script is a mess. The various plot threads do have in common various forms of obsession, deception, and racial and class antagonisms, all served up with a heavy dose of irony. In an apparent attempt to make the film cohere, the whole story is narrated by the Jansen household’s former maid (Macy Gray) — who often reminds us in pseudo-Brechtian fashion that we are just watching a movie.
Wondering how close the script adhered to the novel, I got a copy of the special “movie tie-in edition.” I found that, in adapting the book to the screen, no more changes were made than are usual in the business. The chief one is the narrator: the novel is told from Jack’s perspective — with the result that he emerges as a perpetual jerk rather than an occasional one. Another change occurs with Yardley’s color and thus his backstory, as well as the color of Ward’s assailants (here he invites white sailors back to his room). And the endings are different, though the results are the same. (And yes, the notorious pissing scene also occurs in the novel.) The writing is crisp, clean. More so than with the movie, the title of the work could refer to either brother. But now having only the words without the actors, I realized how little I feel for these characters, in the film and on the page. When I finished reading it, I did not feel better for having done so.
In case other fans missed two recent books, as I did, let me mention that Josh Lanyon has collected all the Taylor MacAllister and Will Brandt mysteries into one handy paperback volume, Armed and Dangerous: Four Dangerous Ground Novellas, and similarly the three Mark Hardwicke and Stephen Thorpe mysteries, as In from the Cold: The I Spy Stories. Both were published in 2012 under the JustJoshin imprint.
And now the time has come to write, with somewhat mixed feelings, that although I hope to continue contributing occasional reviews to the Lambda Literary Review, this will be my last GunnShots column. I reviewed my first mystery for LLR (Anthony Bidulka’s Amuse Bouche) in February 2004, when it was still a print journal, under the editorship of Lisa Moore. I continue to be passionately interested in the development of the gay mystery genre, but a very different project I am embarking on promises to take up an increasingly larger amount of my energy. Besides, ever since finishing The Gay Male Sleuth, I have more and more felt that it is past time to let someone else bring a fresh set of eyes to the gay mystery scene. I don’t think I will miss writing the column, but I know I will miss the contact with so many kind and generous people in the field: writers, readers, editors. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your support and kind words over the years.
Boystown 5: Murder Book
by Marshall Thornton
Paperback, 9781608208616, 184 pages
by Neil S. Plakcy
Paperback, 9781608208401, 278 pp.
by Jack Ricardo
Paperback, 9781482064315, 222 pp.
Script by Pete Dexter and Lee Daniels; directed by Lee Daniels
DVD, B009R8Q8Y8; Blu-Ray, B009R8Q924, 107 min.
With closed captions and three featurettes
by Pete Dexter
Paperback, 9780345542212, 336 pp.
This week Mused released a list of must-read literature reflecting the experiences of black gay men. Books covered include Essex Hempill’s Brother to Brother, an anthology that merges prose and poetry to capture the lives of those who were affected by AIDS, E. Patrick Johnson’s Sweet Tea—an oral history of black gay men in the south—and the current Lambda Literary Award finalist Keith Boykin’s For Colored Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Still Not Enough.
[...] for black gay men, reading is not only fundamental; it is crucial to shaping positive images of our identities, especially since we seldom (if ever) see truthful depictions of ourselves in other forms of media.
See the full list here.
Comic Book to Commemorate Stonewall Riots
The events that took place on June 28, 1969 at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village are regarded by many as the flashpoint for the gay and lesbian rights movement, and the reason we are still fighting for basic human rights today. Bluewater Productions seeks to partner with artist Michael Troy to commemorate Stonewall in a graphic novel.
“Civil rights are not just an American tradition; it’s a birthright,” Bluewater president Darren G. Davis said. “When I recognized that Stonewall was quickly fading into an obscure footnote, I had a obligation to remind people that civil rights comes in all colors, shapes, genders, political views and social choices.”
The graphic novel is being funded through the Indiegogo website and aims to focus on the events leading up to the groundbreaking evening, as well as its significance as the origin of gay pride. [San Diego Gay & Lesbian News]
National Leather Association: International Announces Winners for Excellence in SM/Leather/Fetish Writing
The National Leather Association: International, “a leading organization for activists in the pansexual SM/leather community,” recently released the winners for their excellence in literary works award for SM/Leather/Fetish writing published in 2012. See winners below and learn more about the association here.
Winners of the Geoff Mains Non-fiction Book Award are Lee Harrington and Mollena Williams for “Playing Well With Others: Your Field Guide to Discovering, Exploring and Navigating the Kink, Leather and BDSM Communities.” Honorable mention in this category goes to Tristan Taormino (ed.) for “The Ultimate Guide to Kink: BDSM, Role Play and the Erotic Edge.”
In the John Preston Short Fiction category, the winner is Annie Cox for “Muriel” (Pink Flamingo Press). Honorable mention for short story goes to I.G. Frederick & Patrick for “”Aunt” Grace” (Smashwords Edition).
Winner of the Samois Anthology Award is Elizabeth Coldwell (ed.), “LIPSTICK LOVERS” (Xcite Books). The honorable mention goes to Wes Royal (ed.), for “Whatever Lola Wants (and Other Wicked Tales)” (FDC Publication).
Victorious in the Pauline Reage Novel category is L. M. Somerton for “The Portrait’ (Total-E-Bound). The judges were unable to concur on second place honors this year with 27 novels submitted for consideration. Honorable mentions therefore go to The Masters of Falcon’s Fantasies by Cassidy Browning & Reggie Alexander (Siren Publishing), Power Exchange by A. J. Rose (Voodoo Lily Press), Eve Portrait of Submission by Steve Maser (Pink Flamingo Publications), Beyond the Edge by Elizabeth Lister (MLR Press) and A Forbidden Love by Lee Dorsey (Pink Flamingo Publications).
