Saturday, December 31, 2011

12 for 12

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

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

Here are my 12 goals for 2012:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wish you all a Happy New Year!

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

-Stephen (Goalie)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011: The Year That Was...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Stephen (Reflecting)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My Next Creative Move

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's to another year and another project!

-Stephen (Idea)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

2011: 43 Books Read

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

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

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

1. What Other Choice by Jeremy Halinen

2. The Book of Frank by CAConrad

3. Slut Machine by Shane Allison

4. Handmade Love by Julie R. Enszer

5. Museum of False Starts by Chip Livingston

6. Pleasure by Brian Teare

7. The Salt Ecstasies by James L. White

8. Come on All You Ghosts by Matthew Zapruder

9. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

10. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

11. Talking About Movies with Jesus by David Kirby

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

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

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

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

16. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

17. Road Work Ahead by Raymond Luczak

18. Inheritance by Steven Reigns

19. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

20. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

21. Blood Almanac by Sandy Longhorn

22. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

23. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

24. Boy with Flowers by Ely Shipley

25. Closer by Christopher Stephen Soden

26. Slow to Burn by Collin Kelley

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

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

29. Dancer from the Dance by Andrew Holleran

30. The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

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

32. Child of God by Cormac McCarthy

33. The Great Fires by Jack Gilbert

34. Beloved by Toni Morrison

35. The Best of It by Kay Ryan

36. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

37. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

38. The Weary World Rejoices by Steve Fellner

39. Fat Girl by Jessie Carty

40. When the Only Light is Fire by Saeed Jones

41. Sonics in Warholia by Megan Volpert

42. Collective Brightness edited by Kevin Simmonds

43. Nox by Anne Carson

-Stephen (Reader)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

My 5 Favorite Novels of 2011

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

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

1. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

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

2. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

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

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

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

4. Beloved by Toni Morrison

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

5. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

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

-Stephen (Reading)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

My Five Favorite Poetry Books of 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Stephen (Poet)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Best TV Shows of 2011

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

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

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

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

Here are my picks (in alphabetical order):

1. Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

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

2. Dexter (Showtime)

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

3. Downton Abbey (BBC)

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

4. Game of Thrones (HBO)

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

5. Parks and Recreation (NBC)

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

6. True Blood (HBO)

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

7. The Walking Dead (AMC)

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

-Stephen (Watching)