Friday, December 31, 2010

2011: I've Got You

Today is the last day of 2010. It's been an interesting year for me and one I won't quickly forget. I've had many publishing successes, many amazing nights out, and many job stresses, but I've also gained some amazing friendships that I'm carrying with me into 2011. In fact, the picture I've posted here is one of my favorites of the year and pretty much sums it up (though it is missing one of my favorite people of 2010: Jaclyn Sullivan). I have no idea what this new year will bring. I hope for many things, but I know there will be many surprises along the way (both good and bad).

I do want to take this moment and look ahead to what I want to accomplish in the next year. My goals for last year went pretty well and I'm back here setting new ones. The nice part about a blog is that I'm presenting my goals in a more public way and I have people out there supporting and encouraging me. I don't want to let you down.

I tried to be a little more ambitious with my 2011 goals. I hope my list will inspire your own list. I also hope you all have an amazing time ringing in the new year. I will be at my favorite place, Parliament House, with some of my favorite people. Regardless of what you are doing tonight, be thankful for another year and another chance to make things better.

1. Do a poetry reading.

I haven't done a poetry reading since spring of 2008 when I was still in grad school. I did two public readings in grad school and one on the radio. I miss that public display and would love to find a time and place that I could do a reading in 2011.

2. Write another focused chapbook.

In 2010, I found the joy of writing chapbooks and longer poems. I want to at least write one new focused chapbook in the new year. Working in a longer format with interconnected poems has taught me a lot about poetry and expanded my notions of what I can accomplish.

3. Read more.

This was one of my goals in 2010, but I went easy on myself and didn't really get more specific than that. I have no problem reading poetry. Every year, I read countless poetry book and magazines, but since leaving school and having a full time job, I've read a lot less fiction. For 2011, I have created a reading list. I picked 29 books that I must read during the year, because 2011 will be my 29th year. A few of them are poetry books, but most are fiction. I will be doing another post soon that announces my list.

4. Continue my poetry group Nerve.

In November, I began a poetry workshop at my house called Nerve. We only met twice due to the holidays, but I plan to get the group back on track in January. This is something I've wanted to do for a long time and I am excited to see the group grow. You will be hearing a lot more about Nerve in the year to come.

5. Write a critical literary article and try to get it published.

This is something I haven't done since grad school, but would like to push myself to do. This blog has, in many ways, helped push my prose writing. Obviously, I am more informal on my blog, but it keeps me thinking critically and pushes me to support my ideas. I'm actually one of those crazy people who enjoyed writing nearly all of the papers I wrote for lit classes in undergrad and graduate school. I would love to write a piece and then try to get it published or accepted at a conference.

6. Get others involved in my blog.

I feel the next step in blogging for me is to get a few other people involved by doing either guest posts or interviews. In the last year, I've forged "internet" friendships with many gay poets out there and I'd love to get the chance to do fun interviews with them for my blog in 2011.

7. Keep my podcasts going.

I've been very pleased with how my podcasts have gone over the last year. I kept up with the project and got the change to share a lot of my work with my readers. In 2011, I want to continue to use podcasts on my blog, but to push it a little further. I might try doing different things on the podcasts than just reading my work. This is still in the early stages of development, but I'll keep you posted.

8. Find a new job.

That is all I'm going to say about that.

9. Try a new recipe every week.

I really enjoy cooking, which is something I probably haven't mentioned on this blog before. I do all of the cooking for Dustin and me. We eat at home about 5 days a week and those meals typically provide leftovers for our lunches as well. While I do love to cook, it can be tiresome some weeks. I know from past experience cooking new things gets me motivated. I often try new recipes, but in 2011 I want to make it a more focused goal to cook something new once a week. If anyone has great recipes send them my way. We are vegetarian, so keep that in mind.

10. Pay down my credit cards.

This was my one big fail of 2010, so let's give it another go. I figure if I keep putting it on the list, it will eventually have to happen, right?

11. Go on a fun weekend trip with Dustin.

We already have our big vacation of 2011 planned. We will be going on the 20th Anniversary Atlantis Gay Cruise sailing out on February 6th. It will be amazing, but I would also love to take a fun weekend trip at some point in 2011. Dustin and I used to do this a lot when we lived in Tallahassee, but haven't really done a weekend trip in about three years. There are lots of places nearby that we haven't been that I would love to see before we move out of Florida.

Alright, so those are the 11 goals for 2011. Keep me honest and I'll do my very best to accomplish all 11, but for the rest of today, it is still 2010 and it is time to party!

P.S. Do you like my new page design? I thought it was time for a change on Joe's Jacket.

-Stephen (Rockin' Eve)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010: My Report Card

As I stated last year, I don't really believe in resolutions. They seem like they are meant to be broken, but I do think this time of the year is a great chance to reflect on the past and prepare for the future. Last year, on January 1st, I wrote a post that outlined my goals for 2010. Today, I am looking back on that list and seeing how well I did.

Goal 1: Finish my poetic sequence of poems about Edmon (the gay porn star in prison).

Accomplished. I completed this sequence early in the year. I submitted it to two chapbook contests. I was a finalist for one and I haven't heard back from the second yet. I also used these poems as a stepping off point for a new manuscript that I just submitted to a book contest. I'm proud of these poems and the places they took me.

Goal 2: Read more.

I should have been stricter about what this meant, but I left my goal pretty open, so I guess I accomplished it. I did read quite a bit of poetry (as always) and even a few novels throughout the year. This will be a more focused goal for 2011 (look for another post about that).

Goal 3: Keep up with my writing.

I have. I've continued to write new and exciting things throughout the year. My work scheduled has changed a bit and given me more time throughout the week, so I have loosened up about working on Sundays. I have hit a little slow patch the last month or two as the holidays were here and I travelled for Thanksgiving, etc. I plan to get back on track in January.

Goal 4: Write two blog posts a week.

I didn't quite meet this goal every month. I did seven of the twelve. I did, however, write over ten posts during three months of 2010, so it sort of works out. I am proud of the accomplishments of my blog and the fact that I've kept up with it as well as I have. I've enjoyed tackling a variety of topics and it has pushed my own thinking about poetry, pop culture, and gay issues. This is for sure a goal I will keep in 2011.

Goal 5: Make and post podcasts of my poetry on my blog.

Accomplished! This is a goal I began right away in 2010 and kept up with throughout the year. A few weeks ago, I posted my last podcast of the year and it was number 30. This went better than I ever imagined. I enjoyed doing it and plan to continue to use podcasts (perhaps in different ways) in the future.

Goal 6: Pay down my credit cards.

Well, we all have to fail at something. Not much has been added to my credit card debt, but I can't say I've been very good at paying them down. I only have two (that's for Dustin and me together). We could have done better, but decided to book our third gay cruise instead. We will be setting sail in just 39 days and it will be well worth it. If we had paid the cruise money on the cards, this goal would have been much easier to meet. It is all about choices and balances. I greatly value vacation, and I'm willing to remain in debt to have one.

Goal 7: Publish more.

Accomplished. 2010 has proved to be another great year for my poetry. I have gotten work published in a variety of magazines and journals. I also got my book manuscript The Hanky Code, which I co-wrote with Bryan Borland, accepted for publication by Lethe Press for release in 2011. I have quite a few poems coming out in the first few months of 2011 as well. I can't wait for what the next year will hold.

Those were my goals and I have to say I did pretty well. I might have to take a page from my friend Brian who writes the blog "Brian Knits," and make my list more ambitious for 2011. I give myself a B+ for 2010 and the goals I set.

This was the first year I truly set goals like this at New Year's and it felt good. For so much of my life I've had built in goals created by attending school, but since graduating from grad school, I find it useful to challenge and push myself in these ways. I will be posting my 2011 list in the coming days.

-Stephen (Accomplished)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

My Top Blog Posts of 2010

As the year comes to a close, I thought it would be fun (or self-indulgent) to look back over my blog posts from 2010 and pick out my favorite ones and repost links to them. I'm really proud of my blog and the fact that I've kept up with it for a year and a half now. In 2010, I wrote 98 posts (not including this one) on a variety of topics that sparked interesting conversations with so many people either in the comments section, on Faceback, or in person. Looking back has inspired me to keep writing more and more posts.

