Saturday, December 31, 2011

12 for 12

Today's the end of the year. In fact, I only have nine hours before the year goes up one. In a few hours I'll be heading out to my favorite gay club to ring in the new year with my partner, friends, and Tiffany (the 80's pop star). The weather is beautiful in Orlando today (currently 78 degrees) and tonight will be a great time I'm sure. But before the drinking starts and the partying, I wanted to sit down and set my goals for the coming year.

As I've stated in other posts, I don't use the word resolution. I say "goal." I can't predict the future. I don't know what 2012 holds. I do know that I can set goals and work hard to achieve them in the coming year and that's exactly what I'm doing today.

Here are my 12 goals for 2012:

1. Read the 30 books on my 2012 reading list. I'll be posting my list on my blog tomorrow, so stay tuned.

2. Work to complete a second poetry book manuscript. I have a start and some strong ideas. I'm going to be devoting my writing time in 2012 to exploring it and seeing where it takes me.

3. Write a short story. I haven't written fiction in a long time and would like to complete one short story in 2012. I have an idea, so I'll see what happens.

4. Cycling. I want to keep up with my cycling. I've really enjoyed taking spinning classes this past year and I enjoyed completing my first long-distance bike ride. I want to keep it up.

5. Continue doing interviews with poets on my blog. I won't probably be doing them every month, but I greatly enjoyed the process in 2011 and want to keep going. The interviews in 2012 will not be limited to emerging GLBT poets. I want to explore poets of all kinds.

6. Waste less time on the Internet. This is a goal we probably should all have. I know in the last year, I've had endless hours eaten up by Facebook, Twitter, and various other websites. I need to get better at going offline and focusing just on writing and reading.

7. Make new friends. I'm putting this on my list because I'm spending a lot of time in the beginning of the year traveling. I'll be in Chicago for AWP, in NYC for the Rainbow Book Fair, and then in Atlanta for a reading. I'm looking forward to meeting many people (many I've interacted with online for years, but haven't met face to face). I'll also be looking for new faces.

8. Write a critical essay and try to get it published. This was on my list last year and I didn't make it happen, so I'm putting it on here again.

9. Save money. Pay down debt. Not much more to say about this one.

10. Be less hard on myself and more willing to relax and enjoy the moment. I have some exciting things happening to me in 2012 and I want to enjoy them to the fullest. I'm looking to make my anxiety take a backseat position in my life.

11. Get a tattoo. I'm terrified of pain, but I've always had a desire to get a tattoo and I think I've finally come up with something that I want. I figure it's good to get your first tattoo before you turn 30. My time is running out.

12. Be living in New York City by the end of the year. Yes, this is my biggest goal of the year and one that I've put a lot of thought into and decided with my partner a few months ago. Much more on this in the coming months.

I wish you all a Happy New Year!

(Extra happiness to anyone who got the AbFab reference in this post)

-Stephen (Goalie)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011: The Year That Was...

I've always loved New Year's because I like new beginnings. I'm also a big reflector (meaning I overanalyze everything, worry about everything, and drive myself crazy, but reflector sounds nicer). I enjoy looking back on the year that's ending and seeing where I've come and where I want to go.

2011 had many ups and downs. I had personal struggles throughout the year, but I also had some great triumphs. My first book got officially accepted for publication, which is a moment you can't really forget. I've had a lot of poems published/accepted throughout the year in magazines that I respect. I've also kept writing and blogging. This year I completed my first ever long distance bike ride. I did the Smart Ride from Miami to Key West and raised nearly $1600 for HIV/AIDS. These were all amazing moments. I'm also lucky that I get to share such moments with my partner. This year we celebrated our 8 year anniversary, which is an accomplishment all its own. We aren't perfect, but we keep trying.

I learned some important lessons in 2011 about myself. I realized that my biggest struggle in life is that I'm extremely hard on myself and I set really high expectations for myself and often for the people around me. I'm then greatly disappointed and angry when I don't (or others don't) live up to the expectations. This is probably what gives me the drive that I have, but it can also be dangerous. I'm looking for a good balance. I've also learned the importance of strong relationships and friendships and also that some don't know the meaning of that concept. I want to fill my life with those who truly value friendship.

I turned 29 in 2011, which means I'm facing my last year of my 20s. I'm learning more and more everyday that I'm going to screw up and I have to accept that. Perfection is overrated. Plus if I didn't do half the stuff I do, I wouldn't have anything to write about.

Each year, I do set goals for myself. I don't call them resolutions, because that has such a negative connotation to it. I did fairly well on my goals for the year. I had 11 of them. I did eight of them and the ones I didn't do I have plans to complete.

One of my goals was to incorporate different voices into my blog. I did this through an interview series that went really well. I'm thrilled with the results and it brought a lot of different perspectives and readers to my blog. If you missed my interview series with emerging GLBT poets, check out the tab at the top. I did just ten. November and December proved to be a bit busy for me. This is something I want to continue in 2012, but probably not monthly.

I also made a big effort to read more (you can check out all the books I read in 2011 here). I wanted to complete a new chapbook length work, which I did. I wrote a long poem called "A Brief History of How My Parents Didn't Die," which is currently being considered for publication in a magazine. Another goal of mine was to cook a new recipe every week. I love cooking, which is something I don't often mention on my blog. I did a really great job with this goal. There were a handful of weeks I didn't make something new, but many weeks I made two or three new recipes, so it all worked out.

I didn't do a poetry reading, but I have four scheduled for the first months of 2012, so that goal will soon be met. I also didn't get a critical essay written or published. I want to make this happen soon.

All in all, 2011 was a really productive year, but I think 2012 is going to be even better. I have big plans in 2012 and I can't wait to share them with all of you.

-Stephen (Reflecting)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My Next Creative Move

It's the end of year, which is a good time to look to the future and plan for the coming year. This December, I'm in a very different place creatively than I was last year. The last few months I've done very little writing. Most of my writing time I've used to make small adjustments to my upcoming first book. I've had to get blurbs, think about cover art, and make some edits. I've also been basking in the excitement of actually having a book coming out. Most of the work is done and now I wait until its release date in March, which leaves me wondering what's next?

I'm a poet who writes a lot and is always in need of a creative project. It drives me, keeps me focused, and feeds a certain part of me. Basically, it's what stops me from being completely insane. In the last few years, my projects have ranged. Sometimes I've focused on a series of poems or a long poem. I've also had this first book manuscript floating around, which I no longer have (I'm not complaining). My first book is a done deal. Those poems are gone. So again, what's next?

In the last three months, as I've worked on various tasks dealing with my first book, I've been slowly playing with some new ideas. I've made some notes. I've done some research. I've even written out a few drafts. All of this has lead me to a new creative project (I hope).