The winner of the Cynthia Slater Non-fiction Article Award for the second year in a row is Mollena Williams, this time for “On Collars And Closure and Owning Myself” which appeared in her blog The Perverted Negress at http://www.mollena.com/. Ms. Williams also earned second place in this category for “Digging in the Dirt – The Lure of Taboo Role Play”, which appeared in Tristan Taormino’s (ed.) “The Ultimate Guide to Kink: BDSM, Role Play and the Erotic Edge” (Cleis Press).
Nominations for literary works published in 2013 will open later this year.
[Image via Amazon]
Love by the Numbers—a book about a book—and its author, Professor Nicole Hathaway. Nicole is a numbers kind of gal. She’s a cerebral perfectionist who exhibits little emotion—except for the annoyance she feels at her Indian mother for serving vindaloo for dinner and her intrusion into Nicole’s personal life. Everything is pretty black and white for Nicole. That is, until she slips on that leather jacket and becomes ’Cole, the “bad girl” who loves them and leaves them breathless as she disappears into the dark of night. Then things get all gray and misty—and sensual.
Professor Hathaway has written an academic tome that’s taken the mainstream by storm. Who would have thought that a book about the statistical data of love and romance would hit the bestseller list? As the book soars to the top of the charts, Nicole is forced to get out and mingle with the public, something she is usually loath to do without her leather jacket. Her publisher insists she go on a whirlwind book tour and he’s assigned her an assistant to help her navigate the journey. However, Professor Nicole Hathaway does not suffer fools lightly and she has been through a long line of assistants. Her publisher offers her one final candidate as the book tour is about to begin. Nicole’s mission is to get rid of this one before she has to leave for Europe with the woman.
Lillian Linden-Smith is a woman with charm and a secret—and a desperate need to make a living. Although the media portrays her as a spoiled rich kid with criminal tendencies, Lily is actually one hurt, frightened lady who’s been abused by the paparazzi and a maligned by a broadcasting legal personality who’s propelling herself away from a “has been” label using Lily for impetus. Lily’s uncle is Nicole’s publisher and he’s giving Lily a chance to earn her keep and hide in plain sight when he sends her to the Hathaway home to report for duty. Lily first encounters Nicole’s mother and her younger sister and quickly endears herself to Nicole’s mother, Indira, before Nicole returns home from the university where she teaches. This puts Nicole into a more heightened state of self-protection than usual. During their first meeting, Nicole first tells Lily she doesn’t need her; then, resigns herself to her unwelcome company as they embark on the trip abroad.
As if using sleight of hand, Lily works her magic and Nicole succumbs to her charms as the two trek around Europe and the States touting Nichole’s book. When Nicole presents the ideas reflected in her book to a public with whom she has no desire to interact, Lily works her enchantments both with Nicole and those involved in Nicole’s appearances. As Nicole and Lily fight an inevitable attraction, we see Nicole soften and Lily let down her guard. If these two can ever allow their secrets not to define them, they just may have a chance together. But when Nicole’s pregnant and unmarried sister, Kate, ends up in the hospital clinging to life, Nicole must come to terms with who she is and what is most important to her. In order for it all to work, though, Lily must also stand up to her own demons.
The love story is engaging and is filled with just the right amount of tension to make the nerve endings buzz as Nicole and Lily learn to adapt to the inevitable result of their growing passion for one another. The characters are appealing in spite of—or perhaps because of—the secrets each one holds, preventing them from opening their hearts. The story line is appealing and draws the reader in. It’s also filled with that tongue-in-cheek, ever-so-sassy humor that Kallmaker does so well. Love, by the numbers, doesn’t always go according to plan, especially when the plan is not to love at all—and family, in all its aspects, is sometimes annoying, but always caring. Love by the Numbers is another win for Kallmaker to the delight of readers everywhere.
Love by the Numbers
By Karin Kallmaker
Paperback, 9781594933189, 281 pp.
Men of the Manor: Erotic Encounters between Upstairs Lords & Downstairs Lads
Editor: Rob Rosen
Publisher: Cleis Press
Deadline: August 1st, 2013 (Earlier would be greatly appreciated!)
Payment: $50.00 USD and 2 copies of the book upon publication.
The country estate, masters and servants, mystery and intrigue, sex and money. All go hand in hand in these turn of the century tales of what goes on behind the manor’s closed doors. Does the master lure the butler to the phonograph room for a romp behind the sofa or does the stable boy have a tryst with the footman while the lord longingly watches on? Does the aristocrat drop his foppish manners when the butler helps him undress? And do the classes exchange more than pleasantries when the lamps are dimmed, the candles get snuffed out, and the ladies retire for the evening?
Give me your hottest stories of romance and sex between wealthy aristocrats and hard-working estate staff, all with a pre-World War 1 backdrop, including the fashion and art and the latest inventions of the day. War is years way, the estates are huge and sprawling, the fashionably elite have too much time on their hands, while the toiling underclass are always on the lookout for a means to a brighter future—no matter whose bed they end up in during the night. Think Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs, but with enough sex to make the town vicar blush.
Stories can take place in any country. The sex should be mutually consented to (so no forced encounters between masters and servants). Humor is always appreciated, as are stories with unexpected plot twists.
