Friday, December 31, 2010

2011: I've Got You

Today is the last day of 2010. It's been an interesting year for me and one I won't quickly forget. I've had many publishing successes, many amazing nights out, and many job stresses, but I've also gained some amazing friendships that I'm carrying with me into 2011. In fact, the picture I've posted here is one of my favorites of the year and pretty much sums it up (though it is missing one of my favorite people of 2010: Jaclyn Sullivan). I have no idea what this new year will bring. I hope for many things, but I know there will be many surprises along the way (both good and bad).

I do want to take this moment and look ahead to what I want to accomplish in the next year. My goals for last year went pretty well and I'm back here setting new ones. The nice part about a blog is that I'm presenting my goals in a more public way and I have people out there supporting and encouraging me. I don't want to let you down.

I tried to be a little more ambitious with my 2011 goals. I hope my list will inspire your own list. I also hope you all have an amazing time ringing in the new year. I will be at my favorite place, Parliament House, with some of my favorite people. Regardless of what you are doing tonight, be thankful for another year and another chance to make things better.

1. Do a poetry reading.

I haven't done a poetry reading since spring of 2008 when I was still in grad school. I did two public readings in grad school and one on the radio. I miss that public display and would love to find a time and place that I could do a reading in 2011.

2. Write another focused chapbook.

In 2010, I found the joy of writing chapbooks and longer poems. I want to at least write one new focused chapbook in the new year. Working in a longer format with interconnected poems has taught me a lot about poetry and expanded my notions of what I can accomplish.

3. Read more.

This was one of my goals in 2010, but I went easy on myself and didn't really get more specific than that. I have no problem reading poetry. Every year, I read countless poetry book and magazines, but since leaving school and having a full time job, I've read a lot less fiction. For 2011, I have created a reading list. I picked 29 books that I must read during the year, because 2011 will be my 29th year. A few of them are poetry books, but most are fiction. I will be doing another post soon that announces my list.

4. Continue my poetry group Nerve.

In November, I began a poetry workshop at my house called Nerve. We only met twice due to the holidays, but I plan to get the group back on track in January. This is something I've wanted to do for a long time and I am excited to see the group grow. You will be hearing a lot more about Nerve in the year to come.

5. Write a critical literary article and try to get it published.

This is something I haven't done since grad school, but would like to push myself to do. This blog has, in many ways, helped push my prose writing. Obviously, I am more informal on my blog, but it keeps me thinking critically and pushes me to support my ideas. I'm actually one of those crazy people who enjoyed writing nearly all of the papers I wrote for lit classes in undergrad and graduate school. I would love to write a piece and then try to get it published or accepted at a conference.

6. Get others involved in my blog.

I feel the next step in blogging for me is to get a few other people involved by doing either guest posts or interviews. In the last year, I've forged "internet" friendships with many gay poets out there and I'd love to get the chance to do fun interviews with them for my blog in 2011.

7. Keep my podcasts going.

I've been very pleased with how my podcasts have gone over the last year. I kept up with the project and got the change to share a lot of my work with my readers. In 2011, I want to continue to use podcasts on my blog, but to push it a little further. I might try doing different things on the podcasts than just reading my work. This is still in the early stages of development, but I'll keep you posted.

8. Find a new job.

That is all I'm going to say about that.

9. Try a new recipe every week.

I really enjoy cooking, which is something I probably haven't mentioned on this blog before. I do all of the cooking for Dustin and me. We eat at home about 5 days a week and those meals typically provide leftovers for our lunches as well. While I do love to cook, it can be tiresome some weeks. I know from past experience cooking new things gets me motivated. I often try new recipes, but in 2011 I want to make it a more focused goal to cook something new once a week. If anyone has great recipes send them my way. We are vegetarian, so keep that in mind.

10. Pay down my credit cards.

This was my one big fail of 2010, so let's give it another go. I figure if I keep putting it on the list, it will eventually have to happen, right?

11. Go on a fun weekend trip with Dustin.

We already have our big vacation of 2011 planned. We will be going on the 20th Anniversary Atlantis Gay Cruise sailing out on February 6th. It will be amazing, but I would also love to take a fun weekend trip at some point in 2011. Dustin and I used to do this a lot when we lived in Tallahassee, but haven't really done a weekend trip in about three years. There are lots of places nearby that we haven't been that I would love to see before we move out of Florida.