My work has continued to grow and move in different directions. Often directions I never expected. I've really been examining what a long poem can do and that is evident in my first book (one poem takes up 18 pages of the book). It seems my logical next step is to attempt to write an entire book length work that is very interconnected (if not, one long poem). I envision it having breaks and subtitles, but very much working as one piece.

I'm not going to say too much about the subject matter, but it deals with the domestic sphere, the 1950s and 60s, mother/son relationships, therapy, drinking, Mad Men, Grace Kelly, Frank O'Hara, 21st century gay life, and more.

This is going to be my new project in 2012. I plan to spend a lot of my writing time in the first part of the year exploring the idea and seeing where it can take me.

Of course, I will also be devoting a lot of my time to promoting my first book and enjoying the ride.

Here's to another year and another project!

-Stephen (Idea)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

2011: 43 Books Read

I've always been a big reader and I'm a firm believer that reading is key to being a successful writer. I've spent a good portion of my life in school. I went from high school straight to college and then straight to graduate school. During these years I read plenty and had a clear way to account for that reading. Since leaving grad school, I've read, but I haven't done a good job of keeping track of what I've read.

In 2011, I made an effort to change that. I made a reading list of books I wanted to read (29 of them). I read most of them. I also read a lot of books not on the list. In the end I read 43 books between mid-December last year and mid-December this year. I think this is pretty good for having a full-time job and spending a lot of my free time on my own writing and poetry career. I enjoyed keeping a clear list of the books I read and I thought I'd share it here on my blog.

Here are the books I spent my year reading. What did you read?

1. What Other Choice by Jeremy Halinen

2. The Book of Frank by CAConrad

3. Slut Machine by Shane Allison

4. Handmade Love by Julie R. Enszer

5. Museum of False Starts by Chip Livingston

6. Pleasure by Brian Teare

7. The Salt Ecstasies by James L. White

8. Come on All You Ghosts by Matthew Zapruder

9. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

10. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

11. Talking About Movies with Jesus by David Kirby

12. I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill and Girl by Karyna McGlynn

13. The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands by Nick Flynn

14. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

15. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

16. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

17. Road Work Ahead by Raymond Luczak

18. Inheritance by Steven Reigns

19. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

20. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

21. Blood Almanac by Sandy Longhorn

22. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

23. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

24. Boy with Flowers by Ely Shipley

25. Closer by Christopher Stephen Soden

26. Slow to Burn by Collin Kelley

27. A Fast Life: The Collected Poems of Time Dlugos edited by David Trinidad

28. A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters by Julian Barnes

29. Dancer from the Dance by Andrew Holleran

30. The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

31. Dear Prudence: New and Selected Poems by David Trinidad

32. Child of God by Cormac McCarthy

33. The Great Fires by Jack Gilbert

34. Beloved by Toni Morrison

35. The Best of It by Kay Ryan

36. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

37. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

38. The Weary World Rejoices by Steve Fellner

39. Fat Girl by Jessie Carty

40. When the Only Light is Fire by Saeed Jones

41. Sonics in Warholia by Megan Volpert

42. Collective Brightness edited by Kevin Simmonds

43. Nox by Anne Carson

-Stephen (Reader)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

My 5 Favorite Novels of 2011

One of my goals of 2011 was to read more fiction. I've spent the last few years really focusing on poetry (writing it and reading it). This year, I wanted to get back to reading fiction as well as poetry. To do this I made a reading list for the year. I didn't quite make it to all the books on the list, but I read quite a few not on the list so it all worked out. Regardless, the list gave me a great starting point and forced me to read a few books I probably wouldn't have without it. I also kept a list of all the titles I actually did read. I'll be posting it later this month.

This post is devoted to briefly writing about my favorite novels I read. None of these books were published in 2011, but I read them for the first time this year.

1. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

I love Faulkner, but had never read this novel by him and I'm so glad that I did. It's a quick read and one that highlights a family on a nearly impossible journey to bury their wife/mother. As I've stated before, I'm a huge Modernist. I've studied that period more than any other and Faulkner is one of the greatest American examples of Modernism. The internal struggles he captures is flawless and truly gets at the human condition.

2. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

Two of my friends (who sometimes have different tastes) highly recommended this book to me, so I put it on my list. As a Midwesterner myself, I quickly fell into this novel and the characters it so carefully describes. Some aspects cut a little close to home and gave me that wonderful uncomfortable feeling that good literature can create. In the end, the book is a terribly sad, but real look at what happens to us all as we grow older. Franzen's writing is sharp and entertaining. It's actually somewhat a Christmas novel, but not very cheerful. It's also getting made into an HBO series, which is greatly intriguing.

3. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

This book perhaps surprised me more than any other on the list. This is partly because I didn't really know what to expect. A good friend of mine recommended I read it and it sounded intriguing, but I was really blown away by the writing and style of the book. It's a super quick read. I read it in one day. The story is told from the perspective of a 15-year-old autistic boy investigating the murder of his neighbor's poodle. I actually hate stories where dogs die, so it's really a testament to this book that I loved it so much. If I ever teach a fiction workshop, I would use this book to discuss voice. A strange fact about the book is that it is sold as a children's book in the UK and as an adult book here (I think that speaks for itself).

4. Beloved by Toni Morrison

I totally forgot how much I love Toni Morrison. I've read a few of her other novels and Song of Solomon is one of my all-time favorite novels, yet I was still so wowed by Beloved. Morrison's use of language is truly unbeatable in contemporary literature. She really is the poet's fiction writer. She writes about such horrific events and tragedies, yet her language is beautiful, moving, and often overwhelming.

5. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

I'll be honest: I rarely read a novel if I've seen the movie version first. I typically like to read the book first and then see the movie. In the case of Revolutionary Road, I saw the film first and just this year read the book. I'm so glad that I did. I had mixed feelings about the movie. I love Kate Winslet, but overall I felt something was missing from that film and the ending didn't feel believable to me. I didn't have any of those issues with the novel and the ending is the same. The novel is amazing. It's such a great exploration of the choices we make in life and how we often trap ourselves. As in most cases, the book out-shined the film.

-Stephen (Reading)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

My Five Favorite Poetry Books of 2011

When thinking about making my end of the year list of poetry books, I wanted to avoid the word "best." Are these the best poetry books from the year? Maybe they are, but "best" is very subjective and I didn't read every poetry book released this year, so I'm sticking with the word "favorite."

I read many other great poetry books this year that were not released in 2011, but I wanted to promote these newer releases, so I kept the list focused on the past year. Whether these are the best or my favorite, these are all remarkable books that I highly recommend checking out or giving as a gift this holiday season.