Here are the five I found the most interesting and thought-provoking of the year. I hope you will re-read some of them or perhaps read these for the very first time.

5. I wrote about a lot of books over the year, but my favorite book post was one I wrote back in June titled "Being Persistent: Thoughts on Being Raised in the Time of AIDS." The post reflects on my own fears and questions regarding AIDS, the impact the AIDS crisis had on the gay community, and reviews a AIDS poetry anthology.

4. Back in July I wrote the post "You Know How Bitchy Fags Can Be: My First Viewing of Valley of the Dolls" and I was pleasantly surprised by the reaction to the post. It explores the film from a 2010 gay perspective and even manages to tie poetry into it.

3. "A Bug Motel, A Pink Cat, and Why Poetry Isn't a Hobby" was written back in September and is a great examination of the word "hobby" and what drives me to write poetry.

2. "Floating Brotherhood" was written on January 26, 2010 is about my second gay cruise experience and the power of being surrounded by gay men.

1. My favorite post from 2010 is one I wrote on February 12 called "The Right-Hand Ring: Thoughts on Marriage." This post is about my decision to have an open relationship and it got me the most comments of any post I wrote this year. I enjoyed all of the discussions I had about this post and hope it might spark more by reposting it.

-Stephen (Blogger)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Top Ten TV Shows of the Decade

Looking back over the last decade, I realize that I've fallen in love with TV shows on DVD. I don't actually have cable (I haven't for three years now), so this has become my primary way of watching TV shows.

Much can be said of TV in the beginning of the 21st century. We've seen the basic downfall of major network television. We've seen "reality" TV soar. We've seen cable networks and pay channels take the lead in innovate shows. We've seen 24 hour news channels destroy journalism. But in midst of all of this, I have to say a handful of amazing and well-written shows have captured many hours of my life in the last 10 years. I find I am getting more and more drawn to TV shows because they take time to tell a story and develop their characters in ways movies often can't due to time constraints.

Perhaps I'm thinking about this in terms of my own writing journey. In the last year, I've been writing longer works that take more time to tell their stories and narratives. TV shows and poetry may seem like they have little in common, but many shows have greatly inspired me with their sharp writing, their attention to detail, and their pacing.

As one of my end of the year lists, I wanted to devote this one to the top ten TV shows that have captured my attention this past decade. A few of these began prior to 2001, but all aired most of their seasons in this decade.

10. Dexter (Showtime) 2006-Present

Michael C. Hall is amazing. How amazing? Well, two of his shows appear on this list. I first became aware of him in my absolute favorite TV show of all time (see my number one), which you would think might make it hard to see him in another show playing a very different character, but it's not. Hall is just that talented and plays the title role of Dexter with great skill and truly holds the show together. For those who don't know, Dexter is about a serial killer who kills other serial killers. About two weeks ago, it ended its fifth season. The concept of the show is original and immediately draws you in, but the strong acting by the majority of the cast keeps you invested season after season even when the writing hits a few bumps. The show is entertaining and suspenseful and sometimes rather insightful into the line between what makes us good or makes us evil. The show is probably the weakest written on this list, but the concept and all around clever twists of the show makes it well worth watching. Best Season: 4

9. Weeds (Showtime) 2005-Present

Weeds is another rather clever concept for a show. Mary-Louise Parker stars as a mother of two who turns to selling weed in her suburban neighborhood after her husband dies of a sudden heart attack. What I love about this show is the wonderful acting by Parker and the bravery of the writing team behind this show. They've taken Parker's character down a path and made it fairly believable. Her character has developed over six seasons to be addicted to danger and adventure. They never let her off easy and have done an amazing job of developing the characters of her two sons, which are both rather damaged by the choices of their mother. The show took a huge risk in season four by abandoning the "suburbia" setting and diving into the Mexico boarder issues facing our country. This past season (six) made a few missteps and was the most uneven season, but the show never stops sucking you in and making you think and laugh. Parker is one of my all time favorite actresses, and she is so good at making you dislike her at times, yet still root for her, which is an amazing feat. Best Season: 2

8. Queer as Folk (Showtime) 2000-2005

As a 20-year-old recently out college boy home for summer in a small Indiana city, Queer as Folk saved my life. That summer I rented the whole first season and madly fell in love with a gay community I knew nothing about. I knew no other gay people at the time and I was lonely and naive. Queer as Folk, at the time, was the only show ever to be geared toward a gay audience. The show takes on every issue imaginable in the gay community within its five seasons. It's funny, heartbreaking, thought provoking, and actually groundbreaking. I learned a lot from watching this show. I liked the diversity of the characters' approaches to life, sex, and relationships. I will always be madly in love with Hal Sparks because of this show. The show was a basic soap opera, but with real purpose and guts. It will always hold a special spot in my heart. Best Season: 4.

7. Sex and the City (HBO) 1998-2004

This show, maybe more than any on this list, changed television forever. The show is bold, sexy, funny, and helped capture a moment in our human history. The show brought sex into people's lives in all of its graphic detail. I love the show for all of these reasons, but mostly for the risks it took. For a show that was primary a comedy, it took some dark twists at times and challenged the viewers by making the lead characters make bad decisions. The most famous of these is when Sarah Jessica Parker's Carrie cheats on Aiden with Big. Few shows would let their main character do something that questionable and unlikable. Best Season: 3

6. The West Wing (NBC) 1999-2006

This is the only show on the list that I watched from the very beginning. I remember sitting down and watching the very first episode as a young high school kid. I was immediately blown away. I actually accredit this show with pushing my interests in politics and turning me into a more well-informed person. The writing of this show is fantastic as is the acting. In the seven seasons of the show, I only missed one episode, which I later caught on DVD. Aaron Sorkin's writing skills and pacing are unmatchable. While the show got a little weaker after he left, it was still one of the smartest things ever on television. Allison Janney will always have a piece of my heart. If you are looking for one of the best Christmas episodes of any TV show, look no further. The Christmas episode from season one entitled "In Excelsis Deo" will move you. I watch it every year. Best Season: 1

5. Absolutely Fabulous (BBC) 1992-2004

I love the Brits! This show is literally playing on repeat in my apartment constantly. Dustin actually introduced me to this show when we first met and I fell in love. Jennifer Saunders writes and stars in the show. Her ability to get right at the heart of our star-obsessed consumer culture is absolutely the biggest strength of the show. The show is absurd, but absurd with a purpose and true social commentary throughout. The show has some of the most quotable lines of any show I've ever been a fan of (and I'm not one to quote stuff). If you've never seen this show, go rent it and give it a few episodes. British sitcoms are a little different than American ones, so it might take a little time to adjust. Best Season: 4

4. Big Love (HBO) 2006-Present

What I love about Big Love is that it truly challenges me. Being openly gay, an atheist, extremely liberal, and pretty open to a variety of sexual desires, it takes a lot to truly challenge my ideas, especially about relationships, but this show does. It makes me invested in people very different from myself, which is a true tribute to the writing. The show takes on polygamy in multiple ways. It also challenges religious beliefs of all kinds. Where is the line between a religion and a cult or something dangerous? The show take a bit to get into due to the complicated history of the characters and sheer number of them. But it is well worth your time. The acting is, again, brilliant. I can't wait for season 4 to come out in a few weeks on DVD. Best season: 2

3. The Comeback (HBO) 2005

This might be the show my readers know the least about on this list. It only survived one season, which I think is the biggest mistake HBO has ever made. The show stars Lisa Kudrow as a washed up sitcom star looking for a comeback. Her comeback takes the form of a reality TV show that follows her attempt to rise back to the top by playing a supporting role in a new sitcom with much younger and hipper co-stars. The show is structured as the "raw footage" of her reality show. It is brilliantly put together and Kudrow is at the top of her game. If you only know her from Friends, then you truly need to give this show a go. I absolutely fell in love with the concept and the delivery. It is a great examination of celebrity culture and of reality TV. Kudrow's performance is hilarious and yet heartbreaking in surprising ways. I only wish HBO had seen the genius of this show and kept it going. Best and Only Season: 1

