Saturday, August 28, 2010

Podcast 18: Last Night Out

Podcast Saturday? Yes. All my other poetry podcasts have been on Sundays, but Dustin had to work all day today, so I had some free time and I haven't been so great recently with getting the podcasts done on Sundays, so I'm mixing it up.

This podcast is a reading of an older poem of mine called "Last Night Out." I wrote it two years ago right after moving to Orlando. The first summer we lived here, we spent every Thursday night at Mannequins, which was a club at Downtown Disney. On Thursdays, cast members got in for free (Dustin is a cast member). This created over the years a gay night every Thursday, because so many people who work at Disney are homosexual.

Mannequins was a unique club that had a spinning dance floor and a fun vibe to it. It would be packed every Thursday. The best part was seeing the random straight couple walk in and slowly realize there are mostly men in the club and they are dancing with each other. The Thursday of Gay Days was always insane. There would be a line around the building to get in and they opened at 7 PM and the line would start at 5 PM. It was crazy, but lots of fun.

In September of 2008, Disney shut down the club, which greatly saddened many in the gay community including Dustin and me. This poem is inspired by one of my last nights at Mannequins. It's a little different than some of my other poems, yet it has remained, for me, one of my favorites.

It is still unpublished. I've sent it out quite a few times, but have had no luck yet. I hope you enjoy it.

-Stephen (Sissy)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Guilt of Writing

I can imagine that it is quite difficult to be the partner of a writer, or at least a writer like me. My life and writing are one. I can't separate the two. Does that mean everything I write is true? No, but it's connected to me, my life, and those who are in it. As I've written before, my greatest inspirations come from my everyday life. I don't write a lot of fantasy work or things not grounded in the everyday. Yes, my everyday is not necessarily "normal" to everyone. Not everything is truthful, but it is often a combination of truth with slight exaggerations or downplays, or mixed with current events, pop culture, or other literary or historic references.

I've been luckily, because Dustin has never been upset or frustrated by my use of him and our relationship (at least he has never told me so). I probably could never be with someone that would care. For me, writing is how I think through experiences both good and bad.

In late October of 2008, I lost my grandfather. I had just moved to Orlando a few months before. I had been unemployed for five months and had just gotten a part-time job at J. Crew (if you can't tell from that line, this was a huge low-point in my life). My father called me at about 5 PM on a Friday to tell me my grandfather had died. He had been sick, so it wasn't unexpected. I was having a Halloween party that night at my apartment with about 15 to 20 people coming. I processed the information as best I could and went on with the festivities. No one at the party knew my grandfather had just died, but Dustin. I still put on my corset and heels and drank too much. You see, I'm not very good with emotions or with outwardly dealing with situations of that nature. A few days later, I wrote a poem about my grandfather titled "I'm supposed to start with the last time I saw you." The poem came to me easily, even though it's an extremely emotional piece. It's a strong poem and one I'm proud to have written. This was how I dealt with his death.

I channel my life and thoughts through my poetry, but I don't want you to get the wrong idea, because I don't like the term "poetry as therapy" and that's not what I'm doing. What I'm talking about is a method of living and surviving. Writing is my method of staying alive. Without writing, I don't know where I would be or how I would have survived the last two years, which have been some of the hardest of my life.

There is, however, a guilt that comes with this. Because I write poetry with the intent of publication, I often feel a twinge of guilt when I use something upsetting or a family tragedy or death to make a good poem. I feel even guiltier, because this is often my first thought.

A perfect example of this happened just a week or two ago. A girl I went to graduate school with at Florida State University was killed while crossing a street on campus in her motorized wheelchair. We were not close friends, but I knew her, spoke with her many times, and had a class or two with her. When I learned of her death, I was shocked and saddened that such a horrible thing had happened, but I also immediately thought of a poem I've been working on. It is a new poem that incorporates snippets of car accidents and thoughts on religion, and her accident fit perfectly as an ending for my poem. This may sound coldhearted or insensitive, but I don't mean it that way. It's my way of processing and thinking through such horrific events, but it is also the "writer ear" inside me. I know when I hear something that just works.

She was a writer herself and might very well have understood this feeling. I don't use her name and I didn't do heavy research to make it accurate, but she's there in my poem just like my grandfather is alive again in his poem, and a version of Dustin is brought to life over and over again in various poems.