Please note that Publisher, Cleis Press, has final right of refusal on all submissions. Unpublished stories only, no simultaneous submissions. Please do not send me a story that is being considered elsewhere.
The Editor will not accept:
Already Published Works, Underage Sex, Non-Consensual Sex, Incest, Scat or Bestiality.
How to Submit:
Early submission is strongly encouraged. Please send your submission to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: Men of the Manor Submission
Please submit your work as follows:
Send a Times or Times New Roman 12 point black font Word document (.doc or .rtf) 3,000-8,000 word story. Indent the first line of each paragraph half an inch and double space lines (regular double spacing, do not add extra lines between paragraphs or do any other irregular spacing). Single space after a period or a comma. Include your legal name (and pseudonym if applicable), mailing address, word count, and 50 word or less bio in the third person.
An Ordinary Boy (Seventh Window Publications), Brian Centrone’s debut novel, is far from ordinary. Blending pop culture with the transitional woes of adulthood, Centrone verges toward a new, genre-crossing niche. This new writer aims for the new reader.
Hi, Brian. Congratulations on An Ordinary Boy. Can you tell us a bit about it?
Thanks, Michael. An Ordinary Boy follows Tom Grove as he navigates the pitfalls of his freshman year of college. First time love, opinionated friends, and a crazy family all play a role in Tom’s attempt at independence, being gay, and finding out who in the hell he is.
Your protagonist, Tom, is fully realized. He could be described as judgmental, flighty, naïve. Was creating a character that is so embedded in truth, a difficult task?
Tom was a challenging character to write for. He wasn’t giving and so I struggled to pull information out of him. By nature, Tom is very quiet, very in himself, but he is so complex. I never knew which Tom I was going to get when sitting down to write. I believe why Tom comes across so realistic, and maybe too realistic, is because he is not one thing. Like real people, there are multiple components that make up his personality, and all of those pieces are at conflict with each other.
Tom falls in love for the first time. It’s speedy and intense. He almost expects a film-like, romantic ideal. In reality, is this typical for young men? Do you find this is common?
Not just young men, but young people in general. I remember friends in college starting their first adult relationships. They were whirlwind romances, but they also deflated as quickly as they had inflated. Also, I think in terms of gay youth, first love can often be speedy and intense. Maybe it’s the idea of being in a minority group and the fear that you’re never going to find another boyfriend/girlfriend, so it becomes all or nothing.
An Ordinary Boy discusses a wide array of topics that include HIV testing and casual sex. Do you consider these matters modern rites of passage?
Not so much rites of passage as an unfortunate reality. HIV is on the rise in young gay men and we have to stop and wonder why. Are we not educating our youth enough? Do they just not care? I’m not sure, but I do know that with sex comes responsibility to ourselves and to others. That means getting tested, knowing your partner, and making smart choices.
Was your first year of college as dramatic as Tom’s?
My first year of college was overshadowed by the events of September 11th. But aside from that life altering event, I recall moments of drama and chaos that seems to follow any freshman around.
One could argue that your novel falls into the new reader genre. Not young adult fiction, but not adult fiction. How do you feel about that? What do you think of this genre?
An Ordinary Boy was written with the intent to be the What Happens Next novel. I read a lot of YA fiction and what intrigued me the most was that everything was wrapped up in a neat little package by the end of high school. What I wanted to give to those readers of YA who were growing up and becoming new adults was the reality of first time independence, the messiness of young love and friendship, and truth about when and how we learn who we are and what our role in this world is going to be. I think New Reader or New Adult as it is sometimes called is an important genre as it bridges the gap that comes between teen fiction and adult literature.
Cellphone culture permeates An Ordinary Boy. What’s the most incriminating piece of evidence on your phone?
Probably the pornography on my camera roll.
What writers have influenced you?
My big influences are Jacqueline Susann, Grace Metalious, and Bret Easton Ellis. But I am very inspired and in awe of Truman Capote, Jeannette Winterson, and Virginia Woolf. I’m also a big fan of Brent Hartinger, K.M. Soehnlein, and Christopher Rice.
What’s coming up next?
I have a collection of my erotic gay fiction coming out through New Lit Salon Press, and my fourth one act play, We, the Jury premiered in Massillon, Ohio as part of the Big Read events. It was inspired by Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and deals with teen suicide, gay bullying, and the fractured justice system. I’m looking forward to working on my next novel and finding an agent. Any takers???
What’s the most ordinary thing about you?
The most ordinary thing about me is…well, me.
The Lambda Literary Foundation is pleased to announce this year’s trio of major award recipients: Augusten Burroughs will receive the Foundation’s Trustee Award, John Irving will receive the Bridge Builder Award, and Cherríe Moraga will receive the Pioneer Award. They will be honored, along with dozens of writers chosen from the list of extensive nominees, at the 25thAnnual Lambda Literary Awards (“Lammys”) ceremony to be hosted by comedienne Kate Clinton on Monday, June 3rd in New York City at The Great Hall at Cooper Union (7 East 7th St @ 3rd Ave, New York City). Immediately following the ceremony will be a private After-Party at The Sky Room of the New Museum (235 Bowery, New York City). The Lammys bring together over 400 attendees, sponsors, and celebrities to celebrate excellence in LGBT literature, making it the most glamorous and prestigious LGBT literary event in the country.