2. Mad Men (AMC) 2007-Present

If I taught any sort of film or directing class, I think I would just make my students watch Mad Men over and over again, which would probably get me fired. This show goes against almost all of current TV and movies. Mad Men is so subtle and so steadily paced that it feels like something from a different time period, which works because the show is set in the 1960s. When I first watched it, I was amazed at how real it feels. Most films or shows set in the 1960s feel like some over-romanticized version. Mad Men is so perfectly done. It is detailed and specific. The dialogue is exceptional and so is the acting. The pace of the show is a bit slow for many 21st century TV watchers, but the pay off is unbelievable. It is also a show that seems to just get better and better and better. The last two seasons have been the best I've seen. If you've read stuff about this show and thought it was all just hype, listen to me and go rent the first season. You won't be disappointed. Plus, Jon Hamm is gorgeous. I do sometimes wish this was an HBO show so I could see a bit more skin from him, but oh well. Best Season: 3

1. Six Feet Under (HBO) 2001-2005

What can I say about this show? Well, if you've ever met me in person, I've probably already told you everything I can. It is the best show I've ever seen in my life. It is amazingly well-written, acted, directed, produced, edited, and whatever else you do to a TV show. The show focuses on a family who owns a funeral home and each episode begins with the death someone. These deaths get pretty creative over the five seasons. Michael C. Hall plays one the best gay characters that's been on television. All of the characters are interesting, compelling, and so complex. No one is ever right all the time or wrong all the time. At its heart, the show examines what it means to be alive and how to live your life in the face of the fact that we will all die. The show also has the best series finale of any show ever (this has actually been stated by many critics and viewers, not just me). You owe it to yourself to watch this show. I recently let my friend Mark borrow my boxset and he was not disappointed. Best Season: All of them

I hope you enjoyed reading my take on these ten shows and will give some of them a try in the new year!

-Stephen (Best)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Podcast 30: The Hanky Code (A Preview)

This will be my last podcast of 2010. An even thirty seems like a good place to stop. As I said last week, doing these podcasts was a goal of mine for the year and I've been happy with the results.

It didn't take very long to decide what my last recording would be. 2010 has been marked, for me, by a project I spent a good part of the year doing. This podcast features three poems from The Hanky Code, which is a manuscript I co-authored with Bryan Borland that will be published by Lethe Press in 2011. We each wrote half the poems in the collection. The Hanky Code is a way gay men signal their sexual desires and interests to other men. Each poem in the collection takes on a different hanky and with it some very interesting sexual desires. What I love about these poems is that they take on different voices and situations and present them without judgment. It was challenging to write some of the poems because they were far from my own experiences. In the end, the collection is a window into the variety of sexual desires of the gay community. The poems are fun, sexy, shocking, thought-provoking, and sometimes surprisingly sweet.

Bryan has been amazing to work with and I think we both inspired each other to write better poems. I can't wait for people to get the chance to buy our book and read the whole thing. My podcast, today, features the poems "Brown Lace Hanky, Right Pocket (Into Uncut)," "My Father Never Wore Hankies, No Pocket," and "Rainbow Flag, Right Pocket (Into Men with Gay Pride)." As you can tell from these titles, we got a bit creative with our "hankies." Many in the book are very traditional codes and others we used our imaginations.

I will warn you, these poems are not for children or Republicans. They are not safe for work either.

Thanks to all of my followers and readers/listeners of the last year. I hope you enjoy this last podcast.

-Stephen (Coded)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Podcast 29: For Lily

Almost a year ago, I challenged myself to start doing poetry podcasts on my blog and I'm happy to report that, while I haven't done them every single week, I have kept up with the project. The year is almost over and today I am posting my 29th podcast.

Today's podcast is extra special to me and a slightly different kind of poem for my other work. It is still very "Stephen," but deals with a child, which I don't typically write about. The poem is called "For Lily" and I wrote it right after Christmas three year ago. I was visiting my sister for Christmas and my niece, who was just two at the time, had just learned how to say, "I love you."

I'm not a big kid person and I have no desire to have children myself, but I love my niece and being around her always makes me very aware of language and how we learn to be human. The poem explores the idea of curiosity and also those first moments of figuring out what words mean and how that changes with age. I feel it is a fitting poem for December and this time of year. Lily has grown into a wonderful little girl and she absolutely loves to read, which makes her uncle very happy.

I hope you will enjoy listening to it.

Listen here.

-Stephen (love)

Friday, December 10, 2010

5 Literary Magazines You Should Support

The thing about literary magazines is that writers beg to get published in them, but very few people actually read or buy these magazines (writers included). On the one hand I can understand this. Most of us can't afford endless subscriptions to magazines, yet getting published in them is a way to begin and/or continue our careers. Many people probably get a little overwhelmed. There are lots of magazines out there, which ones do you pick?

I'm here to help.

Okay, so it's not a top ten list. I have only five magazines listed and they aren't in any particular order, but it still fits my December theme. I do hope that some of you will check out these publications, buy yourself a copy or subscription, or give a generous donation.

The literary world needs good magazines to shed light on new work by emerging and well-established writers alike, but also to continue the discussion in contemporary fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. Magazines are often the place to discover writers you've never heard of, or those doing something exciting and fresh. The magazines I have selected are ones I've enjoyed reading. Some of them I have been published in, which means I know them from both sides.

Regardless, if you are a writer yourself, or just a lover of literature, promise to buy at least one literary magazine this holiday season. The arts need your support more than ever.


When I decided to write this post, this is one of the first publications that popped into my head. PANK publishes new issues monthly online and then prints one hardcopy issue a year with the best work from that year. This is a great path for literary magazines to take. PANK has a wonderful online presence and publishes fresh, thrilling, and exciting work. They also have a great blog that is updated often. PANK kindly published my work in February of 2009. I've had great interactions with the magazine and with one of the editors Roxane Gay. They firmly believe in what they are doing and in supporting the writers they publish. They have constantly helped promote other work I have done and even invited me to represent them last April on the IndieFeed Performance Poetry Channel. I highly recommend reading their online issues (which are free), but also purchasing their print issues.

This is another great publication that is edited by Jeremy Halinen and Brett Ortler. I was honored to have a poem included in the Spring 2010 issue. When I got my copy, I was even more excited to be included because of all of the great work that surrounded my own. They also give 5% of their profits to the Trevor Project, which works to prevent LGBTQ youth suicides. They are running a great special on their website right now. You can get all three of their issues for $15.00. Go do it.

3. Lo-Ball

This is a new literary magazine that debuted in the spring. It is edited by D. A. Powell and T. J. DiFrancesco. I ordered the first issue when it came out and was pleasantly surprised. The work included was fantastic. I particularly enjoyed David Trinidad's lengthy poem "Ode to Dick Fisk." It also contained work by my thesis advisor, from my MFA program, Erin Belieu. Their website isn't coming up right now, but you can find them on Twitter. I believe their second issue was recently published.

This is the oldest publication on the list and a fantastic one at that. The New York Quarterly is devoted to poetry. When you get one of their issues, you won't see a fancy layout, but you will see a nice cover and pages upon pages of poems. They are devoted to publishing great work by established writers, but also saving space for emerging writers like myself. I was published in issue 65 and have work forthcoming in their next issue. They have fallen, as many magazines have, on hard times and are in need of your financial support. I like to support any publication that is devoted to quality work by all writers and The New York Quarterly is.

This last magazine isn't actually out just yet. You can pre-order copies now, but it won't officially be released until January 1, 2011. Am I being premature then? No. I have a early copy of the magazine, because I am one of the ten gay male poets featured in the first issue. Am I just self-promoting then? Maybe, but I also firmly believe in this first issue and what the magazine stands for as a whole. There are various kinds of literary magazines out there, but few devoted to gay work. This publication is not only devoted to gay work, but gay poetry. What I love even more is that the journal is focused on a wider selection of work by fewer poets. The magazine is 125 pages, but contains work by just 10 poets. This gives you time to experience each poet's work more fully and to learn more about them. This first issue is amazing and the talent inside is well worth your money.

