Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Goodbye, Velvet Mafia

A few days ago, I got word that the website Velvet Mafia is closing down. Velvet Mafia is a site that, in their own words, published "gay and queer fiction and poetry that refused to assimilate." They published a wide range of work some of which you couldn't find anywhere else. Some was erotica, some was more literary, and some was both. The site first went up in 2001 and provided an outlet for many writers and also helped build a community.

Velvet Mafia first published me in 2009 and I was very grateful to be a part of it. Being published there first introduced me to Philip Clark, who I have remained in contact with over the last two years.

I admire people who take on the creation of publications (either online or print). I've worked for a few and know how much time and effort they take. Velvet Mafia has entertained people, connected people together, and made people think for 10 years. The editors are moving on to other projects and I'm interested to see what they will do next.

The site will be up until the end of May, so go check it out (Warning: it is not safe for work). You can read my poems "We've done this all backwards" and "note, passed to matthew shepard" here. Velvet Mafia also published me in 2010 along side Bryan Borland. This time they published a preview of The Hanky Code poems. Check them out here.

I want to thank Velvet Mafia for giving my work attention and exposure. Enjoy it while you can!

-Stephen (Velvet)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Interview Series: Raymond Luczak

I began 2011 with a goal of interviewing other GLBT poets. I had no idea where this goal would take me. I’m just four months into the project and I feel very blessed by the four interviews I’ve been able to do. Each one has excited and energized my love of poetry. I’ve gotten some wonderful feedback and hopefully a few new readers because of the series.

April’s interview is with a great poet that I’ve been a fan of for a few years. He recently published his fourth collection and I’m honored that he wanted me to interview him. Here is my interview with Raymond Luczak:

Stephen: When I began my interview series, I wanted to focus mostly on emerging GLBT poets around my age, but when I had the opportunity to interview you, I didn’t want to pass it up. I don’t consider you emerging. I feel as if you have emerged and are an important voice in the poetry world. How would you classify your career at this moment?

Raymond: Hmm. Even though some people might categorize my current slate of accomplishments as “mid-career,” I still feel “emerging” in the sense that I’m continually discovering new things about the things I thought I once knew as I write new poems. The exhilaration I get from rewriting a new poem as close to perfection in my mind’s eye is more than sufficient. Publication is just icing on the cake for me. For a long time I used to believe in the maxim, which many advice books for writers extol as well, “Write what you know.” Now? I think there’s a lot more value to be found in my new maxim: “Write what you don’t know about what you already know.” This approach has forced me to be a lot more creative, especially with considering new perspectives about a particular memory, for instance.

S: I like that way of looking at “emerging.” It’s great that you are looking at new approaches to your work.

You are originally from a small town called Ironwood in Michigan. I’m always interested in people who were born in similar areas as me. I was born and raised in Indiana. What was your childhood like? How was it as a gay person?

R: Because I was found to be deaf very young, I was shuttled between my biological family of nine children in Ironwood, Michigan, where there weren’t educational facilities for deaf children like me, and Houghton, Michigan, a university town two hours away. Over the years, I lived with three different foster families in Houghton; I stayed with a foster family during the week, and with my biological family in Ironwood on weekends. This went on for nine years. (I also spent five years in a Catholic school system, which I absolutely hated and yet inspired my first book of poems St. Michael’s Fall.) It wasn’t until recently that I had to consider myself as an orphan in the emotional sense even though I still have relations with my hearing family. I’ve written a piece about how my poem “Orphans” came about at this link along with a subtitled YouTube clip of the poem done in American Sign Language (ASL).

As a gay person, I’d intuited from a very young age that my attraction to boys my age and men older than myself was something not to be discussed. I didn’t have a problem with my own attractions; I just had to hide it. It wasn’t until I hit puberty that my interest in men took a whole new dimension. It wasn’t just an emotional longing; it was sharply sexual. But I didn’t truly come out until I arrived at Gallaudet University in the summer of 1984.

S: That sounds like quite an experience. As you just said, you lost most of your hearing at a very early age (seven months) and being deaf has played a role in much of what you have written. Poetry is often considered a very oral tradition that is based on sound, so how did you come to poetry? And what effect has being deaf had on how you view/read poetry?

