Friday, April 30, 2010

Mini Book Review: Mute by Raymond Luczak

To end National Poetry Month, I am writing a final book review of Raymond Luczak's Mute. This is going to be a brief review of a very fascinating and compelling book of poems that I could write much more about if I had the time.

The first thing that struck me about this book is its size. The book is tiny. It is probably about 3 x 4, which makes it stand out amongst "normal" sized books, but who wants to be normal?

For me, this book was a window into a new world. The poems in this collection focus on deaf gay men and their interactions with other deaf and hearing men. For me (a hearing man), this was an insightful book on a topic that I've seen very little written about. About two years ago, Dustin had an interest in learning sign language and we watched various videos from the library and learned just a bit about the deaf community, but not nearly enough and nothing about the deaf gay community.

The opening poem, "How to Fall for a Deaf Man," is the perfect beginning to the book. It goes through all the things you should do and should not do when dating a deaf man. It's touching and memorable with such lines as "Do not ask him the sign for FUCK. / He is tired of showing how." These poems hold no punches when it comes to the harshness many deaf people face on a daily basis and within the gay community.

Other outstanding poems include "Algae," "You Died Today," and the closing poem "Orphans." This last poem does a great job of showcasing the bond that is formed between deaf people. They become like family to each other (ever heard that before?). It also highlights that exclusion one can feel by being deaf in a hearing family. In this way, I felt connected to the poems as a gay man and saw, perhaps for the first time, some parallels between the gay community and the deaf community.

Luczak does a service to the poetry world by tackling these subjects with the right amount of heart and directness. These poems are ones to come back to and luckily the book is small enough to carry in your pocket.

-Stephen (Pocket Gay)

Monday, April 26, 2010

My Poem Reviewed by Steve Fellner

Over the weekend, I was notified by Knockout magazine that my poem, "Against Our Better Judgment We Plan a Trip to Iran" from issue three, had been reviewed by the poet Steve Fellner on his blog. This was quite a surprise to me. Since I do not have a book of poems out yet, I rarely see any review or discussion of my work by strangers. I do not know Steve Fellner, which made his review all the more fascinating and flattering.

One of the greatest parts about writing and publishing your work, is hearing responses to it that are thoughtful and intelligent. Steve Fellner's review is just that, and I'm honored that he felt moved enough by my poem to write about it and to help get my name out there to more readers.

I have to say this boosted my confidence and will be something I will return to on those dark days when I question everything I write and when I wonder what the hell I'm doing.

Read his review here and feel free to leave a comment.

-Stephen (Flattered)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Podcast 13: Richard Tayson

For my final National Poetry Month podcast, I am reading two poems by Richard Tayson. Tayson is a poet I discovered in my undergraduate years and his book, The Apprentice of Fever, changed me forever. It's a beautifully crafted book and the poems are so personal and so intimate. His worked showed me what I could do in a poem and to never be afraid of telling a story no matter how uncomfortable it might make readers. His book deals heavily with AIDS from a gay man's perspective. This is also fitting because I just completed the Orlando AIDS Walk yesterday. Dustin and I raised over $500 this year.

This is the only book by Tayson I have read. I just discovered a few days ago he did write a second, which was published in 2008 (his first in 1998). I somehow missed it, but I have ordered it and can't wait to read it.

This podcast features his poems "The Chase" and "My Mother Asks if Men Make Love Face to Face." I think the second one might have greatly influenced my love of long and fantastic titles. Anyone who has read much of my work will know how important titles are to me. When rereading this poem, I was also reminded that he mentions Jeffery Dahmer in the poem. This is very odd because I have just spent the last month or two researching and writing a 12 page poem about Jeffery Dahmer. I had forgotten that Tayson had mentioned him.

I hope you have enjoyed my National Poetry Month podcasts. I will be returning to recording my own work very soon.


-Stephen (Changed)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

National Poetry Month: Poems That Changed Me

Writing poetry is a challenge for me, but a challenge I love and can't seem to escape. My process is one of many revisions and lots of reworking. I write endless drafts and spend hours upon hours writing and revising before I let even Dustin read a copy. In many ways, nothing ever seems good enough, but I think that is the lot of most artists.

I've written hundreds of poems. Many have seen the light of day, many have been read by friends or workshop peers, and a few have been published (check out my new publications tab at the top of my blog). Others are hidden deep in the files on my computer that might one be rescued or might stay in solitude forever. There's also been a few that have changed me and my work forever.

