Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Off to AWP and Other News

Tomorrow I head to Chicago for AWP. I'm excited to go. This will actually be my first time at AWP. It's nice because it's a no stress trip for me. I'm not presenting or working any tables. I'm just going and enjoying the experience. I'm really looking forward to meeting many people that I've spent so much time talking to online, but haven't actually met face to face. This includes my publisher, Bryan Borland. Actually, maybe this is a high stress trip. If you are going and you see me, please say hello. I hope I won't disappoint in person. It will be a short, but action packed trip (I'm sure).

Tomorrow also marks the two week countdown to the official release of my book, He Do the Gay Man in Different Voices. It's been an exciting journey so far and the interest in the book has been great. I'm very thankful to everyone who has already bought a copy and for those willing to write reviews. You can pre-order copies on Sibling Rivalry Press's website. If you do have a copy, please consider rating it or reviewing it on Amazon or on Goodreads (I just created an author page on there).

If you are in the Orlando area, remember that on March 15th I am hosting a reading and book launch. I'll be selling and signing copies for $14 (cash only) and will be reading from the book. Please check out the Facebook event.

My poem "Sex Education," which is also in my book, was just published in the February issue of PANK. You can read the poem and listen to it. PANK is awesome, so check it out.

I also have two new poems (not in my book) that are in the newest issue of Grist, which will be launched at AWP this week. Check it out.

Finally, I'll be heading to NYC in just 22 days for the Rainbow Book Fair. I'll be participating in two reading while in New York. More info to come.

-Stephen (Windy)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Losing My Diva

On the night Whitney Houston died, I was getting ready to go out to my favorite gay club with my boyfriend. I was half dressed when he yelled from the table, his laptop open, that Whitney Houston was dead. I rushed out of the bathroom and we both searched the internet further for confirmation. Within minutes, it was appearing on every major news site and Facebook and Twitter were exploding.

I've witnessed the death of many celebrities and I've watched the reaction of fans and the world with careful and often analytical eyes. I love pop culture and I love examining people's relationship with it, but I always watch with a little distance. I'm the observer of these acts. The writer. Whitney's death, however, hit closer to home and I've spent the last week thinking about why that is and the impact she had on my life.

As gay men, we often have a strong connection to great music divas. There's the cliche of loving Cher and Judy and Bette and for a little younger gays Madonna. I enjoy many of these artists, but I've never been the big queeny fan of any of them. I actually spent most of my teenage years listening to Ben Folds, alternative rock, and Alanis Morissette. In many ways, my music taste was far from what one might expect from a budding gay boy. There are, of course, exceptions and one of those is Whitney Houston.

Whitney's music has always been in my life and I can attach so many memories to her songs. Her early work I sang along to with my sisters on car trips from Indiana to Florida (all on cassettes of course). I remember being in a hotel swimming pool, age 9 or 10, and belting out "Greatest Love of All." Now that's a gay boy. Or singing "Didn't We Almost Have It All" while playing on our swing set in the backyard.

When The Bodyguard came out, my parents wouldn't let me see it because it was rated R, but I remember my older sister watching it and letting me come in and see the end and that's when I heard her version of "I Will Always Love You" for the first time. By the time I finally saw the movie, I knew all the music by heart from listening to the album over and over again.

I remember buying the CD single of "Exhale Shoop Shoop" and playing it on repeat in my room on my very first CD player that I bought with my own money. There I was a red-haired white boy queening it out to Whitney and loving every minute of it. Of course, I was still very much in denial about my sexuality.

When she released her album My Love is Your Love, I was a sophomore in high school and had just gotten my license. I remember driving around blaring "Heartbreak Hotel" and "It's Not Right But It's Okay" and feeling so free. There's nothing better than being young and having that first taste of freedom that comes from having your own car.

When I Look to You came out, I was also out and going to gay clubs often. It was my first chance to dance in a sea of men with Whitney booming through the speakers. I was well prepared for the moment and embraced it fully. I was glad to have her back. When this album came out it made me realize that Whitney was my gay diva and I suddenly understood that bond that so many have with other artists.

After finding out about her death, I finished getting dressed and we headed to the club. There's no better place to be when a great diva dies than in a gay club. That night I danced to every Whitney song that came on and I celebrated her voice and the impact it had on me as a young gay boy in the Midwest.

For me, Whitney is part of my past. A part of my childhood. A part of my own discovery of my sexuality. It's sad to lose that piece and to know it has come to an end. Yes, I know she was a celebrity and I didn't really know her. Yes, I know there many more important issues to write about and for the media to cover than Whitney's death. Yes, I know that it's our American obsession with fame and tragedy that contributes to the media storm and perhaps even to her own downfall. But even though I know how silly it might be, her death impacted me and for just a moment, I'm willing to turn off the analytical side of my brain and mourn the loss of a great artist.

