Monday, June 27, 2011

Interview Series: Steven Reigns

It is hard to believe that half of 2011 is already over. One of my goals for the year is to devote a post a month to interviewing an emerging GLBT poet. I’ve had an amazing time doing this project and getting to know more about many of my peers that I greatly admire.

June marks my sixth interview and this month I talked with Steven Reigns. I hope you will enjoy our conversation.

Stephen: Let’s start at the beginning. Do you remember the first poem you wrote and what it was about? Or when did you first get into poetry?

Steven: I was thankful to have Jean Young as an elementary school teacher. In the sixth grade she taught our Language Arts class using this progressive curriculum that involved creative writing and peer review. I wrote poems in that class that were submitted to a national elementary school journal that got published. One poem was about the Missouri artist George Bingham, the other was, when I look back, surprisingly complex for my age about a swan, lake, and the clouds.

I loved writing poetry, loved having my work in print, the attention it got me. I felt special for the first time—as if I had something to contribute, that I had a talent or gift. I loved the identity as a poet but middle school was around the corner and I soon found myself teased for it, as well as my gayness. It was at that time I distanced myself from both things thinking it would bring me happiness and acceptance. The irony is that now they are the two things that have brought me the most happiness.

S: I started writing creative work around the same time myself and can very much identify with those feelings. After reading your most recent book, Inheritance, I knew I wanted to interview you.

S: Thanks. I’m flattered because I read your blog and have enjoyed learning about the other poets you’ve interviewed.

S: Thank you. From reading the poems in your newest book, I was drawn to your autobiographical approach to poetry. I then found out that you actually teach some workshops on autobiographical poetry to the GLBT community. My approach to poetry is very similar. How exactly do you define the term autobiographical poetry and how did you come to writing it?

S: In my own poetry I never want to hide behind terms like “the speaker” of the poem. I want readers to know that these poems are true. There isn’t a fictionalizing of events or people. I sometimes think the root of all reading, writing, and storytelling is about connection. My first collection had fictionalized events and real events. There was a general assumption by readers that all of the stories were true. They were emotionally relating to the work that wasn’t real. This made me feel uneasy, as if I was misleading them.

For my poetry, I desire to express the deepest truth I know. Part of my editing involves looking over a poem and questioning if there’s something I’m not saying. If I’m omitting something out of fear, I know I what I need to include.

S: That’s a very interesting perspective. I seem to be coming around to the same conclusion. I’ve also been experimenting with what you might call “documentary poetry,” which often combines my story with facts about another event or person.

When you teach poetry, how do you approach it? What are the challenges? Where do you start?

S: I believe we all have the ability to write and every voice deserves time, space, and consideration. A big part of my teaching is getting my students to understand this and to create a safe space for them to explore and create.

S: Writers who do such a great job of showing readers the multiple layers of their characters always strike me and you do that so well in this book. The “mother” figure in these poems is difficult to like. In some poems she’s shouting things like “‘You seem to want to be a girl. / Maybe we could go to the doctor and he can make you a girl.’” It is easy to hate this woman, but then we come to the poem “My Mother Applies for a Job.” This was one of my favorites because of how it added so much to the mother in these poems. She is so vulnerable here. When putting together this book, was this something you carefully considered?

S: I’m so pleased to hear you saw her vulnerability in that poem and that it was remembered. I think the awful things are easier to remember sometimes. We’ll vividly recount the car crash but not the five cars that pulled over to help.

I recently made an agreement with myself to stop talking about and writing about the abuse in my past. This isn’t out denial, this is about ensuring the abuse doesn’t consume my adult life too. I see my first collection, Your Dead Body is My Welcome Mat, as a recounting of the horrors. I think of Inheritance as a document of the after effects. Those experiences shaped me greatly but I’m no longer keeping my sights on the past, I’m interested in my present and future.

My parents were horrible at times. They were also loving at other times. Having them as parents was a mixed bag—so is about everything else. My perception of myself and my life were profoundly changed when I read Robyn Posen’s essay where she stated “I would not trade this me for a different childhood, a different mother.” I eventually used this as one of the pull quotes for the book.