Alright, so those are the 11 goals for 2011. Keep me honest and I'll do my very best to accomplish all 11, but for the rest of today, it is still 2010 and it is time to party!

P.S. Do you like my new page design? I thought it was time for a change on Joe's Jacket.

-Stephen (Rockin' Eve)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010: My Report Card

As I stated last year, I don't really believe in resolutions. They seem like they are meant to be broken, but I do think this time of the year is a great chance to reflect on the past and prepare for the future. Last year, on January 1st, I wrote a post that outlined my goals for 2010. Today, I am looking back on that list and seeing how well I did.

Goal 1: Finish my poetic sequence of poems about Edmon (the gay porn star in prison).

Accomplished. I completed this sequence early in the year. I submitted it to two chapbook contests. I was a finalist for one and I haven't heard back from the second yet. I also used these poems as a stepping off point for a new manuscript that I just submitted to a book contest. I'm proud of these poems and the places they took me.

Goal 2: Read more.

I should have been stricter about what this meant, but I left my goal pretty open, so I guess I accomplished it. I did read quite a bit of poetry (as always) and even a few novels throughout the year. This will be a more focused goal for 2011 (look for another post about that).

Goal 3: Keep up with my writing.

I have. I've continued to write new and exciting things throughout the year. My work scheduled has changed a bit and given me more time throughout the week, so I have loosened up about working on Sundays. I have hit a little slow patch the last month or two as the holidays were here and I travelled for Thanksgiving, etc. I plan to get back on track in January.

Goal 4: Write two blog posts a week.

I didn't quite meet this goal every month. I did seven of the twelve. I did, however, write over ten posts during three months of 2010, so it sort of works out. I am proud of the accomplishments of my blog and the fact that I've kept up with it as well as I have. I've enjoyed tackling a variety of topics and it has pushed my own thinking about poetry, pop culture, and gay issues. This is for sure a goal I will keep in 2011.

Goal 5: Make and post podcasts of my poetry on my blog.

Accomplished! This is a goal I began right away in 2010 and kept up with throughout the year. A few weeks ago, I posted my last podcast of the year and it was number 30. This went better than I ever imagined. I enjoyed doing it and plan to continue to use podcasts (perhaps in different ways) in the future.

Goal 6: Pay down my credit cards.

Well, we all have to fail at something. Not much has been added to my credit card debt, but I can't say I've been very good at paying them down. I only have two (that's for Dustin and me together). We could have done better, but decided to book our third gay cruise instead. We will be setting sail in just 39 days and it will be well worth it. If we had paid the cruise money on the cards, this goal would have been much easier to meet. It is all about choices and balances. I greatly value vacation, and I'm willing to remain in debt to have one.

Goal 7: Publish more.

Accomplished. 2010 has proved to be another great year for my poetry. I have gotten work published in a variety of magazines and journals. I also got my book manuscript The Hanky Code, which I co-wrote with Bryan Borland, accepted for publication by Lethe Press for release in 2011. I have quite a few poems coming out in the first few months of 2011 as well. I can't wait for what the next year will hold.

Those were my goals and I have to say I did pretty well. I might have to take a page from my friend Brian who writes the blog "Brian Knits," and make my list more ambitious for 2011. I give myself a B+ for 2010 and the goals I set.

This was the first year I truly set goals like this at New Year's and it felt good. For so much of my life I've had built in goals created by attending school, but since graduating from grad school, I find it useful to challenge and push myself in these ways. I will be posting my 2011 list in the coming days.

-Stephen (Accomplished)


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

My Top Blog Posts of 2010

As the year comes to a close, I thought it would be fun (or self-indulgent) to look back over my blog posts from 2010 and pick out my favorite ones and repost links to them. I'm really proud of my blog and the fact that I've kept up with it for a year and a half now. In 2010, I wrote 98 posts (not including this one) on a variety of topics that sparked interesting conversations with so many people either in the comments section, on Faceback, or in person. Looking back has inspired me to keep writing more and more posts.

Here are the five I found the most interesting and thought-provoking of the year. I hope you will re-read some of them or perhaps read these for the very first time.

5. I wrote about a lot of books over the year, but my favorite book post was one I wrote back in June titled "Being Persistent: Thoughts on Being Raised in the Time of AIDS." The post reflects on my own fears and questions regarding AIDS, the impact the AIDS crisis had on the gay community, and reviews a AIDS poetry anthology.

