Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Books I Read in 2013

For the last few years, I've been keeping a record of all the books I read during the year. One of my goals this year was to read 50 books, and I'm ending the year having read 63. This is a record for me. Living in New York has actually helped. For starters I live in a city with actual bookstores (many that sell used books). I also now travel by subway, which gives me more reading time. My work schedule has also helped.

Over the year I read a good mix of poetry, fiction, and even a few non-fiction books. Yes, many of the poetry books were short (making them quicker to read), but I also read quite a few long poetry collections like The Complete Poems by Anne Sexton that comes in at over 500 pages. One of my other goals was to read more Virginia Woolf (my favorite novelist) and I did.

Here's my reading list (may it give you some reading ideas):

1.     Dear Darkness by Kevin Young
2.     Spit by Esther Lee
3.     Real Man Adventures by T. Cooper
4.     The Complete Poems by Edwin Denby
5.     Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson
6.     Love Rise Up edited by Steve Fellner and Phil E. Young
7.     Looking for the Gulf Motel by Richard Blanco
8.     Double Shadow by Carl Phillips
9.     My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge by Paul Guest
10.  Useless Landscape or A Guide for Boys by D.A. Powell
11.  For the Comfort of Automated Phrases by Jane Cassady
12.  The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf
13.  H by Jim Elledge
14.  The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills by Charles Bukowki
15.  A Worldly Country by John Ashbery
16.  Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
17.  The Complete Poems by Anne Sexton
18.  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
19.  Sudden Dog by Matthew Pennock
20.  Deleted Names by Lawrence Schimel
21.  Appetite by Aaron Smith
22.  Render by Collin Kelley
23.  Blowout by Denise Duhamel
24.  Best New Poets 2012 edited by Matthew Dickman
25.  Milk and Honey: A Celebration of Jewish Lesbian Poetry edited by Julie R. Enszer
26.  Red Doc> by Anne Carson
27.  Less Fortunate Pirates by Bryan Borland
28.  Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris
29.  Hanging Between Heaven and Earth: Capital Crime, Execution Preaching, and Theology in Early New England by Scott Seay
30.  Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs by Ron Koertge
31.  Open Winter by Rae Gouirand
32.  Tilt by Ellen Hopkins
33.  Percival Everett by Virgil Russell by Percival Everett
34.  Jacob’s Room by Virginia Woolf
35.  Nocturnes of the Brothel of Ruin by Patrick Donnelly
36.  Men in the Off Hours by Anne Carson
37.  The Talking Day by Michael Klein
38.  Brit Lit by D. Gilson 
39.  Ceremonies by Essex Hemphill
40.  This assignment is so gay: lgbtiq poets on the art of teaching edited by Megan Volpert
41.  Torn by C. Dale Young
42.  Peyton Place: A Haiku Soap Opera by David Trinidad
43.  The Magical Breasts of Britney Spears by Ryan G. Van Cleave
44.  Our Naked Lives: Essays from Gay Italian-American Men edited by Joseph Anthony LoGiudice and Michael Carosone
45.  The Year of What Now by Brian Russell
46.  The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
47.  The Biscuit Joint by David Kirby
48.  Trans by Hilda Raz
49.  Letters to Kelly Clarkson by Julia Bloch
50.  Pier Queen by Emanuel Xavier
51.  Horoscopes for the Dead by Billy Collins
52.  Emerald Ice: Selected Poems 1962-1987 by Diane Wakoski
53.  Fair Copy by Rebecca Hazelton
54.  Orlando by Virginia Woolf
55.  Running for Trap Doors by Joanna Hoffman
56.  Purpose and Devil Piss by Robert Siek
57.  Nefarious by Emanuel Xavier
58.  The Collected Stories by Amy Hempel
59.  Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf
60.  Alternative Medicine by Rafael Campo
61.  Here Be Monsters by Colin Cheney
62.  Between: New Gay Poetry edited by Jameson Currier
63.  White Girls by Hilton Als

-Stephen (Reading)

Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013: What I Accomplished

For the last few years I've set goals for myself that I've published here on my blog. It's been a good way of tracking my own achievements and thinking about where I want to go in the coming year. This past year was no different. Last January I wrote out ten goals for 2013, and today I've evaluating my progress on those goals.

2013 has been a pretty amazing year. It was my first full year living in New York City, which has been fantastic. The year provided some great surprises and personal accomplishments that I didn't see coming last January.

Here's how I did on the ten goals I set one year ago: 

Goal 1: My first goal for 2013 was to read 50 books. I always challenge myself to read more, but I'd never set a number. I tracked my goal through Good Reads, and I'm proud to say I met and exceeded it. If I can get through the book I'm currently reading, I will have read 63 books in 2013. I'll be posting the complete list of books here on my blog on the last day of the year.

Goal 2: I wanted to write three non-fiction essays this year. I also met and exceeded this goal. I had my first creative non-fiction memoir piece published in The Rumpus in July. I also wrote a piece for a friend's blog on academic fashion, and I began writing pieces for a pop culture online magazine called Hidden Track. I've also been working on a few other memoir essays that will hopefully see the light of day in 2014.