S: How did you think about the placement of the poems in this collection?

S: The collection is devised into three sections. Each section’s title is text taken from a Last Will & Testament. Inheritance is a collection with a tight focus but the poems themselves have a different feel. The book’s order was a way of grouping the poems by the emotional experience they represent.

S: Outside of poetry, you recently completed your Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology. How has that influenced your poetry work or has it?

S: The degree hasn’t changed my writing style and hasn’t dictated my subject matter. It has created a busier life for me. I’m not resentful of this. The reality is that no one can support themselves from poetry alone. I’ve always had a deep interest in psychology. The profession, psychology, focuses on the personal and relationships. My poetry has had the same scope. There is a Sigmund Freud quote, “Everywhere I go I find that a poet has been there before me.” Anne Sexton has a poem about the similarities between the professions, “Said The Poet to the Analyst.”

I’ve facilitated a series of support groups utilizing writing as a way of expression, a projective tool, and creating a new narrative. I’ve lead these groups at a residential house for the newly sober and currently have a group at a GLBT senior residential center. I might specialize in the emerging Poetry Therapy field.

S: That sounds fascinating. I’m interested in seeing where “Poetry Therapy” goes.

Inheritance is your second book and you have also published a few chapbooks. Publishing can be one of the trickiest parts of the poetry world. From your experience, what have you learned about publishing? What is your best advice?

S: I’m madly in love with my current publisher Sibling Rivalry Press. It’s an honor to have one’s work at a professional publishing house where it is respected and the poet’s input on the final book is regarded. This wasn’t the case with the first publishing of Inheritance. This new edition is striking and I couldn’t have asked for more.

S: I will say the cover of the new edition more than slightly terrifies me. I like that.

S: I know. It’s by David Moore. I saw it in his book and knew immediately I wanted that image for the cover of Inheritance. I’ve since purchased a large print of it and it’s hanging on my bedroom wall.

I wish there was easy advice when it comes to publishing. One of my favorite writers, Anais Nin, bought her own printing press and published her own books because her work wasn’t getting published. Thanks to Print on Demand publishing, one doesn’t have to manually set the typeface and ink the plates. It’s a bit easier but still it’s a bold act and I applaud anyone putting their work out there for public consumption.

S: You currently live in LA and I’m always interested in having the poets I interview talk a bit about the poetry scene in their location. What is happening poetically in LA?

S: When people ask what I do, I feel a need to specify, “I write poetry.” LA is saturated with screen writers and people working in the industry. When I first moved here I was at a party and this guy told me he was an editor. I asked which publishing house? This was naive of me.

S: Who are your greatest influences?

S: That’s a very long list. I’m influenced by great writing. Reading a really good piece of writing can prompt me to start writing. This isn’t always poetry. What’s ignited me most recently is the short story collection Widow by Michelle Latiolais. I was powerfully moved at the ending of each story. Her grasp and use of language awed me as much as her emotional insight into the characters.

S: I also have found much of my inspiration from fiction. You are my June poet and June is Pride month. How do you think gay poets fit within the wider gay community? What do we offer?

S: I wish I could firmly state where we place within the gay community but I’m not so sure I know where poets place within the larger community either. Honestly, I don’t really think about these things. I’m a poet and my acceptance or rejection isn’t going to change who I am and what I do. The same is true of my gayness.

S: On your website (www.stevenreigns.com), I learned that you are currently participating in a 7-year endurance-performance based project you are calling “S(t)even Years.” Could you explain this project?

S: It is a seven-year project where I focus on one chakra a year. There are colors and focuses associated with each chakra. I’ve made intentions for each year to teach a free workshop based on the theme of that chakra, wear at least one item of clothing everyday of the chakra color, publish a chapbook of the writings each year, and to alter my living space.

This project is under the tutelage of Linda Montano who did a similar project for 14 years. I’m not doing this alone, there are numerous other artists exploring this together and we send out mass emails to each other often.