R: I’m not sure why Mrs. Fraites, my speech therapist at Ironwood Catholic, had decided that I should try my hand at writing a limerick. She wasn’t one of those conventional speech therapists; she was quite challenging when it came to me. For instance, she didn’t just teach me how to perfect my vowels, diphthongs, and consonants; she also taught me how to lipread, even going to the point of making me read her from the side while she was chewing bubblegum! (If anyone tries to do that today, I’ll always ask the person to remove the bubblegum. Too distracting.) She also taught me idioms that hearing people used, which was critical, because otherwise, if I was trying to lipread a person saying, “It’s raining cats and dogs,” I’d be very confused. The more idioms I understood, the easier it was for me to lipread.

In any case, I had to write three limericks for my next session with Mrs. Fraites. That was my homework. The next day, which was a Tuesday in late October, my maternal grandmother died suddenly of a stroke. Even though she and I never talked with each other, we had a bond that transcended language. Every Sunday morning after Mass, I went with my family to her house on the other side of town. At some point she always drew me to her pantry and press a shiny penny onto my palm while locking her eyes on my mine. It was her way of saying, “I see you.” So when she died, I felt lost and confused. Dead? Of course, my family didn’t talk about it. We were supposed to go to her funeral mass and that would be the end of it.

I forgot all about my speech homework until that Sunday afternoon. I was supposed to write three limericks? Somehow, in that moment, something clicked when I began writing about a witch in a ditch. It was easy. I couldn’t stop writing them. I think the compulsion came from the fact that no one communicated anything about my grandmother’s death and that I so wanted to find some way to articulate feelings that couldn’t be explained while I was still eleven years old. In those long years of loneliness in Ironwood, writing saved me. If no one was willing to listen to me, I’d at least vent it out on the page and put it away.

S: I’m sure your experience speaks to many people. I know at a young age, I also thought of writing as a way of being heard and continue to think of it in that way as an adult.

I first became aware of your work when I read your book Mute published by A Midsummer Night’s Press. I absolutely loved the book. The opening poem in that collection is “How to Fall for a Deaf Man.” This poem is so beautifully honest. The poem is basically a collection of do’s and don’t’s for a hearing man who is falling in love with a deaf man. Could you say a little bit about how this poem came to be?

R: In the summer of 1990, I lived in the same apartment building in Greenwich Village where Edward Albee wrote the first draft of his breakthrough play The Zoo Story. (At the time I didn’t know that Albee, one of my playwright idols, had lived there; I didn’t find out until some seven years ago in an interview he’d done with Mel Gussow for The New York Times.) The fear and hysteria over the AIDS epidemic was starting to crest even more. Naturally I read many gay writers on this topic, and somehow or the other I came across Michael Lassell’s poem “How to Watch Your Brother Die.” I began looking for his other “how to” poems, and I was so struck by them that I’d managed to find his home address--this was way before Google, so I don’t know how I accomplished that--write a letter to him, asking him for permission to use the idea of “how to” for a new poem of mine. I don’t know where the letter is anymore, but I was thrilled with his consent. I had been frustrated with how hearing men had treated me in those days, so I thought that someone needed to tell them how to treat a deaf man (e.g., moi) right! It didn’t take me long to write it, but I didn’t submit it anywhere. I just put it in my first anthology Eyes of Desire: A Deaf Gay & Lesbian Reader (Alyson, 1993). When the time came to publish Mute, I knew I needed to update it for the 21st century by incorporating technological advancements as in texting and video relay calling. What’s easier today is the fact that hearing people are more open to texting and emailing rather than just relying on voice phone calls or speaking. Things are a lot more accessible now, but there’s still a ways to go. Most hearing men are intimidated by the notion of dating a Deaf guy. Oh well. (The capital “D” in the word “Deaf” indicates a linguistic and cultural--not medical, not as something to be “fixed"--perspective on deafness.)

S: Since you brought it up, I’m interested in your reaction to labels. I’ve often discussed on my blog the issues involved in being labeled a “gay poet.” You are called a “gay poet” and also a “deaf gay poet.” How do you view these terms? Do you find them confining or useful?

R: We live in a country where more than 50,000 titles are published every year, and a very small fraction of them ever make it to the top of the New York Times bestseller lists. For writers, marketing becomes 1,000% crucial. It shouldn’t have to be, but that’s the way it is in America. I wasn’t thinking of marketing at all, certainly not at first, when I submitted my long essay “Notes of a Deaf Gay Writer” to the magazine Christopher Street. I was thinking how my piece needed a hook in its title, and I knew that there was a very real paucity of writing about the Deaf gay community at the time. (Expanded with commentary and hindsight, the piece is now available as an ebook title Notes of a Deaf Gay Writer: 20 Years Later on the iPad and the Kindle.)