When you begin a poem you never know where it might take you or what it might do to you. In many ways, I'm not in control of the poem. The end result can astonish me and move me in ways I never thought possible. It is this moment that I write for, and when it happens it's powerful.

In this post I am going to write briefly about a five poems that I've written that have affected me in this way. These are poems that challenged me and proved something to me. They often led me on new paths and journeys within my work.

1. An Obituary for My Boyfriend Who Did Not Die of AIDS

I wrote this poem in the spring 2006. I was in my second semester of my MFA and still trying to find my poetry legs among many talented people. A week or two earlier, I'd gotten this idea of writing obituaries for people who had not died. I wrote one about my mother and it had gone pretty well, but this one pushed me into a new direction. This poem is brutally honest, the lines are longer (which at the time I rarely did), and it's intimate in a way my work hadn't been before. The poem deals with the strange position you often find yourself in as a younger gay person in relation to the AIDS crisis. This poem showed me what I was capable of and made me realize I have stories and voices to share that are unique to me and my identity as a gay man. My workshop was surprised by the poem in the best way possible. For me, this was the beginning of what would become my thesis and my first book manuscript, though I didn't know it at the time. Sadly, this poem has still never been accepted by a journal. It might be one of my most rejected poems.

2. Making Love After Watching Interview with the Vampire

This is the first Brad Pitt poem I wrote and it is also from my MFA days. It was one of those days when I was up for workshop, but had no poem I felt like taking. I was feeling stressed and not really in the mood for workshop. I had recently watched Interview with the Vampire and it was still floating around in my head. I then sat down and wrote a draft of this poem. I read over it and revised it a bit and thought, hell, I'll take it to workshop. This was, and still is, very unlike me (see process note above). I was prepared for an attack. Not a brutal attack (that didn't happen too much at FSU), but a slow ripping apart of my poem (which might be worse). Instead, people loved it, and I suddenly started to see the potential in the poem. I had tossed it off as a fun pop culture poem, but I realized there was a great idea here. This pushed me to write seven more poems about Brad Pitt. The series is one of the best things I've written and really demonstrates how pop culture can inform and push a poem. This was a big breakthrough for me as a writer. It also led me to teach a pop culture poetry class for three semesters.

3. Iranian Boys Hanged for Sodomy, July 2005

This poem means a lot to me for so many reasons. First of all, it is based on a photograph I saw in The Advocate of two young Iranians about to be hanged for sodomy. The image is so startling and powerful that it has never left me. I cut out the picture and placed it in one of my many writing journals. I kept coming back to this image and felt a strong urge to write about it, but had no idea how. I was overwhelmed with emotions about this image, yet I knew I had to get something out. This poem went through more drafts than nearly any poem I've written before, because it was so difficult. I didn't want to exploit the image or situation, or place myself inside it as if I could understand it. Instead, the poem became about this image and how it affects a western gay couple. The end result is a poem I'm proud of and a poem that I hope has a powerful effect on anyone who reads it. This poem is also significant to me because it won me my first poetry award and my first cash prize for my work. This poem won the Gival Press Oscar Wilde Poetry Award in 2008. The poem is available on Gival Press' website and was also included in their anthology Poetic Voices Without Borders: 2.

4. This Side Up

This poem proved to me that I could be a poet without school to push me to write. I wrote this poem in the summer of 2008. I had graduated in May with my MFA and I had been unemployed since. I was spending as much of my time writing as possible and out of that writing came this poem. At the time, it was the longest poem I had ever written. It is three pages of fairly long lines. This poem is about my roommate in college, who was Muslim and from Pakistan. During my first month of my freshmen year, 9/11 happened. This poem explores my relationship with my roommate, the events after 9/11, and my struggle with religion and my sexuality. It's an extremely narrative poem and one that weaves various stories and events together. This poem pushed me out on my own and helped me create a style that I'm still using today. It also changed my book manuscript forever. The title of the manuscript is now This Side Up.

