One of my goals for 2011 is to begin to include other voices on my blog. To do that, I am starting an interview series right here on Joe’s Jacket. This series will feature gay poets who are emerging or near the beginning of their careers. Basically, the goal is to talk to gay poets who are close to my same age, but who may have different perspectives, backgrounds, and career paths than I do. I’m very excited about this project and hope my readers will enjoy these conversations. I want them to be insightful, but also entertaining. I hope to do one a month for the entire year.
After coming up with the idea, it didn’t take me long to decide who my first poet would be. I’ve mentioned him many times on this blog and we have grown into great poetry friends over the last year or two. Bryan Borland is perfect to kick off this series because he has exploded onto the gay poetry scene recently, but might just be taking it over. So grab your hankies and enjoy the interview.
S: I have to be honest with my readers, as you know Bryan, I didn’t ask you to do this interview, I told you that you were doing it. I think we have that kind of relationship, don’t you?
B: You're holding a whip and I'm collared. Do I have any other choice?
S: No, you really don’t. Start at the beginning for me, what got you into poetry? Can you pinpoint the moment when you first realized you were a poet?
B: I was thirteen years old, living in Monticello, Arkansas, and the concept of growing into an out, gay man had not been conceptualized, let alone born into any kind of pre-existence. I had a good female friend. We shared many things, including, unbeknownst to her, an intense love of a boy who lived down the street. She’d write him love poems. I would, too, but B:they’d never survive the night, and I’d drown them in water, rip them in pieces, or burn them. What survived, however, was the knowledge that an outlet existed for my feelings, and soon, I learned to write the type of bad, quizzical poetry I think we all write at one time or another – where only the poet can solve the riddle of the poem. When did I realize I was a poet? When I was thirteen. That was the year I understood that poetry was the same for me as breathing. I had to write. I had no alternative.
S: Drown them in water? Rip them up? Burn them? So, you were a drama queen from the very beginning?
B: It was a very elaborate production. My mother was confused as to why, for my fourteenth birthday, I asked for a mourning veil.
S: As you stated, you grew up in Arkansas and you still live there now. When most people think of Arkansas they think of a very conservative area and one that might not be so welcoming to the gay community. How do you define Arkansas and what effect has it had on you as a gay man and a gay poet?
B: Arkansas has a rich history. I think of three generations of my family as farmers. I think of my grandmother’s cooking. I think of our tradition of strong, Southern women – the kind of women that gay men hoist onto pedestals. But I also think of how the struggle for civil rights left blood all around this region. There’s still hatred here. But in my adult life, I’ve only had one experience wherein I was targeted for being gay. I was jogging around our neighborhood, and a young boy, eleven or twelve and with a friend, called me a faggot. The boy lives directly across from us. We don’t fly the pride flags from our porch, but it’s obvious to our neighbors that Chris and I are more than roommates. Was the boy repeating the words of his father, a man who waves and shares his newspapers with us? Maybe. More likely he was repeating a word thrown around at school like those cursed dodge balls I hated in gym. For the most part, I’ve found, as I’ve grown, and as my notoriety for being gay has grown, people are accepting. The women, especially, who hold Southern families together, the ones who really run things – even the religious ones – they love “The Gays.” They want us as their friends. Call it the Will and Grace effect. They want us to go shopping with them. It’s stereotypical as hell, but I’ll take that stereotypical affection over a baseball bat to the head any day.
S: You’ve had a lot of success in the last year and have started up many new projects including a new journal for gay poetry and your own press. What drove you to take on the editing side and business side of poetry?
B: I fell into it by accident. After my poem, “Bite,” was published in Ganymede, I developed a friendship with its editor, John Stahle, and I ultimately hired him to design my first book, My Life as Adam (John convinced me self-publishing was the way to go, though it was not lost on me that he stood to make a profit from my decision). John had planned to promote my book in the next issue of Ganymede, but he died before the issue went to print. I was left without promotion for Adam, but, more significant was that the gay writing community was left without a journal that had welcomed and published writers at all stages in their careers – something that was lacking at the time, at least in my opinion.
I exchanged emails with Matthew Hittinger and Philip F. Clark, telling them that I not only wanted to publish a tribute issue of Ganymede, but that I also was contemplating the idea of carrying on the publication in some form. Using Ganymede as a template, I learned the basics of design, and when we put out the tribute issue, from submissions to print, in a little less than two months, I realized I could do this. Our new journal was born the first time I read Perry Brass’ wonderful essay, “A Distant Memory: Andrew Bifrost and Mouth of the Dragon,” which is included in Ganymede Unfinished. Mouth of the Dragon was a gay poetry journal that included multiple poems by multiple gay poets. It was not flashy. But it was important. I didn’t want to use the Ganymede name for legal reasons, but choosing a new name was easy. Assaracus was Ganymede’s earth-bound brother. Since the press is called Sibling Rivalry, it was a perfect fit.