I don’t have a problem with being called a “gay poet” or a “Deaf gay poet” as long as it compels prospective readers to check out my work; if these labels turn them off, they’re not for me. I can’t win over everyone no matter how much I’d love to, so I won’t even try. All I can do is to be the best writer I can be, and pray that readers will adopt me. Most of us writers are orphans, and we’d love to be included in your family of books on the shelves in your homes! The other reason why those labels don’t bother me is because they’ve begun to matter less. Straight people aren’t as bothered by the “gay” thing as they used to be. It’s not a big deal when you have openly gay authors getting on the bestseller lists (David Sedaris, Augusten Burroughs, and so on).

If you’ve seen the entire range of my work as a filmmaker and playwright, it’s obvious that I’m a lot more than just the “deaf” and “gay” thing, but we live in a time and place when soundbites are often substituted for real conversations.

As for how I view myself as a Deaf gay writer, I’d like to echo Joyce Carol Oates on the subject of being a writer who happens to be a woman: “A woman who writes is a writer by her own definition; but she is a woman writer by others’ definition.” I write what my muse compels me to, but it doesn’t follow premeditated design.

S: You have been making various YouTube videos in the last year or so. Some are trailers for your books and others are you signing your poems. What got you interested in doing these and what has the reaction been?

R: Some years ago I’d directed and edited a few full-length documentaries that were eventually released on DVD. (They’re unfortunately out of print.) It was a great learning process, and as a result of that, I became quite familiar with the ins and outs of Final Cut Pro, a nonlinear video editing program. So it was a natural progression to make the leap to editing book trailers and ASL performances of my work. Video is a very powerful medium, and easily the most potent form of marketing there is, especially if you do it right. If you can shoot video and edit it down to size, you’ve given yourself incredible marketing power online. Viewers will appreciate a clip that’s tight and to the point, and still show them something they’ve never seen before. This is where the “Deaf” thing becomes a true asset online. Even though many in the Deaf signing community are tired of being seen as novelties, many hearing people want to learn sign language, so they check out my clips. In order to remain relevant and more universal, I must continue to ensure that my work says something more than just about being Deaf and/or gay. Hearing gay writers have the same challenge with their work, so I know I’m not alone in this regard.

I’ve gotten very, very good reactions to my clips, which pleases me to no end, because it means that they’ll tell their friends about them; hopefully a few of them will want to check out my website and order copies of my books. Even though there aren’t as many bookstores out there, it doesn’t mean that the book is dead!

S: I agree. The book is not dead and I’m getting a little tired of that statement being tossed around. On the other hand, technology is changing us. Personally, I’m interested in how technology is altering both the poetry world and our everyday lives. You mentioned this a little bit earlier, but I imagine, as a deaf man, texting and social networking sites have become very useful. What is your take on all of this?

R: It’s been exhilarating, to say the least, to reconnect with faces I hadn’t seen in three decades via Facebook. Even though I do tweet occasionally, I find Twitter to be overwhelming at times. But I’m finding that too much social networking isn’t good for most people. It seems to have created a false sense of community that disappears the second everyone gets together in the same room. I see that Deaf friends are posting status updates about their own lives, but do they ever get together in person, even when they’re local? Not very often.

In 1982, I read Megatrends by John Naisbitt and Patricia Aburdene in which they predicted how the Information Age would transform society. I don’t remember much about the book, but I did come away with one of their predictions: The more high-tech we become, the more high-touch we will crave. These writers were remarkably astute in this regard because the more connected we are online, I find myself longing for a sense of community, and in person. I’d like to be part of something bigger and meaningful like I used to be. Before everyone got wired, I was always so excited about hanging out with Deaf friends here and there. We got to see each other. We got to share our experiences in person. Now? We’ve reduced ourselves to stills taken with our cell phones and status updates. When we’ve allowed ourselves to give up on the efforts to reconnect with each other in person, we’ve lost something truly enormous. We need to become human again, and not online.

That’s why I gave up on using gay dating sites. They weren’t working out for me, mainly because we’ve turned ourselves into commodities that one can browse as if in a store. No, he’s too fat. No, he’s too old. No, he’s too (you fill in the blank). This makes it far too easy for us to reject people without ever meeting them. So, yes, I’ve been rejected many times because I’m upfront about my deafness. And why don’t I drop mentions of my deafness in my profiles? Because I’ve learned that many guys are wondering if I have something else to hide once they find out that I’m deaf. Damned if I do mention my deafness; damned if I don’t.