5. An Experiment in How to Become Someone Else Who Isn't Moving Anymore

This poem isn't actually finished yet. It is still a work in progress. I have a full draft that I've revised many times, but there is more revisions to do. I'm including it, because it has already changed me significantly. A few months ago, my friend V sent me a syllabus for her documentary poetry class she is taking in Utah. I ordered most of the books from the class and read them. I mentioned this earlier when discussing the chapbook I recently finished called A History of Blood. One of the assignments on the syllabus was to write a 10 to 15 page poem. I saw this as the perfect challenge for me. For even longer, I had been playing with the idea of writing a poem about Jeffery Dahmer. Everything seemed to align itself and I began writing. I now have a 12 page poem that might just be the best thing I've ever written. I'm proud of it, excited by it, and it keeps me entertained and challenged. It was easier than I was expecting to put together such a long poem. I'm unsure what I'm going to do with this poem, but for now it has opened new doors and new poetic possibilities and for that I'm thankful.

-Stephen (Changed)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Podcast 12: Carl Phillips

This week's podcast features another poet, Carl Phillips, who has inspired me over the years. Phillips is a great poet and he's written numerous books. He is also gay and one of the first contemporary gay poets I spent a lot of time reading. I discovered him right at the beginning of my graduate program and his poems really helped shape a lot of my early MFA ideas about poetry. Phillips writes pretty differently from me and differently from the other two poets I've featured this month. I was also lucky enough to see him read when he visited FSU. He's not only a great poet, but he is fantastic at reading his own work. I got a lot out of hearing his poems.

In this podcast, I am reading my very favorite Carl Phillips poem, which is entitled "King of Hearts." This poem is from his book Cortege (which I highly recommend to any poet or lover of poetry).

I hope you enjoy it.


-Stephen (King)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Review: My Life As Adam by Bryan Borland

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)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Podcast 11: Tony Hoagland

It is podcast Sunday and National Poetry Month, which means this week's podcast is devoted to another poet who has greatly influenced me. This week I recorded two poems by Tony Hoagland. I have written a bit about Hoagland various times on this blog. He is a great contemporary poet that challenges me and pushes me to be a better writer.

What I love about Hoagland is his ability to examine masculinity in both a humorous way and a thought provoking way. Hoagland is a straight man, but sometimes writes about gay men or about straight male homophobia. Many of his poems deal with male friendship and what it is like to be a man in the 20th, and now 21st, century.

In this podcast I read two of his poems. The first is entitled "Poem For Men Only," which deals with the relationships of boys and their fathers. The second is entitled "One Season," which demonstrates how Hoagland deals with gay issues (in this case being called a "faggot").

Hoagland has published many great books and I encourage you to check them out.


-Stephen (Male)

Friday, April 9, 2010

IndieFeed Performance Poetry Channel: My Episode

About two months ago, I got an email from one of the editors of PANK Magazine, Roxane Gay, and in the email she asked me to be one of three poets to represent PANK on the IndieFeed Performance Poetry Channel. IndieFeed had decided to name April Literary Magazine Appreciation Month and wanted to featured PANK.

It is now April and the appreciation has begun. IndieFeed chose just four journals to feature and three poets from each journal. PANK is the first magazine being honored and my episode was published today. I am the last episode from PANK, so I encourage you to go check out the other two fine poets featured with me. Their episodes were published on Monday and Wednesday of this week.

In my episode I read my poem "Sleeping with Peter Pan," which was originally published in PANK in February of 2009. I don't consider myself a performance poet or a spoken word poet, but I do think reciting your work and learning to do it in effect ways can reach a whole new audience. So far this year, I have devoted Sundays to doing podcasts and I think I'm getting better with each week (I hope you agree).

I want to send my sincere thanks to Roxane Gay, who has been amazing. I got published in PANK over a year ago and she has continued to nominate my work, support my work, and promote my work. I have never worked with an editor who has been so gracious and so helpful. If I had been able to go to AWP, I would have found her and personally thanked her. I encourage you, wholeheartedly, to read PANK, submit to PANK, and to buy PANK. They are both an online and print journal. I also want to express my gratitude to IndieFeed Performance Poetry Channel and to Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz (the host for the month). They created a kick-ass episode and made me a big fan of their website.

If you want to hear my episode go here. Or you can search for IndieFeed Performance Poetry Channel on itunes and subscribe to their podcasts.

-Stephen (Humble)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Review: Scent of Shatter by Valerie Wetlaufer

I have to confess that I don't read many chapbooks. This is not because I dislike chapbooks, but because I often don't hear about them or don't take the time to order them. They are often only available on the press's website. This is why I am taking the time to tell my readers about a new chapbook called Scent of Shatter by Valerie Wetlaufer. It was just published this year by Grey Book Press and it's beautifully written and imagined.

