Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Random Thought of the Day: Are we still in charge of make-overs?

Dustin and I are currently watching the second season of Mad Men. I love the show and since Dustin and I don't have cable I've been waiting for the second season for months. It came out a few weeks ago and we've been watching it each night. It's been extremely good until last night. We watched episode 11 entitled "The Jet Set"  and overall I felt the episode wasn't up to par but I trust it is setting up the final two episodes. Regardless one of the minor characters on the show announced to his co-workers that he's homosexual. To the gay viewer and probably most hetero viewers this was no surprise. However, it was surprising how brave and open he was for the time period (the show is set in the 1960s). This intrigued me and for a second I wondered what they were going to do with this story-line and how it might work with the closeted supporting character on the show (Sal).  I liked how undramatic the coming out scene was and enjoyed the realistic reaction of  his co-workers. But sadly his very next scene was with Peggy (played wonderfully by Elizabeth Moss) and the scene consisted of him offering to give her a make-over. Seriously? He says he is homosexual and literally five minutes later he is giving a girl a make-over? For a show that is typically so smart, I was disappointed and a little annoyed. The show normally handles issues very realistically and shows the overall mood of the early 60s. The use of this very minor character to finally give Peggy a much-needed haircut was in bad taste. 

Don't get me wrong I still love Mad Men and think it's a well-done show, but please don't give me more make-over gays on TV. Mad Men should know better.  

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Where Ideas Come From

When I taught poetry at FSU I would tell my students "poetry comes from anywhere." This of course was not the answer they were looking for. They wanted me to tell them to walk outside, turn right, take 30 steps, make another right, then a left at the big tree, walk another 10 feet, make a left at the fountain where the bitchy sorority girls sunbathe, and then go about 22.5 paces and you will find the most amazing idea for a poem. 

This was the biggest challenge of teach poetry to college kids who mostly signed up for the class because they thought it would be easy or it fit their schedules (meaning I don't want class before noon). They were shocked to discover it was not so easy and that they were actually going to have to think. 

I'm a firm believer in the idea that anything can be a poem. There is no subject off limits. If you've read much of my work you will realize how true that is. I get my ideas from everything. Most of my poems are heavily based on my real life and my real experiences, but I get so many ideas because I pay close attention to my surroundings. I listen in on others' conversations and I record my ideas as quickly as I can. I also read a lot. Not just poetry but news or blogs or anything that might pique my interest. 

I keep a "bits journal." The name is from David Kirby who calls it that and made me keep one for a workshop I took with him about three years ago. Prior to the class I was writing down my ideas when I could, but wasn't making a strong effort to keep them all in one place. After the class I kept it going. My bits journal is just a document on my computer where I put little bits and pieces. Some are quotations, some are lines I came up with but don't know what do with yet, and some are just notes or research for possible poems (hell I've even copied and pasted hilarious missed connections from Craigslist in there). Many of my bits I jot down all over the place, but every few weeks I transcribe my little notes into the Word document. This way they all live together and amazingly they speak to each other and suddenly a poem is born. I never know when, some pieces stay in there a long time before they get used, and sometimes I'm surprised how fast they all come together. 

Ideas truly are everywhere and sometimes I don't know which ideas will later explode into something amazing and useful. Anytime I am stuck I open my bits journal and scan through for something to use and often it works or gets me going. 

No matter what I'm doing I'm thinking of a poem, which I think makes some people nervous to hang out with me, because they never know when something they say or do will end up on the page. 

-Stephen (Always Listening)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

New Publication, A Gay Anthology, and My First Review

This has been an exciting week for poetry...well for my poetry. 

Earlier this week I got my contributor copies of The Antioch Review. My poem "Mistaken Identity" is in their Summer 09 issue. I'm really thrilled about this for various reasons. First of all The Antioch Review is a great journal and has been around for a long time. It is always nice to get work in well-respected or well-known publications. Secondly, they paid me and it was my first poem that I've gotten paid for (besides winning a contest). I think getting paid for poetry is a pretty big step and doesn't happen very often, so one must relish in it when it does. Thirdly, "Mistaken Identity" is a poem I really enjoy and I wrote it in the early months of getting out of my MFA program. When this poem got accepted it really boosted my confidence that I was moving in the right direction with my work. Grad school is great and helpful but it does provide you with a strong community and audience for your work and when suddenly that community is gone it can be hard to find your way. At grad school your audience is made up of other poets who give you feedback and guidance. I've not had that moving to Orlando and away from my poet friends. Needless to say the success I've had recently with publications has really been the confirmation I've needed.