And yet, the Internet has leveled the playing field between hearing and Deaf people. Their means of communicating doesn’t have to rely solely on sound, so that’s good.

S: That’s a very interesting perspective. I’ve written quite a bit on this blog about the use of these sites to build community, but I think you point to some of the downfalls of that. We need balance for sure and I don’t think the Internet should be a complete replacement for face-to-face interaction.

Your most recent book Road Work Ahead, which is your fourth poetry collection, was just published by Sibling Rivalry Press. It is actually the first full-length poetry book to be published by the press. What made you decide to work with a new press and what has your experience been like?

R: Considering how difficult it is to get a full-length collection of poetry published anywhere, I’ve always been open to working with small presses. About ten years ago I worked with The Tactile Mind Press. My books This Way to the Acorns: Poems and Silence is a Four-Letter Word: On Art & Deafness were their first titles, so I think I was something of a mentor to the publisher John Lee Clark and his wife Adrean. I explained a lot about the process of publishing and marketing, so when Bryan Borland of Sibling Rivalry Press (SRP) asked me if I had a poetry manuscript, I gave him Road Work Ahead. Even though he was a huge fan of my book Mute, I was very surprised to hear back from him in a few days. He wanted the book, and he was the first publisher to see it! Getting accepted on my first try is not supposed to happen.

So in a sense working with Bryan was a resumption of that mentoring relationship I had with John Lee Clark. (John and I continue to keep in touch on various projects now that he’s running Laurent, an e-monthly literary journal for the Deaf and signing community, for Clerc Scar.) Working with Bryan has been a real delight; it’s been a wonderful give-and-take relationship. I gave him a lot to think about in terms of where he should go with SRP, and he understood that I didn’t expect him to accept everything I’d said and suggested at face value. It’s his company, after all. It’s in my selfish interest to see SRP succeed, and I’m not saying this because SRP has brought out one of my books.

If small presses like SRP and A Midsummer Night’s Press don’t break even, a lot fewer people would be willing to set up small presses focusing on writers of diversity. The more successful like-minded small presses there are, the better my chances of getting my other books published elsewhere. Duh. (Don’t get me wrong--I’d be equally delighted to work with SRP and A Midsummer Night’s Press again on another one of my books!) If you’re a writer interested in getting your work published by such a small press, please support them! Submitting your work to them and not buying their titles is bad party behavior. Buying directly from them--as opposed to Amazon--is vastly preferable because they’ll make more money per copy.

I’m flattered that Bryan considers me a mentor, but that makes me feel good. It means that through his efforts as publisher and marketer, I hope to have helped make America a more welcoming place for poets who happen not to be mainstream or academic in the traditional sense. So many of us writers are orphans, so that’s why what Bryan’s doing is so important. We need a home and a family who understands and accepts us as we are.

S: That’s an excellent case for supporting small presses and, as you know, I’m a friend and fan of Bryan’s. He’s doing some important work at SRP.

In your new book Road Work Ahead, the poems contain similar themes about love, relationships, and moving forward. Many of the poems are also labeled with street names, which connects back to the title of the book. How did this all come about? Did you have the idea for the whole book first or did you find the pattern after writing some of the poems?

R: I’d initially began writing Mute with the intention of using the poems inspired by my unrequited love for a hearing man initialed “A.R.,” but as two decades rolled on by, the book became less about A.R. and more about my experiences as a Deaf gay man. It wasn’t too long after the first draft of Mute that I’d met the man who became my partner for 15 years, so I wrote a lot of love poems for him. I wasn’t thinking of putting them together in a book, but thanks to Elizabeth Bishop’s interest in travel and my reading various travel books, I began writing poems for a new collection to be called The Nomads. Prior to and after the breakup with my partner of 15 years, I began exploring feelings as a nomad of the heart. By then I’d retitled The Nomads as Road Work Ahead and decided to incorporate some of my love poems from over our 15 years together. Once I hit on its new title, it was relatively easy to restructure the book. I wanted the book to feel like an atlas of sorts, as if I’m showing my readers the colorful stickers from the cities and countries I’ve visited slapped all over the suitcase of my heart: Here, and there, this is where I’ve been.