The three outstanding honorees will be featured prominently during the ceremony. Augusten Burroughs has published three essay collections and three memoirs, including Dry, about his experience as an alcoholic trying to get sober in Manhattan, and Running With Scissors, a memoir about his unconventional childhood, which became a publishing phenomenon, remaining at the top of the New York Times bestseller list for nearly three consecutive years. John Irving’s novels, including his 1980 National Book Award winner, The World According to Garp, are translated into thirty-five languages, and he has had ten international bestsellers. In 2000, Irving won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Cider House Rules. In One Person is John Irving’s latest novel, which is also nominated for a Lammy Award this year. Cherríe Moraga is the co-editor of This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (with the late Gloria Anzaldúa). Her most recent collection of writings, A Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness: Writings 2000 – 2010, was published by Duke University Press in 2011. Moraga’s publications and plays have received national recognition, including the United States Artist Rockefeller Fellowship for Literature and American Studies Lifetime Achievement Award. She is an Artist in Residence in the Department of Theater and Performance Studies and the Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity program at Stanford University.
“The works by this year’s special honorees have brought us memorable characters, radical ideas, and have been profoundly influential,” says LLF Executive Director, Tony Valenzuela. “Their contributions are original and leave an enduring mark on our literature.”
Previous Lammy finalist and 2010 Pioneer Award recipient, Kate Clinton, will infuse the gala celebration with her brand of topical, political comedy.
Legendary songwriter, performer, and author Janis Ian, who has 9 Grammy nominations to date, will perform at the ceremony. Ian won a Grammy in 2011 for Best Spoken Word Album. Her songs “At 17″ and “Society’s Child” are in the Grammy Hall Of Fame.
Once again, The Lammys will raise the bar for glamour with its dazzling roster of presenters from the worlds of film, television, theatre, politics, religion, sex, and, of course, literature. Gracing the stage will be: Ingrid Abrams, Children’s Librarian, Brooklyn Public Library; Susan Atkins, Lambda Literary Foundation Board Member and Board Chair of the National Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund; Justin Vivian Bond, author and Tony-nominated cabaret performer; Frank Bruni, the first openly gay op-ed columnist of The New York Times, and bestselling author; Nick Burd, acclaimed young adult author; Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post columnist and MSNBC contributor; Kathleen DeBold, activist and Lambda Literary Awards Administrator; Stacey D’Erasmo, novelist and literary critic; David France, journalist and documentary filmmaker; Deborah Gregory, television producer and award-winning author; Nina Hartley, legendary adult film actress and feminist sex educator; Karla Jay, lesbian activist historian; Randy Jones, pop star and original cowboy of The Village People; James Lecesne, actor, writer and Academy Award winning short filmmaker; Deacon MacCubbin & Jim Bennett, founders of Lambda Rising Bookstore and of the Lambda Literary Foundation; Keith Price, stand-up comic and Sirius OUT Z radio personality; Mike Ruiz, celebrity photographer; George Slowick, President of Publishers Weekly; Peter Staley, AIDS and gay rights activist, founder of AIDSmeds.com; Kim Stolz, fashion model, television personality, and financial executive; Edmund White, award-winning novelist and memoirist; Riki Anne Wilchins, groundbreaking transgender activist; and Jacqueline Woodson, award-winning young adult author.25th Annual Lambda Literary AwardsMonday, June 3, 2013 · New York CityHonoring Augusten Burroughs, John Irving & Cherrie MoragaMaster of Ceremonies Kate Clinton
A special performance by
Special Guests Include
Justin Vivian Bond · Frank Bruni
· Jonathan Capehart
Stacey D’Erasmo · David France · Deborah Gregory · Nina Hartley
Amber Hollibaugh · Karla Jay · Randy Jones · Carole RadziwillMike Ruiz · Peter Staley · Kim Stolz
Edmund White · Riki Anne Wilchins · Jacqueline Woodson
Directed by Charles Rice-Gonzalez
Join us at the most glamorous LGBT literary event in the country. Over 400 attendees,
sponsors, and celebrities will come together to celebrate excellence in LGBT literature.
Read the full press release here.
5:30pm Cocktail Reception 7:00pm Awards Ceremony
The Great Hall at Cooper Union
7 East 7th St @ 3rd Avenue
New York City
The Sky Room at the New Museum
New York City
VIP After-Party Celebrity DJ
What more can be said about the fabulous Honey Dijon. She has rightly taken her place in the music world and one of the most exciting and unique talents today with her innovative and unique sound. She also boasts some impressive accolades from some of the biggest names in dance music from Danny Tenaglia to Derrick Carter.
Based in NYC, born and bred in the Windy City, Honey is known for her unique take on the Chicago sound with inflections of the deep New York underground. In fact, Honey is one of the few dj’s in recent years to defy pigeon-holing. She draws from a wide repertoire of musical styles from old school Chicago House, disco, tech house, tribal, funk, soul, and R& B. She has graced the tables from Ministry of Sound London to Ushuaia Ibiza, Panorama Bar Berlin, Stereo Montreal and everywhere in between. She has also shared the decks with none other Danny Tenaglia, Derrick Carter, Green Velvet, The Martinez Brothers, Satoshi Tomiie, and Quentin Harris.
Honey is also entering one of the most prolific times in her career not only as a DJ, but as a producer as well.