1. A Fast Life: The Collected Poems of Tim Dlugos edited by David Trinidad (Nightboat Books)

If I had to name just one book that changed me this year, it would be this one. Reading over five hundred pages of poems by just one person can be a really amazing experience. Dlugos work ranges in subject matter and sometimes style, but his poems always shine light on real and everyday life. I related a lot to how he approaches poetry and brings in his life, his friends, and his experiences. Dlugos is not a super well-known poet, but I have a pretty good feeling that this is about to change. This book is important for getting his work out there. Dlugos died of complications from AIDS in 1990. Trinidad does a wonderful job of editing the collection and giving us a useful introduction, timeline, and notes section in the back. This is a collected edition that is well worth reading cover to cover. For more on my thoughts about the book see my blog post from September.

2. The Weary World Rejoices by Steve Fellner (Marsh Hawk Press)

Steve Fellner graciously wrote a blurb for my upcoming book, but that is not why his newest book is on my list. I hadn't read his newest book when I asked him to write the blurb for mine. When I did, I realized that our books actually (in some ways) deal with very similar issues. A lot of Fellner's book examines fear, death, murder, and the current state of the world we live in as gay men and people. I also love the title of the book because it feels so fitting for this moment in history and for these poems. The book also includes a series of poems dealing with the murder of Matthew Shepard. It's a quick and thrilling read and one I highly recommend.

3. The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands by Nick Flynn (Graywolf Press)

I read this book back in March, but it has stayed with me. What I love about Flynn's book, is that it showcases what you can do with poetry and how poetry can give new insight into important world and political issues. A lot of the book deals with torture and uses the testimonies of the detainees from Abu Ghraib. This book is a perfect example of documentary poetry and is well worth the read. See more about my reaction to the book in my blog post from April.

4. Dear Prudence: New and Selected Poems by David Trinidad (Turtle Point Press)

David Trinidad had a good year. He edited Dlugos' collection, but also released a great collection himself that is well over 400 pages. This book showcases the best of Trinidad's past work, but also includes some great new poems. I'm a lover of pop culture in poetry and Trinidad is perhaps one of the greatest current poets doing just that. You do have to be prepared. If you read this book, you are going to read a lot of poems about Barbies and The Patty Duke Show as well as many other 1960s classics. In 2011, I really fell in love with reading collected or selected books. It's a great way to really get invested in a poet and explore their work fully. If you haven't read much of Trinidad, this is the perfect introduction.

5. Sonics in Warholia by Megan Volpert (Sibling Rivalry Press)

This book was officially released two days ago, but made it just in the nick of time. I've read quite a few poems about Andy Warhol in the past, but I've never really been amazed by them, so a whole book exploring the ghost of Andy Warhol might seem like a book I wouldn't like very much, but I loved this book. Volpert doesn't try to imitate Warhol in these poems, but rather has a strong and unique voice all her own. You learn a great deal from reading these poems and seeing the interesting, ironic, and sometimes bizarre connections between the speaker's life and Warhol's. This collection is completely made up of prose poems, which adds another interesting layer to the book. It's a fun read, but also thought-provoking in the very best ways. For more about Volpert, check out the interview I did with her back in October.

-Stephen (Poet)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Best TV Shows of 2011

One thing I love about the end of the year is end of the year lists. Once December starts, everyone begins compiling their lists of best movies, books, TV shows, games, tricks, etc. These lists are fun because they really mean very little, but can spark interesting discussions and arguments.

Each December on this blog, I've made my own lists. Often my lists have different rules. For example, I don't always write about stuff that was released in the current year, but rather stuff I experienced for the first time during that year.

This year, I'm kicking things off with a list that plays by the rules. Here are my picks for the seven best TV shows currently airing on television. I only selected shows that had new episodes in 2011 (which is why one of my favorite shows, Mad Men, is missing from the list).

In some ways, current television has hit rock bottom and in others it's soaring to new and exciting places. We are all witnessing the collapse of major network television and the rise and complete take over of cable shows. The major networks, for the most part, have been producing the same crap year after year after year and most of it isn't worth watching. I hardly watch any shows on the major networks. They just don't interest me. This is why the majority of my picks are from cable networks.

Here are my picks (in alphabetical order):

1. Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

Boardwalk Empire is a show that takes a little time to get invested in, but once you do, you can't stop watching. The show has lots of characters and some complicated storylines that blend history with fiction. It's a violent show, but also a subtle show. It's not as fast-paced as some might expect and honestly the most interesting parts of the show often have little to do with the overall 1920s mob theme. The female characters shine in the rather male-dominated world of Atlantic City during prohibition. They did recently kill a favorite character of mine, but I'm dealing (in fairness, the scene was well done and realistic). The series completes its second season next week and I can't wait to see where this show goes from here.

2. Dexter (Showtime)

Who doesn't love Michael C. Hall? He's a great actor and so fully embodies his character. Dexter is currently airing its sixth season. For a series, getting up there in age, it continues to entertain and surprise. I won't say it is always the best written show, but it rises above so many police/crime based series and sometimes the writing is spot on and sharp. Dexter and Deb are really well-written characters. This season has dealt greatly with religion and spiritually, but has managed to not become cliche or completely predictable. The big reveal of the season did leave me with mixed feelings (from a writing perspective), but overall it's been an interesting and enjoyable season and I look forward to the final episodes.

3. Downton Abbey (BBC)

This is British television at its very best. The show follows both the servants and the family who live in Downton Abbey in the early 20th century. The second season, which recently aired, focused on World War I and dealt with it in surprising and interesting ways. The show is the perfect blend of drama, humor, and romance. Plus, Maggie Smith has about four or five amazing one-liners in each episode. I so want to be her when I grow up.

4. Game of Thrones (HBO)

I don't watch much fantasy based shows or movies, but when I heard about HBO doing Game of Thrones, I was intrigued. After watching the first two episodes I was hooked. It's not a show for everyone. You really have to pay close attention (especially if you've never read the books, which I haven't). There are many, many characters and lots going on in each and every episode. You also never know who is going to die, which I like. The show doesn't play by the same rules as most TV shows. No one is safe. I'm excited for season two coming in the spring of 2012.

5. Parks and Recreation (NBC)

This is one of the most consistently funny shows on TV right now. It's a show that NBC actually supported and gave time to grow. In season three, the show really found its footing and season four has been great so far. I might have a slight soft spot for the show because I'm from Indiana and there is some good Indiana humor in it. If you haven't been watching, you should. It's smart, quirky, and always funny.

6. True Blood (HBO)

What I love about True Blood is that it's so self-aware. It's playing with the vampire genre and having so much fun doing it. The show can be silly, over the top, scary, sexy, and even make some great political and social commentary. The show is smart. The fourth season, which aired in the summer, was a great season in the end. It started off a little slow, but the second half really did some great stuff. Plus, this show has the sexiest men and they are naked a lot. What more could you want?