4. Back in July I wrote the post "You Know How Bitchy Fags Can Be: My First Viewing of Valley of the Dolls" and I was pleasantly surprised by the reaction to the post. It explores the film from a 2010 gay perspective and even manages to tie poetry into it.

3. "A Bug Motel, A Pink Cat, and Why Poetry Isn't a Hobby" was written back in September and is a great examination of the word "hobby" and what drives me to write poetry.

2. "Floating Brotherhood" was written on January 26, 2010 is about my second gay cruise experience and the power of being surrounded by gay men.

1. My favorite post from 2010 is one I wrote on February 12 called "The Right-Hand Ring: Thoughts on Marriage." This post is about my decision to have an open relationship and it got me the most comments of any post I wrote this year. I enjoyed all of the discussions I had about this post and hope it might spark more by reposting it.

-Stephen (Blogger)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Top Ten TV Shows of the Decade

Looking back over the last decade, I realize that I've fallen in love with TV shows on DVD. I don't actually have cable (I haven't for three years now), so this has become my primary way of watching TV shows.

Much can be said of TV in the beginning of the 21st century. We've seen the basic downfall of major network television. We've seen "reality" TV soar. We've seen cable networks and pay channels take the lead in innovate shows. We've seen 24 hour news channels destroy journalism. But in midst of all of this, I have to say a handful of amazing and well-written shows have captured many hours of my life in the last 10 years. I find I am getting more and more drawn to TV shows because they take time to tell a story and develop their characters in ways movies often can't due to time constraints.

Perhaps I'm thinking about this in terms of my own writing journey. In the last year, I've been writing longer works that take more time to tell their stories and narratives. TV shows and poetry may seem like they have little in common, but many shows have greatly inspired me with their sharp writing, their attention to detail, and their pacing.

As one of my end of the year lists, I wanted to devote this one to the top ten TV shows that have captured my attention this past decade. A few of these began prior to 2001, but all aired most of their seasons in this decade.

10. Dexter (Showtime) 2006-Present

Michael C. Hall is amazing. How amazing? Well, two of his shows appear on this list. I first became aware of him in my absolute favorite TV show of all time (see my number one), which you would think might make it hard to see him in another show playing a very different character, but it's not. Hall is just that talented and plays the title role of Dexter with great skill and truly holds the show together. For those who don't know, Dexter is about a serial killer who kills other serial killers. About two weeks ago, it ended its fifth season. The concept of the show is original and immediately draws you in, but the strong acting by the majority of the cast keeps you invested season after season even when the writing hits a few bumps. The show is entertaining and suspenseful and sometimes rather insightful into the line between what makes us good or makes us evil. The show is probably the weakest written on this list, but the concept and all around clever twists of the show makes it well worth watching. Best Season: 4

9. Weeds (Showtime) 2005-Present

Weeds is another rather clever concept for a show. Mary-Louise Parker stars as a mother of two who turns to selling weed in her suburban neighborhood after her husband dies of a sudden heart attack. What I love about this show is the wonderful acting by Parker and the bravery of the writing team behind this show. They've taken Parker's character down a path and made it fairly believable. Her character has developed over six seasons to be addicted to danger and adventure. They never let her off easy and have done an amazing job of developing the characters of her two sons, which are both rather damaged by the choices of their mother. The show took a huge risk in season four by abandoning the "suburbia" setting and diving into the Mexico boarder issues facing our country. This past season (six) made a few missteps and was the most uneven season, but the show never stops sucking you in and making you think and laugh. Parker is one of my all time favorite actresses, and she is so good at making you dislike her at times, yet still root for her, which is an amazing feat. Best Season: 2

8. Queer as Folk (Showtime) 2000-2005

As a 20-year-old recently out college boy home for summer in a small Indiana city, Queer as Folk saved my life. That summer I rented the whole first season and madly fell in love with a gay community I knew nothing about. I knew no other gay people at the time and I was lonely and naive. Queer as Folk, at the time, was the only show ever to be geared toward a gay audience. The show takes on every issue imaginable in the gay community within its five seasons. It's funny, heartbreaking, thought provoking, and actually groundbreaking. I learned a lot from watching this show. I liked the diversity of the characters' approaches to life, sex, and relationships. I will always be madly in love with Hal Sparks because of this show. The show was a basic soap opera, but with real purpose and guts. It will always hold a special spot in my heart. Best Season: 4.