At this time of year, everyone is begging for money and for support. There are great organizations and causes that need your time, money, and support. Buying one of these magazines will only set you back 10 to 20 dollars, which is really not much for most of us. Support writers, like me, by buying and reading a literary magazine over this holiday season. It might just change your life.

-Stephen (Guilt trip)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Howl: A Poet's Movie

Yesterday, on a slightly chilly Orlando afternoon, I finally got to see Howl. I've been waiting a long time. I know many of my friends and readers who live in more cultural cities saw it long ago, but I live in the city of the Mouse. Luckily, the wait was worth it.

Howl surprised me in ways. It is unlike nearly all writer movies out there, because it is so focused on the actual work. The poem, and not Ginsberg's life, is truly at the heart of the movie. It is focused and tight. We don't get broad strokes of a life that span many, many years. Instead, the film captures the poem, Ginsberg's experience writing it, and the trial that almost ban it. This close examination makes a huge difference.

James Franco may, at first, seem like an odd choice to play Ginsberg, but he does it so well. He melts into the young poet and holds the movie together. A good portion of Franco's screen time is talking to an interviewer who is never completely shown. If Franco was less of an actor, these scenes could be difficult to get through. Instead, they are interesting and compelling, especially from a poet's point of view.

As I watched Franco, as Ginsberg, discuss the rawness and honesty of poetry, I found myself drawn once again to Ginsberg. He was one of the first poets I read as a young man (as he is for many budding gay boys). I've always enjoyed his work, but once I discovered Frank O'Hara, I sort of sided with the New York School and never focused as much on the Beats. Of course, I randomly came back to Ginsberg, read him, loved him, and even taught him to my students a few times at FSU.

Watching the film, I realized how similar my approach to poetry is to Ginsberg's. My poems often shock, offend, and surprise people. I've been questioned about my word choices many times and about my subject matter. For me, poetry is about frankness and getting at something real. I'm often writing the very things I fear I shouldn't be writing, which is how I know I'm doing it right. I want to capture this moment in my life and this moment in history as a gay man. Ginsberg was doing just that.

What I loved about the movie was how much it honored the work and honored Ginsberg's approach to writing. In many ways, the film was like a "fictionalized" documentary. It was structured more in that way than in a traditional narrative.

Rarely does Hollywood approach literature or writers with this much respect, which is why I'm sure many didn't like the movie or weren't blown away by it. It wasn't overly sensational or dramatic. It was real. This is a movie for poets and literary types. That doesn't mean it was perfect, but the attempt was honest. A chunk of the movie is an animation of the poem, which I personally enjoyed at times, but felt unsure about in other places. I might need more time and more viewings to decide.

Overall, I was pleased to see a movie devoted to a poem. What a crazy idea. I won't hold my breath for the next one.

-Stephen (howling)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Top 10 Poetry Books I Read in 2010

It is hard to believe 2010 is almost over. I know everybody says that, but seriously this year has flown by for me. I don't know if that is a good thing or a bad thing. With the end of the year comes the end of the year lists, which I personally enjoy. Last year, I devoted many of my December blog posts to rounding up my top ten favorites in various categories. I plan to do the same this year. Because my blog primarily focuses on poetry, I felt it was fitting to begin with my top ten favorite poetry books I read this year. Please note that not all of these books were published in 2010, but I read them all in this last year for the first time. I hope this list will inspire your own top ten lists and maybe inspired your "Christmas want list." And to the authors or editors of these books, my check better be in the mail (just kidding).

10. Almost Dorothy by Neil de la Flor, March Hawk Press, 2010

I learned about this book by following "Almost Dorothy" on Twitter. His tweets were so outrageous and often offensive that I just had to read the book when it came out. What is great about de la Flor's book is the wonderful humor he brings to his poems. Humor is often tossed aside in poetry, but I love humor, especially when it's done well and with purpose. He also does an amazing job playing with form. His poems vary greatly and challenge the notions most people have about what a poem is or should be or should look like. This also wins for the gayest title on my list. Congratulations.

9. Starting Today: 100 Poems for Obama's First 100 Days edited by Rachel Zucker and Arielle Greensberg, University of Iowa Press, 2010

I wrote a review of this book back in July, so I won't go on and on about it. You can check out the review here. This book brings together an array of writers and challenges them to write poems in the moment, which is what I loved about the book. It challenged my own ideas of what poetry can do and how it can respond to everyday and political events. This book has captured a moment in our history and will be cherished for years to come.

8. One Big Self by C. D. Wright, Copper Canyon Press, 2003

This is the first book on the list that was not released in 2010, but I read it for the first time this year. It's a powerful book that once again challenges my notions of form. The book captures the experiences of prisoners in a Louisiana prison. It is raw, honest, and thought provoking. This book also gave me inspiration for the final poem I wrote for my chapbook A History of Blood.

7. Breakfast with Thom Gunn by Randall Mann, the University of Chicago Press, 2009

This is a book I recently read and reviewed on my blog. You can check out the whole review here. The book is a quick read and packs a lot into small and tight poems. It is a good lesson in restraint and compression.

6. Blind Date with Cavafy by Steve Fellner, Marsh Hawk Press, 2007

I have to be honest, I read this book only after Steve Fellner wrote a wonderful review of my poem "Against Our Better Judgement We Plan a Trip to Iran," which appeared in Knockout last spring. I wanted to know more about the poet who had so kindly written about me. I got his book and I was in love. The poem that really won me over is the long one in the center of the book called "Self-Portrait." Over this past year, I've spent a great deal of time writing longer poems and this is a perfect example of what you can do with more space in poetry. The whole book is well worth the read.

5. My Life As Adam by Bryan Borland, Sibling Rivalry Press, 2010

This book is the most personal for me on the list this year. In August of 2009, I got a fan email from a guy named Bryan Borland. He told me how much he enjoyed my poetry. It was one of the nicest emails I have ever gotten about my work. I wrote back and from there Bryan and I bonded. We wrote emails to each other, Facebooked each other, tweeted each other, blogged each other, and eventually wrote a book together, which is forthcoming from Lethe Press in 2011. In the middle of all that, Bryan was completely his first book and asked me to read it. I did and absolutely loved it. I gave him as much feedback as I could and was so happy to see it published under his own press (which is taking off and doing amazing things) in early 2010. I wrote a full review of the piece back in April. Read it here.

4. The World Underneath by Richard Tayson, The Kent State University Press, 2008

I have written a lot about Richard Tayson on my blog because his first book, The Apprentice of Fever, greatly inspired me as a young gay poet. I greatly awaited his second book, but then somehow missed it when it first came out in 2008. I discovered it this past year and quickly and excitedly devoured it. What I love about this book is that it takes on a very different topic than most gay poets choose to write about: birth. He brings a unique and fascinating perspective in these beautiful poems.

3. Seriously Funny: Poems About Love, Death, Religion, Art, Politics, Sex, and Everything Else edited by Barbara Hamby and David Kirby, The Unversity of Georgia Press, 2010

I mentioned humor before and this wonderful anthology takes it to a whole new level. If you are looking for a great collection of contemporary poetry, this is for you. I read it cover to cover. Click here for my full review.

2. Narratives from America by Richard Ronan, Dragon Gate, 1982

This is the oldest book on my list. It is, in fact, as old as I am. It is also connected to my number one book of the year because I found out about this book through the other one. As I've said before, I've spent a good portion of 2010 exploring the long poem and this book helped me continue that exploration. The book is 139 pages, but contains only sixteen poems. The book is out of print and a little tricky to find, but you can get a copy on some used book sites. I highly recommend it. I wrote a more detailed review here.