2013 New York City Host Committee Members:
S. Chris Shirley, Co-Chair · Don Weise, Co-Chair
Charles Rice-Gonzalez, Ceremony Director · Jason Wells, Publicity Chair
Gabriel Amor · Anne Austin · John Bateman · Brad Boles · Jamie Brickhouse · Paul Dierkes
Dick Donahue · David Gale · Antonio Gonzalez · Tal Goretsky · Wayne Hoffman · Karl Jones
Dean Klingler · Melanie La Rosa · Mario Lopez-Cordero · Dan Manjovi · David McConnell
Bill Miller · Jay Moore · Nick Nicholson · Angelo Nikolopoulos · Julia Pastore · Lori Perkins
Jay Plum · Patrick Ryan · Eddie Sarfaty · Liz Scheier · Bob Smith · Jerl Surratt · Martin Wilson
Please note all tickets are non-refundable. Lambda Literary is
a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and a portion of each ticket is tax deductible.
If you are reader of Mia McKenzie’s blog, Black Girl Dangerous, you already know, and you’re probably already excited to read The Summer We Got Free, Mia McKenzie’s debut novel. For those of you who do not know, you are about to be introduced.
I will not give you all of the salient details of this layered, complex, and absorbing novel in this brief review—no spoilers here. Still, I need to ask you a few clarifying questions. Are you interested in a novel that is simultaneously critical social commentary, ghost story, murder mystery, and queer love story? If you were interested in such a novel, would it matter to you that the craft of the writing is deceptively plain, and in that simplicity, achingly poignant, laser-like in its facility and effect? Me too. I love that.
Finally, if you found out that the author was a fiercely brilliant black queer woman, who layers on discovery, insularity and secrets with a deft touch, would you be queuing up to get a copy of this book? Thought so. Here’s a sample of what may be the central theme of the book, and a prescription written for so many of us:
Afterward, after they took Paul away, I couldn’t stop thinking that she was dead because of how something had seemed. Not how it really was. I decided then that I would never be satisfied with how anything seemed—a situation or a person. I would always look deeper and try to see what was really there.
Family, love, lust, desire, death, and grief: if, like me, even as a black queer, you don’t feel an automatic knowledge and kinship for these characters, you will feel the universality of these themes. One of things that blew my mind about Mia McKenzie’s book are the lovely, surprising moments of clarity she leaves for the reader to find and exclaim over. The realization of just how skillfully she has woven her tale and her characters. For example, one becomes aware that each character embodies a familiar emblem, or side effect of Blackness, while tying to universal themes of humankind. In our “othered” lives, it is a sadly familiar feature of the landscape: a broken and insular family, one is vilified for her very dark skin, a black male living “on the down low” keeping his male lovers a secret, another black male is formerly incarcerated, and the powerful and dangerous extremes inherent in Black Church. There is a sexually blocked perennial victim, a blocked and frustrated artist, and a mother who has lost both her father and her son to violence. Instead of taking a single character through a series of experiences that could illustrate these truths to the reader, McKenzie populates the city block with the facts of our lives, and not surprisingly, these stark facets of black life do not make for especially likeable characters. Brilliant, because we don’t love these aspects of our lives, but we work with them, and hope to free ourselves. Who got free, and cast off what only ‘seemed’ to be true for them? Ava and Geo, Regina and George, Paul and Helena, Sarah—each one struggled to shift aside the cloying complexity of their previously formed identities. The ghost is laid to rest; the cycles of blame are broken.
Society is often both attracted and repelled by the artist, just as artists are often attracted and repelled by their own vision and talent. McKenzie gives this concept blazing vivid life in The Summer We Got Free. In order to follow the engrossing, deeply familiar, and sometimes harrowing mystery, you’ll have to read this novel, and celebrate with me that this black voice is loud and clear, that Mia McKenzie, artist, got free.
The Summer We Got Free
by Mia McKenzie
Black Girl Dangerous Press
Paperback, 9780988628601, 242 pp.
Kalyani Magazine is a community focused around a semi-annual literary publication featuring diverse writing styles from women of color. Each issue explores one theme, word, or concept that impacts women in diverse ways. We specifically welcome submissions from previously unpublished authors. Our goal is to be an accessible literary magazine which encourages all women of color to view themselves as writers, readers, and supports each other on this path.
Kalyani takes very seriously giving opportunities to ALL writers, and therefore we are very serious about assessing all submissions blindly. Whether you are submitting a same, revised, piece again, or know someone in the Kalyani team, or are a brand new writer, your piece will be reviewed on the same page as everyone else’s! For this reason, it’s very important you follow the submission guidelines.
Types of pieces:
- A variety of literary styles that all speak to one theme in diverse ways (“How I Got Over…” is this issue’s)
- Poetry, prose, lyrical prose, scripts, essays, experimental, flash fiction, investigative reporting, fiction, non-fiction, memoir, cross-genre
- Artwork is accepted if it will stand as well in a printed black and white magazine
- Up to 1500 words
- Limit 1 submission per person or multiple poems to a maximum of 1500 words
- You must have full publishing rights for your piece
- Already published pieces are accepted as long as you retain rights, and indicate the original publication in your submission
- You will continue to have full rights after it is published and may continue to publish it elsewhere, but please note this publication in future publications. We also request you do not publish it as freely available elsewhere (eg on a blog) for one year after the magazine launches
- Simultaneous submissions are accepted
How to submit:
- Please submit via Submittable: https://kalyanimagazine.submittable.com/submit
- We would really appreciate if you submit with a $5 donation, which is the top option, but we will be blind to your option when reviewing
- We will not respond to any submissions until after the deadline has closed
- Submissions are accepted until July 31, 2013.
- The theme is “How I Got Over”
- At this point payment is a free copy of the magazine. Hopefully in the future we will be at a point to give payment as that is a priority.
Contemporary books that invoke the classics risk pretension. It was with some trepidation, then, that I approached Greg Wrenn’s Centaur, with its eight-poem cycle on a man who transforms himself into one of the mythical horse-legged creatures. What I found, however, was a book which deals much more with personal—rather than Ovidian or Kafkaesque—metamorphosis.