Goal 3: Do more poetry readings. And I did. I've done more poetry readings in the last year than any other year of my life (and maybe all the years combined). Living in New York has provided a lot more opportunities to read and share my work. Being a finalist for the Thom Gunn Poetry Award and winning the Lambda Literary Award also helped. My proudest reading experience was getting to read in Bryant Park as part of their summer reading series.

Goal 4: For the last few years, I've made it a goal to be happier in my career and to find a job I truly enjoy. This has proven to be my biggest challenge in life and continues to be a struggle. I've spent the last year adjuncting for a career college. I actually really enjoy my job and where I teach, but I've also learned the struggles of adjuncting. The amount of time, education, and effort required to teach college should result in getting paid more than minimum wage (if that). I have no job security or paid time off or benefits. Anyone not paying attention to the adjunct situation that is taking over our higher education system needs to wake up. My job struggle continues into yet another year. I'm thankful for the job I have, but I need a bit more security and money.

Goal 5: My fifth goal was to explore New York as much as possible. I give myself a high grade on this one. Dustin and I are great at jumping into new places and doing things. New York is full of endless things to do, and we've done a lot of them. I've come to appreciate how many free events take place in New York (more than any place I've ever lived). I've loved every minute of our exploration from movies in the park to Shakespeare in the park to parades, festivals, and art events. It's been a great year of experiencing what this city has to offer.

Goal 6: Blog more. Okay, this didn't really happen (probably because of the other goals listed above and below).

Goal 7: I often post a money goal and this year was no different. I wanted to continue to work on paying off my debt, and as the year closes, Dustin and I have made some good money decisions to help make this possible.

Goal 8: Make new friends and keep in touch with old friends. The hardest part of moving to New York was leaving behind a great group of friends. I miss very little about Florida, but I do miss my friends. Thanks to Facebook, keeping in touch is easier. In September, Dustin and I got married and were absolutely thrilled to have four of our good friends from Florida fly up to New York for it. Distance makes friendships hard, but when you care about people, you can make it work.

As for new friends in New York, it's slowly happening. I'm not someone who becomes close friends with lots and lots of people. I know lots of people, but I'm a bit more guarded about who I make a lot of time for in my life. I'm also a good judge of character, so if I don't see us being really close, I don't make a huge effort (this is why people sometimes perceive me as rude). I feel more settled into New York now, and I look forward to bonding with more people in the coming year.

Goal 9: This goal was to work on my new poetry project. I started off the year doing a lot of research on a new project and doing some of the writing. I took a break from the project to finish my second book manuscript, which took more time than I thought. My second book, A History of the Unmarried, will be coming out in September of 2014. At the beginning of the year, I thought the book was close to finished, but it kept changing and growing. This did pull away from my newer project. In 2014, I hope to finish it up. It will probably turn into a chapbook length work.

Goal 10: Volunteer. To be honest, I forgot about this goal, so I didn't really do much volunteering this year, but it's something I'll keep in mind in the new year.

As you can see, most of these goals I met and some I went even further with. I'm proud of the year I had, and I'm truly excited to see what 2014 will bring. My thirties have been pretty great so far. I'll be posting my goals for the new year soon.

-Stephen (Accomplished) 

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Year in Writing

2013 has been one of the best years of my life (especially in the writing department). My first book came out nearly two years ago (in March of 2012), but it hit new heights in 2013 when it was named a finalist for the Thom Gunn Poetry Award and won the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry in June. I did more poetry readings in the last year than any other year of my life (including getting to read in Bryant Park), but I also kept up with writing new work.

Over the last year, I spent a lot of time on my second book, A History of the Unmarried, which will be released in September of 2014 by Sibling Rivalry Press. Just a few weeks ago I submitted my first draft of the book. I also devoted more time in 2013 to writing essays, which was one of my goals. I also had quite a few new poems get printed in online and print magazines (and more coming very soon in 2014).

Here are some of my favorite pieces that got published in 2013:

1. "Tonight I Dream of January Jones in a Supermarket in Florida," Hobble Creek Review

This is from my new book manuscript and was also nominated by Hobble Creek Review for a Pushcart Prize.

2. "ABC's Scandal: A Non-Guilty Pleasure," Hidden Track

Two months ago, I began writing pop culture pieces for an online magazine. My favorite piece so far was one on the insane, but addictive show Scandal

3. This assignment is so gay: LGBTIQ Poets on the Art of Teaching, Sibling Rivalry Press

In August, a great new anthology came out from Sibling Rivalry Press that I'm extremely honored to be part of. I have two poems in the collection, but the whole book is worth reading from cover to cover (which is rare for an anthology).

4.  "The Long Engagement," Joe's Jacket

I published this piece myself here on my blog, but it is a piece that means a lot to me. In September I married my partner of ten years, and this piece is a reflection on my views on marriage and my journey with my partner.