-Stephen (It's Not Right)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Writer as Reader

I've said it many times and I've written it many times, but it bears repeating: to be a good writer you must be a good reader. There's nothing worse than meeting a "writer" and asking him what he reads and getting the answer "I don't really read." How is that possible? Where would I be without all of my reading?

I've spent the last month and a half reading all of Sylvia Plath, some Ted Hughes, and a book on the Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. All of this reading has been connected to a new book project I'm working on and developing. I'm intentionally using these works as inspiration and filtering them into the project in very direct ways, but other things are entering in less direct or intended ways.

On Friday, I was working out a new poem and suddenly realized that the poem was evoking Gertrude Stein and would actually work better as a clear play off of her, because of the subject matter and the history of Stein. I haven't read Stein in about five years, yet there she was in the back of my head and clearly there on the page long before I realized it. This is the power of being informed and reading. When things like this happen, you have a choice. You can keep the reference under the surface or bring it to the top. In this case, I brought it to the top.

I've often heard writers say, they don't like to read much when working on new works because they fear copying whatever it is they are reading. I can understand this fear, but also think it's about reading the right things at the right times. I'm also a firm believer in placing yourself within the wider poetry world. It's important to know what's come before you and what's currently around you and to sometimes clearly acknowledge that. Give your work a place in the grand timeline of poetic work.

Perhaps I find this easier than others simply because of the subject matter I often write about and my style of writing. For example, in my book (He Do the Gay Man in Different Voices), the title poem is a play off of T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land." There are tons of references throughout my poem that connect to that very famous work, but it's a far, far cry from a copy or imitation because my subject matter is very different as is my overall style. I don't write like Eliot. In lots of ways, this is what I enjoy doing. I enjoy combining my knowledge of poetry and the history of poetry with very current, modern, and often uncomfortable subject matters that those writers would not have written about. Eliot would not have written about gay sex, gay clubs, hookups, etc. In fact, I doubt Eliot would approve of my book or the poem he helped inspire. The same can probably be said for the new poems I'm working on that reference Plath, but look absolutely nothing like a Plath poem.

The point is that reading plays a huge role in my writing process. Without my years of study and without my constant reading of poetry, I wouldn't be the poet I am today. This can be a hard concept to teach especially to students wanting a quick fix. This is what makes teaching writing so difficult. It's a process. Often a very long process. There's no clear end point. In fact, I've studied and read just as much since finishing my MFA four years ago as I did in school. It doesn't stop, which isn't typically what students want to hear.

Reading is vital and it's important to remember that as a writer you are part of a wider community. We need each other as readers. Writing can be a very lonely act, but sharing that writing can be very fulfilling.

-Stephen (Reading)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

News and Updates

Happy February! 2012 is proving to be a busy year for me (especially these first few months). A lot has been going on and a lot is on the horizon. I thought I'd round up all the news into one post to keep anyone interested up to date.

First of all, my first book of poems, He Do the Gay Man in Different Voices, is now officially available for pre-order! It comes out March 15th (in just six weeks), but pre-ordering makes sure you get one of the very first copies. You can pre-order by visiting Sibling Rivalry Press. If anyone is interested in an advanced copy for review purposes, you can contact the publisher. I am also available for interviews.

In just one month, I will be at AWP in Chicago. I'm going for fun and the experience. If you are going to be there, hopefully we will run into each other. I'm excited to see some of my old friends and to make some new ones.

On March 15th, my book officially comes out and I will be hosting a reading and book launch here in Orlando, Florida. If you live here, you can buy your copy of my book at the event. I'll be signing copies. It will take place at 7:30 PM at The Center on Mills Avenue (yes, the GLBT center in Orlando is on Mills Avenue). Invite your friends! A Facebook event page is coming soon.

At the end of March, I'll be in New York City for the Rainbow Book Fair. I'm thrilled about this trip and excited to meet so many of the amazing poets I've communicated with over the last few years. On Friday, March 23rd, I'll be participating in a really exciting reading for Assaracus. The event will bring together a lot of gay poets who will all be reading from work that has appeared in the journal Assaracus. Check out the Facebook event page for more information. I will also be doing a reading from my book on the 24th at the Rainbow Book Fair and I'll be signing copies at the Sibling Rivalry Press table. Come see me.

On April 28th, I'll be doing a reading in Atlanta at the Decatur Library from 3 PM to 5 PM. This will be with three other Sibling Rivalry Press poets. I love Atlanta and look forward to this reading and trip.

In other poetry news, I have new work in Pank's February issue, which typically releases in the middle of the month. I also have two poems in the newest issue of Grist, which will be available at AWP in March. Three of my poems have been accepted for inclusion in the book People Are Talking About You: An Anthology of New Gay and Lesbian Poetry edited by Shane Allison.

Thanks for reading and caring! I hope to meet many of you in my travels over the next few months.

-Stephen (Dreaming)