When I teach poetry or writing of any kind, I always tell students that you should write about the thing you fear most or feel you shouldn't write about. Maybe this is just us writers letting ourselves off the hook, or maybe there is something powerful in the fear and guilt that comes from typing those forbidden words and thoughts.

-Stephen (Guilty as Charged)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Poetry News: Where You Can Find My Work

Today, Ganymede Unfinished was officially released. As far as I know, this is the final issue of the gay men's journal Ganymede. The editor of the journal, John Stahle, passed away in April. His journal was an inspiration to many gay writers and was truly doing something special by bringing together emerging writers and artists as well as work reprinted by famous gay men such as David Sedaris. The journal was nicely put together and designed by John Stahle and truly had gained some recognition from various people in the gay and writing communities.

John's unfortunate death left an unfinished manuscript for the next issue. My friend, Bryan Borland, collected the completed pages and sent out an email to all the writers and artists who had appeared in previous issues of Ganymede and asked them to help fill the rest of the pages with new work. John had published two of my poems in issue six that appeared last January. I, of course, wanted to be a part of this tribute to John and to help make this final issue complete.

You can now order your copy, which includes two of my poems ("Disappointed and Horny After Watching Troy" and "My Sister Calls to Say She Wants to Find a Man with Morals"). It also includes work by Bryan Borland, Matthew Hittinger, and Evan J. Peterson. Buy your copy here:

I also found out recently that The Los Angeles Review accepted another poem by me for their Spring 2011 issue. They will be publishing a poem titled "A Man Tells My Lover and Me Happy Valentine's Day." I will also be in the Spring 2011 issue of New Mexico Poetry Review. They accepted my poem "A History of Blood."

That's the news for now.

-Stephen (Unfinished)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Podcast 17: Missing You While Watching Misery

Podcast Sunday is back! Sadly, I haven't posted a poetry podcast since May. I made so many between January and May that I think I got burnt out on podcast making. Plus, I've been fairly busy this summer and, truthfully, hungover on a lot of Sundays. Today, I wasn't hungover and was in the mood to share a poem with my blog readers. This podcast, my seventeenth, is a reading of a brand new poem entitled "Missing You While Watching Misery."

A few posts ago, I wrote about using movies in poetry. This is my latest example and is inspired by the film Misery and by my two and a half weeks without Dustin this past July. I hope you will enjoy listening to it.

-Stephen (Caster of Pods)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Need To Be Political

Last Sunday, I stood on a sidewalk with about one hundred other gays, lesbians, and allies to protest the National Organization for Marriage who made an appearance at a local church here in the Orlando/Winter Park area. It was a very tame protest. No one was arrest. There were no fights or yelling. It was a simple demonstration: if you are going to go around the country in an RV and spread hate about gay people then you are going to have to do it in front of gay people. The attendees at the church were small in number and seemed either fascinated by the presence of the gays on the sidewalk or terrified. Mostly, they stayed inside.

This event made me miss my old life. Since moving to Florida, I've not had many opportunities to attend marches or protests. In college, Dustin and I did this often and both loved it. Yes, standing on that sidewalk Sunday did not suddenly change the world, but it still made an impact. The main problem with all gay issues is that there are tons of people in this country who never have to knowingly face a gay person. It is very easy to hate someone you don't know and have only heard horrible things about. Peacefully protesting at such events, like the one last Sunday, makes people at least have to put a visual with their hate. You are telling me I can't marry and shouldn't have equal rights not just some mythical gay creature some pastor made up. There are real people involved, and we aren't all like the happy homos on TV who are there to fix your hair and plan your hetero wedding (though after seeing one of the Concerned Women for America, I am wanting to start a group called Concerned Gays for the Concerned Women for America).

Florida has some of the worst gay laws on the books, yet I've found very few gay people in Florida who seem to care or seem to want to do anything about it. If you haven't noticed, gay rights are still being fought for every single day. We still don't have many basic rights that other citizens have and take for granted. The focus has been on marriage, but we can still be fired for being gay. We can't serve openly in the military. We can't give blood. In Florida, we can't adopt. This fight is far from over. Hate crimes against GLBT people are on the rise. Why don't people care? Orlando is full of gay people, yet only 100 took two hours out of their Sunday to stand up for equality. I'm not saying you have to devote your life to fighting this battle, but when the opportunity is there you have to take it. I don't do something political everyday, but I do live an open life. I talk about these issues with people I meet, and I write about them. A good portion of my poetry could be called "political." But even I know, I could do more and should.