1. Persistent Voices: Poetry by Writers Lost to AIDS edited by Philip Clark and David Groff, Alyson Books, 2009

When I decided to write a poetry book list this year, this book was immediately my choice for number one. It is the book that has stayed with me the most since I read it. It also lead me to many other wonderful books to read. Anthologies can fail us in many ways, but sometimes one comes along that fills a much needed gap and this book is just that. It gives voice to so many poets who have faded away and some who rarely, if ever, got published during their lifetime. If I was able to teach a poetry class right now, I'd love to design a course around this book and the poets in it. It reminds me of how much work we still need to do in uncovering and rediscovering lost voices. You can read my full review here.

-Stephen (A 10)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Poems for World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day. It is a day to remember those lost to AIDS, but also a day to renew our promise to continue to educate, talk about, and stop the spread of this disease.

The spread of HIV/AIDS is preventable through knowledge and the use of protection. While the AIDS crisis hit hard in the eighties and early nineties in this country, it is still a wide spread problem here and the fight is far from over.

As a gay man, I am haunted by the stories of those just a little older than me who faced the crisis in the gay community head on and with bravery. Today, we have more knowledge and more understanding, but infections are still happening. Get tested. Know your status. Be safe.

Two months ago, I came across an online gay literary magazine out of Chicago called The Q Review. They were asking for submissions for their December 1st issue. They wanted poems dealing with HIV/AIDS for a special section of the website to honor World AIDS Day. I had two poems that immediately came to mind. One of them had been rejected countless times. I submitted them and then didn't hear anything until today. I woke up this morning to a nice email from the editor, Tony Merevick, who informed me that they were publishing both poems.

I am honored to have work in this issue. There were only four poems selected and two of them are mine. They are titled "If It Were 1986 We'd Both Be Dead" and "An Obituary for My Boyfriend Who Did Not Die From AIDS." Click the links to read them or read the whole issue here.

Take time out of your day to read these works and to think about your role in stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS. If you are here in Orlando, come out tonight to The Center for a World AIDS Day event. Pieces of the AIDS quilt will be on display. Then head over to Parliament House for a benefit show organized by Nick Gray. All proceeds go to the Hope and Help Center.

-Stephen (Red)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Podcast 28: Brad Pitt Poems Part 4

Today is the last Sunday of November and as promised I have recorded my entire Brad Pitt poetry series this month. Today's podcast includes the final two poem titled "Questioning Our Future After Watching Fight Club" and "Deciding Our Future After Seeing Brad Pitt on Larry King Live."

As I wrote before, this series completely changed the way I viewed pop culture in poetry. These eight poems were a breakthrough for me and were all really fun to write. I hope you have enjoyed listening to them. If you missed any of them, check out my last three podcasts (posted on Sundays in November).

-Stephen (Changed)

Monday, November 22, 2010

On Turning 28

Twenty-eight years ago I forced my way into the world. I don't remember my entrance, but if you ask my mom, she can tell you it was a long and hard journey. While I may not remember those first few moments of my life, I do have a pretty good memory and always have. It's probably what has helped me be the writer I am.

From my first few years it is only flashes, but there are many. I remember the first house I lived in, even though we moved to a different one when I was four. I remember falling behind the bed in that house and being terrified. I remember this old lady from church babysitting me and my older sister and how she was eating KFC. I remember the carpet in that house and the Christmas someone stole decorations from our yard. It's all little glimpses.

The memories then get more solid. There are scenes I can run through my head at any moment. My parents telling me, at nine, that my grandmother had died. My first school play. The day my dog got hit by a car because the neighbor boy let him out the door. The day I learned to ride my bike and got my picture in the local newspaper. My sister's wedding. Getting my learner's permit and my dad teaching me to drive. My first car (an '86 Buick). My first car accident. My high school graduation. Leaving for college. It goes on and on.

Then there are all those moments I never felt right or that I belonged anywhere, and then the moment I finally admitted I was gay, which opened up a whole new world. Then there's the first time I met Dustin. Our first kiss. The first time we had sex. Our first fight. Our first gay club. Our first pride event. Our first gay cruise. So many firsts.

My memory is good, but I've also realized that the older you get the more you have to remember. Twenty-eight is not old, but it has made me think a lot about life and what has happened and what will happen. I've been a bit down the last few weeks due to this approaching birthday. It is not so much the number that bothers me, but that not everything is how I want it right now. See, I'm a perfectionist about where my life should be. I've always had a very direct plan and the last two and a half years haven't gone as planned. I'm still desperately unhappy with my job, and while I have so many other great things, my job weighs heavy on me. I've never been the person who wants to just do a job. Your job takes too much of your time to not be something that you love, yet the economy and basic facts of life have made it difficult to get a job I love right now. I know, I know, I'm young and I have time. I've heard it all before, but I also know that's how people get too comfortable with things they don't like, and I refuse to get comfortable.

I have high hopes for twenty-eight. My plan includes finding a new job no matter what. This year will also see more publications by me. I have quite a few coming out in the first few months of 2011, and my first book, The Hanky Code, which I co-wrote with Bryan Borland, should be out before my next birthday.

I've actually had a really great birthday already. I've been celebrating since Friday and have more fun planned tonight with friends. I know in many, many ways I'm very lucky. I'm lucky to be healthy, to have a strong passion for writing and the strength to put it all out there, and lucky to have an amazing partner who continues to grow with me and support my craziness at every turn. I've also gained some wonderful friendships in the last year. It is amazing to be supported and loved by a great group of people. I'm also very lucky to have a gay community that makes me feel like I belong. This last one is often what keeps me going, and I know, because I've lived in some pretty conservative places, this is not the experience lots of people have. For that I am thankful.

For anyone who shares my birthday, may it be a great day! Here's to the next year!

-Stephen (28)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Podcast 27: Brad Pitt Poems Part 3

It is podcast Sunday and my third installment of my Brad Pitt series. I have devoted the month of November to recording my eight poem series that uses Brad Pitt and his films to discuss the workings of a gay relationship. Check out my last two Sunday posts for the first four poems.

Today is the recording of poems five and six in the series. They are titled "Disappointed and Horny After Watching Troy" and "Trying to Sleep After Watching Thelma and Louise." Both build on what has come before them, but also stand on their own.

Next Sunday I will post a recording of the final two poems. I hope you enjoy listening.

-Stephen (Pitt)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Who's the Woman?: A Look at Gender Roles in Same-Sex Relationships

One of my biggest pet-peeves is when someone, after finding out that I'm in a relationship with another man, asks me "who's the woman?" This is sometimes asked in a funny or sexually inappropriate way (as in who is the bottom and who is the top), but it is often asked in a more domestic and gender-binding way (as in who takes on the womanly household tasks and who does the manly things). Either way, this is a troublesome question.

Let me break this down for you. I am a man. My partner, Dustin, is also a man. We are both men. We both have penises. We have both been raised as men. We are not women. We do not have vaginas. Is that clear? See, gender and traditional gender roles are not issues in my relationship, and for that I am thankful.

When I started dating Dustin, we didn't sit down and have a talk about who would be the "woman," and when we moved in together, there were no expectations of the roles each would take. I do most of the cooking not because I am a woman, but because I like to cook. Dustin takes care of most of the car things, if it works out, because he knows I hate doing that. He doesn't really like car stuff either, but is willing to do it. Other tasks vary depending on availability and work schedules. We do argue from time to time about tasks, but it is never in the context of gender or expectations setup by society. And when it comes to the bedroom, no one is a woman, because again we are both men.

I know, most of the time, when people ask this question they don't mean it so literally, but what, then, do they mean? To me it is a perfect illustration of how narrow people's thinking can be. It seems there are heterosexual people, not all, that find it very challenging to understand how a relationship between two members of the same-sex can function. In many ways, I can't blame them. We are raised in a culture that constantly tells us how heterosexual relationships should look. You can find models on TV, in movies, in books, in magazines, in video games, etc. Close to 90% of our entertainment is based on this old joke of what men are like and what women are like. This is the basis for most sitcoms or romantic comedies. It is also the material that most standup comedians rely on to make people laugh. It is so ingrained in people that when presented with something different they still try to fit it into the hetero mold (that's going to hurt).