I’m a big believer in what Sylvia Plath once said about creating a collection. I don’t have the exact quote, but I’ll paraphrase her loosely: “If you have a collection of 25 poems, you should arrange them in such a way that the book becomes the 26th poem.” It’s a good guideline for weeding out poems that have no business being there. For instance, Mute originally had some poems about A.R., but they didn’t explore my feelings as a Deaf and gay man, so Lawrence Schimel, the publisher of A Midsummer Night’s Press, said that they had to go. He wanted Mute to be more about the Deaf gay experience than anything else. I was a bit bummed, because I knew these poems were good, but I understood why he wanted to cut them. The ironic thing is that his cuts have made Mute a stronger book and yet some of these cut poems worked much better in the context of Road Work Ahead: “Some Days,” “Shroud,” “After Suddenly Seeing A.R. Again,” and a few others. I’m very happy with how Mute and Road Work Ahead have both turned out. A good poem will find its rightful place in a collection sooner or later.

S: You just named various poets who influenced your ideas about your current book. Who are some other poets who influence and inspire you?

R: In no particular order: Walt Whitman. Marilyn Hacker. Timothy Steele. Elizabeth Bishop. James Wright. Emily Dickinson. Robert Lowell. Vikram Seth. Jane Kenyon. Ted Kooser. Adrienne Rich. Virgil (as translated by Robert Fitzgerald). Sylvia Plath. Richard Wilbur. Marianne Moore. Vikram Seth. Julie R. Enszer. Alexander Pushkin. James L. White. Frank O’Hara. W. H. Auden. John Lee Clark. Tony Harrison. Kenny Fries. Craig Raine. Bryan Borland. Allen Ginsberg. That’s a fraction of my personal library!

S: How would you characterize the current state of gay poetry in America?

R: I don’t get a sense of community among gay poets that I’d seen back in the early 1990s. I think this is mainly because once so many LGBT bookstores began closing, we didn’t feel as if we had a place to call our own. As powerfully convenient as it may be, online isn’t everything that it’s been cracked up to be. That said, Assaracus would be a good place to start.

S: While I have felt a strong connection to many gay poets through the Internet, I do long for a more face-to-face community and that has been something I have struggled with in the last three years. Maybe eventually this will bring on a revival of bookstores.

What is your advice for young gay poets just starting out?

R: Read. Read. Read. And don’t be afraid to explore things in your work that might shock your friends and family. The last thing you want to be as a poet is boring. Poetry is of the senses, so don’t be afraid to feel. Without poetry, we might as well be dead.

S: I can’t argue with that advice! Now for some fun. What poet dead or alive would you most like to have sex with? And what kind of sex would it be?

R: Oh, that’s easy. Walt Whitman, hands down. I saw a picture of him in which he had his thick beard trimmed at this link. His eyes are the most incredible thing in that picture. If he looked at me like that, I’d be putty in his hands! And what kind of sex would we have? I wouldn’t share such intimate details on here, but it’d have to happen somewhere in the woods on a bright summer day, and near a lake where we could skinny-dip and cool off afterwards. Most people don’t think of Walt Whitman looking so debonair like that; they remember only an old man with his long scraggly white beard, which is a real shame.

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

R: There are so many poems I wish I’d written, but Marianne Moore’s poem “The Fish” comes to mind. That inspired, in a rather roundabout way, my poem “Gazes” in Mute.

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

R: Given how Hollywood has a penchant for casting inappropriately hunky men even though their real-life characters were a good deal homelier, I might as well suggest the Deaf actor Russell Harvard. (He’d appeared in Paul Thomas Anderson’s film There Will Be Blood.)

S: Lastly, what’s next for you?

R: I don’t like to rest on my laurels. These days I’m finishing up a new collection of poems, and about to start restructuring and rewriting my next novel while I await word from publishers and editors on a few manuscripts that I’ve submitted. And more importantly, I have to cook my dinner.

Thank you for your interest in my work!

S: Thank you, Raymond.

-Stephen (Q&A)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

New Publication: New Mexico Poetry Review

Last week, I received my contributor copy of the spring 2011 issue of New Mexico Poetry Review. The issue contains my poem "A History of Blood." The poem is the first to be published from a series I wrote dealing with a gay porn star imprisoned for brutally attacking an elderly couple who owed another guy money. I wrote thirteen poems dealing with that crime and with the overall idea of our attraction to sex and violence. If you want to listen to the poem, you can, because I did a podcast of it back in October. Listen here.