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

S: My poem The Dead has some lines about my fantasizing about the men I’ve had sex with that are now dead. Ah, sexualizing the dead. I don’t do it often but welcome an opportunity. David Groff’s Persistent Voices is an anthology of poets who have died from AIDS. It’s a tomb of poetic voices gone too soon. I don’t know if I sexualize them but there’s a beauty in their voices, a unique perspective that is a turn-on. I’d sleep with them—the women and the men. Frank O’Hara also comes to mind. He was sexy but more than that, I want to be loved like he loved the object in “Having a Coke With You.”

S: I’m with you on Frank O’Hara. He is my favorite. What is something that you absolutely love that would surprise most people?

S: Frank really was dreamy. With the photographer Jenny Walters we replicated a Frank O’Hara shot for my chapbook As if Memories Were Not Enough. The style of those poems was inspired by his poetry. Something surprising about me? Soap. My shower usually has about 8-10 different kinds of soap in it.

S: If you could take any of your poems and turn it into a film, what poem would you pick and why?

S: I’d love to see “Recipe Box” turned into a short-short film. It’s a poem about a dear moment where my now-deceased friend shouts out where he would place his dead friends’ memorial cards in a recipe box. That was the first poem that came to my mind, not because I think it’s the best poem or would work best in that medium. Michael was magical and that moment was art. I guess when writing the poem and even when reading it, I want to be there again with him. I am sort of but I’m also painfully aware at how poetry isn’t a time machine. That moment is gone. I documented the moment in a poem but the poem also serves as a reminder of what isn’t around anymore.

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

S: This answer might change weekly.

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

S: Scott Bakula or Kim Fields

S: Lastly, what are you currently working on?

S: I’m still writing poems. My life has been happening at a rapid pace and I don’t have as much time to write as I used to or that I’d like to. I have a new collection that Sibling Rivalry has expressed interest in publishing and my fingers are crossed it happens.

S: Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview.

Top photo by Mark Oberlin. Bottom photo by Leo Garcia.

-Stephen (Q&A)


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Reading Mr. Ripley

When I put together my list of books to read for this year, I didn't realize how many books I selected that were published in the 1950s and 60s. This shouldn't be very surprising, because it is one of my favorite periods. As most of my readers know, my favorite poet is Frank O'Hara, who wrote during the 50s and 60s. I'm also interested in the treatment of queer characters in the novels of the period.

Yesterday, I finished another book off my list, which has a strong queer undercurrent and was published in the 50s. I just read Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley. This is a book I've wanted to read for years, but never got around to it. I am a big fan of the film version that came out in the late 90s starring Matt Damon and Jude Law. In fact, the film holds a special place in my heart because it was tied to my journey to accepting my own gayness. I didn't come out until I was 20 and I was about 17 when the movie came out. I specifically remember watching it and it making me feel more and more confused. This had quite a bit to do with the cock shot of Jude Law in the film. I later wrote a poem about the film and my sexuality, but that was well after I came out of the closet.

Highsmith's book is suspenseful crime fiction at its best. She does such a fantastic job of creating the complicated character of Tom Ripley. We are pulled in by him and even understand him. This is an accomplishment considering he kills people and steals someone's identity. This is actually the first book in a series Highsmith wrote about Tom Ripley.

Like in many books from the period, Tom is never quite identified as fully homosexual. He has homosexual tendencies and desires that are hinted at, but not fully acted upon (at least in the first book). The book is an interesting exploration of jealousy and admiration. Tom is taken in by another man and his life. For many who struggle with their sexuality, this is a relatable feeling. I often remember looking at straight guys and wishing I could be more like them. That, of course, faded with my full acceptance of who I am. Tom isn't so lucky. He becomes obsessed with the Dickie Greenleaf character, because Dickie represents this traditional view of masculinity that Tom is never able to achieve. Tom is also limited in his ability to live an open gay life in the 1950s (though that is not directly considered in the novel).