As a gay man, I am happy to be free of the shackles of this man vs. woman silliness. I honestly don't know how straight people deal with it. What I love about my relationship and about my life is this ability to explore the power of two men together. I don't place one kind of relationship over another (are you listening Christian right?), but I do know the bond that I have, being in a same-sex relationship, is a different bond than a heterosexual couple has. This is what fascinates me about homosexuality, and I think what has fascinated people for centuries. It might also be what terrifies people. Is there some deeper reason why some people are born gay? That is a topic for another post.

For me, this is at the heart of what I strive to explore within my poetry as a gay man. I'm extremely pulled in by the domestic life and inner-workings of a relationship between two men. There is a brotherhood there and a closeness that I'm still trying to get my mind around. It is through my own creative work that I have figured out things about my personal relationship and what I want from it. This is the power that poetry can have. I've also learned a great deal by reading other gay poets who explore this very topic.

I challenge all of us to ask better questions. When faced with the unfamiliar, don't ask how does this fit my mold, but rather learn about other molds. I love being a man and I love being gay. I can't imagine being anything else. Too many people (thanks to terrible TV) think all gay men want to be women. No, that's far, far from the truth. We love and respect women and we are willing to blur the gender expectations of society, but we really like our penises.

-Stephen (Man)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Project Tasteless Challenge #4: The Don’t Pass Out Until Barry Manilow Sings New Year’s Eve Cocktail

Today, I am using my blog for a slightly different purpose. I am entering a contest that is being held on Rachel Wilkerson's blog. You should all check it out. Here is my entry for the fourth challenge (yes, I am a little late to the game, but this challenge involved drinking, so I couldn't pass it up).

I’ve always wanted to love New Year’s Eve. Even from a young age, I felt this holiday was somehow meant for me. It’s the ending of something, yet the beginning of something else. I was a sucker for the sentimentality of the holiday. From the time I could write, I've kept a journal (it’s called a journal because I’m a boy, but really it is a diary). Each year I made a point to write an entry in my journal in the first hours of the new year. There, in my bad handwriting, I would imagine the year to come and layout my goals. This made me feel older and wiser than I actually was.

In reality, my plans to love New Year’s Eve were often thwarted by my parents who never wanted to go out, or if they did it was to an early bird buffet. They also never drank. Well, that’s not completely true. My mother would take a few sips of a cocktail and then say she was light headed couldn’t drink the rest. My father might make it through one, but these were always frozen or fruity drinks. After our 5 PM dinner and my parents’ sips of alcohol, our family would spend the evening at home playing board games and watching Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve. From my living room in Indiana, I would sit and watch all of those people in Times Square with their silly glasses and confetti and I'd imagine being there in the crowd of cheering drunk people. New York City was so foreign to a Midwest boy like me.

One year I distinctly remember saying, “someday I will be in New York for New Year’s” and my parents, looking horrified, said, “You don’t want to go there. It’s busy and dirty and you’d be freezing.” They took a similar stance about the dangers of the roads in our city of 40,000 people: “There are drunks out there, best to stay in on a night like this.” But I was determined to love New Year’s Eve regardless.

What did sustain me through those years of staying in and watching the ball fall on TV was Barry Manilow’s performance around 1 AM of “It’s Just Another New Year’s Eve.” By this point, my sisters would be in bed or asleep on the couch. My mother would, for sure, be in bed, possibly going before the stroke of midnight, and my father would be snoring in his La-Z-Boy. It was often just me, Barry, that overly sentimental song, and the beginning of a brand new year. See, I’ve been a huge fanilow from the time I can remember. I had all of his cassette tapes as a kid and would often sit on my bed with my walkman and listen to him for hours. Many of the tapes I inherited from my grandmother who died when I was nine, but also shared my love of Barry. On summer vacations, the five of us (my parents, two sisters, and me) would pack into our Cadillac and drive from Indiana to St. Pete Beach. This was an 18 hour drive and to fill the time we’d take turns picking the music and every time it came to me I would select a Manilow tape. And just in case you are wondering, yes, I actually did still have to come out to my parents when I turned 20.

This annual viewing of Barry Manilow’s song continued for years and even into my adulthood. After moving to Florida to go to grad school, I remember making my boyfriend stay up and watch it. Yes, my at home New Year’s Eves continued for some time. I went to grad school in Tallahassee, which isn't exactly jumpin' jumpin'. Each year Barry got older and older, and so did I.

It hasn’t been until the last two years that I have actually had more wild and crazy New Year’s Eves out on the town here in Orlando, but I often think of Barry Manilow in those first few hours of the new year no matter where I am. I haven’t made it to New York City, but it’s still a goal.

As I’ve grown up, I’ve also become a functioning alcoholic and find that New Year’s Eve is even better with the perfect cocktail (who knew?). For this challenge, I wanted something festive, but also full of alcohol. When you think of New Year’s, you think of champagne, so that is where I started. But I didn’t want any old champagne, so I bought Moscato Spumante Champagne made by Barefoot Wines. The Barefoot Moscato is my favorite wine ever (don’t judge me). It’s sweet and delicious. Plus, Barefoot is a huge gay supporter. I've had many a free sample at a gay pride event, which is actually where I first tried the Moscato Champagne. Next, I thought a shot of Vodka would help out the alcohol content. I then added white grape peach juice and some frozen grapes. I have to say it was refreshing and sweet. You can easily knock these back, so you might want to have some snacks to munch on while you are waiting on Barry (as a Midwest boy, I would recommend a good cheese ball).

Here is the exact recipe for The Don’t Pass Out Until Barry Manilow Sings New Year’s Eve Cocktail:

1 shot of Vodka

1 shot of White Grape Peach juice

Fill the rest of the glass with Moscato Spumante Champagne

Garnish with frozen grapes

This cocktail is sure to please and will have you singing Barry Manilow tunes all night long.

-Stephen (Fanilow)

Podcast 26: Brad Pitt Poems Part 2

Welcome to podcast Sundays! As I said last week, I am devoting my November podcasts to recording my Brad Pitt series. I started last Sunday with the first two poems. If you missed them, you can listen here.

Today's podcast includes the next two poems in the series titled "Making Love After Watching Interview with the Vampire" and "Protesting the Circus After Watching 12 Monkeys." These two are the beginning of the film poems. Each takes on a different Brad Pitt film and further examines the relationship of a gay couple.

I hope you will enjoy them.

-Stephen (Film Buff)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Breakfast with Thom Gunn: A Review

I love being exposed to a new poet. I especially like it when that poet enjoys writing about similar topics as me, but does it in a completely different way. A few weeks ago, one of my fellow employees gave me a copy of Breakfast with Thom Gunn by Randall Mann and it was a fantastic reading experience.

Mann is a poet I was not familiar with at all, which allowed for a very pleasant surprise as I read his book all in one sitting. What I admire about Mann's work is how compressed and tight his poems are. Over the years, especially in the last two, I have gotten long-winded and have explored and pushed my personal length boundaries. Most of my poems now spill onto at least two pages and last spring I wrote a 13 page poem on Jeffrey Dahmer. I did study with David Kirby, so this really should come as no surprise. In Mann's book, the poems are short, but packed full of power and insight.

He tackles many of the issues I'm interested in addressing like sexuality, relationships, and gay politics. When opening the book, I was at first unsure if this was going to be my cup of tea. As most of you know, I am a huge fan of great titles and of letting your title really drive the poem. Mann, while a great poet, clearly goes for the more simple title. For example, the book includes poems titled "Song," "Pastoral," "Syntax," "Ode," "Ocean Beach," and "Monday." These are not exactly attention grabbing. This, coupled with the tight and short poems, made me assume this was going to be a slightly tame and quiet book.

I was wrong.

I realized just how wrong I was in the first poem ("Early Morning on Market Street") when I came across these lines: "And though desire // is a dirty word these days, what / else to call the idling car, its passenger door / pushed open; or the shirtless man-- / he must be mad, tweaked out on speed--." Right away, my expectations were changed, and I was intrigued.

