Tuesday, March 30, 2010

New Publication: Knockout

I am pleased to announce that I have a poem in the Spring 2010 issue of Knockout. The issue includes my poem "Against Our Better Judgement We Plan a Trip to Iran." This poem is part of a short series I wrote about the treatment of gay people in Iran. This series also includes my poem "Iranian Boys Hanged for Sodomy, July 2005," which won the 2008 Oscar Wilde Poetry Award from Gival Press.

I'm thrilled to be a part of Knockout and to share the pages with other fine poets. This issue includes work by Matthew Hittinger, Richard Siken, and Sherman Alexie. There is also an interview with Charles Jensen whose first book, entitled The First Risk, is amazing.

I also want to thank Jeremy Halinen who is one of the editors of Knockout. He was great to work with and has been very supportive and interested in seeing more of my work.

This is a print magazine, so you can't read it, if you don't buy it. I do encourage you to support my work and this great literary magazine. You can buy your copy here: http://www.knockoutlit.org/

-Stephen (Knocked Out)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Podcast 9: To the Stranger in My Bed on Easter Morning

I am not religious, but today is Palm Sunday and next week is Easter, so I thought I would record the only poem I've written that mentions Easter. The poem is entitled "To the Stranger in My Bed on Easter Morning." This poem has been published in Ganymede issue 6 and in their anthology Ganymede Poets, One. If you click the Ganymede links on the side of my blog, you can purchase a copy of either.

-Stephen (Resurrected)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Thoughts on Precious

I know I am late to the game here, but I finally saw Precious last night and felt the urge to write about it. It's a film begging for discussion and reaction. It is also a film that I feel uncomfortable saying, "I like." This is partly due to the fact that I'm not sure I did like it. It made me think, but it is not the kind of film that I will probably watch again and I don't feel that "like" is an appropriate response to it. It was the kind of film that is hard to watch because it's so overwhelmingly powerful and draining.

What I found compelling about this film was that it avoided so many of the stereotypes of "the underprivileged black kid overcoming obstacles" storyline. This isn't something new, but it is typically done in offensive ways with unrealistic moments and endings. Precious is a raw, horrific story that admits to the fact that sometimes life just sucks and there are no simple answers. The film doesn't have a triumphant ending and it doesn't have an overly-tragic ending either, which is surprising for Hollywood. Filmmakers seem to be under the impression that audiences only want a super happy ending or a super sad ending. Precious offers something new: a realistic ending. Will her life be perfect? No. Has all of her problems been fixed? No. Will she become the girl of her day dreams? No. In fact, for me, that was part of the point.

This film forces us to see the horrors that some people go through. Horrors that can't be erased or easily washed away. Some amazing teacher or social worker can't just magically take away the fact that some girls get raped by their fathers, become HIV+, have an abusive mother, and will probably struggle their entire lives. It is not a picture you want to look at for very long, but at the same time, it's vital that you take that glimpse, which is the true power of the film.

There has been some debate about Precious due to its depictions of black Americans. Some of have called it racist or feel concerned that it is feeding racist notions. I understand this debate from a gay perspective, because it's an issue for the gay community as well. Does a film like this, one of the few "black" films to get mainstream attention, cause more harm than good? Will people see it as proof that all black people are lazy, abusive, and living off welfare? I understand this from both sides. When there are so few films out there that mainstream America sees, it is frustrating when the films seem to showcase the perceived negatives of a minority group. If there was more variety, this wouldn't be an issue.

In this case, this argument doesn't fully hold up. First of all, this film isn't only about race, but also class. These characters are not only dealing with racial issues, but also with poverty and lack of education, which is tied to class. From my perspective, Precious is an important film because it is so unafraid to show this world and no one with a brain is going to think this is a depiction of all black people (yes, I understand many people are missing a brain, which is a problem). This is a slice of a very dark life that sadly is based in reality and needs a light shined on it.

This film is successful in putting the audience into this world. I sat there on my nice couch in my cute apartment with my boyfriend and dog, and yet I felt like I was in Harlem. I literally felt sick to my stomach in that fight scene between Precious and her mother. This is the power of this film and why it is so difficult to watch.