5. "Surviving a For-Profit School," The Rumpus

In July I had an essay published in The Rumpus on my experience working at a for-profit school. This piece is the one I am most proud of from the last year. It was difficult to write and is about a very difficult period of my life. When the piece got published, I received a really amazing response from so many people who had also experienced for-profit education. It felt good to tell the truth about a situation that is happening in our education system. It also gave me some peace with my experience at that school. 

-Stephen (Writing)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Smart Ride: A Poem

Two years ago, I participated in the Smart Ride, which is a 165 mile bike ride from Miami to Key West. It raises money for those living with or affected by HIV/AIDS. It was a very challenging experience for me because I'd never done something that physical or athletic before. It was also challenging because I had to raise quite a bit of money. I met these challenges and had an experience that I'll always look back on in a positive light. I wrote about my Smart Ride experience on my blog afterwards. You can read that post here.

This past weekend was the tenth Smart Ride (I did the 8th). I wasn't able to do it this year, but I was asked to write a poem for the opening ceremony of the ride. This was yet another challenge. I'd never written a poem for an event, so there were very different concerns that I had to consider when constructing this poem. I wasn't there to share in the moment, but I'm glad my poem was. This year's ride raised a record amount of $1,047,514. This is truly amazing and I congratulate everyone who road, helped with the ride, or donated.

Since the ride is over, I thought I would share my Smart Ride poem here on my blog. Here it is:

Adaption: A Poem for Smart Ride 10

Yesterday we moved through rooms
of the lost. Swam through stale air.
The windows sealed shut. The dishes
moldy in the sink. The knick-knacks
wearing thick coats of dust. Books
half read. Magazines flapped open
to smiling celebrities, gossip columns,
and more bad news. Rooms interrupted,
abandoned, unfinished. Left as evidence
that it can all change.

Today we move through open spaces.
Air deep in lungs. Salt in the breeze.
Down our spines. Across our foreheads.
We ride for miles toward the sea
where life and death meet in crashing
waves. Today we claim the named
and the unnamed. A history that is ours.
Not forgotten. In the Florida air
we feel bound by only this moment.
By the pavement beneath spinning feet.
By the power of the mind. For this
is not about the body.

Tomorrow we’ll move through our own
rooms full of the artifacts of the living.
Our own existence. Our lives simply
on pause. We’ll clean dishes. Wipe dust
from shelves. Pick up open books.
Watch the news. Make love. Eat takeout.
Yet everything will be a little different.
Might burn a little brighter. And at night,
with bodies sore, we’ll find a bit of sand
still stuck to our skin. Small grains
we’ll rub between fingers, reminding
ourselves of how easily we adapt.  

-Stephen (Proud)

Friday, October 11, 2013

Academic Fashion Post

This week I wrote a guest post for a blog on academic fashion. Fashion is something I've always had an interest in and something I've thought a lot about in the classroom setting. My post explores how my clothing choices connect to my teaching style.

Check it out here.

-Stephen (Fab)

Monday, October 7, 2013

New York: One Year Later

A few months ago, one of my students told me she couldn't believe I wasn't a native New Yorker. She said I seemed so "New York," and she kept forgetting that I had only recently moved here. October marks one year in New York. It's hard to believe at times that a year has gone by, but when I think of my old life in Florida, it already seems so distant. Making big changes always reminds me how adaptable we are as human beings. We can adapt to bad situations, and we can adapt to good ones.

In one year, my whole life has changed and that change has been for the better. I moved to New York, I turned thirty, I won a respectable poetry award for my first book (the Lammy), I signed a contract for a second book, and I married my partner of ten years. It's hard to complain with that much good in your life. I also give myself and my partner, Dustin, a lot of credit for the hard work we put in to make many of these things happen. A lot of people don't put in the work to make changes. It's not easy, but I can tell you, it is worth it. Not everything is perfect right now, but we are working to build our lives here in New York. A place we both truly love. A place we want to be. 

At this one year mark, I'm thinking a lot about what it means to be a "New Yorker." There are few places in the country with as much pride as New York. People often wear their New Yorker status as a badge of honor even if they no longer live here. There's the saying that if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. In many ways, that's very true. Living in New York is drastically different from living anywhere else in the country, and it provides its own challenges. In exchange for those challenges, I get to live in one of the greatest cites in the world.

I've come to realize that being a New Yorker is not simply living here in the city. In fact, I would argue many people who live in New York are not New Yorkers. My students, most of which are native New Yorkers, often comment on my New York-ness because I exhibit a lot of qualities that are valued here, and I truly live in the city. I'm active, I know what's going on, and I participate.

I spent 29 years of my life never feeling like I truly fit. I always felt like the odd one out. Some might contribute this to the fact that I'm gay, but I think there's more to it than that. My otherness is not simply defined by sexuality (though that plays a role). My otherness is also marked by my personality, my passions, and how I view life. I'm a strong-willed person with a strong sense of who I am. I don't back down easily, and I'm a good judge of other people, which is why I don't like that many people. I'm a focused and driven person with a passion for writing and literature. These are passions many don't understand or respect. I will probably never make tons of money because of these passions, but I'll be happy. I often have unpopular opinions, and I don't follow all "the rules."

