I actually can't say anything negative about Bryan Borland's debut poetry collection, My Life as Adam, for two reasons. The first is that Bryan just spent a weekend in New York City, at the Rainbow Book Fair, graciously passing out poetry postcards of mine, and handing out copies of the chapbook manuscript that we wrote together called The Hanky Code. He's been nothing but supportive of me, and I would look like a real ass to say anything negative about his book. The thing is I don't mind being an ass, which brings me to reason number two: Bryan's book is good. It is honest, well-crafted, and a joy to read. I'd be hard-pressed to say something unflattering about it, even if I wanted to.
Bryan Borland is a rarity. He's talented, openly gay in Arkansas (amazing, right?), and happily celebrates other poets' work (perhaps even more amazing). Don't get me wrong, he knows how to sell his own poetry, but he also knows good work and isn't afraid to compliment or support others. This is rare in any world, and often very rare in the poetry world.
Over the last nine or ten months, I've gotten to know Bryan through emails, poems, blog posts, tweets, and Facebook. We have forged a friendship even though we have never met or talked on the phone. At first this seems very modern and 21st century, but in reality it's almost a throw back to an older time when many poets only communicated with each other through letters and often never met. Through our poetic friendship, Bryan was gracious enough to let me read and give him some advice on a earlier draft of My Life as Adam, and from the get-go I was impressed.
What I admire about this collection is Bryan's willingness to be so open and raw. It is something I always look for in poetry and particularly in gay poetry, but I'm often disappointed by the reserved stance so many gay poets take. Bryan holds nothing back, and in poem after poem, we are immersed in his world. What is his world? It is one filled with religion, fear, death, lust, and discovery. This is a world that many gay boys across America experience every single day. Bryan might be from Arkansas, but I see much of my own Indiana growing-up in these poems. I connect with the isolation, confusion, and struggle of finding your way into becoming a strong gay man in a less than inviting environment.
This book is very interconnected. It reads as a memoir might and with each poem more and more light is shed on the speaker and his growing fascinations. What helps connect these poems is the death that haunts them. The death of the speaker's brother works as the driving force of the book, as does Bryan's references to religion. He handles these Christian references well. In less capable hands, they could have become cliche or overdone.
The title poem of the book, "My Life as Adam," truly sets the tone and is a great kick-off to the book. It ends with these wonderfully crafted lines: "it is not good for man / to be alone // when he discovers his soul / is between his legs." We know from the beginning that we are in for a sexy ride, but also a thought-provoking and, dare I say, spiritual ride.
My absolute favorite poem in the collection is called "The Levite." It comes late in the manuscript, and has such a striking honesty to it that it has stayed with me from the first time I read it. The poem speaks of the unspeakable acts many people go through when someone close to them has died. The speaker's brother is dead, and now comes the guilt of taking his television and opening his Christmas presents. These are simple acts that become heartbreaking in the context. The end of the poem is what really gets me. Bryan writes, "I am not / the wounded sibling but // the grave robber who builds poetry / with his brother's bones." Wow. While I have not lost a sibling or a parent, I can connect with the act of writing poetry from the pieces of a tragedy and the guilt that can come from that.
I could go on and on about these poems and about Bryan, but I'll just list a few other stand-out poems in the collection: "Channeling Mary Magdalene," "Wearing the Mask of Cain," "Bite," "Holden," "Watching Brokeback Mountain in Little Rock," and "If River Phoenix Had Lived."
I highly recommend you buy a copy of this book. Bryan has bravely put these poems into the world and they deserve an audience. His book is available at Amazon.com.
-Stephen (Bryan's Fan)