7. Sex and the City (HBO) 1998-2004

This show, maybe more than any on this list, changed television forever. The show is bold, sexy, funny, and helped capture a moment in our human history. The show brought sex into people's lives in all of its graphic detail. I love the show for all of these reasons, but mostly for the risks it took. For a show that was primary a comedy, it took some dark twists at times and challenged the viewers by making the lead characters make bad decisions. The most famous of these is when Sarah Jessica Parker's Carrie cheats on Aiden with Big. Few shows would let their main character do something that questionable and unlikable. Best Season: 3

6. The West Wing (NBC) 1999-2006

This is the only show on the list that I watched from the very beginning. I remember sitting down and watching the very first episode as a young high school kid. I was immediately blown away. I actually accredit this show with pushing my interests in politics and turning me into a more well-informed person. The writing of this show is fantastic as is the acting. In the seven seasons of the show, I only missed one episode, which I later caught on DVD. Aaron Sorkin's writing skills and pacing are unmatchable. While the show got a little weaker after he left, it was still one of the smartest things ever on television. Allison Janney will always have a piece of my heart. If you are looking for one of the best Christmas episodes of any TV show, look no further. The Christmas episode from season one entitled "In Excelsis Deo" will move you. I watch it every year. Best Season: 1

5. Absolutely Fabulous (BBC) 1992-2004

I love the Brits! This show is literally playing on repeat in my apartment constantly. Dustin actually introduced me to this show when we first met and I fell in love. Jennifer Saunders writes and stars in the show. Her ability to get right at the heart of our star-obsessed consumer culture is absolutely the biggest strength of the show. The show is absurd, but absurd with a purpose and true social commentary throughout. The show has some of the most quotable lines of any show I've ever been a fan of (and I'm not one to quote stuff). If you've never seen this show, go rent it and give it a few episodes. British sitcoms are a little different than American ones, so it might take a little time to adjust. Best Season: 4

4. Big Love (HBO) 2006-Present

What I love about Big Love is that it truly challenges me. Being openly gay, an atheist, extremely liberal, and pretty open to a variety of sexual desires, it takes a lot to truly challenge my ideas, especially about relationships, but this show does. It makes me invested in people very different from myself, which is a true tribute to the writing. The show takes on polygamy in multiple ways. It also challenges religious beliefs of all kinds. Where is the line between a religion and a cult or something dangerous? The show take a bit to get into due to the complicated history of the characters and sheer number of them. But it is well worth your time. The acting is, again, brilliant. I can't wait for season 4 to come out in a few weeks on DVD. Best season: 2

3. The Comeback (HBO) 2005

This might be the show my readers know the least about on this list. It only survived one season, which I think is the biggest mistake HBO has ever made. The show stars Lisa Kudrow as a washed up sitcom star looking for a comeback. Her comeback takes the form of a reality TV show that follows her attempt to rise back to the top by playing a supporting role in a new sitcom with much younger and hipper co-stars. The show is structured as the "raw footage" of her reality show. It is brilliantly put together and Kudrow is at the top of her game. If you only know her from Friends, then you truly need to give this show a go. I absolutely fell in love with the concept and the delivery. It is a great examination of celebrity culture and of reality TV. Kudrow's performance is hilarious and yet heartbreaking in surprising ways. I only wish HBO had seen the genius of this show and kept it going. Best and Only Season: 1

2. Mad Men (AMC) 2007-Present

If I taught any sort of film or directing class, I think I would just make my students watch Mad Men over and over again, which would probably get me fired. This show goes against almost all of current TV and movies. Mad Men is so subtle and so steadily paced that it feels like something from a different time period, which works because the show is set in the 1960s. When I first watched it, I was amazed at how real it feels. Most films or shows set in the 1960s feel like some over-romanticized version. Mad Men is so perfectly done. It is detailed and specific. The dialogue is exceptional and so is the acting. The pace of the show is a bit slow for many 21st century TV watchers, but the pay off is unbelievable. It is also a show that seems to just get better and better and better. The last two seasons have been the best I've seen. If you've read stuff about this show and thought it was all just hype, listen to me and go rent the first season. You won't be disappointed. Plus, Jon Hamm is gorgeous. I do sometimes wish this was an HBO show so I could see a bit more skin from him, but oh well. Best Season: 3