I'm honored to be in this issue of New Mexico Poetry Review. It also contains work by Jeremy Halinen and N. Scott Momaday. As always, I encourage you to buy a copy and to help support literary magazines.

-Stephen (Excited)

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Night With David Sedaris

Last night, I had the wonderful privilege of going to see David Sedaris read in Gainesville, Florida. I've been a huge fan of Sedaris for many years. He is one of the first contemporary memoir writers that grabbed my attention. His wonderful humor and insight into the human condition never ceases to amaze me. What I've always loved about his work is that he has such a relatable quality. Part of this is very personal. Reading some of his essays feels like reading about myself. We are both gay and both had to go to a speech therapist as a kid. We both deal with anxiety issues and are, obviously, both writers.

Many memoirs are written to focus on tragic events such as rape or addiction. Sedaris, instead, writes about everyday life and experiences that seem always a little familiar. He comes from a middle class American family and writes a great deal about his family. He writes with so much honesty about the little things in life that we actually spend most of our lives thinking and worrying about.

I also love his ability to get at the sadness of life, but the quiet sadness. One of my favorite essays by him is called "The Ship Shape," which is in his book Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. It is about his family vacationing and his father telling everyone they are going to buy their very own beach cottage. Of course, it doesn't work out. The story is full of hilarious moments, but ends with such a beautiful passage on his parents' relationship. He writes: "As if carried by a tide, our mother drifted farther and farther away, first to twin beds and then down the hall to a room decorated with seascapes and baskets of sun-bleached sand dollars. It would have been nice, a place at the beach, but we already had a home. A home with a bar. Besides, had things worked out, you wouldn't have been happy for us. We're not that kind of people." This essay is a perfect example of that quiet sadness. It is not overly dramatic. He's not talking about life and death. But he is getting at the disappointment that can come from family, from relationships, and from time passing.

Last night, Sedaris did not disappoint. He's an excellent reader and really brings out the humor in his work. He read a story from his newest book Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk as well as two new essays and some hilarious passages from his journal. I haven't been to a reading in quite some time and it was great to be in that environment again and to see people coming together to celebrate good writing. It is exciting to see a writer who can pack a theatre. He made great jokes and dealt well with the stupid questions from the audience (really Florida, thanks for making us look so smart). He also did a great job of promoting reading and saying that the best way to be a good writer is to be a good reader, which I say all the time. I also enjoyed that he was promoting another person's book, which was available for sale outside. He actually told people to buy that book instead of his own.

Afterwards, my friends, Jaclyn and Josh, and I stood in line for the book signing. Luckily, we got to the line quickly and didn't have to wait too long. Sedaris clearly enjoys the book signing process. He loves to tell jokes or have you tell him a joke while he is signing your book. When my friends and I got up there, he was hilarious. He told my friend Josh a joke about a gay pirate, he drew my friend Jaclyn a picture of a rabbit bleeding from its anus, and he told me a joke about getting fucked in the ass. All of this only made me fall in love with him even more.

Since it is National Poetry Month, I wanted to tie this post to poetry in some way. A few years ago, I wrote a poem about David Sedaris. I wrote this mostly for fun. I believe I read it at one of the readings I did at Florida State, but it isn't really a poem I've tried to publish. It was more just a fun exercise. This is why I'm posting it on my blog today. Check it out below:

Talking Pretty

A love poem for David Sedaris


When you got your boyhood friends to sit

naked on your pre-pubescent legs I applauded

your genius. When your mother and you

dreamed up a beach house I voted

for the Ship Shape and cried between

the words falling in blunt patterns across

your page when your father backed out—

mine would never have suggested

such a dream. I imagine that you

might like me—might grow to love

me in “your way.” I started this poem

20 times attempting to please the critic

inside, but tossed it away for fear of Hugh

finding it tucked beneath your pillowcase,

your loafer, your laptop. In a Parisian café

I feared he might move his chair an inch

away, accusing you with frozen words

bellowed over expensive coffee. Now,

I no longer care. I want to make love

to you somewhere darker than Paris.

I imagine your cleverness turning

to shyness in the bedroom where I would

take the lead—dropping your khakis

to the ringing of keys in your pockets,

unbuttoning your buttons, pulling you

forward and back. I bet you are loud

when you cum, screaming my name,

the “s” slipping sideways—the speech

therapist echoing in both our ears:

“say squirrel.” But I know it would end

bitterly over something seemingly small:

a misplaced story, an awkward phone call,

a message I never received. You see,

I know, like you know, men are much

harder to love than books on the shelf.