Having seen the film version first, I was a little nervous about how the book would change my view of the film. There are some striking differences, but I think both accomplish a similar task in slightly different ways. The first half of both are fairly similar, but the second halves take different turns. In part, this is a good examination of the differences between film and literature. In the book, Tom is alone a lot more in the second half. In the film, they create a character named Meredith, played by the wonderful Cate Blanchett, who befriends Tom as he is posing as Dickie Greenleaf. Obviously, it is much harder to get everything across on film, if the character is alone.

The book, however, does such a great job of getting us inside Tom's mind and how repulsed he is by the majority of people. There are some wonderfully humorous lines in the book especially about Marge (Dickie's girlfriend), who won't give up the search for Dickie after Tom has murdered him. The interactions between Marge and Tom are more interesting in the book than in the film. The film made Marge a more likable character as played by Gwyneth Paltrow.

In all, I like both the book and the film. I still believe it is one of Matt Damon's best performances. He embodies Tom Ripley and really brings the character to life. If you haven't seen the film, I do recommend it.

The book also is interesting because it portrays a queer character as a criminal and murderer. This is a common occurrence in the literature and film of the time period. You actually still see it in a lot of film today. A good portion of male villains are often portrayed with effeminate qualities (look at almost any Disney film). This can be troubling and, in some cases, offensive. Highsmith's book, however, dives a bit deeper into the psychology of it. Tom does not have queer qualities as a simple explanation for his actions or as an excuse for them. As I said before, it also provides an interesting exploration of masculinity in the 1950s. The post-WWII male is hyper-masculine. In this case, it works well and doesn't come off as a cheap ploy or an easy way out. Tom is a complicated figure and has many sides to him. I'm interested in reading her other books in the series and seeing where she takes Tom.

This book has added to my knowledge of the period and of the treatment of queer characters. Tom Ripley is a character you can't easily forget much like that cock shot of Jude Law.

-Stephen (Talented)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Bloomsday: The Power of One Book

I typically use this blog to write about poetry, but today I'm devoting a post to fiction and a book that changed me forever.

Seven years ago, I was in Dublin, Ireland doing an independent study on James Joyce's Ulysses. I was there for the 99th anniversary of Bloomsday, which is tomorrow. For those who do not know, Bloomsday is the celebration of the day (June 16, 1904) that Joyce picked as the focus of his masterpiece Ulysses. The whole book happens in just one day and follows a not so heroic man, Leopold Bloom, through Dublin.

The novel is structured around The Odyssey and uses various different styles of writing for each chapter. For example, one chapter is written as a script and another in a very journalist style. The book was originally published in 1922, which is one of the most important years in Modernist literature, which is my biggest interest and focus of study. I've always had a fascination with the beginning of the 20th century because of how much the world changed. The literature of the period responds so well to the complications of this new modern world.

I read this book the spring of my sophomore year at my own choosing. I got one of my favorite professors to do a directed study with me that semester. I read a chapter a week and we meet each week to talk about it. I then wrote an essay on the book and a grant to go to Ireland for a month by myself to further study Joyce and be there for the big Bloomsday celebration. The grant got approved and I got a free trip to Ireland for four weeks.

For Americans, it might seem odd to have such a big celebration around a book. In Ireland, however, Bloomsday is a huge celebration. There are tons of events, reenactments, tours, plays, talks, and just general fun. I loved seeing a city so proud of a book. I saw tons of cars with bumper stickers saying "I've Read Ulysses." Quite a bit different from American bumper stickers promoting the love of guns, the support of war, and pleas to "save the tatas." Of course, I had an amazing time and felt like I was inside the book.

Ulysses is considered, by many, to be one of the greatest novels ever written and I agree. Joyce is a master of language and each and everyone sentence his writes carries so much weight. When you read it, you actually need a reference book to help you understand all that is happening and the careful construction of each and every phrase.

I've been thinking about Joyce a lot recently because of a NPR story on Frank Delaney who is currently deconstructing each sentence of Ulysses through daily podcasts. He's been doing it for a year and just got through chapter 1. The project is a huge one, but it shows you just how rich and complicated Joyce is. You don't see a writer like him everyday. Even if you haven't read Ulysses, it is worth taking a listen to one of these podcasts to get a sense of what I'm talking about.