7. The Walking Dead (AMC)

There's a lot of reasons why I might not like this show. The writing can be a bit cheesy and many of the characters are really flat, but somehow I want to keep watching. The Walking Dead has a good concept and some good zombies, but it's really a show about how people react in mass chaos. The second season, which began in October, has proven to be much stronger than the first season. A few of the characters have broken out of their flatness and have become the most interesting parts of the show (I'm talking about Daryl and Shane). The first seven episodes of the season slowly built up to an explosive mid-season finale. The last ten minutes of the last episode proved the show could write and direct a pretty amazing scene, which makes me really look forward to the rest of season two, which returns to AMC in February. Even with my doubts, this show is something different and interesting to watch.

-Stephen (Watching)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Poetry of AIDS

I can't remember the first time I heard the word AIDS. It was probably on TV and I was probably around eight. Growing up in a smallish Midwest city, I was not faced with too many people willing to discuss the topic, but I do remember it being treated very carefully. No one spoke of AIDS like they did of cancer.

My childhood and teen years were filled with fragments of news stories involving AIDS. There was the one about the dentist who was possibly infecting patients. There were the rumors of people putting infected HIV needles in movie theater seats. Then of course there was the story of Ryan White who lived about an hour or two from where I grew up in Indiana. All I really knew was that AIDS was something to fear.

The first time I heard about World AIDS Day was in the church I attended with my family as a teenager. I remember one year in the late 1990s when one of our pastors gave a sermon discussing the AIDS crisis. It was right around and even possibly right on World AIDS Day (December 1st). By this point, more people were comfortable discussing AIDS, but most conversations, at least in the Midwest, focused on the crisis in Africa.

World AIDS Day is a day to reflect on the lives lost and the lives changed by HIV/AIDS. It is also a day to recognize that this is a world problem, but to also look at our own communities. This is a special World AIDS Day for me. Almost two weeks ago, I completed the Smart Ride (see my previous blog post for details), which raises money for local HIV/AIDS organizations. I'm proud of what I've helped do and the money I raised, but I know there is much more that can be done.

I've known various people who are positive, but I've never been super close with them and I've never lost anyone to HIV/AIDS, yet it's been a cause that's weighed heavily on me and one I've cared a great deal for in my life so far. This has a lot to do with poetry.

Through poetry, I've experienced many aspects of the AIDS crisis. In fact, we owe a great deal to many of the gay poets who wrote down their experiences, their fears, their confusions, their insights, and their hopes. The AIDS crisis within the gay community is captured in the poetry of the 80s and 90s. These poems come from those infected and dying, those infected but surviving, and those witnessing it all. By reading these works by living and dead poets, I've been transported to a different time and place not that long ago, but so very different from my childhood and teenage years in Indiana. It's strange to think all of that was happening and I wasn't really aware. Of course, I didn't really know another gay person until I was 20 and gay people weren't really discussed much in my hometown, so it's no surprise.

In the last two years, I've been exploring the idea of poetry as documentation and the significance of using poetry to explore very real and very complicated situations. The AIDS poems I'm thinking of, do just that. These poems bring facts, but also faces to the issue. The gay community was one of the first groups of people widely infected, but they were also the first to stand up and put their faces with a disease everyone was terrified of and didn't understand. That's pretty brave.

These poems continue to help people understand what it means to face HIV/AIDS and how it has changed and not changed. I'm going to continue my efforts in the fight against HIV/AIDS and I'm going to keep reading.

Suggested Reading:
A Fast Life: The Collected Poems by Tim Dlugos, edited by David Trinidad
Unending Dialogue: Voices from an AIDS Poetry Workshop edited by Rachel Hadas
Persistent Voices: Poetry by Writers Lost to AIDS edited by Philip Clark and David Groff
Fire to Fire by Mark Doty
The Apprentice of Fever by Richard Tayson

-Stephen (no day but today)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Smart Ride: A Reflection

Last week, I completed The Smart Ride, which was a 165 mile charity bike ride from Miami to Key West. The event raised money for HIV/AIDS. My partner and I decided to do the ride months ago and officially signed up in June. Knowing this was going to be challenging, we prepared ourselves. We joined a gym in May. We went to lots of spinning classes and rode our bikes many weekends on a bike trail here in Orlando. We also had to heavily promote and ask for money. Each rider was required to raise at least $1250, which was daunting.

I decided to do this ride for a couple of reasons. I deeply care about the cause and thought this would be a great way to raise a lot of money and to bring more awareness to the issue. I also thought it would be fun. If you are going to ride your bike a long distance, it might as well be somewhere pretty like the road to Key West. But honestly, the biggest reason I decided to do this ride was to push myself physically. A few months ago I wrote a blog post about my fears of the gym. I've never felt adequate when it comes to athletics. Doing this ride was about proving to myself that I could do it.

When we arrived in Miami on Thursday of last week, I was terrified. I knew I had prepared, but I also knew I could have done more. Everything I had set into motion months ago was finally coming to ahead and I had no choice but to do it. There was no backing out.

On Friday morning, we arrived at the ride-out spot. Everyone seemed calmer than me, but I'm sure that's just my perception. The great thing about this ride is that it brings a wide range of people together. Some are very serious cyclists. Others are first timers. Others are there mostly because of the cause. There is a big age range. Gay people. Straight people, etc.

We lined our bikes up for the big group ride out, which was a little scary. Nearly 400 riders pedaling close together is asking for trouble. We took it slow and soon enough everyone spread out. As the group got more spread out, I quickly began to relax and sink into what I had practiced. It was pretty easy going for the first thirty miles, but then some strong wind came through, making it a lot harder. At this point I began to doubt myself and question why I would have ever signed up to do this kind of thing.

That's about the time the rain started. I had prepared for a lot of things, but not for rain. This was one of my lowest moments on the ride. There I was 40 some miles out of Miami on a bike in pouring rain and I was cursing everything and everyone, but I kept pedaling. The thing is, you don't have a lot of choice. The rain is coming down and the only way to get out of the rain is to ride out of it.

We eventually did and made it to the lunch pit stop (53 miles into the ride). At lunch, I wanted to quit. I was wet. The hot sun was back out. All there was to eat was a veggie burger that I had no interest in. There was a man beside me talking about peeing on himself while riding. I was pretty miserable. I also knew we had almost 50 miles to go before the day would be over. I really wanted to give up.

It would have been easy to give up, but something wouldn't let me do it. In some ways, I wouldn't let the full thought go through my head. Also, if I just made myself get back on the bike, it was done. I was moving again. Miles were being crossed off, because in a ride like this everything is about miles. One more down. Ten more to the next pit stop. 115 until the end of the two day ride.

