Sunday, August 30, 2009

5 Thoughts of the Week

It has been over a week since my last blog post and I'm feeling guilty, so here is a rundown of my thoughts this week:

1. A week ago I got asked to conduct an interview with Kara Candito for Boxcar Poetry Review. I was thrilled to be asked and Kara and I are already working on it. Kara's first book Taste of Cherry just came out and I reviewed it a few weeks ago right here in this blog (scroll down). I mention this because it's made me very glad I started my blog. I was hesitant at first, but it's opened up a lot of doors for me. Since starting it I've made lots of connections with other writers and publications, more so than I ever expected. Plus I like sharing my thoughts on poetry, gay culture, and above all encouraging people to read good poetry. I'll keep you post when the interview gets published. In the meantime read Kara's book (now)!

2. On thursday I got one of the nicest e-mails I've ever gotten about my work. A fellow poet by the name of Bryan Borland contacted me to say how much he enjoys my poetry. He started following me on Twitter a month or two ago and from there saw links to some of my work (again with the networking and use of social sites). Anyway, his e-mail meant a lot to me. It's a powerful feeling to know that you've connected with someone through your work and made some difference to them. It reaffirms that literature matters, that poetry matters, and that I'm doing something worthwhile. For me I have a need to write and so much of it is a personal need. I would have to write no matter what, even if no one would publish me (luckily they are right now), but sometimes you need reminded that people do actually read it and respond to it. Bryan is a talented poet himself and I'm happy to now be aware of him and I hope to keep in touch.

3. I'm also thrilled because when talking with Bryan he mentioned how we are both included in Ganymede Poets, One and told me how it is now available to purchase online, which I didn't know. This is a new anthology published by Ganymede magazine. The anthology collects all 38 poets that were included in the first six issues of Ganymede. The magazine, and therefore the anthology, focuses on gay men. All 38 poets are gay men from around the world. I'm so happy to be part of it and believe it has the potential to be an important fixture in gay literature. What's slightly odd is my poems are in the sixth issue of the magazine, which won't be out until January but you can buy the anthology now online and in October it will be available in some bookstores. The anthology even includes a cute picture of me. 

4. As you can tell from my various posts this has been a great year for my poetry, which has inspired me to write more and more and more. I seem to be on a publishing roll and seem to be busting with ideas, if only I had a bit more time to write, but that's always the issue. Anyway, I don't post work on my blog because it often makes it unable to be published elsewhere, but I thought I would share some titles of new poems I'm working on, sort of a coming attractions. As I've said a million times now I love titles. I think I might do some top ten lists of favorite titles I've written and ones others have written. So here are some new poems I'm in the process of writing: 
  • After We Watch The History Boys in Class My Students Fear I Want to Fondle Them
  • I've Never Sucked Off a Straight Guy Before
  • The Man In the Bar Says I Have a Michael Jackson Voice
  • Visiting My Parents After Watching For the Love of Dolly 
5. Lastly, I'm nearing completion on an idea for this blog. It would be an ongoing (monthly?) series that I might start up soon. It's secret right now, but I'll be looking for willing poets soon to participate. So really this is more of a tease than an actual thought. 

-Stephen (Always the Tease) 
 

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Poetic Obsession with Pitt


For those growing up in the 1990s Brad Pitt was the ultimate hot movie star. Even if you don't dream of Brad coming into your room at night and making hot passionate love to you, you can at least recognize his appeal. He's perhaps very typical in his hotness. He's not unique looking, but truly the cliched, beautiful male, but I mean that in the best possible way. He is what cliches are made from, but Brad is more than his hot six pack and perfectly placed hair, which is why I put him at the center of a sequence of poems I wrote during my last year of grad school. 

Yes I wrote a sequence of eight poems that use Brad Pitt to discuss the ups and downs of a gay relationship. Of all the poems I wrote in grad school these stand out for me, perhaps because they were one of the first times I felt I had perfectly melded together pop culture with my own poetic concept. This is something I do more often now and Brad Pitt was my gateway into it. The poems aren't really about Brad Pitt but about this gay couple, however Pitt is vital to the poems and couldn't just be replaced with another movie star. 