My favorite chapter of Ulysses is the final chapter (18). It is in the voice of Leopold Bloom's wife and contains no punctuation other than a period at the end of the chapter. It's an amazing exploration of love, marriage, and the struggles of life. It also contains the famous last words of the novel, which are "and yes I said yes I will Yes." I have these words on a t-shirt I bought in Dublin, which is what I'm wearing in the photo above.

Ulysses is forever apart of my life and my experiences. It is tied to my own growth as a writer and reader. It is tied to my first trip to Europe and my first trip by myself. Ulysses reminds me of the power of language and literature and how no matter how much technology or other forms of entertainment we come up with, nothing can replace a well-written, complicated, fascinating, rich, and often quite vulgar book.

-Stephen (Yes)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Podcast 36: Visiting My Parents After Watching For the Love of Dolly

I haven't posted a new poetry podcast in quite awhile, so I thought today was a good day to share a poem that just got published. This podcast is a reading of my poem "Visiting My Parents After Watching For the Love of Dolly," which is in the new issue of Mary. The issue can be pre-ordered now and ships on June 16th.

This poem truly reflects on my own upbringing and the idea of collecting things and personal obsessions. It uses the documentary about obsessed Dolly Parton fans as a jumping off point, but goes well beyond that to explore the connections we have with our belongings.

I recently wrote a blog post about "capturing my roots" and being from the Midwest. This poem feels very grounded in the Midwest and reflective of my upbringing there, so it serves as a good example of everything I wrote about in that post.

I hope you will enjoy hearing me read this piece, but I also really hope you will get online and order yourself a copy of Mary.


-Stephen (Obsessed)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

In Cold Blood: A Gay Man's Reading

Today I finished reading Truman Capote's In Cold Blood for the very first time. It is a book I put on my "29 Books for 29 Years" 2011 reading list. Before reading, I was fairly familiar with Capote and had read quite a few of his others works. I also knew quite a bit about his life. I've seen the films Capote and Infamous and have done my own reading on him, so I came to the book with a fair understanding of what to expect and the basic story he was going to tell, but nothing prepared me for his amazing ability to paint the figures of this true story from the Clutters to Dick and Perry to the various townspeople.

The book truly is a masterpiece. The language is powerful, specific, and often quite beautiful. It is also a great book to examine from a writer's perspective. How do you tell this story when most people already know the ending? We know they will get caught. We know they did it. We know they will hang. But Capote somehow manages to pull us into the story and make us see it from all angles. This isn't a suspenseful "whodunit," but rather a careful examination of a particular crime and the effects on everyone involved.

Rarely do you see murderers in such a truthful and fair light. We know Dick and Perry are guilty. We hear their confessions and the gruesome details of their crime. We know that both don't have the amount of remorse or shame that one might want or expect, but at the same time these figures are very real and very honest and we actually like them (or at least I did). The sympathy or liking the reader might have for these men is carefully spliced with the lives these men took and the toll it takes on a small town and the detectives burdened with solving the crime. In many ways, I didn't really feel the need to pick sides. My understanding was there for nearly all the characters in the book because of Capote's writing.

Capote is careful and generous with all the people who appear in book, but as you read you do feel that Perry emerges as a central character. I felt the most for him in the book even though he is the one who pulled the trigger and killed the four victims. There are many reasons for Perry surfacing in this way. There is some evidence Capote was in love Perry or, at least, clearly liked him better than Dick and felt more sympathy for him. Perhaps this made Capote compelled to feature him in a central way. It might also be that Perry is the most fascinating character in the book. He's the most complicated and the one that challenges our ideas of justice and criminal behavior. Perry doesn't fit into a box. The crime itself was so unnecessary, random, and absurd, which makes it all the more terrifying. What made Perry do this? As a reader, you want to find out and understand.

One reason I really wanted to read this book is because I've spent the last year or so writing and putting together a poetry book manuscript that I hope will be my first book and that explores various violent crimes and the gay man's interest or fasciation or connection with death and violence. The manuscript contains my long poem about Jeffrey Dahmer as well as poems dealing with hate crimes, car accidents, HIV/AIDS, and a series of poems I wrote based on my own interactions (through letters) with a gay porn star who is serving 20 years in prison for assaulting an elderly couple. I actually reference Capote and Perry in a couple of the poems. It seemed from all this, it was time to read this book.