-Stephen (Sedaris Lover)



Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Poet Talks to Himself

Since the year began, I have devoted one post a month to interviewing other GLBT poets. It has been a very successful and fun process. I love talking with these poets and sharing their thoughts and work with my readers. If you haven't checked out my past interviews, click the "interview series" tab at the top of the page and check them out.

I always end my interviews by asking a series of more light-hearted questions and I thought, since it is National Poetry Month, I would devote a post to answering my own fun questions. Just to be clear this is not my official interview for April (that would be a little vain, wouldn't it?). This is just for fun and to give you a little more insight into me.

If you could have sex with one poet, dead or alive, who would it be? And what kind of sex would you have?

This is perhaps my favorite question to ask, because I'm kinky that way. While there are so many of you I would like to have sex with, my first choice would have to be Frank O'Hara. Was he the most attractive guy in the world? No, but he gets me going and I bet he was pretty good in bed. Our sex would be like his poems: very public and might include some of his friends. I imagine a walking sex poem where we would duck into alley ways, bathrooms, museums, and libraries. I imagine he would whisper witty things into my ear and we'd make a day of it. At night, we'd come back to his apartment and I'd lay naked in his bed and he'd write a poem about our day and all the amazing sex we had along the way. I'd fall asleep to the keys of his typewriter.

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

This is a really hard question, because I fall in love with so many poems and often when I read one that moves me I think, "damn, I wish I had written that." My answer would probably change daily, but since I'm forcing myself to answer today on April 14th, 2011, I am going to say Barbara Hamby's "The Dream of the Red Drink." This poem is in her book The Alphabet of Desire and ever since I read it, I can't forget it. I actually come back and read it every couple of months. I'm not even sure I can pinpoint exactly why, but it connects with me and what I try to accomplish in my own work. The poem has grand ideas behind it, but is grounded in something very real and relatable. I love how she weaves together this tale of this party with these thoughts about death and time. It truly hits me in my poetic core.

What is something that you absolutely love that would surprise most people?

I am a pretty open person on my blog, so it is tough to think of something that would truly surprise you. Instead of saying something I love currently, I am going to name some of my embarrassing loves from the past. As a young kid, okay, that's a lie, as a young teenager, I collected ceramic pigs. Yes, little ceramic pigs doing all kinds of different things. In some ways, I would say this should have made my family know I was gay, but I'm not even sure this is gay as much as crazy. I also once liked Creed. I know this will hurt my friend Jaclyn's heart, but I seriously did. I rocked out to them. I'm sorry.

Who should play you in your bio-pic?

This is a tough one, but I am going to go with Ryan Gosling. We are close to the same age and when he has his hair buzzed short like mine we look slightly similar. I think he could pull off my craziness and maybe win himself an oscar.

Thanks for reading!

-Stephen (Q&A w/self)

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Social Network Poet

I started this blog almost two years ago. I've been on Twitter just a little longer than that and Facebook for about six years. In the beginning, I was rather skeptical. First of all, things change so quickly. Any of us who can clearly remember the 90s, remembers the rise and fall of various internet social sites or programs. But now it is fair to say that Facebook isn't going anywhere anytime soon and that social networking sites as a whole are becoming more and more apart of every aspect of our lives. We can try to ignore it, fight against it, or help shape it into what we want it to be.

I began both Facebook and Twitter with no real poetry intention. I joined because my friends were and it was the thing to do. In the last two years, however, I've discovered the uses of Facebook, Twitter, and this blog to connect with other writers and to build a community that is virtual, but also bleeds into the real world.

Without these ways to connect with other writers, I would often feel very alone and in my own poetry bubble. I've learned about new writers, publication opportunities, and just great poetry projects thanks to these websites and their ability to spread news quickly. If I read a poetry book I really like, I can get on Facebook and search for the poet who wrote it and most of the time they are on there. I can then send them a quick note saying how much I loved their work. This builds relationships and also let's people know that there are people out their actually reading their work and enjoying it. Who doesn't want to hear from a fan?

I know some are very anti-social networking sites. Some fear privacy issues. Others find it self-indulgent and unprofessional. These can be valid points in some ways, but they can also be very narrow views of what these sites can do. Privacy is an issue and I highly recommend being smart and making your profiles private and to keep up to date on the changes these sites are making to your privacy settings. People can still find you, but you have to approve them for them to view all content. How professional or self-indulgent your profile is, is up to you. I try to find a balance between promotion and personal. Many would not call me professional because I talk about sex or post pictures of me in various states of dress, but this is who I am and I've made these choices because I believe in creating a more open society and I am not embarrassed by the things I do or think. I don't, however, post hateful or inconsiderate posts. I also do not get into Facebook or Twitter fights because for me those are not useful and don't line up with my view of social networking. See, we do have some control over what these sites become for us.