In other poetry new I was told this week by Ganymede (a gay men's journal out of NYC) that not only are they taking my poems for their sixth issue (which they told two weeks ago) but that I will also be included in the first volume of their poetry anthology out in October. I'm really excited about being a part of this new publication because I think it has the potential to be vital to gay literature. They are publishing my poems entitled: "To the Stranger in My Bed on Easter Morning," and "What the Critics Will Say About My Poetry."

Perhaps the most exciting poetry news I got this week was in the form of a review. reviews literary magazines and this week they posted a review of the New York Quarterly (Issue 65). This issue includes my poem "The Scientists Don't Know Why the Whales Are Beaching Themselves." The review mentions my poem as a stand-out poem in the issue, which blew me away because NYQ publishes a lot of really great and well-established writers as well as emerging writers like me. The issue also has about 115 poems in it and the review only mentions a few. Strangely enough they also mention Scott Bailey's poem. Scott and I were at FSU together. He's still there in the PhD program and is a great poet. This was the first review I've ever been mention in so it meant a lot to me. You can check it out here:

All in all it's been a great week in poetry news. Just thought I would share.

-Stephen (Paid Poet)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Hate is Hate

Today on there is an article called "Gay is not the new black" written by LZ Granderson (a columnist for ESPN) and of course it caught my attention and I've been fuming about it all afternoon and decided to channel my fumes into a blog post. Please read the article yourself, but I briefly summarize it before presenting my response. 

Basically, Granderson is annoyed that gays are getting on TV and saying they are disappointed by Obama and how he has not done what he promised the gay community. More importantly he is annoyed that WHITE gays are doing this. He goes on to discuss without much support that there is a huge racial divide in the gay community between white gays and black gays (he cites the fact that there are Black Gay Pride events as support). While I might not fully agree with these statements these are valid opinions, but should have been supported better. There are racial issues in the gay community just like there are in the wider community, but Granderson doesn't stop here. He goes on to make comments about how people shouldn't compare the Gay Rights Movement to the Civil Rights Movement and that 40 years is nothing compared to the 400 years of discrimination faced by black people in this country. He uses 40 because of the recent 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. He goes even further to say that the N-word is much worse than the F-word. 

By the end of the article it is hard not to be offended but I'm also left confused. Confused why this man has won GLAAD awards, confused why CNN would published such a poorly supported and researched article (ok maybe not), and confused why anyone would think this is a productive way to discuss these issues. 

I'm all about discussing race in the gay community. I think it is a valid issue and one that is vital to winning the fight for equality. White gays and black gays need to work together. I understand that many black gay people feel left out of the wider gay community, but Granderson doesn't give any insight into why. He also uses poor examples and if you didn't know better you might assume from reading this that all gay clubs are segregated. I've been to my fair share of gay clubs and I've never found this to be true. I've seen very mixed crowds and I've personally hooked-up with black men. The issue of race is often still tied to location. The other issue here is that Granderson seems to blame white gays for these problems and I don't think it is that clear cut. It is well known that the black community is more strongly homophobic (much has been written about this and why) and thus many black gay people live in the closet or on the down-low. The question needs to be asked why is there so much homophobia in the black community? Why don't black gays feel part of the gay community? Why aren't they taking a more active role to change this? And what part do white gays have in this? Granderson would also have you believe that gay people have to have separate PRIDE events. As if normal PRIDE events have signs stating: white people only. It is not just one group's issue or problem. Race issues got both ways. I would have liked Granderson to have gone deeper into this and not just wash over it and distort the facts.

For example the other day I heard an amazing commentary on NPR that suggested that homophobia in the black community is related to the rejection of the over sexualized african male. This was interesting and intriguing and made me think. Maybe I'll write more on this later.

But back to Granderson. It is also fine that he does not think Obama should be criticized or that it is not productive or helpful, but he seems to simply blame this on race. As if the white gays are going after Obama because he is black and therefore homophobic. I don't think Obama is homophobic but I do think Obama is walking that same line other democrats do where they get gay votes but do very little for the gay community. Race does play a bit of a factor but not in the way Granderson describes. The reason I am more disappointed in Obama is because he is black. He knows what it's like to be a member of a discriminated group. I also find it harder to swallow a black man telling me he supports civil unions but not gay marriage (that is separate but equal, which I think we already discovered doesn't work). So race is important in my opinion of Obama but not in the way Granderson claims. Plus  I'm still waiting and seeing what happens and hoping for the best. 