1. Six Feet Under (HBO) 2001-2005

What can I say about this show? Well, if you've ever met me in person, I've probably already told you everything I can. It is the best show I've ever seen in my life. It is amazingly well-written, acted, directed, produced, edited, and whatever else you do to a TV show. The show focuses on a family who owns a funeral home and each episode begins with the death someone. These deaths get pretty creative over the five seasons. Michael C. Hall plays one the best gay characters that's been on television. All of the characters are interesting, compelling, and so complex. No one is ever right all the time or wrong all the time. At its heart, the show examines what it means to be alive and how to live your life in the face of the fact that we will all die. The show also has the best series finale of any show ever (this has actually been stated by many critics and viewers, not just me). You owe it to yourself to watch this show. I recently let my friend Mark borrow my boxset and he was not disappointed. Best Season: All of them

I hope you enjoyed reading my take on these ten shows and will give some of them a try in the new year!

-Stephen (Best)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Podcast 30: The Hanky Code (A Preview)

This will be my last podcast of 2010. An even thirty seems like a good place to stop. As I said last week, doing these podcasts was a goal of mine for the year and I've been happy with the results.

It didn't take very long to decide what my last recording would be. 2010 has been marked, for me, by a project I spent a good part of the year doing. This podcast features three poems from The Hanky Code, which is a manuscript I co-authored with Bryan Borland that will be published by Lethe Press in 2011. We each wrote half the poems in the collection. The Hanky Code is a way gay men signal their sexual desires and interests to other men. Each poem in the collection takes on a different hanky and with it some very interesting sexual desires. What I love about these poems is that they take on different voices and situations and present them without judgment. It was challenging to write some of the poems because they were far from my own experiences. In the end, the collection is a window into the variety of sexual desires of the gay community. The poems are fun, sexy, shocking, thought-provoking, and sometimes surprisingly sweet.

Bryan has been amazing to work with and I think we both inspired each other to write better poems. I can't wait for people to get the chance to buy our book and read the whole thing. My podcast, today, features the poems "Brown Lace Hanky, Right Pocket (Into Uncut)," "My Father Never Wore Hankies, No Pocket," and "Rainbow Flag, Right Pocket (Into Men with Gay Pride)." As you can tell from these titles, we got a bit creative with our "hankies." Many in the book are very traditional codes and others we used our imaginations.

I will warn you, these poems are not for children or Republicans. They are not safe for work either.

Thanks to all of my followers and readers/listeners of the last year. I hope you enjoy this last podcast.


-Stephen (Coded)


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Podcast 29: For Lily

Almost a year ago, I challenged myself to start doing poetry podcasts on my blog and I'm happy to report that, while I haven't done them every single week, I have kept up with the project. The year is almost over and today I am posting my 29th podcast.

Today's podcast is extra special to me and a slightly different kind of poem for my other work. It is still very "Stephen," but deals with a child, which I don't typically write about. The poem is called "For Lily" and I wrote it right after Christmas three year ago. I was visiting my sister for Christmas and my niece, who was just two at the time, had just learned how to say, "I love you."

I'm not a big kid person and I have no desire to have children myself, but I love my niece and being around her always makes me very aware of language and how we learn to be human. The poem explores the idea of curiosity and also those first moments of figuring out what words mean and how that changes with age. I feel it is a fitting poem for December and this time of year. Lily has grown into a wonderful little girl and she absolutely loves to read, which makes her uncle very happy.

I hope you will enjoy listening to it.

Listen here.

-Stephen (love)

Friday, December 10, 2010

5 Literary Magazines You Should Support

The thing about literary magazines is that writers beg to get published in them, but very few people actually read or buy these magazines (writers included). On the one hand I can understand this. Most of us can't afford endless subscriptions to magazines, yet getting published in them is a way to begin and/or continue our careers. Many people probably get a little overwhelmed. There are lots of magazines out there, which ones do you pick?

I'm here to help.

Okay, so it's not a top ten list. I have only five magazines listed and they aren't in any particular order, but it still fits my December theme. I do hope that some of you will check out these publications, buy yourself a copy or subscription, or give a generous donation.