This last year in New York has felt like finding a home. I fit here in a way that I've never fit before. My directness is appreciated here. My intelligence is appreciated. My bitchiness is appreciated. People don't get offended easily here and nor do I. My work as a writer is appreciated and valued. I've done more poetry readings in the last year than any other time in my life. What I'm saying is perhaps I've been a New Yorker all my life, but now I'm finally here.  

To me, part of being a New Yorker is also taking advantage of the city and truly living in it. Dustin and I love doing new things and going to events, museums, bars, clubs, and restaurants, so we've taken major advantage of our time here. In fact, we are constantly informing other New Yorkers about events they've never heard of before. I don't understand living here and not being active. There are endless things to do.

I've also never lived somewhere with so many free events or a place with a bigger sense of community. People interact with each other in a very different way in New York. I've had more people speak to me in my neighborhood than anywhere I've ever lived. I've seen people be more helpful and nice than other places. Directness is often perceived as rudeness, which is why people think of New Yorkers as rude, but  I associate directness with honesty, which is perhaps why New York was recently named one of the most honest cities in the world.

It's safe to say that I've fallen in love, and I'm not going anywhere. I'm happier than I've been in a really long time, and I'm very thankful to have a husband who shares my passion for new experiences and enjoying life.

-Stephen (New Yorker)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Long Engagement

On Christmas Eve of 2004, my boyfriend of a little over a year got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. In his hand was a beautiful white gold band with six diamonds embedded in it. To buy it, he cashed in all of the savings bonds his grandmother had given him for every birthday and Christmas of his nineteen years. There in my parents’ living room beneath the glow of a lit tree, I accepted his proposal. It was what all my years of growing up in the Midwest had taught me to do. Well, except it was supposed to be me on my knee and a girl saying yes, but basically I was following tradition.
At the time, I was a senior in college and my boyfriend, Dustin, was a sophomore. Our relationship had been like nothing I’d ever experienced. I knew, without a doubt, I was in love. As two Indiana-raised boys, marriage seemed like the next logical step even if it wasn’t legally recognized. My parents had married young as had Dustin’s parents. My older sister had followed by marrying at nineteen. All of these couples were still happily married. In a way, this young marriage proposal proved how my gayness didn’t make me all that different from anyone else in corn-fed Indiana.
Growing up, I didn’t know any other gay people. For those living in more liberal or populated areas, this might be hard to believe. I was born in 1982 and I spent my first twenty-two years living in small areas of Indiana. While gay people were more and more present on TV, they weren’t there in the flesh. Yes, there were rumors here and there, but gayness wasn’t talked about. I didn’t grow up hearing really horrible things about gay people, but I grew up in silence. That silence was powerful enough to keep me in the closet for twenty years.