I have enjoyed Wetlaufer's work for the last few years. I had the honor of attending graduate school with her at Florida State University. Since our school days, we have stayed in touch through our blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, which is where I heard about her first chapbook.

Chapbooks are a great place to tell a focused story through poetry. In this case, the poems are all about, or in the voice of, Mary Sweeney. Sweeney is a real-life woman from the nineteenth century who was institutionalized various times, but escaped. Wetlaufer takes this little known, real-life person and gives her a voice, actions, and a history.

What I admire about this book, and much of Wetlaufer's work, is her ability to take on different voices and time periods. We often admire what we have a difficulty doing ourselves and this is very much the case for me. I don't often take on different voices or time periods in my own work. The narrator is typically a version of myself and I mostly focus on the here and now or the very recent past. Wetlaufer graciously moves into these characters and this period. It is so smoothly done that she makes it look easy, when I know it is anything but.

While these poems deal with the past, there is a clear connection to the present and how one identifies as a woman in this country whether it be in the nineteenth century or the twenty-first century. These poems touch on something real.

One of my favorite poems in the chapbook is entitled "The Window-Smasher Speaks." In it Wetlaufer writes, "I am the one drawn to shards, / the pieces of things left behind / when something larger breaks." This stanza feels like a great description of this whole book and of perhaps the poet's approach to these poems and this story. Wetlaufer takes shards of a life and fits them together to make a portrait that still has cracks in it, but that begins to create an image of a woman we want to know. As the poems progress, we get little snippets of more information and insight.

Wetlaufer also plays with various forms throughout the chapbook. Another standout poem is entitled "Selections from the Asylum Nurses' Report." This is a collection of fragments that paint a picture of what an asylum at this time period would have been like. This raises questions of medical treatment of women throughout history and of the treatment or misunderstanding of "insanity." In "The Mind's Boil," the words float around the page and seem to embody the very mood of the poem, which serves as a collection of sounds, voices, thoughts, and questions.

We are never given all the answers. There are still shards of glass missing and that's how it should be. Wetlaufer gives us a glimpse into a world based both in reality and in the imagination of a very talented poet.

I encourage you to buy a copy for yourself. It is only $5.00 and can be purchased here: http://greybookpress.com/index.php/site/titles/

-Stephen (Shattered)


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

New Publication: The Los Angeles Review

On April 1, 2010, The Los Angeles Review, released their seventh issue, which includes one of my poems. Yes, I have gone bicoastal. I'm thrilled to be part of this magazine and to be with many other fine poets. This issue includes my poem entitled "A History of Hangers." It is actually about hangers, but I promise it will surprise you and not bore you.

If you follow me on Twitter (stephenscott22) or if you are my friend on Facebook, you have seen my various pleas to purchase a copy of this issue or of the new issue of Knockout (which also contains a poem by me). I am not only asking you to do this to support me (I get no money from it), but to support literary magazines in general. Nearly all literary magazines are nonprofit and struggle constantly to survive. Our current economy is not helping either and many magazines are folding.

Literary magazines provide an important space for writers, particularly writers of poetry and short fiction. This is the place to get your work out there and to have people read it. These magazines allow for new and established writers to mix together, sometimes on the same page. Without people willing to buy copies, these magazines will die.

April is National Poetry Month and this is a perfect time to reach into your pocket and buy a copy of a literary magazine or two or three. The Los Angeles Review is just $15 and can be purchased on their website: http://redhen.org/losangelesreview/

Poets and writers everywhere will thank you.

-Stephen (On my soapbox)

Monday, April 5, 2010

Best of the Net 2009: Sleeping with Robin Hood

Today the Best of the Net 2009 Anthology was published. This online anthology is made up of the "best" of fiction and poetry published throughout the year in online magazines. All online magazines are invited to nominate a few pieces that they have published during the year. My poem, "Sleeping with Robin Hood," was nominated by PANK Magazine, which published the poem in February of 2009.

According to the website, they received over 500 nominations. They selected just 25 as winners, which they republished. I did not make it in the winning circle, but was named a finalist. After checking out both the list of finalists and the winners, I can't believe I made it that far. There are some big name poets that I admire on both of these lists.

Since my poem was not selected for republication, I have decided to republish it here on this blog. As my readers know, this is a great rarity. I do not publish my own work on this site, because then it is not eligible to be printed elsewhere. I am making the exception this time, because the poem has already been published once, and I thank PANK for that and for the nomination.