We like to think of these sites as something revolutionary or vastly different from what has happened before and they are to some extent, but they are also just a new way to talk to each other. Writers for centuries have connected often through letter writing. Some of these people never met, but wrote back and forth and shared their lives, their work, their successes, and their failures. The internet has just given us another platform for doing that. It is obviously much quicker and easier to find people, but the purpose is very similar.

I find it interesting to get glimpses into other people's lives through social networking. I try my best to not just promote my own work or my blog, but to be a real human being and to reach out to others and to show them my own life. I often fear technology because I don't think it should ever be a full replacement for actual human interaction, yet I can't deny the power of it and the positive experiences I've had meeting other poets, fans, and all-around interesting people.

We are at a point in history where we can help shape the next chapter. How will the poetry world look in five years? In 10? In 20? What will publishing be like? I am not someone who fully embraces e-publishing, but I do believe we have to continue a dialogue about where writing is going and how the internet can help us. Social networking sites are a huge part of that and anything that helps build a community and continue a dialogue I am in favor of and will support.

-Stephen (e-poet)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Podcast 35: He Do the Gay Man in Different Voices

Since it is National Poetry Month, I challenged myself to record one of my longer poems and luckily it turned out pretty well and I got it in one recording, which is very rare. This podcast is a reading of my poem "He Do the Gay Man in Different Voices." I know it is not podcast Sunday, but since it is National Poetry Month, I felt a poetry podcast was appropriate for any day of the week.

This poem means a lot to me and helped create a new manuscript that I hope will become my first book. "He Do the Gay Man in Different Voices" is a seven page poem that references "The Waste Land" by T.S. Eliot. You don't have to be super familiar with Eliot's poem to understand my poem, but it does make it richer. My poem is also inspired by an art project, which was posted on the website "The Body: Visual AIDS." Each month they post a gallery with a theme. In December of 2005, they posted a series called "The Damaged Narcissist" and these images greatly influenced this poem.

"He Do the Gay Man in Different Voices" is a poem that, as the title suggests, changes from one voice to another. It is divided into seven sections and explores different aspects of the gay male experience. The poem is a good example of what I've been doing in the last year with my work. I've been turning more toward the longer poem and exploring what exactly I can accomplish with more space.

I hope you will enjoy listening to this poem. I will warn you that it is 18 minutes long, so be prepared.

Listen here.

-Stephen (Podman)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Processing the World Through Poetry

The question is often posed about what poetry can do. Can it change lives? Can it cause political change? Is there still power in poetry? These can be valid and interesting discussions. My view is that poetry may not be the immediate cause of some great change, but it is a different and important way to process the world. It helps me see things clearer or more well-rounded.

I recently read Nick Flynn's book The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands and it is a perfect demonstration of my point. The book focuses heavily on the issues surrounding torture and its use by our government. This is a hot button topic and one most of us have read things about or watched things about. So, why read a poetry book about it? Well, because it adds a new layer to the discussion. Flynn takes the information and filters it and moves it around, so that we can see it from a different perspective.

The book is not preachy. It is not some talking head on TV. It is not a news story. It is personal and gets you inside the issue in a way that other forms cannot.

The heart of the book is a series of seven poems in the voices of detainees at Abu Ghraib. Flynn was actually present when the testimonies were taken from these people and he provides the full testimonies in the back of the book, which gives you an interesting insight into his writing process. The poems are clipped short lines that capture the fear and confusion of the detainees. The poems are a new way into the story and are backed by facts and real life experiences, which gives them power.

The book falls very easily into documentary poetry, which is something I've been exploring for the last year both in my reading and in my own writing. I'm intrigued by the idea of taking something very real and telling the story or exploring a complicated current issue through poetry.

Poetry gives the writer freedom to do things that wouldn't work in all other forms. You are not completely bound by "truth" telling and you can add in the details that wouldn't make it in a 30 second news sound bite. Poetry becomes a lens in which we can take the familiar and make it new. I highly recommend Flynn's book and encourage you to think about how you process the word and if poetry lends a hand.

-Stephen (Processed)