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Christopher Stephen Soden’s work Closer, stirs. It is filled with wry, coercive wanting—his poems waft past ethereal men, Gods, jock straps and stars while stomping a foothold on the Texas plain and in sex, queer sex.
Soden, who completed his MFA in poetry at Vermont College in 2005 and was named a Lambda Literary Fellow in 2010, has published this new work of poetry through Queer Mojo, a Bar Harbor, Maine-based LGBT publishing house.
Closer is a meaty—pun intended—work of poetics. In 126 pages, Soden wrestles gently with the concept of “okay?”
bessie smith crept from the radio and the windows came down
and a cigarette passed and it was okay to lean on a shoulder
and stars planets hushed and hesitated and even the neon
blinked back tears and a pink plaster elephant
Soden’s questioning of “is it okay?” is framed by the narrative of budding sexuality, welling emotion and taboo. Much of this work throbs against the backdrop of young lust in dorm rooms, gyms, summer camps, and a storage shed turned clubhouse, asking all the time, am I okay? And less overtly, is it okay to be gay?
Soden examines the reader’s anxiety without answer. So, we’re pressed into wondering after the fate of several sexual encounters, feeling nostalgic with the author over past lovers and new bodies.
I knew he was straight and he
knew I was gay. But there was something
about the tenderness of that moment,
fraught with possibility, that makes me
wish I’d kissed him, or reached for his towel
instead of surrendering to terror.
Soden plays with thematic elements more than varied formatting; most of his poems are free verse with left-justified margins. But “Milkshore” juts out from the others. It is a poem of snippets, quick images and insights formed simply. As a reader, I wondered why more of his poems took such a stylistically simplistic tack when this experimental piece seems so strong.
13. Picnic with monkeys
14. The doctor said turn this way. The sack boy said would
you like another
box of these. The postman said your yellow scarf arrived
pharmacist said take these with juice. The waiter said
don’t ask me again.
Your pencil box said change is a shift in perception.
15. Can boys look at each other
Overall, Closer is a quick, shifty read. Its softness is matched by the heft of its content and is a tremendous example of modern gay poetics in its simplest form, anchored by the talent in Soden’s rhythmic weaving of emotion, place and time.
By Christopher Stephen Soden
Queer Mojo/Rebel Satori Press
Paperback, 9781608640454, 136 pp.