I know many people who don't like it when I say you, as a gay person, have a responsibility to be out and to stand up and fight, but I don't care. It is true. Until more people, more gay people, take an interest in their own rights and equality nothing is going to change. There is a little glimmer of hope in California as I write this, but that doesn't mean the fight is even close to ending.

There is a time for action and this is that time. In some ways, I feel lucky to be alive at this point in history, and I hope someday to be a person who can say I remember when I couldn't get married.

-Stephen (Fighter)

Friday, August 6, 2010

When Everybody's a Writer and Nobody's a Reader

My favorite question to ask someone who tells me he/she is also a poet is what poets do you read? Often, there is a look of surprise on his/her face and he/she mumbles something about not really reading poetry. Over the last few weeks, I've read and heard various stories discussing the strange status of the writing and reading world. It seems there is a huge increase in people wanting to write. MFA programs are popping up all over the country and thousands of people are applying. Every other person you meet has a blog (including me). There has been an increase in self-publishing. People are writing Facebook notes, tweets, and status updates everyday. We are in a time of great sharing. Everyone wants to put their thoughts and ideas out there. But who is reading all of this material?

It seems everyone wants to be a writer, but nobody wants to be a reader (obviously, when I say everyone, I don't really mean everyone, but it sounds better). Why is this? I don't hate technology, but I always look at it with a critical eye, and I have to say that technology has a lot to do with this issue. In the last few years, we have hit an all-time high of sharing personal information through technology. Within minutes, I can go pull up the contact information, photos, and latest feelings of someone I went to middle school with, but haven't talked to since. The internet and social networking sites have encouraged this idea of sharing your personal information and writings. The spread of blogs, which anybody can have, and various online publication sites has turned everyone into a "published" author. Not that long ago, publishing was very difficult. If you wanted someone to read your work, print was the main option. Print is still a good option and for many the preferred option, but the internet has opened the floodgates. No longer does someone have to accept your work, you can just put it out there.

When I tell someone I'm a poet, nine times out of ten they launch into their own writing interests and how they have some work published somewhere (typically online). I'm not trying to sound elitist, but, at the same time, I've worked hard for my poetry career. I went to a good MFA program. I've mailed off submissions for years, I've waited months for replies, and I've had tons of rejection. I have had a lot of success in the last two years, but that's after a lot of hard work. It seems this issues is also a product of people wanting something faster and quicker without putting in the work or time. People won't send their poems out to magazines that might take months to respond, they just slap their poems on a blog or Facebook page. It is a shortcut. People might be writing more, but the quality is questionable.

All of this material is out there, yet very few read most of it and many of the writers themselves don't read anything. This blows my mind. I'm not sure how you can be a writer and not a reader. I try to read as much as possible. Working forty hours a week, having a social life, and trying to keep up with my poetry career makes it challenging, but I still do it. I don't read as much as I would like to, but I try to read a book every couple of weeks if not more. I do spend most of my time reading poetry, because that is most helpful to me. I'm not sure how you can write poetry and never read it. It's vital to knowing how you fit into the great tradition. I find inspiration and enjoyment in all of the wonderful poems out there. I also try to read some literary magazines and other blogs. Obviously, I want you to read my blog, so I try to read and interact with other blogs. It is a sharing, which means back and forth (we seem to have forgotten that). I've been surprised, honestly, by my blog. In the last few months, I've been averaging 50 visitors a day. I'm sure some are accidental, but I'm happy to know someone is reading it.

Part of me wants to go back in time when writers were respected and people put hard work into what they wrote. There are still a few of us out there, but we might be getting lost in the pool of self-expression on the internet. I'm not saying it's all bad or that I'm against the internet. There are some wonderful online publications out there (like PANK), but they aren't a free for all. There are also some great blogs about so many topics. The more opportunities people have to publish, the more variety we have, which can be a good thing. There is, however, a sadness when I think of a world of writers and no readers, and I don't think that should be the goal of the internet.