There are many other issues you could explore within this film, but for me it broke a lot of Hollywood's stereotypes in depicting the inner city life of minorities. White wasn't such a hero in this one and for that I'm thankful. I'm also thankful for the inclusion of a lesbian in the film. Precious finds out, toward the end, that her reading and writing teacher, whom she admires, is a lesbian. This isn't a focal point and there isn't even much discussion over it, besides Precious making a comment about how her mother told her gay people were bad, but at this point Precious is questioning everything about her mother and her home life. As a gay viewer, this pleased me and by having this piece in the film it once again tied together the struggles of minority groups. Is the teacher more sympathetic to Precious and the other students because she has had her own difficulties? Perhaps. For me it served as a reminder that oppressed groups need to stick together and support one another. Our struggles are not the same, but having to fight for your place in society does make you similar.

Yes, "like" doesn't even begin to cover it. This film asks you to be present and to stare Precious in the face, because she's there and she's real.

-Stephen (Not So Precious)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Podcast 8: See You Next Tuesday

Podcast Sunday is back! I haven't posted a new poetry podcast in two weeks, but do not fear, I haven't given up podcasting. The last few Sundays have just been really busy.

This week my podcast includes a reading of my poem "See You Next Tuesday." This poem has been accepted for publication in Word Riot, but hasn't appeared there yet. If profanity makes you uncomfortable then you might want to skip this one (which of course means you are going to listen to it anyway, which is why I gave the warning).

This poem was inspired by a random encounter with a neighbor of mine when I lived in Tallahassee. From that encounter the poem grew and exploded. There is a lot going on here and I hope you will enjoy listening to it.

-Stephen (Podcasting)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

What I've Been Reading

I haven't devoted a blog post to poetry books in awhile and wanted to take a moment and share some great books I've been reading. I recently made one of my large Amazon purchases of about 8 or 9 poetry books and I've been making my way through them. Most of the ones I bought I got from a friend of mine's syllabus for a course she is taking on documentary poetics in her PhD program. The idea of "documentary poetics" greatly intrigued me and the books have been a great help to me as I've been putting the final touches on a chapbook manuscript called A History of Blood that deals with a real life person and crime. My poetry has always had a huge element of truth to it. I use a lot of own life and experiences in my work and often use current events, pop culture, and history. It was interesting to see the approaches of other poets to depicting something true.

Below are the last four books I've read with just a few thoughts about each one. I highly recommend checking all four out.

Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty by Tony Hoagland

This is Hoagland's new book, published in January, and it's a great read all the way through. A few months back I devoted a whole blog post to Hoagland and how much I admire his work. His poems are very straightforward, yet leave you pondering this world we inhabit. His poems are very much 21st century poems. He writes about Britney Spears, cell phones, and CNN. This isn't my absolute favorite Hoagland book, but there are some damn fine poems in here. My favorite from the book is one called "Rhythm and Blues," which deals with the death of a friend, but really touches on how we, in this century in America, deal with death. He ends the poem with a beautiful moment of him wearing his friend's shirt and sticking his fingers between the buttons to touch his own skin. It's the kind of poem that makes me have an audible gasp after I'm finished reading it.

Blue Front by Martha Collins

This is one of the books from the documentary poetics course that my friend V is taking and that I'm taking in my head. It's an interesting book that deals with the public hanging by a mob of a black man and a white man in Cairo, Illinois in 1909. The poet's father was just five years old and witnessed the event. Collins has done her research and adds to that research her own imaginings of what it might have been like. The book is presented in a fractured state. There are pieces here and there, broken sentences, and snippets of information. The style of the book is not my personal favorite, but it challenged me to try a less direct narrative approach. In the end, the style adds to the book in that situations like this one are not clear-cut and there aren't simple answers or one narrative at play. There are some beautiful lines and it provides a fascinating look at our racial history. My favorite poem is one about trees and how the hangings weren't done in a tree. She writes, "this / was a modern event, the trees were not involved." This is so simple, yet so telling. I like the emphasis on it being modern. If you do check out this book, I recommend setting aside some time and reading it straight through. It really is one continuous piece.

This Connection of Everyone with Lungs by Juliana Spahr

This is also from my friend's syllabus, but is a very different approach to the idea of documentary poetics. This book is extremely personal, yet incorporates the whole world into it. The book is about connections and about how we can't escape the fact that we are all intertwined. All the poems in the book deal with the time after 9/11 leading up to our invasion of Iraq in March of 2003. This is a tricky subject for poetry and one I was leery about, but Spahr does a fantastic job with it and in the end the book becomes a snapshot of this time period. When I was reading it, I was immediately taken back to those months after 9/11 and then through the next year and half before we invaded Iraq. I could remember all of the news snippets she includes and remember being in college in Southern Indiana and how even there I couldn't escape the events of the world. The poems are set in Hawaii where Spahr lives. Hawaii plays a significant role in the book because of its location and isolation from the rest of the country. The poems are direct narrative and would fit most people's definition of prose poems. The book made me think and made me relive a time in our recent history that now feels so long ago.