The literary world needs good magazines to shed light on new work by emerging and well-established writers alike, but also to continue the discussion in contemporary fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. Magazines are often the place to discover writers you've never heard of, or those doing something exciting and fresh. The magazines I have selected are ones I've enjoyed reading. Some of them I have been published in, which means I know them from both sides.

Regardless, if you are a writer yourself, or just a lover of literature, promise to buy at least one literary magazine this holiday season. The arts need your support more than ever.

1. PANK

When I decided to write this post, this is one of the first publications that popped into my head. PANK publishes new issues monthly online and then prints one hardcopy issue a year with the best work from that year. This is a great path for literary magazines to take. PANK has a wonderful online presence and publishes fresh, thrilling, and exciting work. They also have a great blog that is updated often. PANK kindly published my work in February of 2009. I've had great interactions with the magazine and with one of the editors Roxane Gay. They firmly believe in what they are doing and in supporting the writers they publish. They have constantly helped promote other work I have done and even invited me to represent them last April on the IndieFeed Performance Poetry Channel. I highly recommend reading their online issues (which are free), but also purchasing their print issues.


This is another great publication that is edited by Jeremy Halinen and Brett Ortler. I was honored to have a poem included in the Spring 2010 issue. When I got my copy, I was even more excited to be included because of all of the great work that surrounded my own. They also give 5% of their profits to the Trevor Project, which works to prevent LGBTQ youth suicides. They are running a great special on their website right now. You can get all three of their issues for $15.00. Go do it.

3. Lo-Ball

This is a new literary magazine that debuted in the spring. It is edited by D. A. Powell and T. J. DiFrancesco. I ordered the first issue when it came out and was pleasantly surprised. The work included was fantastic. I particularly enjoyed David Trinidad's lengthy poem "Ode to Dick Fisk." It also contained work by my thesis advisor, from my MFA program, Erin Belieu. Their website isn't coming up right now, but you can find them on Twitter. I believe their second issue was recently published.


This is the oldest publication on the list and a fantastic one at that. The New York Quarterly is devoted to poetry. When you get one of their issues, you won't see a fancy layout, but you will see a nice cover and pages upon pages of poems. They are devoted to publishing great work by established writers, but also saving space for emerging writers like myself. I was published in issue 65 and have work forthcoming in their next issue. They have fallen, as many magazines have, on hard times and are in need of your financial support. I like to support any publication that is devoted to quality work by all writers and The New York Quarterly is.


This last magazine isn't actually out just yet. You can pre-order copies now, but it won't officially be released until January 1, 2011. Am I being premature then? No. I have a early copy of the magazine, because I am one of the ten gay male poets featured in the first issue. Am I just self-promoting then? Maybe, but I also firmly believe in this first issue and what the magazine stands for as a whole. There are various kinds of literary magazines out there, but few devoted to gay work. This publication is not only devoted to gay work, but gay poetry. What I love even more is that the journal is focused on a wider selection of work by fewer poets. The magazine is 125 pages, but contains work by just 10 poets. This gives you time to experience each poet's work more fully and to learn more about them. This first issue is amazing and the talent inside is well worth your money.

At this time of year, everyone is begging for money and for support. There are great organizations and causes that need your time, money, and support. Buying one of these magazines will only set you back 10 to 20 dollars, which is really not much for most of us. Support writers, like me, by buying and reading a literary magazine over this holiday season. It might just change your life.

-Stephen (Guilt trip)


Monday, December 6, 2010

Howl: A Poet's Movie

Yesterday, on a slightly chilly Orlando afternoon, I finally got to see Howl. I've been waiting a long time. I know many of my friends and readers who live in more cultural cities saw it long ago, but I live in the city of the Mouse. Luckily, the wait was worth it.

Howl surprised me in ways. It is unlike nearly all writer movies out there, because it is so focused on the actual work. The poem, and not Ginsberg's life, is truly at the heart of the movie. It is focused and tight. We don't get broad strokes of a life that span many, many years. Instead, the film captures the poem, Ginsberg's experience writing it, and the trial that almost ban it. This close examination makes a huge difference.

James Franco may, at first, seem like an odd choice to play Ginsberg, but he does it so well. He melts into the young poet and holds the movie together. A good portion of Franco's screen time is talking to an interviewer who is never completely shown. If Franco was less of an actor, these scenes could be difficult to get through. Instead, they are interesting and compelling, especially from a poet's point of view.