The speaker of the title sequence becomes a centaur with the help of a Brazilian expat surgeon. As one might expect, this leads to some delightfully absurd moments, as in the ad the speaker responds to, which reads, in part: “Do you believe in CENTAURS? /You can rid yourself of burdensome footed legs.” If the entire section were handled with this glibness, it might grow tiresome, but Wrenn leaves plenty of room for pathos and reflection, as when the speaker recalls how:
Some man touched me in the crib,
___________warped my bones.
___________________Never could run
___________like the other boys, those lithe
___________________________cheetahs flying past the dugouts.
Echoing the rest of the book, the “Centaur” sequence concerns itself primarily with desire and disappointment, the human and the animal, the erotic and the grotesque, and the oftentimes murky borders between these sets of seeming opposites.
Sections II and V, both of which feature series of standalone lyrics, pick up these themes in poems such as “Promiscuity”—in which an isolated, reflective speaker exhorts himself, “I must stop thinking /about my heart” and “One of the Magi”—a meditation on the impulse to find familiarity in the divine, written in the voice of one of the visitors to the Infant Jesus’ nativity — and “Self-Portrait as Robert Mapplethorpe”—about the eponymous photographer’s attempts to grasp his humanness through a string of sexual encounters. One of the last poems in the book, “Revision,” sheds light on another of the book’s predominant themes—that of remaking, reseeing, as Wrenn “switch[es] every pronoun” and leaves the reader at “the moment blown into glass, /held and broken.”
There is much of the grotesque in Section III, a poem sequence titled “Virus,” in which Wrenn’s speaker discusses his father’s battle with illness and the speaker’s resultant examination of his own mortality. The admixture of beauty and ugliness here is nicely encapsulated in the third poem, in which Wrenn writes “The staph infection on the inside /of his thigh persisted, a field of red poppies /unable to wither.” Adding to the complexity, these reflections are intermixed with erotic memories and borderline incestuous desires. The seeming lust for the father—expressed in lines such as “Daddyboy, why do I want to inhabit you?” and “Just outside a tortoise burrow— /that’s where I left his dick. /Wrinkled clown”—seems to be symbolic of a desire to know the father in ways that cross the traditional boundaries of shared knowledge between a parent and a child, likely brought about by the realization of their shared mortality and the imminence of the father’s death. Furthermore, Wrenn’s use of sex as the metaphor effectively expands the desire to know the father outwards to a desire to know the unnamed lover who is also mentioned in this section, a man he “enter[s]… /without latex,” a satisfying experience, but not as satisfying as his ultimate wish “to break through /…the skin around his heart.” This is a bold move and, while it works for Wrenn, I would have liked to have seen the section focus even more tightly on the father/lover dynamic. How do gay men’s relationships with their fathers affect their perceptions of their lovers? This is a question that Wrenn raises but ultimately leaves unanswered.
The mythic is taken up again in section IV, “Thirteen Labors,” based on the twelve labors of Hercules. Helpful to those of us who are a bit rusty on our Greco-Roman mythology, Wrenn provides a truncated list of these labors in the book’s index. Interestingly, these labors are generally reseen through the lens of technology: the hydra is slain in a computer game; the cleaning of the Augean stables is reimagined as a Photoshopping of an unflattering self-portrait; an online avatar frightens off digital Stymphalian water-birds. At their best, these poems speak to human joys—“naked bodies against the vast /touchscreen’s glass—[where] there’s squeaking, /laughing”—and insecurities—constructing “prosthetic triceps” and a “rubber torso rippling /in the window light.” The less effective poems err on the side of obtuseness. I could not make much sense, for example, of the eleventh labor, “Marriage,” which closes with the lines
Hesperian tree pulp
plus butterwort lube for
guardian serpent: we’re
climbed left to right
Even so, what I find most impressive about Wrenn is his ability to write both strong lyric poems and compelling experimental pieces like “Centaur.” He looks at familiar poetic concepts—desire, mortality, isolation, communion—in bold new ways, and this more than makes up for the occasional slip into the cryptic.
By Greg Wrenn
University of Wisconsin Press
Paperback, 9780299294441, 77 pp.
A&U Magazine celebrates our 22nd year with the announcement of the first annual Christopher Hewitt Literary Award.
Christopher Hewitt Literary Award
This year marks A&U’s first annual contest in fiction, poetry, drama, and creative nonfiction. The winner in each genre will receive a $50 prize and will have his/her work featured in A&U’s annual Summer Reading Issue. Winners will be selected by our editors. If any genre lacks a clear winner, fewer than four awards may be given. All entries will be considered for publication.
A&U is a national HIV/AIDS magazine with a focus on advocacy, prevention and care, and literature and the arts. Our annual Summer Reading Issues have featured cover story interviews with Tony Kushner, Gore Vidal, E. Lynn Harris, and others; each month we publish work by established and emerging writers including Emanuel Xavier, Patrick Donnelly, and Julie E. Bloemeke. For more on A&U visit www.aumag.org.
We have extended our deadline to June 10!!
-All submissions must be related directly or indirectly to HIV/AIDS, including but not limited to personal, historical, international, and political perspectives on HIV/AIDS.
-Poetry can be any length/style; Fiction, Drama, and Creative Nonfiction (includes essays/memoirs) should be no longer than 1200 words. Excerpts from longer works are accepted.