When I came out during my sophomore year of college, at a small liberal arts school in Southern Indiana, I was still only one of a few. It was there on that campus that I found Dustin, and we connected immediately. But our relationship, even in those early years, was not like most straight relationships. We were stared at constantly in small conservative restaurants as if we were some exotic creatures in a carnival tent. We were called fags on numerous occasions, sometimes by small children. Fag was written on both our dorm room doors more than once just to make sure everyone knew. Plus there were the issues with Dustin’s parents who cut him off after dating me for just a few months. Perhaps it was these actions coupled with our isolation from the gay community that made us feel the need to prove that we were like everyone else.
On that Christmas Eve, we were young and inexperienced in what the world could offer two gay men. We felt bound by what had always been presented to us, and we were making the best of it. On that night, we committed to each other in the most traditional way possible.
After that ring went on my finger, we agreed to hold off on setting a date or deciding our next step. We had other concerns. I was applying to graduate schools across the country, and Dustin was facing the decision of leaving college to come with me or trying a long distance relationship, which neither of us wanted. I ended up deciding to attend Florida State University in Tallahassee, and Dustin decided to come with me. At this point, Dustin wasn’t sure he knew what he wanted to do as a career, and his parents had stopped paying for his education, so coming with me felt like the right move. And it was.
In the years that followed, our lives changed and our ideas about marriage began to evolve. As a gay man entering the world outside undergrad and Indiana, I realized how far we still needed to come, and that marriage, in many ways, was not the most important issue facing the gay community. As I write this, you can still be fired in most states for being openly gay, you can’t donate blood, and adoption is very difficult or not possible depending on the state. I also began to come to terms with the idea that equality doesn’t mean being the same, and that my relationship, no matter what I do, is not the same as a relationship between a man and a woman and there’s nothing wrong with that (Seinfeld reference intentional).
With time, I began to question if I wanted to engage in a “mock” wedding that wouldn’t be legally recognized where I lived and wouldn’t really do anything other than get us gifts. Sure, I like gifts, but it didn’t feel right, and we figured, why rush?
I grew frustrated by the idea of heterosexual marriage and slowly distanced myself from the idea. I felt annoyed by straight co-workers planning their weddings or by seeing bachelorette parties in gay bars. There seemed to be an all-around insensitivity to the rights being denied gay couples. At this point my partner and I both had rings, but we had placed them on our right hands and not our left. We used them as our own symbols and our own personal commitment. I didn’t need marriage to be happy or to feel bonded to Dustin. In some ways, desiring marriage felt like giving in to the heterosexual norm, which was something I no longer wanted.
At the four-year mark, we had settled into our lives in Florida far from our Midwest upbringing. We had truly become a couple: joint bank account, jointly purchased furniture, holidays together, and even a dog. Marriage had not stopped us from finding our way and forging ahead as a couple, but the act of getting married was rarely discussed.
It was also at this four-year point that we sat down and talked about opening our relationship sexually. In fact, this conversation first took place over drinks and dinner in a chain restaurant during our last months in Tallahassee. You can imagine the stares we got that night, but we no longer cared.
The two boys from that Christmas Eve were now men with more experience and wisdom. We were in a place to explore the possibilities. At no point, did we question our bond and connection to each other, but we did face the hard facts. We had found each other so young, and it seemed unlikely that we could stay together for the rest of our lives and never have sex or desire sex with other people. One hundred percent monogamy is actually against our nature as human beings. We were wise enough to understand that many relationships fail for this very reason. We didn’t want to end up in that situation.
It was through many conversations that we agreed to give up monogamy and forge a new path. Like many couples in the gay community and even some in the straight community (yes, straight people aren’t all alike either), we have created our own set of rules for how our open relationship works. We’ve been able to explore our own sexuality (together and separately) in more meaningful ways and have faced some of those hard questions and feelings head-on. This path has changed over time and has challenged us, but it has kept us committed and has brought us closer together. Our relationship feels more honest this way. We can check out guys together, share funny stories, have hookups, but always come back to each other and the life we share.
We were able to see the separation between love and sex, which allowed us to see that we could have a different kind of life. No relationship is easy and mine has had hard times, good times, amazing times, and ugly times, but I wouldn’t change the decisions we’ve made. It isn’t perfect, it is sometimes messy, but it is real.
We have faced some criticism for our choices from other gay people. We are living in a time when the gay community must decide how to forge this road to equality. As with other movements, there are always those who want to sanitize everything. I don’t need to look or act like a straight person (or your idea of one) to be equal. I can say that I enjoy sex with lots of men including my partner or that I enjoy going to leather bars in a jockstrap and harness or that I like going to circuit parties with live sex shows, and this doesn’t make me any less worthy of equal rights. I like all those things. I also like Modernist literature, writing poetry, cooking, and documentaries. As a gay person, I don’t want to win the fight for equality by sweeping everything that might make people uncomfortable under the rug. That is not true equality.
Had Dustin and I gotten “married” soon after that proposal in 2004, I’m not sure what direction our lives would have taken, but I do know we would probably not be the men we are today. It was partly being denied equal marriage rights that made us able to question what kind of relationship we wanted. We weren’t bound by anyone’s idea of what it should look like or be like. There was no model to follow once we stopped looking to the straight couples around us. I feel lucky, in many ways, to have had this point of view. Many heterosexual couples could also benefit from taking a different look at the idea of marriage.
After nearly ten years together, six of them open, we have come back to the idea of marriage. For me, getting married to Dustin is about receiving the rights we deserve as a couple. It isn’t about following the conservative idea of what a marriage should be. We are both atheists and don’t have any religious connection to the idea of marriage. It is about the rights and about publicly committing to each other on our terms.
 At times, I’ve wanted to forget all about getting married, but then I come back to the facts. If something happened to Dustin, I might not have a say in what happens to him or to the life, resources, and home we’ve shared. His parents still do not fully support our relationship, and they’ve met me only a few times in a decade. I have no way of predicting their behavior should I be in that situation. We might need the protections that come with marriage.
On September 17, 2013, we will be celebrating our ten-year anniversary, and we have, through careful consideration, decided to get married as part of that celebration. About a year ago, we moved to New York City where gay marriage is legal. Due to the Supreme Court decision in June, our marriage here in New York will be recognized on the state level and the federal level, which makes it truly equal.
It feels a little funny to think of us tying the knot after so many years. I’m not thinking of it so much as the act of marriage, but as a chance to celebrate who we are and everything we’ve accomplished with the people we care about. We’ve done a lot in ten years. We’ve pushed each other, challenged each other, and supported each other in every step we’ve made. Together we’ve moved from our rural beginnings in Indiana to sunny Florida to New York City. Without any piece of paper, we’ve created a great life full of love, sex, and, above all, an amazing friendship.
Marriage will not completely change us, but it will be one more step in our journey. We don’t begin again on our wedding day or erase all the days before it. That would feel wrong. People have fought hard for our right to do this, and I’m honored that they have, but I also plan to keep our life and marriage as queer as possible. We are two men in love and that’s okay.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

News Update

In the last few weeks, I've had various things published by me or about me that I wanted to share here on my blog.

I have two new reviews of my book. The first one was done by Lambda Literary a few weeks ago and the second was published by The Florida Book Review. Both are really great reviews that I enjoyed reading. Lambda also published an interview with me last week.