As I watched Franco, as Ginsberg, discuss the rawness and honesty of poetry, I found myself drawn once again to Ginsberg. He was one of the first poets I read as a young man (as he is for many budding gay boys). I've always enjoyed his work, but once I discovered Frank O'Hara, I sort of sided with the New York School and never focused as much on the Beats. Of course, I randomly came back to Ginsberg, read him, loved him, and even taught him to my students a few times at FSU.

Watching the film, I realized how similar my approach to poetry is to Ginsberg's. My poems often shock, offend, and surprise people. I've been questioned about my word choices many times and about my subject matter. For me, poetry is about frankness and getting at something real. I'm often writing the very things I fear I shouldn't be writing, which is how I know I'm doing it right. I want to capture this moment in my life and this moment in history as a gay man. Ginsberg was doing just that.

What I loved about the movie was how much it honored the work and honored Ginsberg's approach to writing. In many ways, the film was like a "fictionalized" documentary. It was structured more in that way than in a traditional narrative.

Rarely does Hollywood approach literature or writers with this much respect, which is why I'm sure many didn't like the movie or weren't blown away by it. It wasn't overly sensational or dramatic. It was real. This is a movie for poets and literary types. That doesn't mean it was perfect, but the attempt was honest. A chunk of the movie is an animation of the poem, which I personally enjoyed at times, but felt unsure about in other places. I might need more time and more viewings to decide.

Overall, I was pleased to see a movie devoted to a poem. What a crazy idea. I won't hold my breath for the next one.

-Stephen (howling)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Top 10 Poetry Books I Read in 2010

It is hard to believe 2010 is almost over. I know everybody says that, but seriously this year has flown by for me. I don't know if that is a good thing or a bad thing. With the end of the year comes the end of the year lists, which I personally enjoy. Last year, I devoted many of my December blog posts to rounding up my top ten favorites in various categories. I plan to do the same this year. Because my blog primarily focuses on poetry, I felt it was fitting to begin with my top ten favorite poetry books I read this year. Please note that not all of these books were published in 2010, but I read them all in this last year for the first time. I hope this list will inspire your own top ten lists and maybe inspired your "Christmas want list." And to the authors or editors of these books, my check better be in the mail (just kidding).

10. Almost Dorothy by Neil de la Flor, March Hawk Press, 2010

I learned about this book by following "Almost Dorothy" on Twitter. His tweets were so outrageous and often offensive that I just had to read the book when it came out. What is great about de la Flor's book is the wonderful humor he brings to his poems. Humor is often tossed aside in poetry, but I love humor, especially when it's done well and with purpose. He also does an amazing job playing with form. His poems vary greatly and challenge the notions most people have about what a poem is or should be or should look like. This also wins for the gayest title on my list. Congratulations.

9. Starting Today: 100 Poems for Obama's First 100 Days edited by Rachel Zucker and Arielle Greensberg, University of Iowa Press, 2010

I wrote a review of this book back in July, so I won't go on and on about it. You can check out the review here. This book brings together an array of writers and challenges them to write poems in the moment, which is what I loved about the book. It challenged my own ideas of what poetry can do and how it can respond to everyday and political events. This book has captured a moment in our history and will be cherished for years to come.

8. One Big Self by C. D. Wright, Copper Canyon Press, 2003

This is the first book on the list that was not released in 2010, but I read it for the first time this year. It's a powerful book that once again challenges my notions of form. The book captures the experiences of prisoners in a Louisiana prison. It is raw, honest, and thought provoking. This book also gave me inspiration for the final poem I wrote for my chapbook A History of Blood.

7. Breakfast with Thom Gunn by Randall Mann, the University of Chicago Press, 2009

This is a book I recently read and reviewed on my blog. You can check out the whole review here. The book is a quick read and packs a lot into small and tight poems. It is a good lesson in restraint and compression.

6. Blind Date with Cavafy by Steve Fellner, Marsh Hawk Press, 2007

I have to be honest, I read this book only after Steve Fellner wrote a wonderful review of my poem "Against Our Better Judgement We Plan a Trip to Iran," which appeared in Knockout last spring. I wanted to know more about the poet who had so kindly written about me. I got his book and I was in love. The poem that really won me over is the long one in the center of the book called "Self-Portrait." Over this past year, I've spent a great deal of time writing longer poems and this is a perfect example of what you can do with more space in poetry. The whole book is well worth the read.