As a poet, one of my greatest pleasures is knowing someone has read and enjoyed my work. Writing is a way of connecting to each other, which is why I love to both read and write. Like I have said many times before, we are in a world that has provided all these ways to communicate faster and more often, yet it seems we have forgotten how to truly connect. Everybody is talking, but nobody is listening. Perhaps this comes from how chaotic the world is (I won't say "has become," because I don't think the world is more chaotic than it has been, but we simply just know more about the chaos everywhere than people did centuries ago). In that chaos, we all want to feel like we have a voice, and we should have a voice. I'm just advocating that we polish our voices a little before we send them out into the world and that maybe we learn a little more about that world through reading.

-Stephen (Writer/Reader)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

In the Movies

As a poet, I am fascinated by the use of pop culture in poetry. I've written about this topic many times, and it's evident in much of my work. Recently, I've been thinking a lot about movies in poetry. My favorite poet, Frank O'Hara, loved movies and often wrote about them and the experience of going to the theater, which was different back then. I also brought this up in my review of Valley of the Dolls a few weeks ago. What is it about movies that pull so many poets in (particularly gay ones)?

For me, it might, simply, come down to a love of movies. From the time I can remember, I have watched and fallen in love with movies. They are a reflection of our culture and of different times in our lives. I can think back to being 10 years old and watching Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves for the first time. I thought it was amazing. It was one of the first PG-13 movies I was allowed to watch, which made it even cooler. I watched it over and over again. Or I can remember being in high school and going to see American Beauty, which changed me forever and made me fall in love with Alan Ball's writing (he wrote and created my all-time favorite TV series, Six Feet Under, and is currently the creator and writer of True Blood).

Movies are typically the first place we see sex and violence. They are a window into worlds we may never experience or aren't allowed to experience yet, which might be part of their pull. Growing up, I had no connection to gay men or the gay community, but I can remember small glimpses I would get in film and television. I remember watching Ellen's coming out episode and being secretly thrilled by it. I also clearly remember sexual scenes in movies that I'd watch over and over again trying to understand my own sexuality. For example, Kevin Costner's ass in the waterfall scene in Robin Hood completely mesmerized me.

We also connect to other people through the act of watching movies, which is something that O'Hara wrote about, but that was when movie theaters were a little seedier and more fun. Still, we often remember the act of watching a movie more than the movie itself. I can remember watching About a Boy with Dustin. It was the second time we met. We were in my dorm room in college and we were both nervous gay boys. After it was over, we had our first kiss. I will forever connect that moment to that movie.

Movies are perfect jumping off points for poems. As many of you know, I first fell in love with the idea of using movies in poetry when I wrote a sequence of eight poems that use Brad Pitt movies, which serve as the sparks to get the poems going. I like to weave the storyline with something unexpected. One of the poems uses 12 Monkeys, but is about a gay couple protesting the circus. All eight poems are an exploration of a gay couple's relationship and the ups and downs of love and expectation.

When writing one of these poems, the choice of film is vital. You want something that will surprise and connect with the reader, which is another reason to use film. Going into the poem, most readers are going to have some prior knowledge of the movie, and therefore you can quickly go to new and interesting places. Part of the work is done for you. It is like shorthand. From there, you can take the reader on a journey that uses the themes or ideas from the movie, but ties them to another experience.

Gay poets often do this very well. Great examples include Frank O'Hara, David Trinidad, D. A. Powell, Charles Jensen, and Steve Fellner (I just finished his book Blind Date With Cavafy and he has many great poems in it that reference movies). This is not to say that straight poets don't use pop culture, because many do. I do, however, think the connection might be stronger for some gay poets who, growing up, found themselves drawn to worlds on the big screen because their world never felt right.

For me, it is also a way to connect with our current culture. Our society uses pop culture as a way to understand everyday life. It has replaced religion or philosophy. The main method of understanding ourselves, for better or for worse, comes from the movies or TV shows we watch. How many times a day do you hear someone referring or connecting their experiences with a fictional film or TV character? I do all the time.

This has also been on my mind because I've been working on a new movie poem titled "Missing You While Watching Misery." This poem is a perfect example of taking a movie and connecting it to something completely different and surprising. It is inspired by my two and a half weeks of not having Dustin around. I'm happy with my progress on it so far and hopefully one day you can read it. Until then, go watch some movies.

-Stephen (Star Struck)