Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Year of Blogging

This month marks a year of Joe's Jacket. When I started this blog last Memorial Day Weekend, I had no idea where it was going or if I was going to keep it up. In many ways I have surprised myself over the last year and have been proud of where this blog has gone. I was unsure of the blogging world when I began, but now I'm living proof that it can have positive effects. I've met some very nice people through this blog, I've had interesting conversations, and it has kept me writing and focused.

Writing a blog forces you to think through your own ideas and processes. Sometimes this was about my own poetry, the poetry of others, a piece of pop culture, or the latest gay issue that had caught my attention. Through doing this, I learned more about myself and about others.

Perhaps my favorite part of the blogging experience has been sharing the poetry of others with the world (or at least my handful of readers). I've tried to write as many reviews of poetry books as possible. In the poetry world, reviews and word of mouth are vital to getting an audience. I enjoy mentioning poetry that has caught my eye and changed my world.

My year anniversary does come at an odd time. Yesterday, I learned that John Stahle, who was the editor of the journal Ganymede, died. He actually died in April, yet very few people seemed to know. His death has made me think about the virtual spaces we create and how they live beyond us. I can still visit John's Facebook page and his website, which promotes his designs and the journal he started. A journal that published two of my poems. These spaces live on, yet they might never be updated again. I can't help but think of this very blog, or even my poetry, and how someday it might live beyond me.

I never met John, but I spoke to him many times through email. I'll never forget submitting my poems to Ganymede. John required that you not only send your poems, but also your photo. My poems were accepted within 30 minutes. This is no exaggeration. I have never been accepted in a journal quicker. He responded saying, "cute picture, this will do just fine." He was kind, organized, and willing to promote young gay men and their poetry. Being published in Ganymede made me feel a part of the gay poetry world in a way I hadn't before. I've been published in many other journals (many of which are more "respected"), but Ganymede holds a special place in my heart (or is it my groin?).

As I celebrate a year of blogging, I also remember John Stahle and remember that what we put into the world is there forever. I will never meet John face to face, but I will still hold his journal in my hands and read the beautiful work he put together. I hope wherever John is there are beautiful boys and wonderful poems to read.

Read more about John here:

-Stephen (Remembering)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Podcast 16: A History of Hangers

This week's podcast is a reading of my poem "A History of Hangers." This poem was originally published in The Los Angeles Review (Spring 2010). I hope you enjoy it.

Listen here.

-Stephen (Wire Hangers)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Thoughts on Mad Men, Newsweek, and Jeffery Dahmer

I haven't blogged in over a week and I'm not exactly sure why. I've been busy, but perhaps not doing the most productive things (meaning I've been drinking a lot, dancing a lot, tipping drag queens a lot, and participating in various other devious activities). The purpose of this blog post is to get me back on track and to share my random thoughts from the last week or two that might have become post on their own if I had made the time.

First up: Mad Men. I just finished watching the third season, and I was absolutely blown away. I greatly enjoyed season one of the show, but I was less impressed with season two. Three goes above and beyond and has quickly become my favorite of the series. What I love about Mad Men is its authenticity. The show is so real and part of that realness is a rather slow and steady progression. The storylines do not move at rapid paces, yet the characters are so intriguing and beautifully written and acted that you can't help but be swept away into this world of cocktails and amazing fashion.

Dustin will probably not agree, but my favorite character on the show is Betty (no big shocker there). January Jones plays the role like no other. Her awkwardness and facial expressions are priceless, and in season three Betty gets some really great scenes. Her role could easily become a walking cliche and yet it hasn't, which is a great accomplishment. I'm also madly in love with Don Draper and would have his babies if possible, but that's another story and another post.

In other news, Newsweek decided to come out and tell the world that gay actors can't, convincingly, play straight characters. This article is absolutely absurd and has caused quite an uproar in the acting community and the gay community. The argument is so weakly put together that you would think one of my students wrote it. The author is really saying that once he knows an actor is openly gay, he can no longer believe their acting, which means if you are in the closet it isn't an issue. This sounds like a personal problem. The last thing we need is more people encouraging gay actors to stay in the closet (that closet can't hold many more). Acting is acting. If you are good at it, your personal life should make no difference. There have been many fine actors who were gay and played excellent straight roles. My favorite part of this story is that Kristin Chenoweth wrote a fantastic response to Newsweek, and who doesn't love Kristin Chenoweth? I follow her on Twitter.

My last thought and accomplishment of the last two weeks is that I am nearly done (or as close to done as I might ever be) with my long documentary poem about Jeffery Dahmer. It is thirteen pages and entitled "An Experiment in How to Become Someone Else Who isn't Moving Anymore." It is a huge accomplishment because I've never written a poem of this length. I also have never done this much research for a poem. I wanted it to be very accurate, and everything about Jeffery Dahmer that is in the poem is true to my knowledge.