Why Brad fits so well into my poems is because of his status as a mega movie star and all around hot guy, but also because he has always chosen really interesting and strange movies to star in. He is a big movie star but he's not often in the biggest blockbuster of the year. He's done odd roles and challenging and interesting roles. The sequence of poems I wrote use many of his films that play up the homoerotic quality (Interview with the Vampire, Fight Club, Troy). 

Brad always has this blank quality to him that makes him very moldable. He has an innocent looking face that can say whatever you want it to say and you believe it, you buy it, you want to take it home. I got to mold Brad into what I wanted him to be in these poems. The gay couple here uses Brad Pitt and his movies to discuss their own fears about commitment and love. 

In recent years Pitt has also become a big humanitarian and has devoted a lot of time and money to such projects as rebuilding New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina (which is also referenced in the final poem in my sequence entitled "Deciding Our Future After Watching Brad Pitt on Larry King Live). In even more recent times he's stood up for gay marriage, which of course makes a gay boy like me pretty happy. 

I mention all of this because yesterday I got two more of my Brad Pitt poems published. I now have 7 of the 8 published (just one more to go). La Fovea published my latest two. La Fovea is a great poetry online project where poets invite other poets to be a part of the publication and each poet gets a "nerve," where they can add people they like. The project has lots of up and coming poets like Frank Giampietro (founder of La Fovea and author of Begin Anywhere) and Kara Candito whose book Taste of Cherry was just published and just reviewed by me in this blog. The project also has very established poets like Denise Duhamel. It's a very cool idea and I'm happy to be apart of it. 

Below is a list of my Brad Pitt poems in the order they should appear in the sequence. Click on them to view the ones that have been published:
 
"A Gay Man's Ode to Brad Pitt" published in La Fovea
"Making Love After Watching Interview with the Vampire" published in Hoboeye Online Arts Journal 
"Protesting the Circus After Watching 12 Monkeys" published in PANK Literary Magazine 
"Disappointed and Horny After Watching Troy" unpublished (if you are interested in publishing it let me know)
"Trying to Sleep After Watching Thelma and Louise" published in Hoboeye Online Arts Journal
"Questioning Our Future After Watching Fight Club" published in Hoboeye Online Arts Journal

Hope you guys check them out and enjoy them!

-Stephen (Pitt Lover)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Review: To The One Who Raped Me by Dustin Brookshire


When Dustin Brookshire asked me to read his chapbook manuscript entitled "To The One Who Raped Me," which will be published as a Pudding House release, I wasn't sure what to expect. I don't know Dustin that well (yet). We've chatted a bit online, mostly about poetry, but we've never met face to face. He accepted one of my poems for his online publication Limp Wrist and I've read some of his poems in a few publications, so when I got this chapbook manuscript via e-mail I was eager to take a look and honored he wanted to share it with me. 

Of course the title intrigued me and after reading the collection I have to say it is the perfect title. These poems are raw, blunt, and honest, which are all things I look for in poetry and are all conveyed by the title. The poems deal with what the title says: rape, but these are not your typical rape poems (are there typical rape poems?). I guess what I mean is that they don't deal with rape in any way I've seen rape dealt with before. For starters the victim of the rape is male. Not something you are going to see on Lifetime, that's for sure. Also the rapist isn't some criminal or stalker or thief. These poems explore the fact that 2/3 of all rapes are committed by someone the victim knows. How do I know this? Well, because Dustin places facts about rape between the poems. At first I was unsure about this technique. I thought why not let the poems speak for themselves? But after reading the manuscript the second time I realized how much these facts and information added to my perspective and response to the poems. 

The thing I loved most about this chapbook was the inclusion of film and television (surprise, surprise). As I've stated to many people and told to my students many times over, you can't just throw in pop culture references, they have to be tied to something else and vital to the overall idea of the poem. Dustin's poems do just that. They take the idea of rape from various films and television and use them to explore the experience of the speaker (a victim of rape). 