One Big Self by C. D. Wright

I've saved this book for last, because it was my favorite and the most useful of the four for my current poetry project. There are moments in my poetic career that I've stumbled upon something at exactly the right moment and this book was one of those moments. I've been working on chapbook manuscript called A History of Blood about a gay porn star who is now in prison in Louisiana. One Big Self is an investigation into prisons in Louisiana. It's a beautifully constructed book that shines a light on our prison system and brings some humanity to prisoners. The book doesn't say what is right or what is wrong, but doesn't let you forget that people are people, no matter what they've done. The book's structure is again fractured. It is pieces of letters, conversations, documents, etc. It is well researched, but also lyrically compelling. It's overwhelming and powerful and everything you could want in a poetry reading experience. I'm indebted to this book because it inspired me to write the last poem of my chapbook and I'm so pleased with that final poem. C. D. Wright will probably never know it, but she gave me my ending.

-Stephen (Reader)

Monday, March 8, 2010

Jack Off: Thoughts on Sean Hayes and His Long Awaited Advocate Interview

Today The Advocate published an interview with Sean Hayes (the actor who played Jack in the long-running NBC sitcom Will & Grace) and I couldn't be more annoyed. Why? Let me explain.

For twelve years Sean Hayes has refused all requests to be interviewed in The Advocate. He's been very "coy" anytime he's been asked about his sexuality and always throws in something about privacy. I don't think allowing the America public to know if you date men or women is really a privacy issue. No one is asking for graphic images or details of sex acts, just a simple "yes, I'm gay," or "no, I'm not" or even "I like men/women/both." There are many celebrities that are private people. The newly Oscared Sandra Bullock comes to mind, yet we still know who she's married to and that she likes men. I work in a office with twenty some people and I know who likes men and who likes women. It is part of everyday conversation. So please, celebrities stop trying to go this route! Jodie Foster can you hear me? Anderson Cooper are you there?

When Will & Grace went off the air, The Advocate wrote a "fake" interview with Hayes where they pasted quotations from him with questions they would have asked if ever given the chance. The end result was a piece that made fun of the fact that everyone knows he's gay, yet he wouldn't say anything. Childish on The Advocate's part? Maybe, but it hit home the fact that a man who played one of the most well-known gay characters in TV history wouldn't ever speak to the largest gay magazine in the country. It is also of note that all three other stars appeared at different times in the magazine during the run of the show.

Now twelve years after Will & Grace hit the airwaves, Sean Hayes sat down for the first time with The Advocate. From reading the article it seems Hayes has finally granted the interview after realizing he has no chance in hell of ever being a straight leading man after playing the most flamboyant gay man ever for eight years. It took him twelve years to realize this? I could have told him this 11.5 years ago, before I even came out of the closet (I was only 16 then).

Hayes' interview is annoying. He claims the gay media is too demanding of gay celebrities and that he never hid who he was. I will give an inch here. He never lied. He never said he dated women or even pretended to be in relationships with any women, which is good, but doesn't erase the issue. He also never stood up for gay people. As a gay men, he should know how important it is to hear those words. He was a person that came into American homes weekly for eight years and could have had some real power, but instead he was a coward and self-serving.

To make things even worse, Hayes has gained no perspective in the last twelve years. He thinks The Advocate was wrong and he was right. He's also convinced himself that he's greatly contributed to the gay movement. He's quoted as saying, "I feel like I've contributed monumentally to the success of the gay movement in America, and if anyone wants to argue that, I'm open to it." There is so much wrong with this statement that I don't even know where to begin. I'm not sure what world Hayes is living in, but I don't see much success in the gay movement in America period. I also don't know how someone who refused for twelve years to comment on being gay and played one of the most ridiculous and stereotypical gay characters ever has made any positive effect.

As I have argued before, Will & Grace had it's funny moments, but it could easily be seen as causing more harm than good in the gay rights movement. The story-line still revolved around a man and a woman and their relationship. Each gay character was paired with a woman on the show and in nearly all scenes. They played up gay stereotypes for a heterosexual audience and it worked, and sadly many gays went along for the ride, because for many something is better than nothing.

Between this story and the anti-gay California Senator coming out today after his DUI coming home from a gay bar last week, I feel that we (gay people) are often our worst enemies. Like RuPaul says, "if you don't love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else."

-Stephen (Frustrated)