After lunch, my energy was super low. I'm not good at eating in the heat, which makes doing things like this hard. I had to basically force myself to eat. As we rode on, I got slower and slower and thankfully my partner stuck with me. It's funny, you think doing a ride with 300 to 400 riders would mean you see people all the time, but you actually don't. There were many times I could only see Dustin and he could only see me.

About halfway to the first pit stop after lunch, I had to stop along the road. I was feeling completely overwhelmed. It really is the only way to describe the feeling. I felt constantly on the verge of tears and I couldn't fully place my emotions. It was there, 60 some miles into the ride, that I felt I needed a break. Thankfully, the ride was very well organized and they had a great motorcycle crew who basically kept track of all the riders. At this point, we were in the last 20 or 30 riders due to my slowing down. Soon enough, one of the motorcycle guys was there asking if we needed any help. Throughout the ride, they provide what they call "SAG" vehicles. They will pick you up and take you to the next pit stop or wherever you feel you need to go. I wasn't proud, but I got a "SAG" ride to the next pit stop, which was 9 miles. Dustin came with me. It gave me a chance to breathe and to reflect on what I'd done so far (oh and to sit in A/C).

When we got dropped off at the next pit stop, I had a decision to make. I could call it quits or I could finish the day (30 more miles). More than anything, I didn't want to disappoint myself, so I got back on that bike. Pain rushed through my ass, my shoulders ached, but I kept pedaling. The last 30 miles on day one were the hardest of the ride. I was exhausted. I was, honestly, an emotional wreck. Luckily, no one could see the tears in my eyes. When I rode into the resort we were staying the night in, I had never felt so overcome with relief and accomplishment. I technically only rode 91 miles on day one, but I didn't give up and that small ride in a truck for 9 miles, gave me the strength to do those last 30.

In Duck Key, we stayed the night at a beautiful resort called Hawk's Cay. We ate dinner, but skipped the evening entertainment in favor of bed. There in bed, I became overwhelmed by the fact that we had 65 miles to go the next day. My body ached. Plus, I guess I should mention, I was running a low grade fever the few days before the ride and during the ride, which wasn't helping. There in the arms of my man, I cried and let everything out (I'm honestly not a crier, which is why all this crying was freaking me out).

In the morning, after 12 hours of sleep, I moved through the motions of getting ready and told myself I'm doing it. I'm doing all 65 miles and I'm riding into Key West. Something clicked in my head. I wanted to do this ride to prove I could be athletic and do something physically challenging. I focused so much on the physical, but in reality it was the mental that was the problem. Yes, my body was sore, but I'd trained my legs exactly right. They could do it. They had the strength and were actually the things that hurt the least. I was sore from being hunched over a bike for seven hours, but that's going to happen to anyone. Physically, I had done it.

Those last 65 miles became about mind over matter. The most physically challenging thing I've ever tried to do, became the biggest mental challenge. I had to ignore the uncomfortable feelings in my ass, crotch, and back. I had to focus on getting done and completing the ride. I pulled through and rode all 65 miles and arrived in Key West feeling empowered.

In the end, when I was standing on the pier in Key West in a sea of bikes, I realized I had been part of something pretty amazing. I'd spent much of the ride focusing on myself, but there, with the sea air and all the faces of the riders, I saw the impact of what we'd all done. HIV/AIDS is something that nearly destroyed the gay community. I honestly can't imagine what it was like to be in a highly populated gay area in the 80s and early 90s. I can't imagine the fear, misunderstanding, and pain. Luckily, there's been huge improvements and it's not the death sentence it once was. It is, however, still scary and life-changing and people still need help and support. There in Key West, I was surrounded by others like me (younger and negative), but I was also there with positive men, men and women who had lost loved ones, and people who face HIV/AIDS every day in some capacity.

This year's Smart Ride raised $675, 724, which is just amazing. All of that money goes to six local HIV/AIDS organizations in the state of Florida. I raised $1575 myself and I'm thankful to all who donated.

If you had asked me during the ride would I ever do this again, I would have said no. A day or two after the ride, walking the streets of Key West with Dustin, I realized I would do it again. It changed me and pushed me in ways I didn't expect. It truly was a very emotional event for me and I'm so thankful to have done it. I'm also thankful that I have such an amazing partner who is always willing to do new things with me. We will both be back for another one someday.

-Stephen (Smart)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My Book Cover

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about my search for cover art for my upcoming first book of poems. For me, the process of deciding a cover was complicated and required a lot of time staring at images on my computer screen. In the post, I mentioned how lucky I am to be working with a press that gave me final approval on the cover. They were great to work with and very willing to listen to my ideas and my criticism of the various covers placed before me.

In some ways, I had a clear image in my head that I was having difficulty communicating. I wanted something a little edgy and a little unsettling. I also quickly found myself drawn to using a mouth on the cover. The title of the book has "voices" in it and the idea of having an image that showcased the mouth more prominently than anything else struck me as the right move.

The final result is the image to the right and I'm very pleased with how it turned out. This is my first book of poems and it's very personal to me and this image feels just right for these poems. Of course, I'm sure some won't like it. It's sort of like naming your child. Everyone has an opinion about the name you selected, but I'm happy with my choice.

I thought I would officially release the image here, before people saw it on promotional materials. Today marks the four month countdown to the release of He Do the Gay Man in Different Voices. I can't wait for you all to read it.

-Stephen (Cover)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Business of Poetry

The word business has a lot of negative connotations that comes with it. Often one thinks of big business, of underpaid workers and CEOs with private jets, and of greedy men in suits. In some ways, this is fair and understandable. This is typically why many hate to use the word "business" when it comes to the arts.

This has been on my mind a lot recently as I prepare for the launch of my first book of poems in March. Poets like many other artists are often afraid of the word business. There is a concept that if you make money or become successful that you've somehow sold out and that to be a true artist you must suffer.

In the poetry word, the idea of success is a little different. It's very difficult to make lots of money as a poet, so you might think this idea wouldn't be such an issue, but to some it is. The other day on my Facebook newsfeed, I saw a poet post that another poet had contacted him saying he should stop promoting his book on Facebook so much, because it looked desperate.

There seems to be a school of thought that says if you are poet you should do nothing to promote yourself and should just sit and wait as if magically people will flock to you. Perhaps this is why so many poetry presses are so bad at marketing books. Is it an elitist thing? Is it laziness? Is it some internal honor that I don't have or understand?