These poems come in neat and tidy packages, but the content is anything but neat and tidy. It is a wonderful contrast. There is much exposed in these poems that is raw and real, yet beautiful. This is perfectly shown in "Monday." The poem is written in second person and is addressing the "you's" new boyfriend. It captures the excitement of a new relationship, but closes with these telling lines: "Look: wildflowers bloom in the streetcar tracks; / a syringe lies in the grass. It isn't / beautiful, of course, this life. It is." These lines seem to fit the overall book. Many of the images are not beautiful, but they are at the same time. It's all very contemporary.

Another stand out poem in the collection is called "The Mortician in San Francisco," which is in the voice of the mortician who prepared the body of Dan White for burial. For those who don't know, Dan White is who killed Harvey Milk. This poem embodies so much of what I love about poetry. It's a great topic and a wonderful perspective to take that truly gives new insight into a familiar story. It reminds me of Sharon Olds's poem "The Death of Marilyn Monroe," which is from the perspective of the ambulance men who carried out Monroe's body. I'm always drawn to these famous stories, but told from an unexpected angle. I also loved the poems "Ganymede on Polk Street" and "N."

As a whole, I greatly enjoyed this book. It does, in many ways, pay tribute to Thom Gunn, who I had not read much of until this past July. I actually wrote a blog post about him then. You can check it out here.

Randall Mann is another great gay poet to add to my bookshelf and one I will continue to look for and read in the years to come. I often learn the most from poets who write very differently from me, yet still hold many of the same ideas and values. I also included his photo here, because he's pretty sexy. I don't typically comment on the looks of poets and probably shouldn't, but it's my blog, so I'll do what I want.

I'm thankful to my co-worker, John, who introduced me to this book. Poetry is best spread by word of mouth, so go out and tell someone about a great poetry book you just read, or send them here and I'll tell them.

-Stephen (The Most Important Meal)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Nerve: A Beginning

Last night was the first meeting of a new poetry workshop I started here in Orlando called Nerve (which comes from a Frank O'Hara quote). This is something I've been wanting to do for quite some time. In many ways, I miss the academic community and I miss being around other writers talking writing. Many of my friends do write and are big readers, but we spend most of our hanging out time doing things like getting drunk, tipping drag queens, dancing with the gays of Orlando, or stuffing our faces at 3 o'clock in the morning at a local diner. That's not to say we aren't smart and don't have smart conversations, but I wanted something more focused: A time set aside for the discussion of writing and literature.

I was even more pushed to do this after reading the book Unending Dialogue: Voices from an AIDS Poetry Workshop edited by Rachel Hadas. The introductory essay got me thinking about the positives of a workshop. She often only had two or three men come to meetings and many died during the two years she conducted them, but wonderful work was produced. It also got me thinking about workshops outside of the school setting. All of the workshops I have been to have been part of academia and part of getting a grade. I wanted something community based and open to everyone. There is a lot that can come out of a mixed group with differing interests and backgrounds.

This led me to starting Nerve, which I have called a workshop for GLBT people and their allies. You clearly don't have to be gay to come, but I wanted the workshop to be an open space for GLBT work. I had no idea what to expect from organizing the group. I figured maybe a friend or two would show up that would be it. I created a page on Facebook and encouraged people to spread the word. Many of my friends did just that. My goal was to get at least one person I didn't already know to come. Thankfully, my goal was met. Six people came to the first meeting and one of those six I met for the first time last night.

My goal for each meeting is to introduce the group to two poems by GLBT writers (mostly contemporary). For the first meeting, I had us read Richard Tayson's "My Mother Asks If Men Make Love Face to Face" and Kara Candito's "He Was Only Half as Beautiful." I love both of these poems and talked about them in the context of discussing the importance of having a great title. I was impressed by the group's comments on each. They seemed to really enjoy and get a lot out of both. For this first week, I also planned a writing exercise around taking titles from other poems as a jumping off point for a new poem. We closed the meeting by looking at a couple poems that one of the members brought, which will be the goal of the meetings in the future.

I'm thankful to everyone who came, and I know many others were interested but couldn't make it last night. The meeting helped fulfill a desire in me to talk more about writing and poetry, but also to teach more. I currently only teach online, and I miss the interactions of a classroom. While my living room isn't a classroom, it did provide an open learning space.

The goal of this post was to give an overview of the group and the first meeting and let everyone know that you are more than welcome to join the Facebook group. Our second meeting will be on Monday, November 29th at 8 PM.

-Stephen (Pleased)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Podcast 25: Brad Pitt Poems Part 1

For the month of November, I am devoting my poetry podcasts to recording a series of poems I wrote that use Brad Pitt and Brad Pitt films as their jumping off points. The poems are interrelated and work as the central section of my first book manuscript.

As I've written before, these poems mean a lot to me, because they were a huge breakthrough in my thinking about pop culture in poetry and about how I could get the workings of a gay relationship onto the page. The poems are strange in places, funny in others, and often a little heartbreaking.

Today's podcast is a recording of the first two poems in the series. They are titled "A Gay Man's Ode to Brad Pitt" and "Arguing After You Claim to Have Seen Brad Pitt Getting in a Taxi." There are eight poems in total and I will be recording and posting the other six in the weeks to come.

I hope you enjoy listening.

-Stephen (Starstruck)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

When Did We Forget How to Disagree?

Today is Election Day 2010 and things are looking pretty grim for us Democrats. The excitement of 2008 is long gone and much has happened in just two years. There are many things I could write about today. I could encourage you all to go out and vote, which I hope you have or will. I could say how disappointed I am with so many of the Democrats and with Obama, but also how fearful I am of this Tea Party surge. But all of this you know or could expect from me. Instead, I wanted to write about an old friend of mine.

My best friend growing up was a boy named Chad. We knew each other from the beginning. We both went to the same elementary school, middle school, and high school. We became especially close during our middle school years. Chad and I were unlikely friends in many ways. Physically, we looked very different. He was always a little thicker and more boyish with buzzed dark brown hair and I was the skinny red haired boy with freckles. He enjoyed sports and I did not. He played baseball and was a wrestler for a short period of time. I worked for the high school newspaper and wrote one of my first stories on a wrestling match. He was into student council, but not for the same reasons I was. He really did care, and I did it for social reasons. We were both on the speech team. He did debate and I read poetry. He was religious and conservative and I was raised religious (though always questioned it) and I seem to have been born a liberal even though I think my parents voted Republican until I came out of the closet. But we did share a love of learning and of discussing.

We lived close to each other and spent a good amount of time each day on the school bus. We were probably the only boys that at 13 sat on a bus in rural-ish Indiana discussing abortion, gun laws, and capital punishment. The thing is we rarely agreed, yet we just kept talking and challenging the other to think more deeply. This is how our relationship continued for years. Of course, we also joked around, both loved movies, books, and music, but these discussions were at the heart of our relationship.

In all of those years, I never remember us fighting or getting angry with each other. We spent endless nights going to movies together, driving around town listening to music, or sitting in my basement just talking, which we always did civilly. He was also one of the first people to ever take an interest in my poetry. He would carefully read it and want to talk about it with me.

In the weeks leading up to this election, I've thought a lot about Chad and those years of talking politics with him. We don't talk much anymore. We stayed close through most of college, but then life happens. He's a teacher in Indiana now. He's married and just had his first kid. Clearly, very different from me still.

This current election has been appalling. No one talks about the issues. They just shout at each other or spout endless lies or ideas with no basis for them. People seem to have the impression that you can just say whatever you want without backing it up or paying the consequence. Or if you say something enough, it will magically become true.

Those days and nights of debating with Chad made me a smarter person. I truly believe that. I was always pushed to defend my ideas and to think through them in a thoughtful and respectful manner. I didn't agree with lots of things Chad thought, but I respected him and his convictions.