In poetry news, I recently had three poems featured at Referential Magazine and four poems published in Polari Journal. I also have two poems in the new anthology from Sibling Rivalry Press called This assignment is so gay: lgbtiq poets on the art of teaching edited by Megan Volpert. I'm honored to be in the collection, which you can now purchase here. To help promote the anthology I posted a video of me reading one of my poems:

Finally, I'm still getting great responses from my essay in The Rumpus on for-profit education. If you haven't read it, you can here.

-Stephen (Writing)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Interview with J/J Hastain

In 2011, I devoted a post each month to interviewing a poet. These interviews were enjoyable and great ways to connect with other poets and share ideas and experiences. Part of my goal with my blog is to discuss issues related to poetry and to showcase other good poets. The interviews were a way to do that. After a year of doing it, I took a break that lasted a little too long. Life happened.

Today, I'm featuring my first interview since 2011. Over the last few weeks I've been interviewing J/J Hastain through email. We first connected this way about a year ago. J/J's work is very different from my own, which is one reason I wanted to interview J/J. I hope you enjoy our conversation!

S: Who are your biggest influences?

J: Oh there are so many! Here are a few: Sadhus, Butoh performers/ practitioners, fire eaters, circus ghosts, overlooked Biblical/historical figures, mythological victims, fringe populates, divergents, people who identify with their bodies in ways that overtly torque systemic norms, many genderqueer and Trans writers (I don’t want to start into the specificities of this list because it is very long and each of the people on it are dear to me and I don’t want to accidentally leave any of the many beautiful people out), feminist versions of Mary Magdalene, intentional harvesters of female masculinity (friends and lovers who nurture masculine-female identified beings), intentional harvesters of male femininity (friends and lovers who nurture feminine-male identified beings) female Tyrannosaurus Rexes, Guanyin, lesbian nuns, nanotechnology, Priscilla Queen of the desert.
S: That’s a great and diverse list. I love it. Your work might be described as complex, but also playful in how it uses language. I’m curious about your writing process. What is it like?

J: Thank you! Those are both compliments. I would not say that I am ever intentionally either complex or playful, but as the integrity (and impetus) of my works is often sound and image related it definitely makes sense that that could be how the works are received (and that reception pleases me).

I suppose when you live the blessing of being utterly and entirely subsumed (this is both the what and the how of my writing process) you are bound to get wrapped up in sensory information. That wrap is being rapt. Sparks fly off of the flag when its sides are rubbed together. To tighten wrapping by psychic powers, then to find ways to unwrap (wrap and unwrap are proven possible on the visually itinerant shell of a gastropod mollusk) or loosen is the embodiment shape of the work of all of my books in one way or another.

Each of my writings investigates and invests in tone more than anything else: tone as a feeling place and tone as delivery mechanism. Tone is a precursor to an infinity of travels, to inter-stellar tergiversations of many types.

S: On that same note, some of your work borders between poetry and prose. You often write in long lines and even paragraphs. How do you determine what form your work takes?

J: It feels important to state that meaning has always meant things to me, but has not always been a clear thing for me (in particular) to pursue. I began writing with an absolute rebellion against traditions of many types (including grammar and enforcements regarding sentence/phrase structure). For this reason, some of my earlier works were sound-based articulations of disparateness—a bell or a singing bowl being rung without a middle. In other words, there was resonance, but not the kind of resonance that instantly communicates meaning. These early books depended on the reach of the reader in order to get their middles and that reach (the reader’s belief folding into them) resulted in plump and foretelling middles that outdid what the earlier works could have ever hoped for for themselves on their own.

Lately (for the last few years), I have been working intently on developments of the mystical sentence: a sentence that somehow holds more than its share of the weight of a page. Mystical sentences drift and drip: they writhe. They reach outward from the configured and clotty middles (intents, figures) of the projects. They extend to readers from their own matured middles.

The first few books I wrote in the mystical sentence projects were what I called non-novels. They were impossible content trying to tell itself by way of sentences and phrasing that are not indigenous to grammar. In other words, in my writing process I have moved from glittery, guttural accounts of disparateness to composition of forms of tell that while sharing my early, guerilla refusals (in regard to grammar and tradition) also began to intentionally mate with sentences on my own terms. This transition has made meaning even more suitable to and able to be sought within my writing process.

S: You’ve mentioned working with “sound” and often working against the norm when it comes to grammar and sentence structure. These might present challenges to certain readers. How much do you consider the reader when writing? Is there a particular reader you have in mind?

J: My work with sound is more akin to trance work than it is, say, some impenetrable chant in a foreign language. It is there to be entered: it can feel it when you come in. Sounds bleed: they are music’s primal tongue. Silhouettes skip along the bridges seeking out reservoirs, invisible revenues are pursued for the sake of increasing beautiful excesses.