The first poem in the manuscript is entitled "I Don't Like To Say The Word Rape" and it begins with the lines: "When I say the word rape / I think of Jodi Foster in The Accused." This sets up the whole chapbook perfectly as various other films and TV programs come into play in other poems. Why does this work so well? It works because underneath the overarching story of someone dealing with the aftermath of rape there is the wider discussion of how we as a culture view rape and it is often through such mediums as film and television. 

Why I love using pop culture in my own poetry is because it is our collective pool of knowledge. In a way pop culture has replaced religion. When things happen to us we pull references from pop culture. We get raped and we think of Jodi Foster. It makes sense. Another great reference in this collection is the poem entitled "Law & Order: SVU." The poem begins: "I do not watch for open endings. // I watch to see the rapist slammed / against the interrogation room wall,/ to stand before the judge / and receive a hefty sentence." Here pop culture becomes our therapy. We watch these shows to see the bad guys get what's coming to them. We know by the end someone will be punished. This poem not only deals with the speaker's own struggles but gets at that deeper need our society has to feel like justice is being served. If we see it on TV maybe we will believe it is happening in real life too.

All of the poems in this manuscript are powerful. Other stand out poems include "How Can I Tell Them?," which deals with the speaker's parents, "No Comedy in Tragedy," which has another great film reference and captures a very uncomfortable moment, and "My Therapist Asks What Image Haunts Me," which is perhaps the rawest of the poems and my personal favorite. 

The final poem in the chapbook is the title poem: "To The One Who Raped Me." This is the perfect poem to end the manuscript because it doesn't wrap everything up tightly, but rather leaves the wound still open, but possibly healing. Here we get a direct address that really brings the rapist fully into being. I love the line "I want your mother to know--" because it is so simple yet so charged. The poem goes on to list all the ways the speaker imagines his attacker dying but ultimately ends with what can never be erased. This you will have to read to find out. 

I wish Dustin luck with this great chapbook and can't wait to see the final product when Pudding House publishes it. I want to thank him for sharing it with me. 

-Stephen  

Saturday, August 15, 2009

4 Thoughts of the Week

This past week I didn't find any time or rather didn't take any time to blog, so here is a combination post of four thoughts/ideas/situations/events that happened this week. 

1. PANK Literary Magazine sent me an e-mail saying they nominated my poem "Sleeping with Robin Hood" for the Best of the Net 2009 Anthology. PANK published the poem in their February 2009 issue and I'm thrilled they liked it enough to make it one of their nominations. 

2. Brad Pitt has been all over the news talking about gay marriage and how he's not going to get married until all people can get married. I personally think Pitt is a genuine person and does truly care, so I'm not going to get all hateful (like some others) about why he's doing this. I think it's pretty amazing a very popular, straight movie star is willing to be so forward and come out and truly support the gay community. Those of you who know me of course know I have soft spot for Brad and have a series of eight poems about him to prove it. 

3. I've been working a lot this week on a new poem that I'm very excited about. Weeks ago I posted on this blog that I needed help from young gay writers. I posed some questions about how young gay writers view HIV/AIDS in their work. Basically I didn't get any response to that specific issue but I did get to meet a young gay man who is HIV+ and who was very willing to talk to me via e-mail for weeks. He answered tons of questions and gave me the basis for a new poem that I'm almost ready to share with him and then with others. It's been a very hard poem to write as I don't normally rely so heavily on another person's story. I either use my own experiences, research that's not tied to a particular person, or I make it up. This was a new and very exciting challenge for me. The poem is entitled "My Attempt at an Epic AIDS Poem That References Harry Potter" (this might be the best title I've ever written). Anyway I want to say thanks to Scott, who I could never have written this poem without. I'll be sending you a copy soon. 