Why is promoting your work and gaining more readers negative or desperate? Poetry books aren't that easy to come by and many people don't know what's out there, if you don't tell them. Social networking has made it so easy for writers of all kinds to promote their work. I post all the time about magazines or journals that I've been published in and I encourage people to buy copies. I'll be doing the same with my book. It's also the reason to do poetry readings. Is it desperate to want a few people to buy your book and to maybe make a few bucks?

This isn't something new facing writers today. Poets used to be paid by kings and queens and other wealthy people to entertain them. 19th century novelists often had their work serialized and were paid by the word, which is why many of those novels are so long. Yet, we hold many of these writers in high esteem. Why should it be any different for writers today? It seems some are holding writers and artists to standards that perhaps never really existed.

There is a business side to being a published writer and it doesn't have to be a negative business. Some writers/artists want to place themselves above this concept of business. That is fine, but you probably won't ever get your work out there. I write because I love it, but I also write because I want to share my work with others and to do that I have to focus on the business side from time to time.

In the last three years, I've gotten a lot of poems accepted for publication and the primary reason for that is that I've spent a lot of time researching places to submit and doing submissions. This is part of being a published writer. Is it fun? Most of the time, no. Does it take a lot of time? Yes. Submissions is part of the business. You can't just sit in your apartment and wait for someone to magically find your poem on your hard-drive and want to publish it.

Being proud of your work and promoting it, doesn't make you any less of a writer. When my book comes out, you can count on me to be posting and promoting about it as much as I can. I owe that to myself and to my publisher. Don't fear, I'm a long way from a private jet or even a nice suit.

-Stephen (Busy)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

It's November!

It is hard to believe that 2011 is heading to its close. It is already November and while I absolutely love October and Halloween (as you can see from the picture), I've always had a soft spot for November. This is probably because it is my birth month and who doesn't like a month where you can make people be nice to you and buy you things and eat cake?

This November is special because it is not only my birthday, but I'm also about to complete a huge challenge that I set myself up for a few months ago. Last summer, Dustin and I decided to register for the Smart Ride, which is a 165 mile bike ride from Miami to Key West. It raises money for those living with or affected by HIV/AIDS. The ride is November 18th and 19th.

It is one thing to sign up for a ride and another to properly prepare for it. I have to say I am very pleased with Dustin and myself. We've being seriously preparing and working hard and we have both raised the required $1250.00. I am still taking donations. I would love to get to $1500.00 and I have about $150 to go. If you would like to help out, you can donate by going to this link.

Completing this ride means a lot to me. This is a cause I truly care about and the ride also represents a personal challenge to myself. I've never been a big athletic person, so doing this ride has made me go outside my comfort zone, which is something we all need to do sometimes. It's been a rewarding experience so far and I can't want to actually do the ride.

I do have a pretty good reward at the end. We will be staying in Key West for a few days and will be there on my birthday. This year I turn 29 and I honestly can't wait for the next year of my life. I have a lot of big plans and goals and I want to make my last year of my 20s the best one yet.

Here's to a great November!

-Stephen (28 going on 29)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Interview Series: Megan Volpert

Happy Halloween weekend! Since October is almost over, it is time to post my monthly interview with an emerging GLBT poet. This month’s poet comes to us from Atlanta, is about to publish her fourth collection, and just turned 30 this month. Her name is Megan Volpert and I greatly enjoyed getting to talk with her. Megan and I will be crossing paths again in Atlanta in April for a poetry reading.

Until then, check out our conversation!

S: What got you into poetry? Can you pinpoint the moment when you realized you were a poet?

M: I had more books than toys as a kid, so I'm sure that had something to do with it. But the first time I recall a poem really just stabbing me in the chest with its awesomeness would be my junior year of high school, reading Eliot's "The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock" in class. People always say that clichéd thing to me, that I'm an old soul, but I guess this moment proves there's a truth there. I remember the kid next to me was dozing off, and I just thought, "wow, that kid is a moron. He's missing this life-changing idea."

The first time I realized I was a poet was probably my first time at an open mic. I did my undergrad at Illinois State. Everybody knows that Normal, Illinois, has one of the most beloved geek squads of slam poets on the national scene. It's because there's so much crossover between the local slam and the speech/forensics kids. Well, I was a debate team kid who shared an office with the speechies, and they encouraged me to come see them at the slam. By the end of that first slam, everything in my body was just viscerally screaming, "you have to do this! Take the mic!" So that was the impulse not merely to scribble alone in my dorm, but to share. The sharing part is, I think, the essential element of recognizing that one is a writer.

S: That is well put. Sharing your work for the first time is a big step in the process. I can still remember the first poem I read my freshman year of college at an open mic. night. It is an important moment.

I always love talking to poets whose work is very different from my own. After reading some of your work, I can see that we have very different styles and approaches to poetry. How do you personally describe your work when asked about it?

M: I try to describe individual works, not "my work" in general. It's too eclectic--I hope! Through the years, I've been labeled (or libeled) a number of things, even things that compete or contradict: slammer, spoken word artist, performance poet or artist, language poet, linguistic theorist, pop culture theorist, psychoanalyst, queer, feminist, surrealist, confessionalist, dadaist, essayist, prose poet, hybrid poet, et cetera. It's been nice to keep surprising people, and poking holes in those expectations. I guess that means one feature of "my work" is that it aims to defy any expectation; it aims to turn smoothly and grippingly, to corner like it's on rails. I think also that across the books there is a certain tone, a voice that is growing increasingly clear. It has a dryness of wit, or maybe even a sarcasm, that continually rears up. But now I'm just paying myself senseless compliments, so I'll stop "describing" there.

S: As you have mentioned, you do slam poetry and have competed in the National Poetry Slam competition. How do you approach writing a slam piece? How is it different from writing a poem that’s meant to be read on the page?

M: I'm worried about using the present tense to answer this question. I was in competition as a slam poet for the better part of the '00s, and though I still pay it some attention, I know that I am not really part of that community anymore. When I wrote pieces expressly for slamming, I considered many angles of the thing. What did I want to say? What sounds did I want to make? What images would lend themselves well to blocking for the stage? What kind of hook would be best? What structure can I use to help memorize it? Ultimately, I stopped slamming because these questions led me to focus far too much on what others had done to be successful. I became unable to write what I wanted, writing instead what I thought would be winning poems. The competition aspect became too important, so I had to ditch out in order to save my ability to write. I miss it sometimes, but I am not sorry I quit competing.

So it is somewhat different from writing a poem for the page, depending on the extent to which you are willing to allow the directly competitive aspects of it to ruin you. But I learned so much about what makes a good poem, and the instinct to win over a crowd still serves me well at readings. This is one thing I am pretty sure about though: a poem built for only the page or only the stage is most likely a failure. All poets ought to make the most of both.

S: Those are interesting insights. I’m not overly familiar with the slam poetry scene or the competition involved. I do, however, read almost all poetry books aloud to myself. Hearing is key.