I would say that I decided a long time ago not to write for a particular reader at all, but this does not mean that I don’t care about the reader. I would offer, hold space, reach, and even write letters. I am intensely into camaraderies of many types and I am totally willing to give of my time and effort. I would do many things for the people that readers are. I don’t, however, feel that it does anyone a service for me to work with some invented abstraction about what a reader is about the potential limits that an abstraction of a reader might have. A reader is a person and a person is a you: an individual with feelings and preferences, a body that likes broccoli or does not. I can say that it is never my intent to affront. I take care with the sound-hinges because I believe that they make slippage into merge states more possible: lubrications do a lot of magical work. However, I also believe that confrontations can, at times, progress the psychic queue and that new kinds (or sensations) of love can come from what, at least initially, may have felt like a struggle.

It is never as simple as saying yes or no about anything for me. I am, however, confidently saying that I give everything I’ve got to each page (envision a doula sweating along with the emerging offspring and its mother) and I think that the reverberations of the phrase shapes are a type that actually nourishes water particles rather than damaging them. We, as human bodies (readers) are largely made up of water, right?

I believe in the shapeliness of the gesture of each book and, like a new or an ancient piece of architecture, like the pull of a crenellated portal, I believe it is possible to feel belonging in my pages.

S: I like the image of a doula. It seems fitting for the process so many writers go through. Speaking of things not being simply a yes or no for you, how do you self-identify (transgendered, genderqueer, etc.)? And how does that play into your work?

J: Good and relevant question. Thank you. I identify as genderqueer (as the base from which I name the more subtle specificities of my gender travels). I am currently pretty femmed out: queer femme and sometimes even stone femme. Maybe I am even queer mother to a child that regularly comes to me for revival in my dreams.

I have found through gender practice, gender engorgement and gender study over the years, that the specificities of my gender are quite flex and very dependent on my relations and proximities. This has always been the fact and the challenge for me: my gender and embodiments are very much dependent. They depend on environment, on feeling, on era and on planar realm. When I say dependent, I am not talking about being closeted in unfriendly environments. It’s more like the vitalities and sensory integrities of others’ authentic embodiments and agendas bring nuances and facets out of me: provoke mysterious aspects of me to come forth. I am very committed to naming as ricochet regarding those mysterious aspects and for this reason my naming must remain quite expansive.

I believe that identity is something to be lived as it is being built. This also means that parts of what has been built, fall off in storms, come crashing down and into the relentless holding of the trees below.

I have long referred to myself as Trans (but not Transexual or Transgender), and though I still refer to myself in that way (Trans as traversal, as embodiment of passage and crossing, as non-arrival but unequivocal movement across or along) I am also willing to give up that component of self-regard so as to not crowd out the people for whom Trans-ness (Transgender and Transexual) is finally just coming to be recognized and respected by the larger (cis) social setting. Genderqueer works just fine for me.

It is so hard for us to prove our queer names to those who rest comfortably in the privileges of non-queer names. It saddens me that we still have to sweat in the ways that we do, in order for our accuracies to finally ring toward us (with regard) from the mouths of those who still do not understand or from those who even blatantly reject us. I honor the Transgender and Transexual folks who have worked so hard for the honor and reception of accuracies: I ally you.

Another little flipping, tail-like side note to close this comment: as part of my genderqueer identity, I definitely self-identify as a gender shaman and an embodied performer of ceremonial gore. As gender is an innate wilderness to me, I could obviously go on and on but having stated this I will stop here.

S: In the last year, some important trans and genderqueer anthologies have come out including The Collection which just won a Lambda Literary Award and a new poetry anthology called Troubling the Line, which includes work by you. Could you say a little bit about what it means to you to be in a collection like this? Why are these collections important?

J: They are important (in the context of history) because there are not enough of them. Plainly, like endangered or hybrid species, occupants of the fringe do not have as much recognition as we could have. For this reason, I find collections and anthologies like these to be rare, of extreme value.

How best do you hold a glistening glass figure that is not particularly easy to make out in the context of its shape? As you hold it, you know it is beautiful but it also remains mysterious to you. You appreciate that because no matter where you are in your life, you can always stare into it and find something new for yourself. These anthologies are gifts in just such a way: I stare into them as I invite staring into me. We can all look a little bit longer than is usual for us, can’t we? And if we do, we just might find.

Note: tc tolbert and Trace Peterson did an incredible job envisioning Troubling the Line. Please buy it and teach it. They put in many months of collection and editing for the sake of bringing out an anthology that is profoundly timely and unique. This book itself (as well as my experience of being in the book) is the homophone of rose: both the flower and a doughy rise.

S: Thanks for talking with me. For more on J/J go here: http://jjhastain.com/

-Stephen (Interviewing)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Back to Essay Writing

One of my goals for this year is to spend some of my writing time on essays. I've spent the last few years focused on poetry only, but essays (particularly memoir/narrative pieces) have always been my other area of interest as a writer. I took creative non-fiction classes in both undergrad and graduate school and always enjoyed them.

My goal is going pretty well at the halfway point in the year. I've generated various ideas for essays and I've completed one and I'm halfway through a second. My first one was just published last week at The Rumpus.

I'm very proud of this piece for so many reasons. The essay is called "Surviving a For-Profit School" and discusses my experience teaching at one for four years in Orlando, Florida. I spent my four years at the school not publicly discussing it. I never posted on my blog, on Facebook, on Twitter, or in any of my bios where I worked. Mostly because I was embarrassed. I had to put it on my resume, but, other than that, I've kept where I worked fairly private.