What I don't think is acceptable in this article  is implying that the gay community hasn't had it as hard as the black community. How is this helpful? Why should we compare who has been more victimized? There is no value to this. I'm also offended that he uses the idea of 40 years. This implies somehow gay people just popped up in 1969. No, we've been here since the beginning of time and have for most of that time not been treated fairly. Stonewall marks the beginning of the modern Gay Rights Movement in this country, but it does not mark the beginning of gay people or the beginning of the gay struggle. Learn your history Mr. Granderson before you write articles on events you clearly don't understand. He also implies that the 40 years ago gays just had to worry about police raiding bars but blacks were still worried about being killed by the police. I'm confused what books he's been reading, but gay people weren't just worried about their bars. They were being beaten, killed, losing their jobs, their families, etc. To downplay the fight gay people have gone through and continue to go through is offensive. I will not say the gays have it worse than the blacks, because there is no point in that. The two can't be compared in the same way. What I will say is that the fight for equality is the same, which is why people do compare the two. The Civil Rights Movement and the Gay Rights Movement are both about equal rights for all people. I'm also tired of people ignoring the fact that the King family greatly supported Gay Rights and that many gay people were very much involved in the Civil Rights movement. Granderson also has no business making comments about the N-word being more offensive than the F-word. Why all the comparisons? What is offensive is very personal. But both words have hate behind them. And hate is hate.

Granderson needed to do more research, give more support, and actually open a dialogue about race in the gay community. What he did instead was  make assumptions, attack white gays, and say blacks have had it worse. When it comes to hate what does it matter? Are we seriously going to count our wounds? Tally up the slurs? Count the bodies? According to this commentary the gays need a few more years of hate before they can be equal. Granderson should know better.  

Review: Ka-Ching! is a Winner or Why I'm Never Riding an Escalator Again

As I have mentioned in previous posts one goal of this blog is to promote and encourage people to read contemporary poetry. Sadly, I haven't gotten to read as much as I would like to in the last few months. Most of my free time I have devoted to writing new work and submitting it. But a few weeks ago I bought some new poetry books, which I have been enjoying and plan to write about in this blog.

The first of these is Denise Duhamel's latest book Ka-Ching!. I will admit this is the first book by Duhamel I've ever read. I read lots of contemporary writers but have somehow never gotten my hands on a full book by her. That's not to say I've never read her work. I've read lots of it in magazines and journals and knew from those published works that I would enjoy her poems. 

She writes "ultra-talk" poems, which I tend to write myself and most of my favorite poets do as well. If you don't know what "ultra-talk" poems are let me explain. The term was actually coined in 2002 by Mark Halliday. He coined the term to describe David Kirby's poems. If you don't know Kirby you should. He's an amazing poet and served on my thesis committee at FSU (so I'm slightly biased). But seriously he's amazing. One of his more recent books was nominated for the National Book Award. He's an excellent poet, teacher, and all around nice guy, which is hard to find. Anyway Kirby, like Duhamel writes very talkative poems that weave and blend various topics together. They often include pieces of pop culture, news, books, and personal stories. The poems are often on the longer side (especially Kirby's) and typically have humor in them but can be very dark poems underneath it all.

In Ka-Ching! Duhamel creates a world where everything is based on chance, luck, fate, whatever you might want to call it. The book holds together through this concept of gambling. The first section of the book is called "Play Money" and the poems are printed as if they are on play money. You have to literally turn the book on its side to read them and each is titled with a dollar amount. This act of turning the book is fantastic. It is a way to get the reader into this world, to alert us that what is to come is not your typical book of poems, and we are immediately sucked in to it. The first section gives us hints of what is to come and really sets up this idea of chance.

Many of the poems stand out. One of my favorites is "Lucky Me." A long narrative about the ups and downs of the writing world. The idea that being a poet might not be good enough. The poem begins with the line "For a while I hated myself for not making it in prose." Again the idea of money comes into play. Everyone knows there is no money in poetry, no movie rights, no bestselling novel. This poem is playful, yet touches on what is amazing about being a poet and I'm always a sucker for poems about poetry and this one delivers.  

Other stand out poems include one about Sean Penn entitled "Delta Flight 659," a wonderfully rich poem called "Apple," and the politically charged "Sipping Cafe con Leche Where the Bombs Fell." This last one shows the amazing ability Duhamel has in weaving pieces together. The poem contains so much and yet it all falls into place. 

But Ka-Ching! doesn't stop there. The strongest part of this collection is the very interconnected series of poems that deal with a freak accident on a escalator in Atlantic City. The accident is hinted at in various poems but the section entitled "One-Armed Bandits" dives deeply into it. The accident involves the speaker's parents who get seriously injured in a 14 person pile-up on an escalator. The most horrific part is that the mother's hair gets caught and she is nearly scalped by the escalator. These horrific events make way for deeply moving poems that consider the idea of chance of what it means to be involved in what others call a "freak accident." It also dives into how one moves on from that and the holes of our legal system. These aren't easy poems to read. In fact they are very difficult. As the speaker cares for her wounded parents you are placed in that room with her. 