Today, it is so easy to forget how to have actual conversations with people. The media is clearly at fault, but so is our changing attitudes about how we communicate. The internet has really allowed people to say anything they want to a rather large audience. Anyone can have a blog (I mean really, if I can have one, anyone can). Recently, we've seen the effects that Facebook messages can have, and I see it everyday in my interactions with students as an online instructor. We need to listen more, talk less, and always think. Oh, and read. I always like to plug reading.

No matter what your views are, believe them fully and be able to defend them properly and civilly. I will always be thankful to Chad for helping teach me that and I hope I taught him a thing or two myself.

I would go find a silly photo of us and post it, but I will save us both the embarrassment. That is the civil thing to do.

-Stephen (Civil)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My Own Waste Land

In a lot of ways, I consider myself lucky for attending an MFA program that required that I take so many literature courses. I know many MFA programs do not. At Florida State, the MFA program is three years and you are required to take almost as many lit hours as the lit students (their program is just two years). This falls in line with my firm belief that to be a good writer you need to be a good reader. They go hand in hand.

When I entered graduate school, I had a firm understanding of the history of Western literature. My undergrad was in literature at a very traditional liberal arts school where I learned a great deal. During my MFA, I was pleased to be allowed to take more specific courses that dived deeply into periods and writers I loved. My favorite of these was a course on the New York School poets, which completely changed my writing.

As a writer, I feel as if I am engaging in a conversation that has been going on for centuries, and I'm just one more addition or one more voice. If I don't know what has come before me, I would feel a little lost. That's not to say you can't have an original voice, but it should be an informed original voice. If you are going against something, it is important to know what that something is and to be able to talk about it. Have I loved everything I have been required to read? Of course not. But I do have an understanding of why I don't like it, and many times why it is important to the ongoing discussion. I don't regret reading any of these pieces no matter how hard they might have been to get through at the time. Students often confuse "liking" with "valuable." Many things I do not like have been very useful to me and to my growth as a person.

Being a gay poet, I am particularly interested in the history and story of other gay poets, which I've written a bit about on this blog already. But it isn't just gay writers that inform my work and inspire me. There is a danger in only reading people "like you."

Yesterday, I finished what I'm considering the first "complete" draft of a new poem. The poem is titled "He Do the Gay Man in Different Voices." When I began writing this poem, I had no idea where it was going. My original idea came from a series of photos by gay artists that got me thinking about the idea of narcissism within the gay community. The photos were addressing that issue in relation to AIDS. I wanted a poem that would explore the idea of narcissism from different gay perspectives (multiple voices).

I began writing and writing, and I had all these little chunks that I didn't know exactly how to connect. As I was reading through the chunks one day, feeling defeated, a sudden thought surfaced: the original title for "The Waste Land" by T.S. Eliot was "He Do the Police in Different Voices," and I thought why not take that title, change it, and think of Eliot's poem as a strange guide for my own poem. This suddenly made things click and I started reshaping the poem and expanding beyond just narcissism. The result is one I am pleased with, so far. The poem is not trying to be "The Waste Land," but has various references to it besides the title. I don't necessary want people to take out my poem and compare it to, what is considered by many, the most important poem of the 20th century. That might be a bit too much pressure, but my poem is building on Eliot's and talking with it.

My point is that I would never have written this poem had I not spent various classes studying T.S. Eliot. I enjoy much of Eliot's work and I'm a huge modernist fan, but I hadn't read "The Waste Land" in three years, yet still the thought was there and completely saved my poem. You never know what might be useful later, which is why well-rounded education is vital to being a great writer whether you do that inside or outside a classroom.

I am going to continue to work on this poem, build on it, and hopefully get it published. I am also going to continue reading everything I can and push my own knowledge of literature, and I encourage you to do the same.

-Stephen (Read/Write)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Podcast 24: A History of Blood

It is Monday, so I did miss my Sunday podcast posting, but instead of being lazy and not posting one for another week, I recorded a new podcast today. I also figured there is a good chance, since next weekend is Halloween (also known as the Gay Christmas), I will not be posting one next Sunday.

Today's podcast is a recording of my poem "A History of Blood." This is the title poem from my still unpublished chapbook. All of the poems are inspired by a gay porn star (pictured) who was hired to "scare" an older couple who owed some guy money. Basically, he beat them up a few times. He is now serving twenty years in prison. The poems are also inspired by my interaction with him through letters. I'm hoping someone will publish the collection soon. I've entered it in a few chapbook contests and it was a finalist for PANK's contest in the summer. This poem will also be appearing in the spring issue of New Mexico Poetry Review, which is very exciting.

Many of the poems in the chapbook rely heavily on each other. This one can more easily stand on its own. One thing I'm trying to do in this poem, and in the whole collection, is examine the gay man's fascination with danger and men who are unattainable or violent in some way.

I hope you will enjoy listening.

-Stephen (Breaking My Rules)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

5 Things I'm Thinking About This Week

1. Mad Men. I watched the season four finale last night. While I don't think it was as strong as some of the other episodes this season, it was a good season finale. I've loved watching Mad Men grow and develop over these four seasons. The Peggy and Don interactions this season have been genius and I loved the extra screen time that Sally got. It is nice and rare to see strong and subtle writing getting recognized on television.

2. By Nightfall. I just finished reading Michael Cunningham's new novel. I'm a huge fan of his. I think his first three novels (A Home At the End of the World, Flesh and Blood, and The Hours) are some of the best contemporary novels out there. I was not a fan of Specimen Days, which he published a few years ago, but was willing to forgive him. By Nightfall, which came out a few weeks ago, was a quiet book and very reflective. Not a lot happens in the book, which I don't have a problem with. My art minor in college did come in handy because the book is very much an examination of beauty and art in both the literal sense and in a more metaphoric way. I had mixed feelings about the main character. He didn't always feel real and sometimes felt like a mouthpiece for particular ideas instead of a character. I also would like Cunningham to write a novel that doesn't have references to AIDS. The main character in By Nightfall is haunted by the death of his older and beautiful brother who died 20 years ago in the AIDS crisis, which might be getting a little tiresome for Cunningham readers. Overall, I enjoyed the book. It is a quick read. It had some wonderful language and ideas in it, but it didn't blow me away.

3. Poetry Workshop. I have decided to start a local poetry workshop for GLBT people and their allies. The group is called Nerve, which is a reference to Frank O'Hara's quote about going on your nerve. I'm excited and hope some people will show up. I'm doing the first meeting at my apartment on November 8th. There is a Facebook group you can find and join if you are interested. Obviously, you do need to live in the Orlando area. I think this will give me a good outlet to share and discuss poetry. I've realized that I miss the workshop community. Please check it out.

4. Voting. The midterm election is about to happen and the more news I listen to the more depressed I become. While I have been frustrated with Obama, I know that the democrats losing too many seats will lead to a complete disaster. It saddens me how apathetic so many young people and gay people are. So many people came out and voted in 2008 who won't be at the polls this year. It is great to vote for the president, but, in many ways, all of the other elections are a lot more important. These are the people who can make things happen or stop things from happening on a local, state, and federal level. Obama is going to have his hands tied if congress can't pass anything. I encourage you all to go and vote. I will probably write more about this as the election gets even closer.

5. It Gets Better. A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about the "It Gets Better" campaign and the recent GLBT teen suicides. When I wrote the post there weren't many videos made yet. I have been surprised by the number of them out there and how many gay and supportive celebrities have filmed them, but my opinion really hasn't changed. While these videos are great, we need to be doing more. Kids get bullied because we've created a society where that is tolerated and accepted. We have let the word "gay" become a slur that kids hurl at each other and many people tell kids not to say it because it isn't nice. Actually being called "gay" is not negative. It is only negative if you feel being gay is wrong. We must take action and that action doesn't just need to happen in schools, but everywhere. When our politicians can get on TV and say hateful and untrue things about gay people, of course kids are going to think it is okay. We treat gay people like second class citizens and so do kids on the playground. Tomorrow, I will be wearing purple and will be attending a local vigil for the kids who took their lives in recent weeks. I hope you will be joining in this small act and standing up against hate not just in schools, but everywhere.

-Stephen (Full)