In the spirit of National Poetry Month here is my poem:

Sleeping with Robin Hood

You showered me in stolen gold,
wowed me with your bow, your arrow,
your precision,

and when I begged to leave your tree house
you bound my hands with vine, stripped off my rags,
and told me soft against my face

how green was your favorite color,
how you loved the smell of pine,
sap on your legs, in your hands, down your throat.

You were like a fox wise in the woods
but with a soft underbelly, a coat to keep us warm.

I feared winter, feared the ice would overtake us,
like water, like death, like a snow globe, you said,

we are caught in continuous weather.
But you had done this before, a con-artist for all time.

You entered me in disguise—a beggar, a pirate,
a solider, a man in a dark hood.

-Stephen (Surprised)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Podcast 10: Frank O'Hara

For the month of April (National Poetry Month), I am taking a break from recording my own work. I will be devoting my Sunday podcasts to poets who have influenced my writing. Each week I will read and record a few poems by a different poet.

I am kicking off this project with poems by Frank O'Hara. This will come as no surprise to most of you. O'Hara is my favorite poet and the poet that has influenced me the most. The title of my blog even comes from a O'Hara poem.

I first read him in college when I took a 20th century poetry course. We read a poem or two of his and I chose him for my final research paper. After that, my interest grew and grew. In graduate school I was lucky enough to take a fantastic class that focused solely on the New York School Poets. The New York School's main group was Frank O'Hara, Kenneth Koch, John Ashbery, and James Schuyler. In that class, I dug deeper into O'Hara's work and fell even more in love.

O'Hara's work is personal. He writes, almost entirely, from his own experiences (much like me). He includes very personal details and references his friends constantly in the poems (lucky for him he had many famous friends). In many ways, O'Hara does all the things people tell you not to do, and I love him for it. Reading O'Hara, gave me the permission to do what I want in poetry and to make it my own. He also loved pop culture and wrote about movies, celebrities, and art. Again, this is something I love to do in my own work.

I also admire O'Hara for his openness about being gay in a time period that was extremely homophobic. He is a hero for me and someone I can always come back to and read again and again. He died too young (at age 40), yet he wrote more poems than most poets who live twice as long.

In 2006, I had my first serious poetry reading at Florida State, and strangely enough, it got scheduled for the 40th anniversary of the day that O'Hara was killed. He was hit by a beach taxi on Fire Island in 1966. Forty years later, I was standing in a rundown bar in Tallahassee, Florida reading my poems and feeling that O'Hara was there with me.

If you haven't read his work, I highly recommend it. In this podcast, I am reading one of his most famous poems "Steps" and a less famous poem that I love called "St. Paul and All That." I hope you will enjoy them.


-Stephen (Loving Frank)

Friday, April 2, 2010

National Poetry Month: Why I Write

This post is inspired by Terry Tempest Williams' piece called "Why I Write."

I write because I don't know how else to survive.
I write to record and explore history that's been forgotten or ignored.
I write to have a voice because my pen never shakes and my page never quivers.
I write for that gay boy in Indiana who doesn't know what to do with himself, but knows he's different.
I write for the students in my class who never raise their hands, never ask for help, but need it.
I write to feel loved and to question love.
I write to remember what it's like to be myself.
I write for the man who smiles a knowing smile at me in a parking lot on his way home to his wife and kids.
I write to relive the moments I've forgotten and the moments I can't escape.
I write for the men and women who have died because someone didn't like their voice or the way they walked.
I write to understand myself, my world, and my fellow human beings.
I write to become a better person and to never give up on the possibility of change.
I write because it pisses people off.
I write to understand the power of language (spoken or read quietly).
I write to connect with people I'll never meet. People I imagine holding my words in their hands, rolling them with their tongues, and letting them bounce off their skin.
I write to get closer to my heroes: Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman, and Frank O'Hara.
I write so I won't lose myself.
I write to be naked.
I write to become everything I want to be and imagine I am.
I write because I don't believe in guns.
I write to unite people and to make enemies.
I write for the Iran boys who have been hanged for sodomy.
I write for those in America who are denied basic rights every single day, but still get up and live their lives.
I write for the whales who beach themselves for no apparent reason.
I write to one day get on NPR, even though I hate my voice.
I write because I don't believe in God.
I write so I can stand in a gay bar and tell some drunk man that I'm a poet, and he can tell me that poetry is just a hobby and I can scream fuck you and walk away.
I write to capture a generation.
I write because no one ever told me I couldn't.
I write for the money that will never come and for the fan letter lost in the mail.
I write to give you a tingle between your legs that you didn't know was there.
I write because I hate nearly all other kinds of work.
I write for the cute boys who stare at me in clubs, who dance with me, and who sometimes come back to my bed.
I write to prove my generation has something to say.
I write because I don't believe in war.
I write because I know too much.
I write for the little boy still inside me, who once wondered if he could ever be happy, ever be accepted, or ever be a poet.