Working through each issue of Ganymede to build a mailing list for the tribute issue gave me all of John’s contacts. It all fell into my lap. Sometimes we’re handed a moment, and we have to take it. It’s never free, or easy, and, believe me, I’ve worked to build a legitimate publishing company, but it does feel like the stars aligned somewhat to make all of this possible.
My goal is to run an ethical, strong press that is driven by passion, not profit. I want to influence a generation. Is that too lofty a goal?
S: Yes, but one worth having. As someone who has closely watched and offered advice and feedback, I have to say you’ve pulled off quite a bit in a very short amount of time. You have guts, or would “balls” be more appropriate here? Let’s say you have both. Since you have accomplished a lot so quickly, what do you consider to be your greatest poetry accomplishment or moment so far?
B: The first issue of Assaracus feels monumental to me. I wanted to include different styles of poetry, from Eric Norris’s rhymed verse to James Kangas’ classical, confessional work to Shane Allison’s erotic, Ginsberg-esque poems. Christopher Hennessy is the first poet we feature, and he makes a grand entrance. Raymond Luczak brings this awareness of language that really stands out in a crowd of those of us who claim to be aware of such things. Frank J Miles wrote a great, three-poem piece that demands to be read into a microphone. Gavin Dillard sent in short, almost-spiritual pieces. Fans of his earlier work will be able to see his evolution and maturation as a poet and as a man. Your poems, Stephen, represent the voice of a generation of gay men in between repression and equality. Jay Burodny is an edgy newcomer with an old-English feel. Matthew Hittinger is a fun poet who writes with control and polish. It’s a powerful first batch of guys. I’m proud of them.
S: As I’ve told you before, I’m honored to be in the first issue and I’m so pleased with how it turned out. I don’t often read journals cover to cover (don’t judge me people, you don’t either), but I read every piece in that issue. It is a great start and I can’t wait to see what comes of it.
While you have been a great promoter of yourself (and I mean that in the best way possible), you have also always been greatly supportive of other poets. Your last response is evidence of that. With that being said, who are the poets who most influence and inspire you?
B: If there were a Mount Rushmore carved of the poetic giants of my life, it would feature the heads of Whitman, Plath, Ginsberg, and Angelou. I’m a big fan of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Rita Dove was the first established poet I met. I have a book of her collected work that I carried with me for the entirety of my college life. Claudia Emerson had a wonderful book a few years ago that won the Pulitzer, Late Wife. Gavin Dillard’s work as an editor altered my being. If I started listing my contemporary peers, we’d be here all day. The honesty of your work inspires me. I think you paint an accurate portrait of gay guys our age, the beautiful parts and the ugly parts. Not many people have the courage or the ability to pull that style of poetry off. It’s why I wrote you a fan letter when we both appeared in Ganymede.
S: That’s right you are my fan, but then how did I end up the interviewer?
I’m interested that you mentioned Angelou. She’s always been my go to poet to make fun of and I would always forbid my students to write about her. They mostly wanted to write about her because she was the only poet they knew and I wanted to push them. I do, however, love her reading of Craigslist ads (if you don’t get this joke then your gay card is in danger).
I like hearing your list because it’s quite different from my own (with the exception of Whitman).
On that same note, 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?
B: Gavin Dillard’s anthology A Day for a Lay: A Century of Gay Poetry. It takes the concept of poetry as it’s taught in school and explodes it like a grenade. Take someone who thinks poetry is boring and read them a few poems from this collection. Poetry will become erotic, revealing, dangerous. It will become my favorite word: outlaw.
S: I’m sure that would blow some minds and maybe some other body parts. In the academic world, much is often written about the “state” of poetry in America. Some claim it is dead, others that it is thriving or hasn’t changed much. I’m curious how you would characterize the current state of gay poetry in America.
B: I’m going to borrow this answer from my friend William Johnson (Publisher/Editor of Mary: A Literary Quarterly) in an interview at EatOnThis.com. We’re in a contemporary renaissance of gay writing. Look at what Alex Dimitrov is doing with the Wilde Boys. Look at the exciting pieces William runs in Mary. Look at Allison, Hittinger, Jeremy Halinen, Steven Reigns. Look in the mirror, Stephen, because you’re a part of this, too. I feel like I’m giving the State of the Union. Hand over my heart, pledging allegiance to the rainbow flag: the current state of gay poetry is strong. And growing stronger.
S: My mirror is a little dirty at the moment, but I’ll give myself a good look later. I’m going to take a short break to promote myself. I have a new poem about Dolly Parton and Santa Claus coming out in the next issue of Mary, so make sure you get a copy.
As most of my readers know, you and I co-wrote a book that should be out later this year called The Hanky Code. What most excites you about this project? Give the readers a little teaser.