4. A few weeks ago I bought the new translation of the collected poems of C. P. Cavafy. I'd heard the name various times, but had never read any of his work. I bought the book after reading various articles about it and learning more about Cavafy online. This week I finally cracked open the book and started to fall in love with this poet. Cavafy is probably the most famous Greek poet of more modern times. He was born in 1863 and died in 1933, but was gay. What is astonishing is how open he is in his work about his sexuality. He writes beautifully about love between men, about lust, and about the idea of growing old and losing your beauty when so much of the gay world is based around youth and good looks. I've still only brushed the surface of this poet, but I'm glad to have stumbled upon him. I love finding poets who make me say "man why haven't read him before?" 

-Stephen (Recapping) 

Friday, August 7, 2009

Update: I'm the featured poet on Ink Node until Tuesday

The editors (yes there are editors they just don't select what gets published) of Ink Node contacted me last night and said they had selected my poem "My Midwest Knight" to be the featured work on the homepage from Friday (today) until Tuesday. If you didn't check it out before check it out now at www.inknode.com


Thursday, August 6, 2009

New Poem: My Midwest Knight on Ink Node

Kara Candito, author of Taste of Cherry (reviewed in a previous blog post), recently invited me to the site inknode.com. It's a rather interesting and progressive way of doing an online literary magazine. There are no set issues, no editors picking work to include, and no set style. Then how does it work? It is by invite only. Authors on the site get to ask others to join. Once an author has been asked to join he/she can post their own bio and work. The invite only policy makes the site exclusive, yet allows for a wide range of work by various authors. Now that I'm an author on the site I have five invites I can give out to writers I want included. It is also more interactive. Viewers can create accounts which allows them to rate pieces on the site and leave comments. 

I joined just yesterday and posted my first poem on the site entitled "My Midwest Knight." Check it out, create a user account, rate it, and comment on it. 

Poet friends: I'll be inviting some of you soon. 
 
-Stephen (In Ink)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

March of the Fairies and Why I'm In Love


Let me begin by saying I hate almost all gay movies. Not because I hate things gay (clearly) or movies, but because most movies that are deemed gay are terribly written, have bad acting, and rarely attempt to do anything unique or interesting. Most gay films focus on coming out, as if this is the only event in a gay person's life. Some seem to think it's enough to just be a gay film and don't worry about having a story-line of much substance. Others are really just an excuse for men to be naked. I love naked men (clearly) but I have porn for that, plus straight films seem to find people who can act who are also willing to get naked (let's try that). Since I'm a writer I'm most critical of how the film is written. It annoys me that too many gay people praise/buy/love this crap (but that's really a whole different post). 

The reason for bringing this up is I just saw Were the World Mine, a newer gay film, and I've completely fallen in love with it. 

Is it the best film ever? No. Is is perfectly written? No, but is it acceptable (meaning I'm not laughing at the dialogue). Is the acting award-worthy? No, but these boys are not only cute, they can act and are just as good as most teen actors in mainstream films (yes make your jokes). I'm not going to argue this film is amazing on those accounts (but it is above average for gay
 films in all those categories), but what makes the film rise above is the story-line. 

The film uses Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream (my favorite Shakespearean comedy) but in a very unique and cute way. The film focuses on an all boys school who is doing a production of the play. The lead character, Timothy (played by Tanner Cohen) is gay, but this is no coming out story. Everyone knows he is gay (even his mother knows, who is neither overjoyed or angry, which is refreshing) and of course he is made fun of for it. He gets casts as Puck in the play and in the course of practicing decides to create his own love potion that turns anyone he sprays with it gay (yes there is humor and sexual innuendo in the fact that he's spraying them with his flower, which makes it even better).  His main goal is to 
turn the school's jock (his crush) gay, but in the course of doing so turns nearly the whole town homosexual. Timothy is guided in his actions by a rather stereotypical English/Drama teacher, but even that cliche works in the context of this film. 