-Stephen (I write)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

National Poetry Month: How I Became a Poet

April marks National Poetry Month and I will be devoting much of my blogging this month to issues facing the poetry world, my own poetic journey, and work I admire by other fine poets. I encourage you to take this month and read poetry, read about poetry, and write poetry. I hope you enjoy this first entry in my National Poetry Month series.

I never planned to be a poet. I planned to be a novelist. My head was always bursting with characters, elaborate plots, and heartbreaking endings. I spent much of my middle school years writing novel length works on my family's first computer. I'd print them out on one of those old printers that required you to removed the edges of the pages and I'd hold my story in my hands and feel the weight of it. It felt heavy and accomplished. Rarely, did anyone read these long works. My family often read short stories I wrote, but hardly ever the longer ones. These were mine. They were my treasures, my achievements, and my dreams.

I never became that novelist. I haven't written a piece of fiction in nearly three or four years. Yet, somehow that little boy novelist growing up in rural Indiana become the poet sitting here in Florida. I'm not even sure I can pinpoint the exact moment I shifted to the "other side." For I quickly learned that fiction writers and poets are very different people.

In high school, I began to tinker more with poetry. It began to appeal to me because it was shorter and I thought it was easier to work with and get a sense of accomplishment from (this was before I realized how hard it is to write a good poem). I still wrote some fiction and still imagined that one day I would write that great American novel that everyone would read and professors would assign in some really hard contemporary fiction class.

This all changed when I entered college, and I finally got to take my first creative writing class. It was there in the spring of 2002 that poetry got me, so maybe I can pinpoint the moment. In the class, my poetic work always got more attention than anything I wrote in prose. I distinctively remember turning in a poem called "The 32nd Wheelbarrel" and my professor (who became my mentor) wrote on my paper, "You are a poet. Know it bone marrow deep." Those are powerful words for any 19-year-old to hear. It is one thing to write and write and write, but it is another to have a moment that you feel what you wrote mattered to someone else.

As my college years continued, I wrote more and more poetry and by my junior or senior year I called myself a poet, but shyly. I, sometimes, still feel funny saying the words out loud. I often just say, "I'm a writer" and then people go, "what do you write?" and then I have to say, "Poetry, I'm a poet." The reason I feel funny is that most people don't get it. I often get one of two reactions. The first is silence and a confused look. If the person is a stranger, they often quickly move away from me. The second option is them launching into a "discussion" of poetry, which often includes references to songs being poetry, rhyming, or Maya Angelou. I hate both of these options.

Poetry is often misunderstood and people seemed puzzled by someone who would devote large amounts of time to writing it. I also always feel the need to throw in something about actually being a published poet (in real magazines) or about my MFA. When most people hear "poet," they think of someone writing ridiculous poems and reading them at open mic nights in a black turtle neck (not to offend anyone who does that, but that's not me).

I've grow into being a poet over the last ten years. I'm not the same person or the same writer. I've realized I will probably never write that novel, because fiction isn't my thing. I love reading it, but it's not in me. I'm confident today in what I'm doing and the power it has for me and can have for readers. I write for my own survival. If I didn't write I'm not sure where I would be or what kind of life I would have. Writing poetry feeds me, which is why I've written so much in the last two years as I've struggled with my teaching career and finding a place I want to be. When you are a poet, you have to be a poet for yourself first. You don't become a poet to make money or become famous. You then have to put your work out there and see what happens. I've been lucky in the last two years to get a huge surge in publications and interest in my work and I hope the surge continues, but whether it continues or not I will be here writing and writing and writing some more. I don't know what else to do.

Perhaps, I fell into poetry unexpectedly. I didn't plan it or predict it, but now it's my everything and my savior. Yes, I am a poet and I know it in the very marrow of my bones.

-Stephen (Poet)