-Email submissions as Word or PDF attachments to aumaglit [at] gmail [dot] com. Include your name and title of the piece(s) in the subject heading of your email, followed by the word “Award.” Do NOT include your name on the manuscript itself.
Multiple submissions accepted. Deadline is June 10, 2013. There is no entry fee.
The things gay men do outside of same-sex sex, the way they are, their subjectivity, are well documented in popular stereotypes, but less so in scholarly writing. Daniel Humphrey, in his new book-length study on the Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman, points out that since Bergman’s films were brought to America in the 1950s, gay men have been watching them in a unique way that was then “foreign” and today seems just as “strange”—two adjectives Humphrey spends a large amount of his book historicizing. Combining theory-heavy formal film analysis and a compelling treatment of urban homophile history, Humphrey enlivens a forgotten mode of Cold War-era queer art-house spectatorship in order to offer up “other ways of being homosexual” that are at once historical and new.
Humphrey situates Bergman and his fans, a pretentious bunch of gay men—“Monica Vitti queers”—as outside of, or foreign to, the well entrenched Stonewall origin myth of gay rebellion. In order to “rethink the history of the entire Cold War-era U.S. gay rights movement” he positions Bergman alongside Tennessee Williams, James Baldwin and Gore Vidal as artists challenging patriarchal heteronormativity before garbage cans met windowpanes at the Stonewall Inn, and he demonstrates in Bergman the development of a sensibility that may not have been marching proudly those days in June 1969.
It’s surprising for any discussion of queer cinema spectatorship to reject Camp sensibilities, but that’s just what Humphrey does. He explains that rather than appreciating Bergman’s films with a Camp sensibility or a “sly understanding” of coded homosexual hidden meanings—the M.O. for many American art house queers consuming Jack Smith, Kenneth Anger, and Warhol with an ever-winking, ever-elitist grin throughout the 50s, 60s, and 70s—the Cold War-era queer Bergman spectator was watching the films with a potent “sincerity,” the “paramount value required in any queer engagement with the work of Bergman.”
Humphrey (re)affirms the riches found in sincere cultural consumption so that, though my instinct is to object and scream no, Camp is left with a questionable political value—as it was when Sontag first noted it. Humphrey cites homophile publications of the Cold War-era such as The New York Mattachine Press and the exclusively lesbian publication, The Ladder, to demonstrate that though it has been neglected by queer scholarly writing, foreign art house film was commonplace in homophile writing of the day. Moreover, Humphrey shows that these homophile-cinephile writers did not celebrate a Camp appreciation of Bergman’s films, but called for a sensitive appreciation of his unpopular but serious films. It is this idea of “sincerity” that appears old but new to a modern queer reader. Sincerity might jolt us from our irony-inundated apolitical slumber, sincerity might be a means for self-discovery, but in this time when Camp reigns supreme amongst gays snickering as Mildred Pierce is slapped by her daughter, sincerity is not often thought of as a queer way of being.
As with any formal film analysis, the clammy hands of Freud hang like the proverbial sword over Queer Bergman. Humphrey writes that he hopes to approach familiar theories with “an appropriately queer refusal to commit to a single and unidirectional method,” but his study of Bergman’s films has to trudge through the ever-present Freudian characters before it reaches its queer apex. Humphrey’s queer ingenuity really begins when he starts discussing Bergman’s signature shot: “a shot of one or two characters looking directly into the camera at moments of dramatic intensity.”
The alienating function of the direct address or “look back” is well, well, well documented—I once had a film professor who forbade the words “self-reflexive” or “direct address” in her class on Godard because they are so completely sapped of new ideas—and yet Humphrey’s notion that the shot is a kind of “opposite-gender mirror” (148) startles. With the queer bent I have been waiting for, Humphrey attributes to the “look back” a power that challenges “a filmgoer’s belief in stable gender identification” (151). Moreover, he exalts Bergman and his actors as serving more than the “Marxist revolution” for which alienation techniques like the direct address were initially used; according to Humphrey, Bergman’s uncomfortably long self-reflexive shots affirm a “painful sincerity” that acknowledges gendered identities as constructed, but gendered pain as substantial. It’s a meaningful conclusion to an intensely formal analysis, and it comes at exactly the right moment.
Exploring the past we discover the alterity of our own present, yet in the present we cling to what seem like the new ideas of the past. Humphrey’s work retrieves, through Bergman, sincerity as a forgotten or abandoned queer way of being, and exactly because it is not new, queer readers will be drawn to the potential of this less-celebratory sentiment.
Queer Bergman: Sexuality, Gender, and the European Art Cinema
by Daniel Humphrey
University of Texas Press
Hardcover, 9780292743762, 234 pp.
Program Coordinator Position Opening at Lambda Literary Foundation
The Lambda Literary Foundation, the nation’s leading nonprofit organization for LGBT literature, seeks a Program Coordinator for its Los Angeles office in Hollywood, CA. Desired qualifications include strong organizational skills with impeccable attention to detail, follow-up and follow-through. Strong writing skills are also essential. The best candidate will be proficient in MS Word (including Mail Merge), Google Docs, Adobe Acrobat, and Excel, and be familiar with or able to learn DonorPerfect, WordPress, and other software. Familiarity with Photoshop and HTML a plus. The Program Coordinator will perform all of LLF’s administrative duties, such as: maintain LLF’s general e-mail box, handle ad sales for LLF’s website magazine, answer phones, go through mail, data entry and donation processing, prepare donor acknowledgments, organize and prepare direct mailings, file paperwork and electronic documents in appropriate folders, and other duties as assigned. The Program Coordinator will also help with program specific tasks surrounding the Lambda Literary Awards and the Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBT Voices. Some physical labor will be required throughout year, including lifting books, packaging books, and taking packages to the post office.
