Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Fortunate Poet: The Poetry of Bryan Borland

A few years ago, I got an email from a guy named Bryan Borland who wrote to say how much he enjoyed a few of my poems that had been published in a journal. Little did I know that this Bryan Borland would go on to change my life and revitalize the gay poetry world. When Bryan sent me that email, neither of us had books and Sibling Rivalry didn't exist. From that email, a mutual respect and friendship began that led to many amazing things for both of us.

Bryan is now widely known as the mastermind behind Sibling Rivalry Press, which has published some of the best young poets writing today. The press is growing constantly (including some fiction) and gaining great recognition. This includes the recent recognition my book received as a finalist for the Thom Gunn Poetry Award and for the Lambda Literary Award in Gay Poetry. Somehow Bryan has made a lot happen in a really short amount of time. I don't think he sleeps.

While his work as an editor and publisher is clearly impressive, he's also written two books of poems. His most recent collection, Less Fortunate Pirates, came out in late 2012. His talent as a poet can easily get lost in all of his other accomplishments. This is partly due to Bryan's great generosity and his constant praise and promotion of his authors. Consider this my attempt to payback some of that praise and generosity.

I was luckily enough to read an early draft of Less Fortunate Pirates, which is a series of poems dealing with the sudden death of Bryan's father. The final product is truly some of the best poems I've read on the subject of grief. They are honest, raw, and cover the vast emotions that come with loss. This isn't an easy topic to write about, yet Bryan makes it look easy.

In many ways, all of us at Sibling Rivalry Press are connected to this story of Bryan and his father. Those more familiar with the press or Bryan will already know this, but many of my readers might not. On December 10, 2009 (a few months after Bryan sent me that first email), his father gave him $1,000.00 to start Sibling Rivalry Press. Ten days later, Bryan's father was killed when his vehicle left a one-lane bridge and plunged into a lake. That money helped build the press that is now flourishing.

Less Fortunate Pirates takes the reader through the first year of Bryan's life without his father. What I loved about the book is how it doesn't try to say the right thing. It questions everything. There's dreamlike moments, psychics, signs, cats, and the everyday. Life goes on, but the question is how. This book is the how (at least for Bryan). It is through these poems that we see the struggle that loss brings us.

The poems are often direct and concise. Many are rather short, but they pack a heavy punch. "The Night I Fight With My Husband" is a perfect example:

I think:

I cannot leave him
     because he knew my father,
no man who came after
would.

That's the entire poem, yet it says so much. These short poems are balanced with slightly longer pieces that explore the themes in more depth like the poems "Dark Horse" and "Car Crashes Are My Family's Cancer." The book also uses holidays and seasons as a way to move the year along and let the reader know how much time has passed.

By the end, the book feels like a complete journey aboard a rocky ship. There's moments of pure heartbreak, but also a sense of hope: the living must go on. Bryan has gone on and the money his father gave him has touched a lot of people's lives. Mine included. While these poems tell the story of the aftermath of his father's death, his father is still there in the pages and you come away feeling like you know him just a little bit.

Sibling Rivalry Press is truly an amazing accomplishment, but Bryan's work as a poet is just as worthy of attention. This book showcases his growth as a poet and is well worth your time.

-Stephen (Pirating)






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