As I read the book, I couldn't help but think about Capote writing it and what got him so interested in this crime. Horrible things happen everyday. Brutal crimes are committed, but this one grabbed Capote and he saw a masterpiece in his head. The fact that the book is fair to the criminals is also striking. Capote, who was a very effeminate gay man, found something human and interesting in these men. Men others wanted to pass off as horrible monsters. I have to wonder if part of the fasincation comes from the fact that he was gay. As gay people we are treated as outsiders like criminals are. In the 50s and 60s, we were even more so (many were actually arrested as criminals for their "unnatural" behavior). I am not saying that gay people are like murderers or that we should all band together, but I do think there is something to the idea of connecting to the misunderstood or hated, even if you are misunderstood or hated for very different reasons.

Capote didn't shut these men out. He wanted to hear their stories. What would In Cold Blood look like if a straight man had written it? There is no way of telling for sure, but I imagine it would be a very different tale. In this way, Capote is a vital part of the story he is telling even though he doesn't appear in the book itself.

Capote is someone I have always been interested in and someone I admire for his openness and his refusal to be anything but who he was. He also had a very distinctive way of speaking, so as someone who has always been made fun of for my voice, I find a special kinship with him.

If you haven't ever read In Cold Blood, I highly recommend it. I also recommend the film Capote. It gives some interesting insights into the writing of the book and raises fascinating ethical questions about writing books based on true events and people. In the end, the book connected with me and my own writing project and for that I'm thankful to have read it.

-Stephen (Hot)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Capturing My Roots

When you grow up in a city in the Midwest whose only claim to fame is being the RV capital of the world, you quickly plan your escape and dream of a life far beyond the city walls. I grew up in Richmond, Indiana and spent my first 18 years right there. It wasn't altogether bad, but I always felt like it wasn't the right place for me. This could be because I was struggling with being gay and literally knew no other gay people in my hometown. Or it could be that my dreams and goals were bigger than the whole city could handle.

From a very young age, I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to be famous. I wanted to be someone who might just change the world. Richmond isn't full of very many big dreamers. Many people graduate from high school and stay right there. They find middle of the road jobs. They get married young. They raise families. They go to craft fairs. They have family dinners. They don't have much desire to leave. This was nothing I wanted.

At 18, I left for college, which was actually in an even smaller town in Indiana, but there I was surrounded by those who did dream and were bound for great things. There in college, my writing truly took off and the first thing I did was avoid writing about my life or Indiana or Richmond. At that point, I hadn't really lived much of a life, but I thought no one would ever want to hear about my hometown or my past or my family. I thought these were sad inspirations for a "true writer." Instead, I wrote about things I didn't know much about (sometimes even heterosexual sex, can you imagine?).

When I graduated from college and moved to Florida to pursue my MFA, I slowly started to move to the more personal poetry and started to reflect on my Midwest upbringing and what it could bring to my work. To many of my peers, this was interesting. Many of them were from all different places in the country and were interested in the specifics of Indiana.

At first, I saw this as a weakness. I wasn't born in a cool place. I wasn't the child of big intellectuals or writers or artists. I didn't runaway from home and head to the big city either. For a long time, I thought the fact that I was born in the "wrong" place would make my chances for success even less.

I finally figured out that I can't change my past. I can't change my family or where I grew up. No matter how different I feel from many other Midwesterners, I know that my experiences have shaped me and made me into the person and poet I am today. That doesn't mean I should only write about the Midwest. I am not a regional writer. I've now lived in Florida for six years and much of Florida has seeped into my work. But it was important for me to realize that I didn't have to completely escape my roots and that there is value in my past.