Ka-Ching! is so carefully put together. It hooks you with play money, with hints at something darker, yet keeps you on your toes with completely humorous poems like "The Language Police" or "The Da Vinci Poke." Then it hits you over the head when you least expect it. The reader is the true winner at the end, though you might never ride an escalator again.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Project Verse: Check It Out

This is my third month writing in this blog and I've been slowly figuring out the ups and downs of blogging and all the possibilities. Partly I've been looking to others who have great blogs and are doing amazing things. Dustin Brookshire has one of those blogs. It is mostly devoted to poetry and he is currently do a fantastic competition called Project Verse on his blog. Think Project Runway with poetry and online. The poets get a challenge each week and are then judged by a panel of judges that always includes special guests.

Last week's challenge was tribute poems to Dolly! What could be better? (please see my previous post about my love of celebrity poems) This is such a clever and interesting way to use a blog and I'm in awe of it. I want to encourage everyone to check it out and support this great poetry project. 

Here's the web address: or check out the link above or see my side bar with blogs I love. His blog is called: "I Was Born Doing Reference Work In Sin." Dustin is also the editor of a great online queer poetry magazine called Limp Wrist. My poem "The Neon Sign Reads: Karate for Christ" will be appearing in their Winter Issue. 

Oh and for those who read my blog and perhaps don't know me this Dustin is not the same as my boyfriend Dustin. They just have the same name. It would be weird if my boyfriend was publishing my poetry, or maybe just sad.
Just wanted to share and help promote this really cool idea.

-Stephen (Encourager of Poetry)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Project: Calling All Young Gay Writers, I Need Your Help

The AIDS crisis in the gay community changed everything. It caused a huge backlash against gay people and thus setback the gay rights movement and suddenly created the image of the gay AIDS victim. As all educated people know AIDS has nothing to do with being gay. Anyone can get AIDS, but it did hit the gay community really hard in the 80s because most gay men did not see the need to use protection. Gays and AIDS have now  become common words to see together and sadly this still spreads the horrible idea that AIDS is some sort of punishment for being homosexual. Because the gay community is made of fighters they took on AIDS and were some of the first to stand up and fight for proper treatment, education, and prevention. In doing so much was lost. I firmly believe the gay rights movement would be in a completely different place had AIDS never happened. Generations of gay rights leaders died in the 80s and 90s from AIDS complications. It became increasingly difficult for gay rights to not be seen in the light of misconceptions about AIDS. I think we are slowly pulling out of this, but it has been a long struggle.

This crisis also changed gay literature forever. In the 1970s gay literature was finally coming out of the shadows. People no longer had to write tragic endings for their gay characters to get published, gay presses were forming, more and more gay magazines and journals were around, and then suddenly AIDS happened and a good portion of the literature turned toward the topic. Why wouldn't it? Gay men in the 80s were losing lovers, friends, and their created families. They were also trying to get the word out through their novels and poetry. This literature helped put a face with the AIDS crisis. 

A good portion of our, still popular, gay writers were of age during the AIDS crisis and still write about it today. Michael Cunningham is one of my favorite gay fiction writers and nearly all of his books deal slightly with AIDS. The poets are the much the same (great example: Mark Doty). The crisis in the 80s hasn't left these writers and still haunts much of gay literature that is being made today. 

What's my point? Well I'm interested in how young gay writers approach the topic of AIDS. I've been wanting to do a project based around this topic for quite some time and I've finally decided to jump in and do it. So I'm looking for young gay writers and wanting to get their perspective. 

First things first, what do I mean by young gay writers? Honestly I'd like to hear from anyone on the topic, but I am particularly interested in gay writers who were not of a sexual age during the AIDS crisis (I'm referring to the height of the problem for the gay community and in no way mean the crisis is over or that people, gay and straight, aren't being infected daily). For example I was born in 1982. I was clearly not having sex with men in the 80s . I'm interested in men that have been around basically as long as AIDS or close to it. So if you are a gay writer born in the late 70s or later then I want to hear from you.

I want to know if AIDS factors into your work at all. Do you feel the need to discuss it? Do you feel you have a different perspective on the situation because of when you were born? Is there an obligation that gay writers have to discuss it? Have you written about it and if so how? I'm interested in any thoughts or ideas related to the topic. Right now I'm just compiling information. I'm still unsure what form this project will take. It might be an essay or might be poems. If you are interested in helping me out you can comment right here on this blog or you can e-mail me directly at:

Also if you know of others who might want to respond to this, please send them a link. I really want as many responses as I can get. If you aren't gay or male or that young you can also share your observations. 