This essay has given me freedom from that experience. It truly felt good to write it and share the truth about what so many of these schools are doing, but the essay is also about what so many of us face in the humanities. The job market is grim and I had little choice but to work somewhere that I didn't believe in. I felt forced to be part of the problem. I know I'm not alone. There are many good people who work at that school and at others like it.

I know there are probably some people out there that are very angry that I wrote this essay and I'm glad if they are. I'm not the only voice out there talking about for-profit education, and I'm not the only one speaking out about the school I worked for, but more people have to be willing to join the conversation and address the effect these schools are having on the overall education system.

I've been gone for nine months and I feel like my old self again. I'm happier. I'm not angry all the time. I'm not depressed. I'm making a whole lot less money, but I don't care. I like where I work and I believe again that I'm helping students.

Since the essay was published, I've gotten a lot of messages from people who either attended a for-profit school or have taught at one. The messages have been great and have all thanked me for writing the piece. I've never had such a reaction like this one to something I've written (at least not this quickly). I'm glad the piece is connecting with people and informing them. This gives me a boost to keep working on essays.

-Stephen (Survivor)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Counting Gender

I've spent the last nine months serving as poetry editor for a new lit magazine called Animal. It's a fun magazine with a specific focus and format, which makes my job as editor difficult at times. We only publish one poem, one story, and one essay each month. This means I send a lot of rejections. I've worked on other magazines in the past, but I've never been the only decision maker for a section. In the case of Animal, I read each and every submission myself, and I make the decision of who gets published and who doesn't.

Over the last few years I've been following the actions of VIDA, which is an organization that "seeks to explore critical and cultural perceptions of writing by women through meaningful conversation and the exchange of ideas among existing and emerging literary communities." It was co-founded by a former professor of mine and my thesis advisor in grad school Erin Belieu. Most notably they began doing what they call "The Count." If you haven't been paying attention, let me explain. They calculate how many women vs. men get published in various well-respected journals and magazines. They also count the number of reviews of books written by females and compare it to the reviews of books written by men. Their findings have been unsettling. Most of these journals and magazines heavily favor men.

The Count has been the subject of numerous articles with various points of view. Some have gone on the defensive simply saying magazines publish "the best of what they get" and others have proposed that perhaps less women submit work. These "ideas" are often just as troublesome as the results of The Count. Also note that some of these editorial decisions are being made by women as well as men (it's not simply men keeping women down).

I don't mean to rehash all that has been written on this subject, but I will say that The Count has been on my mind for various reasons. Some argue that journals and magazines should care about showcasing a balance between female and male writers and that magazines are simply publishing what they "like" not "the best." This is fairly easy to do when it comes to reviewing books. Review more books by women, but when it comes to editing a journal it gets a little more complex.

Using my experience as an example, I realize that I often don't know the gender of the author submitting the work. Sometimes they include a bio that is gendered. Sometimes their name is clearly a gender specific name. But many times the author really could be either male or female (a lot of people use only initials). If you are purposely trying to keep your journal balanced (and by balanced I'm not implying an exact 50/50 split each issue) should you require that authors specify their genders? This could be asked about race and sexual orientation as well.

These are the kinds of thoughts that have been on my mind recently, which then led me in a different direction. While I admire the work done by VIDA and the conversations it has started, I also wonder the effect something like this has on the trans and genderqueer community. This community is currently fighting for a place at the table in the publishing world. How do you count a trans writer or someone who doesn't conform to gender standards and doesn't see themselves as male or female? While some might say, this is changing the conversation, I would say it is part of the conversation we should be having. An over focus on gender sometimes leaves a large gap where various groups of people get lost and once again excluded. Even the gay and lesbian community can often feel excluded from these conversations, because they often seem based in a very heterosexual battle.

What The Count shows is that there needs to be more diversity out there and that these well-established and respected journals need to make an effort to seek out work by not only more women, but writers of color and the LGBT community as well as those who don't identify under one of these labels. But doing this is going to take a lot of effort and might require that some publications diversify the kind of work they publish.

If one looks at the list of magazines and journals VIDA examines, you will find that many of the publications can be rather narrow in the work they publish. I've been published in many places, I have a book, I recently won a big award, but not a single one of these journals has ever accepted my work (yes, I've submitted to many of them). Perhaps part of this conversation should also be about why we continue to hold some publications in such high esteem if they aren't really showcasing the writing community. Perhaps we've let them get away with this.

Thankfully, there are a lot of amazing journals and magazines out there that aren't included in The Count. It seems part of the response to these issues is to support these other publications and help them rise to the "level" of the often over-hyped publications. I love reading The New Yorker for it's articles and commentary, but most of the poetry is boring and not a great example of what is happening in the poetry world. The same can be said for many other publications on the list.

My thoughts on these issues are always changing and evolving and I'm thankful to VIDA for making people come face to face with these numbers. We need more conversations about all of these issues.

-Stephen (Counted)