In December, your fourth collection is coming out from Sibling Rivalry Press. Your other books were put out by different presses. What has your publishing experience been like? Do you have advice for other poets?

M: Sibling Rivalry is my third press. Two of my books are with BlazeVOX, and one is with MetroMania. Presses are like snowflakes, and I've been fortunate to have pretty good experiences every time. My first try was fraught with tension, but that was more my own baggage and not realizing what real publication is all about. The process can be harrowing at first, and I wasn't in the right frame of mind. I learned things about myself, such as that I like to have a lot of creative control over the look of the final product. So I keep to the small/indy presses, in order to ensure the cover comes out how I imagine it, that the blurbs are from people I care about, and so on.

Getting a book ready for publication is one thing, but then putting it out there on the market is quite another. There is sadly little audience for contemporary poetry, and the realization that one's book will not sell hundreds of pre-orders can surprise poets who do not understand the business end of poetry. Very few presses want to put real money toward the publicity or touring of a poetry collection, so poets are doing more of their own legwork than ever. Because of my slam experience, I had a somewhat more do-it-yourself attitude already in place. The rise of social media has made doing publicity both more and less difficult.

I have one piece of advice for other poets: do not pin your self-worth on the dream of winning a Pulitzer. A dozen poets are born every day, and dozens of poetry collections debut every month. Let yourself be special by staying true to the writer that you are, and if it turns out that the writer you are is the one in a million capable of garnering fame or fortune through poetry, you can be satisfied that you've earned it. And if it turns out that you've lost the crapshoot for this mythical fame and fortune, you can still be satisfied that you've stayed true to the writer you are. I hope that doesn't reek of discouragement.

I often discuss this with one of my dear friends, who is by any reasonable standard a very famous and fairly rich poet. He is getting up there in years, and on his birthday, I always ask him whether he feels successful. He invariably answers that he does not; there's always a fresh brass ring for him to work toward reaching. And I think that's so true, that even the Pulitzer in some ways cannot be enough. So I try to find enjoyment and contentment with whatever small successes publication has brought me, and not fret too much over winning big. You can see how this issue of competition is not unique to slam.

S: No, it’s not. Thank you for your honesty. These are issues that poets face. I’m about to release my first book and it is a challenge. You want to be successful, but true to yourself.

I’ve been interviewing emerging GLBT poets all year, and getting their perspectives on the queer poetry world. From your perspective, what do you think the role of young gay poets should be? Are there issues we should be tackling? Anything particular to the lesbian community?

M: This set of questions puts a crinkle in the bridge of my nose. I wonder whether I am still "emerging" or still "young" or even whether I am a "queer poet." I've written four books, I'm thirty years old, and I'm not sure any of my books are particularly queer. They sometimes make mention of my wife, or discuss icons of queer culture like Andy Warhol, but I mean, is that enough? Do I have all my badges?

I also don't think of myself as knowing much of anything about "the queer poetry world." Since I am Co-Director of The Atlanta Queer Literary Festival, that might seem like a silly thing to say. At the risk of offending a certain type of writer, I will say: yes, there is an issue we should be tackling--poetry. Look, I am as out of the closet as a queer can be, but the identity of my person does not precisely mirror or translate to the identity of my books. I am queer and a poet, but I don't think my books are all that queer, and I don't think I am obligated to make them so. I think it's utterly necessary for any queer person to be as visible as s/he can without risking safety or sanity. But I don't write books that are just for queers, and queerness is usually not the primary way I like to assert myself within my books. Probably queers find a layer of meaning or enjoyment in a lot of my work that other people do not, and for that I am glad. But it is just gravy.

Put down the noose, dear reader! As a queer, I think there are a lot of issues we should be tackling--all and any queer issues. As a poet, the only issue I am tackling is poetry. If they occasionally overlap, fine/good. When they do not overlap, I don't apologize for it. I feel comfortable with and proud of my strong record of queer activism, and do not see valid reasons why that record must necessarily bleed into my sphere of concerns as a poet.

S: In some ways, these questions also depend on how you define “queer.” For me, I don’t see any separation. I am gay and therefore that is part of my work and a place I write from. I’m also from the Midwest, which plays a part in my work. I’m also a male, which plays a part in my work. What I like is the broadness that the term “queer” can have.

Who are the poets who most influence and inspire you?

M: I don't read as much new poetry as I probably should, and then there are poets who inspire me as people even though I don't relate much to their work, or poets whose works inspire me even though I don't like them as people. OK, I'll stop qualifying and just answer the question. My go-to answer is generally Laura Mullen and John Yau. But the field in this ballpark is broad: Christian Bök, Taylor Mali, Eileen Myles, Amy King, Bruce Covey, Randy Prunty--that's a glance at one or two shelves on my bookcase. Then I'm also a voracious consumer of nonfiction and pop cultural stuff: Roland Barthes, Camille Paglia, Andrei Codrescu, Hunter Thompson, Wayne Koestenbaum, and many more. To tie in to your previous question, perhaps I should also note that I tend to read more things that probably qualify as "queer nonfiction" than "queer poetry."

S: If someone came up to you who hasn’t read much poetry, what is the one book you would tell them they have to read?

M: I try to think of what they might like; I'd never give a blanket recommendation of the same book to everybody. People get different things out of different books. Some people need a book that validates what they're up to, and some people need a book that smashes what they're up to into pieces. With my high school students, I often recommend Nicole Blackman's Blood Sugar, or something from Daphne Gottlieb or Rachel McKibbens. If I'm talking to somebody whose tastes are fairly classical or conventional, I often recommend Bök's Eunoia. If I'm talking to one of my poetry friends, I try to recommend other poetry friends and broaden the network of all of us. Lately I have been sending a lot of people to Jillian Weise's first book, The Amputee's Guide to Sex, as it continues to haunt me.

S: I love Weise’s book. I’ve recommended it to many people myself. You currently teach high school English, which I admire greatly. I can only handle teaching college. How do you approach poetry with your high school students?

M: Thanks, I do love my job. I approach poetry with my high school students through their ears. It's not difficult. First a little pop or hip hop they already know well, then ease over to Bob Dylan, on to Dylan Thomas, backward to Keats or whatever. High school students have an innate understanding of poetry because of their cultural dependence on the wonderful therapy of music. They go to my class website, and this week it's an Edna St. Vincent Millay mp3 they've got to download instead of Lady Gaga, but they will still be curious and comfortable working with it. And a lot of them are covertly writing it. Kids are always sneaking into my room at lunch to leave poems on my desk, asking for a little extra guidance. Many academics, and perhaps the public at large, think of poetry as something like calculus, something that's necessarily difficult or that younger people cannot appreciate. In my view, that's quite mistaken. Kids love poetry, though they don't always know that's what it is when they see it. I have a more Whitmanesque attitude about its accessibility, I guess.