The poem weaves information about Jeffery Dahmer with parts of my own life (or a version of my life) as well as pieces about Reginald Shepherd who was a gay poet who died in 2008 and wrote a poem about Dahmer entitled "Hygiene." I actually got my brilliant title for my poem from his poem. Why these three things? Well, Dahmer's first two victims were named Steven, he was gay and only killed gay men, and he lived in the Midwest. Obviously, my name is Stephen, I'm gay, and I grew up in the Midwest. As for Shepherd, I saw him do a reading in 2006, and I taught his poem about Dahmer at FSU and always loved it.

Dahmer is a fascinating person to examine. He was not a typical serial killer. There is something sympathetic and valuable about him and his story that most people don't know. The average person thinks of Dahmer and thinks that he ate people. He did taste the flesh of some of his victims, but that wasn't his main focus or goal. In the poem, I purposely only mention the cannibalism once. Overall, the poem is possibly my favorite I've ever written. The challenge now is figuring out what to do with it. Most magazines don't take poems of this length, and it is not quite long enough for a chapbook. Regardless, it is written, and it has challenged me and changed me for the better.

-Stephen (Guilty Blogger)

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Podcast 15: An Obituary for My Mother Who Did Not Die in the Richmond, Indiana Explosion, 1968

Today is Mother's Day, so I figured it's appropriate to share a poem based on my mother. This poem is part of a short sequence of obituary poems that I wrote for people who have not died. This is actually the first one I wrote. It was published in the fall 2008 issue of Broken Bridge Review.

The poem uses a real event that happened in my hometown (Richmond, Indiana) in 1968. There was a gas leak downtown that caused an explosion that killed 41 people and my mother, a young girl at the time, had just left the area where the explosion took place.

This poem is a great example of what I was discussing in my last post about the combination of fact and fiction. This poem blends the two very well.

-Stephen (Happy Mother's Day)

Friday, May 7, 2010

There Is No "I" in Poetry

One of the most common questions a poet is asked is whether or not a poem is about him/her or not? Everyone always wants to identify the speaker of the poem as the poet. This particularly happens when you write first person narrative poems, which I do. This need to pin-down a poem is one I wish people would resist a little more. This doesn't just happen with naive readers of poetry, but with well-seasoned readers as well. I've been in many workshops where I was asked questions about the content of my poem in relation to my actual life. I typically avoid these questions and refuse to answer them.

What I love about poetry is how it can play with that line between fact and fiction. In all honesty, a good portion of my poems are based on very real events, situations, and feelings. No, I'm not going to tell you which ones. My life is where I get most of my inspiration as a poet, but because I am writing poetry I am not bound by the "truth" or by "fact." I often take the real and twist it into anything I want it to be. I often combine events that have nothing to do with each other and make them work in harmony.

Part of me enjoys that people try to decode my poems and figure out if I've actually done some of the things I've written about (I mostly like this because I often write about "shocking" things). This curiosity only becomes dangerous when someone will only look at a poem in relation to a poet's life. If I have, in fact, written a good poem, it shouldn't matter if you know anything about my life or not. If knowing me is required, then I will have a hard time making a life as a poet (I don't know that many people). What is on the page is always most important and often readers forget that. The poet doesn't actually matter that much once the poem has entered the world.

This seems to happen more often with poets than fiction writers. I think this is because people have the idea of poetry being so personal, and it can be very personal, but not always. In fact, many poets do not use their lives at all in their poetry (at least not directly). At the same time, anything I write is going to have me in it because it came from me.

In the end, I love to use the autobiographical in my poems, but I don't consider myself a confessional poet or a truth-telling poet (at least not in the sense that people want). Yes, I am always getting at a truth, but maybe not my truth. I always mix fact and fiction together to get the best results, and I encourage you, the reader, to enjoy the poem and to not try to un-mix it or pick it apart until it can't breathe and is left in a pile on the floor next to the empty gin bottle.

-Stephen (Liar)

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Podcast 14: Imagining Your Penis in Blue After Watching Watchmen

National Poetry Month is over and I am back to doing podcasts of my own work. This week I am reading a poem of mine entitled "Imagining Your Penis in Blue After Watching Watchmen." This poem comes out of my enjoyment of superheroes and my interest in their connection to the gay community. This is something I've been interested in for quite some time and have written a bit about. I'm extremely excited because the theme for Gay Days this year is superheroes.

This poem does rely on some knowledge of Watchmen, but even if you haven't seen or read it, you can still get the main ideas. However, I highly recommend it.

-Stephen (Blue)