Thanks in advance! 

If you have questions let me know.

-Stephen (Awaiting Your Response)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The King of Pop Returns or How I'm Helping Break the Internet Again by Blogging Right After Jackson's Memorial

Yes, I got sucked into the media coverage of Michael Jackson's memorial today. Partly because I'm at work and have nothing better to do, but also because it feels like a moment you should witness. I've always been this way: aware of the aftermath, aware of the moments you want to take notice of and remember. For example, on the day of  the Oklahoma City bombing I carefully tucked away my parents' newspaper and have it in a box in a closet somewhere to this very day. I was 12. When Seinfeld aired their last episode I grabbed the TV Guide and hid it away. When 9/11 happened I carefully took note of every detail of how I found out and told myself this will be a moment they will ask about. Who is they? Well...anyone I guess. It's like the question where were you when Kennedy was shot? By the way Kennedy was shot on November 22, which is my birthday, just a different year, but that's not the point. The point is I feel the need to be a part of these moments and be aware of them, but as an outsider of sorts. 

Jackson was a great musician and I enjoyed much of his music, but I wasn't a huge fan. I have no serious ties to him. I did feel for him and as I wrote in an earlier post I think he was treated unfairly, but I have no other stake in his death. But watching his memorial seemed like the right thing to do, and the rest of my office seemed to agree, though some were making ridiculous comments and I was glad I had headphones. I was actually  impressed  and moved by the ceremony. It was respectful and nicely done and reminded the world that Michael Jackson cared for people and did amazing things with his time and money. 

I watched it through the CNN live feed with Facebook scrolling down the side, which I have to say was unpleasantly fascinating. The live feed constantly updates statuses from people on Facebook who are watching. This provided a mixture of responses. Many announced every time they broke into tears, others asked stupid questions or made snide comments or jokes, but most had one thing in common: poor spelling and improper grammar. 

This communal watching experience via the internet is something I'm undecided about (I also did it for Obama's inauguration). It feels very disconnected yet connected all the same, which is the great puzzle of the internet: are we getting closer or farther apart? In many ways I felt more connected to the experience by watching it online than watching it alone on TV, but at times it made the experience less genuine because everyone was trying to make their point and commentary on the event, most of which seemed invalid or jokey. Maybe I don't need or want to read everything everyone is thinking.

As the memorial continued I also checked Twitter (my new obsession), which of course was overloaded with too many tweets. It seems if nothing else Jackson has proved that he is not only the king of pop but also the king of clogging up the internet. 

-Stephen (Doing My Part)

Friday, July 3, 2009

I've Been Twitter Fucked and Liked It

In December a co-worker of mine introduced me to Twitter. At that point I had never heard of it and knew nothing about it. She encouraged me to try it out, so I signed up for an account, maybe a few posts, felt confused, and then pretty much abandoned my account until May. 

By May it seemed the world had found Twitter and everyone was on it. My friends quickly got accounts and Twitter because well, the new social networking obsession. I was originally turned off by Twitter because I didn't see much point. In many ways the site is a step backwards in social networking sites. But the more I've thought about this, the more interesting Twitter becomes. Are we moving back to a "less is more" mentality? There is Myspace with all of its options, backgrounds, music, photos, and everything else. There is Facebook with its endless, terribly written quizzes, videos, links, notes, etc. And then there is Twitter that is basically just the status text-box from Myspace and Facebook and yet it has pulled people in, worldwide (I was blown away by the idea of Iranians reporting what is happening with their elections through Twitter).  

This is what finally hooked me: Twitter is simple. It's compression. I have one photo, a tiny bio, and just my updates and this works for me. Social networking sites have exploded giving people endless options and giving the world too much information. Twitter allows you to be clever, witty and to focus on less is more. In a way I think of Twitter as a writing challenge. In most of my updates I attempt to use exactly 140 characters. I know most people don't care and I see terribly written tweets daily, but I'm always thinking of the best way to use that space. 

This, of course, connects to poetry. When someone asks me what is poetry? I say it is compressed language. It's taking a whole series of ideas, images, events and situations and compressing them into a smaller space. Twitter does just that. 

I've also found it to be a useful networking site for finding other poets and poetry magazines, which is always a positive. In the end I've spent more time on Twitter in the last month than any other social networking site and I don't see that changing anytime soon.

Want to follow me? Please do:

-Stephen (Exactly 140)