S: What has your experience been like teaching high school and being an out lesbian poet?

M: It's a burden I find well worth carrying. On the positive side, students rely upon me for reasons not to kill themselves, reasons it gets better. Teachers likewise rely upon me for insight into the unique challenges queer students face, and I often end up as the spokesperson for more general anti-bullying campaigns. On the negative side, there are parents out there who probably fantasize about burning crosses on my lawn. I get anonymous hate mail through my author website a few times a year. They scrutinize every aspect of my teaching in hopes of catching me doing something that could get me in trouble. For this reason, I strive to be twice as ethical and professional as other teachers.

Being out as a poet is actually perhaps the more difficult position, because censorship is still fairly socially acceptable even where bigotry is not. My work is not found in my school's library--much of it contains content or language that various sources, including me, would deem inappropriate for fifteen year olds to access in a school setting. I keep my writerly life separate from my teacherly life, and do not discuss my work as a poet with my students. I do not encourage them to check it out on their own time either, though of course, a quick attention to Google yields a cornucopia of stuff. Several times, it's happened that a kid has been caught looking at my work at home on his/her own time, and when the angry parent confronts the kid, the kid says I gave my author website to the class or something. I would never do that, and I understand why the kids would want to deflect blame from themselves, but it does land me in the Principal's office to help handle these irrational parents. Fortunately, I work at a school with a very supportive administrative team, and they trust that I am keeping the two spheres as separate as can be reasonably expected.

Both of these identity issues are obviously in stark contrast to the climate of the university. Unless you work at Brigham Young or something, being a queer liberal who publishes cutting-edge work is a privileged and enviable position. But as a high school English teacher, it leaves me open to the possibility of persecution. Quite literally though, I am saving lives. These students need me, and I will continue to serve and protect them to the best of my ability, in a manner that denies or compromises my own identity as little as possible. I'm not a martyr by any means, but I am definitely a soldier.

S: Good for you. I can only imagine the challenges, but also the rewards. You just turned 30 this month. What did your 20s teach you and what are you most looking forward to in your 30s?

M: Well, my image of myself is that I have been 45 for a long time now, so turning 30 was not as much of a challenge as I was led to believe it would be. I'm not waiting for anything--I've already got a great job, a lovely wife, a nice house, etc. My twenties were well spent, half working my ass off and half enjoying myself so much I can hardly remember the details. I suppose people in their thirties do both of those things still, but with more impunity. So I am most looking forward to making the decisions I've always made, with a little less judgment from others.

S: Now for some fun: What poet(s) dead or alive would you most like to have sex with? And what kind of sex would it be?

M: Well, let's dismiss the "alive" part immediately. How awkward! I'm a professional and I love my wife, and that's that. So my best answer is: Emily Dickinson. Then, rumors surrounding her sister-in-law aside, we can put the whole is-she-or-isn't-she controversy to rest. Plain though she was, that whole uptight New England vibe is sometimes sort of a turn on.

S: What is one poem you think is so great that you totally wish you had written it?

M: I try not to think like this anymore. Envy is such a useless emotion; I try to convert it into ambition, into more positive and productive things. But I do wish I could play the guitar--there is a parallel universe where I am not a poet, but a rock and roll star. So I will say: Tom Petty's "Anything that's Rock and Roll is Fine." That's my favorite song in the world.

S: What celebrity should play you in your bio-pic?

M: I might say Chloe Sevigny, because we have the same slouchy bodies, and she always looks sort of snobby and unhappy. My face likewise has this look. I can be having the greatest time at a dinner party, and people will still leave thinking I didn't enjoy their company. I'm just not one of those people who walk around with a grin on all the time; I'm one of those people who think that looks stupid. But on the upside, when you get a smile or a laugh from me, it's completely and verifiably genuine. Maybe a man should play me. One of the Culkin brothers? Or Tilda Swinton. It would take a person who could represent with a lot of attitude. The ability to mouth off is essentially my defining characteristic. Maybe a slightly fearsome person, like Isabella Rosellini?

Those are my instincts, but really, I was clueless on this question. So, I asked my wife. She said: Parker Posey, Sally Field, and Kristen Stewart. Obviously, my wife has a more generous interpretation of my character than I do, for which I am grateful to her. But she also really liked the Culkin brothers idea. Fuck, am I an anti-hero?!

S: I love how seriously you took the question. I’m a big fan of Chloe Sevigny, so I’ll vote for her. What’s your favorite curse word or phrase?

M: Fuck. One of the nicest compliments I ever got was when someone once said to me that he felt I made better use of the word "fuck" than anyone he'd ever known. What a noble accomplishment! But yeah, "fuck" is the greatest. Its part of speech is so versatile, and its monosyllabic exclamation can be inserted seamlessly almost anywhere in a conversation. It's so emotive and primal, a perfect little nugget of an expletive, and a classic.

S: That is a great compliment! Lastly, what are you currently working on?

M: I'm very pleased to say that I'm contracted to edit the next anthology from Sibling Rivalry Press, slated for publication in 2013--This Assignment is so Gay: LGBTIQ Poets on the Art of Teaching. This is obviously a topic that is near and dear to my heart, and equally obviously, a book that has been missing from the marketplace for far too long already. "It gets better" is an excellent idea, but it can only carry us to a certain point. This anthology will collect the experiences of queer teachers, in an attempt to make visible the diverse, conflicting and conflicted facets of their perspective. I hope it will shed some light for other teachers, give fresh energy to queer students, and of course be enjoyable poetry. Anyone reading this who might be interested to submit work for the anthology should look for the call for submissions at the end of this year. Also by that time, I'll have the website up and running: www.thisassignmentissogay.com. Can you believe no one else already owned that web address?!

The anthology will be my second project with Sibling Rivalry Press. Though I've had good experiences with several editors, I can say without question that it simply doesn't get better than Bryan Borland. My new book, Sonics in Warholia, comes alive on December 6th. Thanks to Bryan, this project has already turned out so much better than I could've imagined. Pre-orders begin on Halloween, and the first fifty pre-orders sold through the Sibling Rivalry website will also receive a free download of the audiobook companion.

Then, as usual, I'm also working on another manuscript. It's a series of epigrammatic prose poems, or micro essays, that addresses concepts of death and autoimmune disease through metaphors of motorcycling and rock and roll music. Somebody called them "funnyserious, tinybig" pieces, which I think is just lovely. To me, it also feels a bit like Joe Brainard's I Remember.

S: Those sound like great projects. I look forward to reading them.

photo by rob friedman

-Stephen (Q&A)