B: When I explain The Hanky Code to people, I say that it is a poetic interpretation of the sexuality of gay men. Yes, it’s raunchy at times, but it’s not sexual for the sake of being sexual. These poems are more than two-dimensional. What does it mean to look for sex in a public park? What are the origins of our fetish subcultures? Who would dare be a scat bottom – where is the eroticism in that? And what does marriage look like, decades in? You know, I’ve got a degree in psychology. I think for some of these poems, I channeled my inner Freud. I’ll let the readers decide what stage in which I’m fixated. Or just ask my husband.
S: Or search xtube? Maybe that’s just me. That’s a pretty good teaser. The Hanky Code was a really fun project to do with you. I had never done a collaboration with another poet until this. We both come from different backgrounds. We have also never met face to face, so what was it like, from your perspective, to write this book with me?
B: Really, it was like an online hookup. We chatted a bit. Compared dick size. Figured out who was the bottom and who was the top. Then we showed up at an agreed-upon location and whipped ‘em out. When it was over, we rinsed our mouth out with off-brand mouthwash with a little bit of each other left inside us. In fact, Stephen, I think I might be pregnant with your child.
S: Good luck getting child support out of me! But I’m glad I could impress you with my “skills.” If you find my underwear, could you mail them back? They were expensive.
We are both still young, or younger, but what is your advice for gay poets just starting out?
B: Blog! Blog blog blog. What do you have to lose? You’ll cultivate a fan base. You’ll create contacts. You might just get an offer for publication. Don’t listen to people who tell you not to blog your work. It’s a balancing act. Blog some of it. Blog first drafts. Take feedback. Share your process. The smart publishers will eventually realize that if they print someone with a large blog following, then they will likely gain a portion of that large readership.
S: While we have slightly different perspectives on blogging (I never post my work or drafts), I do second your enthusiasm for writing a blog. I’ve gained a lot of fans and made many connections by writing here. It is also a great place to push and examine your ideas about poetry. It helps to build an online presence and community.
Now for some real fun: What poet, dead or alive, would you most like to have sex with? And what kind of sex would it be?
B: I want an orgy with the Assaracus boys. And it would be dirty, dirty sex. I’m thinking a sling would be involved. I bet Eric Norris has one. She’s freaky in bed.
S: Hot, I’ll grab my harness and lube and come over. Just make sure I get some of Matthew Hittinger (Matt, if you are reading this, I’m just kidding. Sort of. I mean, maybe not. Call me.).
We should move on before I get too worked up. What is one poem you think is so great that you totally wish you had written it?
B: “Thomas” by Vytautas Pliura. It’s taboo. It’s scandalous. It’s my all-time favorite poem. It destroys and then rebuilds me.
S: That was your chance to really suck up to me and you blew it. Here’s one more shot: What celebrity should play you in your bio-pic? And who would play me, because I should totally be in that too?
B: Where the hell is Jonathan Taylor Thomas? Let’s resurrect his career. He can play me. Rupert Grint can play you, if we’re sticking with redheads. If not, how about Zach Gilford from Friday Night Lights?
S: Rupert Grint? Really? I’ll take Zach Gilford (though I had to look him up because I had no clue who he was).
Lastly, what’s next for you?
B: The schedule for SRP is crazy. Up next is the Raymond Luczak’s follow-up to Mute, Road Work Ahead, which I think will become our centerpiece. In June, we’ll publish our first full-length collection from a female poet, Voices Through Skin by Theresa Senato Edwards. I knew I wanted her based on her cover letter alone. We'll follow that up with Autopornography by Loria Taylor. We grew up in the same neighborhood, and she really is a fantastic writer. We’ve got chapbooks by Jessie Carty and Saeed Jones in the fall. Then in December, we’ll publish an anthology edited by Kevin Simmonds called Collective Brightness. It focuses on spirituality in the LGBT community – an outlaw concept in its own right. Then we’ll have more issues of Assaracus. I’m really looking forward to the third issue, when we’ll publish some potentially controversial but brilliant poems by Antler. Between all that, I’m trying to decide how to bring my new manuscript, Less Fortunate Pirates: Poems from the First Year Without My Father to the public. This is a book that has mass appeal and a universal message. It’s the best set of poems I’ve ever written, and it’s the most important project I’ve ever completed. Do I publish it through Sibling Rivalry? Or do I let someone else run with it? That’s what I’m wrestling with now. I’m also inserting myself into the third issue of Assaracus, because I’m the editor. Call it a perk.
S: Can’t wait to check out all of those projects. As someone who has read a draft of your next book, I can tell my readers it is not to be missed.
Thanks Bryan for being my first. I hope it was just the right amount of pain and pleasure.
Check out more of Bryan at www.bryanborland.com