5. My Life As Adam by Bryan Borland, Sibling Rivalry Press, 2010

This book is the most personal for me on the list this year. In August of 2009, I got a fan email from a guy named Bryan Borland. He told me how much he enjoyed my poetry. It was one of the nicest emails I have ever gotten about my work. I wrote back and from there Bryan and I bonded. We wrote emails to each other, Facebooked each other, tweeted each other, blogged each other, and eventually wrote a book together, which is forthcoming from Lethe Press in 2011. In the middle of all that, Bryan was completely his first book and asked me to read it. I did and absolutely loved it. I gave him as much feedback as I could and was so happy to see it published under his own press (which is taking off and doing amazing things) in early 2010. I wrote a full review of the piece back in April. Read it here.

4. The World Underneath by Richard Tayson, The Kent State University Press, 2008

I have written a lot about Richard Tayson on my blog because his first book, The Apprentice of Fever, greatly inspired me as a young gay poet. I greatly awaited his second book, but then somehow missed it when it first came out in 2008. I discovered it this past year and quickly and excitedly devoured it. What I love about this book is that it takes on a very different topic than most gay poets choose to write about: birth. He brings a unique and fascinating perspective in these beautiful poems.

3. Seriously Funny: Poems About Love, Death, Religion, Art, Politics, Sex, and Everything Else edited by Barbara Hamby and David Kirby, The Unversity of Georgia Press, 2010

I mentioned humor before and this wonderful anthology takes it to a whole new level. If you are looking for a great collection of contemporary poetry, this is for you. I read it cover to cover. Click here for my full review.

2. Narratives from America by Richard Ronan, Dragon Gate, 1982

This is the oldest book on my list. It is, in fact, as old as I am. It is also connected to my number one book of the year because I found out about this book through the other one. As I've said before, I've spent a good portion of 2010 exploring the long poem and this book helped me continue that exploration. The book is 139 pages, but contains only sixteen poems. The book is out of print and a little tricky to find, but you can get a copy on some used book sites. I highly recommend it. I wrote a more detailed review here.

1. Persistent Voices: Poetry by Writers Lost to AIDS edited by Philip Clark and David Groff, Alyson Books, 2009

When I decided to write a poetry book list this year, this book was immediately my choice for number one. It is the book that has stayed with me the most since I read it. It also lead me to many other wonderful books to read. Anthologies can fail us in many ways, but sometimes one comes along that fills a much needed gap and this book is just that. It gives voice to so many poets who have faded away and some who rarely, if ever, got published during their lifetime. If I was able to teach a poetry class right now, I'd love to design a course around this book and the poets in it. It reminds me of how much work we still need to do in uncovering and rediscovering lost voices. You can read my full review here.

-Stephen (A 10)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Poems for World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day. It is a day to remember those lost to AIDS, but also a day to renew our promise to continue to educate, talk about, and stop the spread of this disease.

The spread of HIV/AIDS is preventable through knowledge and the use of protection. While the AIDS crisis hit hard in the eighties and early nineties in this country, it is still a wide spread problem here and the fight is far from over.

As a gay man, I am haunted by the stories of those just a little older than me who faced the crisis in the gay community head on and with bravery. Today, we have more knowledge and more understanding, but infections are still happening. Get tested. Know your status. Be safe.

Two months ago, I came across an online gay literary magazine out of Chicago called The Q Review. They were asking for submissions for their December 1st issue. They wanted poems dealing with HIV/AIDS for a special section of the website to honor World AIDS Day. I had two poems that immediately came to mind. One of them had been rejected countless times. I submitted them and then didn't hear anything until today. I woke up this morning to a nice email from the editor, Tony Merevick, who informed me that they were publishing both poems.

I am honored to have work in this issue. There were only four poems selected and two of them are mine. They are titled "If It Were 1986 We'd Both Be Dead" and "An Obituary for My Boyfriend Who Did Not Die From AIDS." Click the links to read them or read the whole issue here.

Take time out of your day to read these works and to think about your role in stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS. If you are here in Orlando, come out tonight to The Center for a World AIDS Day event. Pieces of the AIDS quilt will be on display. Then head over to Parliament House for a benefit show organized by Nick Gray. All proceeds go to the Hope and Help Center.

-Stephen (Red)