The film unfolds in clever and cute ways and becomes a Shakespearean mistaken-sexuality comedy. But the film doesn't stop there. It is also a musical of sorts. There are these great dreamlike sequences where Timothy imagines the boys of his school as fairies or ballet-like dancers with their rugby balls and uniforms. These dance and song numbers work well in the context of the film  and surprisingly these boys can also sing.  

Yes, the film sounds insane, yet they pull it off and show that you can make a gay film with a more clever and interesting plot than just some boy who is sexually confused. This film is a cute, romantic story that ends happily. It's enjoyable, which is hard to find. I'm normally cringing through most gay films and waiting for the disappointment to set in, but Were the World Mine doesn't disappoint. 

I hope more filmmakers will realize they can give us a little more. Break out of the mold. This film works because it is a great mixture of literature, music, and fantasy. Newsflash: lots of gay people are smart and want smart entertainment. 

The best part is imagining young gay boys seeing this and falling in love with it and imagining how they'd love to make their own love potion. Young gay boys need a cute romantic movie to watch and believe in. I didn't have that growing up and I wish I did. 

Monday, August 3, 2009

Review: Taste of Cherry by Kara Candito


I love titles. Anyone who knows me knows I believe titles are vital to poems and can completely change a poem. I also love long titles and I'm very anti-untitled poems. While it may seem strange to some I almost always have the title of my poem before I have the rest of the poem. It is just the way my brain works. I come up with a title and then I come up with a poem to match it, plus a good number of my titles run into the first line, and therefore are important to have early on in the process. This isn't always true, but for about 90% of my poems I had the title from the beginning. 

I bring this up because while reading Kara Candito's amazing debut collection, Taste of Cherry, I was struck by her amazing titles. Here are just a few great examples: "Self-Portrait with an Ice Pick," "Floristic Elegy for the Year I Lived with You in Coconut Grove," "Barely Legal: Upon Finding My Father's Porn," "He Was Only Half as Beautiful," and "On the Occasion of Our Argument During a VH1 Best Power Ballads Countdown." These titles leap off the page, but they also pay off. These aren't just clever titles that then let you down once you read the poems, instead they are the sparks for well-crafted and beautifully imaginative poems. 

I was thrilled to get a copy of this book from Kara. While I was getting my MFA at FSU Kara was there beginning her PhD, which she is still working on. We had I think just one, maybe two, workshops together and it was there that I first fell in love with her work. Kara's poems have such a beauty to them even when they are discussing un-beautiful things. She weaves words together that just flow off the tongue and the page. 

In Taste of Cherry we see the world. The poems take place in wonderfully diverse locations with an array of characters. My favorite section of the book is the one entitled "Portraits." Here Kara takes on the voices of fictional female characters from The Sound and the Fury to HBO's short-lived series Carnivale. I bring this up because it shows her range. This book references a lot of great works of literature (also including one of my favorite novels The Handmaid's Tale) but it also references pop culture like VH1's countdowns. I love this wide-range of experience and inclusion in these poems. It is something I attempt to do myself and I admire in other poets.

Before I wrap this up I want to mention just a few other moments that stood out to me. In the poem "California" she writes "knowing this / is like the hot, holy pulse of shower water in the morning, / the intimacy of knowing someone upstairs is flushing, / alone in the privacy of their own private suffering." This may seem like a strange part to quote in a review, but this blew my mind. I firmly believe the best parts of a work are those that so fully connect with you, but connect because they are so specific and you know exactly what they are talking which creates an intimacy between you and the text. This moment of standing in a shower when someone above you has flushed the toilet is perfection on the page. It is so human and so specifically relatable that I had to mention it. 

The last moment I want to showcase is the closing of the poem "The Fitting." This is an example of how imaginative Kara's poems are but also how she can take something and make it sound so beautiful even when it might not actually be so beautiful. She writes "When you're not sure, remember those strange, // muffled sounds she made during sex, as if the coordinates / for buried treasure were caught / in her throat and she'd rather choke than share the gold." Wow, is all I can say. 

In the end Taste of Cherry impresses and is well worth the read. I encourage you to get a copy and dive into these poems.