LLF’s Program Coordinator will work approximately 20-25 hours per week at $17/hour, and we ask for a minimum one-year commitment. Must have own transportation and be available to work some evenings and weekends as needed.
Please e-mail as word attachment your resume, cover letter (attention: Jenn Reese, Program Coordinator) and 3 references to email@example.com with “Program Coordinator” in the subject line.
Application deadline: May 17, 2013
Compensation: $17/hr, 20-25 hrs/week
This is a part-time job.
This is at a non-profit organization
# # #
The Lambda Literary Foundation nurtures, celebrates, and preserves LGBT literature through programs that honor excellence, promote visibility and encourage development of emerging writers. LLF’s programs include: the Lambda Literary Awards, the Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBT Voices, LGBT Writers in Schools, and our comprehensive website, www.LambdaLiterary.org. For more information call (323) 366-2104.
‘Harley Loco: A Memoir of Hard Living, Hair, and Post-Punk, from the Middle East to the Lower East Side’ by Rayya Elias
Millions of Syrian refugees have fled their homeland due to decades of civil war. While most settle in Turkey, Greece, and Lebanon, those with a little more money can travel farther from the chaos. As of May 2013, approximately 150,000 Americans identify as Syrian—a small minority, even among other Arab Americans living in the United States. Syrian immigrants have historically settled in tight-knit communities in New York, Boston, and Detroit, but wherever they’ve landed, “home” has been with family.
In unsettled times, among strange people in a foreign country, it is often difficult to adapt. Most people want to “fit in” and conform to a mainstream culture, especially when they are children. Immigrant children who do not quite “fit in” with their family, let alone their classmates, often struggle to thrive. Imagine the additional challenges that these lost immigrant children would face as LGBT individuals. Syrian immigrant Rayya Elias spells out that alienation from culture, family, and self in her memoir Harley Loco: A Memoir of Hard Living, Hair, and Post-Punk, from the Middle East to the Lower East Side.
If Rayya Elias’ brother had never lied, and caught her after she jumped from the couch, before she landed on that hard marble floor and broke both of her legs at two years old, she would have led a very different life. Not once did Elias note any remorse or pity expressed by her family over this incident; it appeared that the older brother went unpunished for this act of cruelty. Even before Elias immigrated to the United States with her family, her extended imprisonment in bed as her bones healed kept her isolated from family and her native Syrian culture. At the same time, this traumatic childhood incident planted a seed of mistrust and insecurity in family. Immigration to the United States gave Elias no safe space, as her peers viewed her as strange in almost every sphere.
Elias initially blamed her Syrian identity for not fitting in, and did all she could to reject it. In the process, she also rejected the sweet, affectionate, pigtailed little girl that she was, and became a tough girl with a crewcut. While this did not earn her the acceptance and love she desired, she did find peers who bonded through reckless acts, which included playing in punk bands and—tragically—experimenting with drugs. Elias found her calling in cutting hair; her talent—confirmed after her boss asked her for a haircut—gave her the opportunity to move to New York City and cut hair in some of the top salons. Not only did Elias make people look good, but she realized that she had the power to make people feel good as well.
Elias used drugs to escape from the pain of rejection, as well as the pain of living a lie. In spite of her rejection of Syrian heritage, Elias still felt that she needed to have a relationship with a man in order to be accepted within her family. While she eventually did have relationships with women, those relationships often centered around feeding drug addictions and running away from drug dealers and police more than enjoying honest intimacy. So many years of hard drug abuse dragged Elias into a downward spiral which rendered her an outcast once again, even among other drug abusers. A prison sentence was the first step to her slow, painful recovery, reconnecting to her family, and learning how to love herself.
Elias makes no apologies and delivers no words of wisdom. She neither paints herself as a hero or survivor that everyone should admire or pity; she simply tells the story of her life in scenes that could easily unfold on a movie screen. Her concise yet descriptive narrative—as well as the adventures she experiences on her life’s journey—would make any reader want to turn the page to find out how she ended up. One of Elias’ hairdressing clients, Elizabeth Gilbert, introduces the memoir and takes the credit for encouraging Elias to write down the life stories she would tell while doing Gilbert’s hair. Is Gilbert saying she was entertained by these stories? The hardest part of reading Harley Loco is remembering that Elias is writing about herself, not a fictional character. These stories must have been excruciating to write, and certainly not for the titillation of a privileged few. I would like to believe that Elias wrote these stories in order to give a younger generation the opportunity to think more carefully about the choices they make in order to find family and community.
by Rayya Elias
Hardcover, 9780670785162, 320 pp.
Gazing Grain Press is excited to announce our second annual chapbook contest, sponsored by Fall for the Book!
Judge: Cathy Park Hong
Genres accepted: Poetry and Hybrid
Reading Period: March 15—June 1, 2013
Length: 15-25 page manuscripts (not including front and back matter)
Submit via Submittable.
This contest promotes feminist poetics to and by writers of all genders and sexualities. We are interested in work that explores ideas of identities as connected to gender, sexuality, race and ethnicity, culture, and ability. We have no one “definition” of feminism, and we welcome challenging texts.
The winner of the contest receives chapbook publication, contributor copies, and an invitation to read at Fall for the Book literary festival (including accommodation and continental U.S. travel).
Full guidelines and more details are available at our website: http://gazinggrainpress.wordpress.com.