I've been thinking a lot about this because I have recently focused my attention on writing a long poem that is rooted in my hometown. In many ways, it is a tribute or examination of Richmond and Indiana. The poem focuses on the 1968 explosion that happened in downtown Richmond and killed 41 people. The explosion has always been in the back of my mind because of the stories I grew up hearing. My mother was very close to be killed in it, but by chance left the area right before it happened. The poem also weaves together pieces of my family history, MLK's assassination, which happened just two days before the explosion, and the history of the KKK in Indiana. It's been a big project and I'm still in the middle of it and not sure exactly where it will take me. Right now it is about 12 or 13 pages and has required a lot of research, which I've enjoyed doing.

Working on this poem has made me realize the rich history that we all have and the uniqueness of each town and family. I'm learning knew things about my own past and about the place I grew up. Of course, I'm also loving the ability to weave and mold these pieces into what I want them to be poetically.

We can try to be the writer we think we should be or we can be the writer that we are. I've decided to fight for the writer I am and use everything I have to be the very best I can. This poem is going to be a perfect example of that. Now, if only I could find a title for it.

-Stephen (Home)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Pride & Publications

June is here and with June comes Gay Pride Month, which is one of my favorite times of the year. It is the kick-off of summer and a time to celebrate who I am and the community I am so proud to be a part of. I will be spending the next few days enjoying Gay Days 2011 right here in Orlando. If you are gay or a straight person looking for a good time and haven't ever come to Gay Days, you are missing out. Gay Days is an annual event that has grown enormous over the years. Over 150,000 gays come into Orlando making it one of the biggest Pride events in the world. It is a blast and I'm looking forward to having a great time with my boyfriend, my friends, and maybe some new friends.

To help me kick-off Gay Pride Month here on Joe's Jacket, I thought I would mention two upcoming gay publications that will be featuring my work and discuss the issues involved in publishing in gay focused journals.

When I started seriously submitting my work, I was unsure about submitting to lots of gay publications. By gay publications, I mean those promoting themselves as gay and seeking work by GLBT writers solely or mostly. As a new writer, you are given lots of advice on things like submitting to niche journals (especially if you come from an academic background and seek an academic career). I was hesitant, but kept thinking about it and realized that some of my work would reach a much better and willing audience through some gay publications, so I began to submit to them.

The truth is, I have never had anything against gay journals, but, like with many minority groups, sometimes quality is not the point or the main focus. I don't want someone selecting my work because it is gay, but because it is well-written. I also don't want to be in a publication that publishes cliched and badly written poems about being gay just because they want to support gay writers. Being gay doesn't make you a good writer. Luckily, I realized there were some great options out there for me and for some of my work.

What I now try to do is strike a balance. I feel a duty to support quality gay journals. I want young and old gay people to be able to easily find work by me that relates to their own lives and experiences. I also attempt to write work that reflects things I often don't see in other gay poetry. This, of course, doesn't stop me from submitting to non-gay publications as well. In fact, I have more published in non-gay focused places than in gay ones. There are no hard and fast rules for how you should publish. You can find just about anyone that will tell you just about anything you should or shouldn't do. Rarely will the advice be the same. You have to do what feels right. I look for quality journals that strike me no matter what their focus is.

In the next few weeks, I will be featured in two gay publications that I'm thrilled about. The first up is Mary, which is a publication out of Brooklyn. You can pre-order the issue now and it will ship on June 16th. The issue includes my poem "Visiting My Parents After Watching For the Love of Dolly." This issue also has, possibly, the best cover of any journal I've been published in so far, so you will want a copy for sure.

I will also have a poem in the third issue of Assaracus, which is due out July 1st. You can pre-order the issue now. I was in the first issue of the journal as one of the featured poets. In this issue, there is a special feature on James Franco poems. These are all written by different poets and I am one of them. My poem is titled "Dreaming of James Franco." What I love about Assaracus is that is gives poets the chance to publish longer pieces or various pieces. The featured poets are all given 10 to 15 pages to fill. It truly is a publication devoted to poetry and exposing readers to the variety that is out there. I am thrilled to be in this issue, but I'd buy it for other poets.

For me, nothing is better than new gay poetry during Pride Month, so go pre-order yourself a copy of these journals and get reading!


-Stephen (Proud)