âI think my dad felt that there was just no place in the world for me, that I was just such an unpopular [kid], such a nerdy mess, that if he could mold me into a different kind of person maybe I would stand a chance.”
More than two decades after making his Public Radio debut, David Sedaris remains the preeminent humorist of his day, as popular with gay audiences as he is with straight ones. His books Holidays on Ice, Me Talk Pretty One Day and Naked, to name a few, are perennial best sellers of the genre. With his new collection, Letâs Discuss Diabetes with Owls, the literary funny man turns his rapier wit on a host of subjects including aging, straight men, taxidermy, and, as always, his own family. Sedaris possesses a keen ability to satirize broadly, but heâs at his best when heâs zeroed in on the quieter moments of life. The foibles of his own character, for instance, or when discussing the sometimes-motley fans he enjoys teasing on a nearly nightly basis. The busy author took a break from his hectic tour schedule to chat with Lambda while on a recent visit to San Francisco. We spoke at length about the enduring power of camp, the importance of keeping up appearances and the difficulties of life on the road. (more…)
AndrĂ© Aciman’s new novel, Harvard Square (W. W. Norton & Company), a story of two young men trying to come to terms with their outsider status in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has been receiving a lot of buzz about its timeliness in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings. But it’s the timelessness of the book’s themesâassimilation, finding one’s place in the world, deciding who you want joining you thereâthat will make it a novel worthy of discussion and admiration for many years to come. (more…)
How does one write a biography about someone who has been dead forÂ 40 years, was a bit of a recluse his whole life, and whom fewÂ people really knew? If you are Mary Blume, and the subject is Cristobal Balenciagaâone of fashion’s most unique and forward-thinking designers in his dayâyou focus on the fashion itself, the time when the subject was mostÂ creative,Â and on the impact he had on fashion.Â (more…)
This week,Â Mused released a list of Â must-read literature reflecting the experiences of black gay men. Books covered include Essex Hempillâs Brother to Brother, an anthology that merges prose and poetry to capture the lives of those who were affected by AIDS, E. Patrick Johnsonâs Sweet Teaâan oral history of black gay men in the southâand the current Lambda Literary Award finalist Keith Boykinâs For Colored Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Still Not Enough. (more…)
An Ordinary BoyÂ (Seventh Window Publications), Brian Centroneâs debut novel, is far from ordinary. Blending pop culture with the transitional woes of adulthood, Centrone verges toward a new, genre-crossing niche. This new writer aims for the new reader. (more…)
Contemporary books that invoke the classics risk pretension. It was with some trepidation, then, that I approached Greg Wrennâs Centaur, with its eight-poem cycle on a man who transforms himself into one of the mythical horse-legged creatures. What I found, however, was a book which deals much more with personalârather than Ovidian or Kafkaesqueâmetamorphosis.
The speaker of the title sequence becomes a centaur with the help of a Brazilian expat surgeon. As one might expect, this leads to some delightfully absurd moments, as in the ad the speaker responds to, which reads, in part: âDo you believe in CENTAURS? /You can rid yourself of burdensome footed legs.â If the entire section were handled with this glibness, it might grow tiresome, but Wrenn leaves plenty of room for pathos and reflection, as when the speaker recalls how:
Some man touched me in the crib,
warped my bones.
Never could run
like the other boys, those lithe
cheetahs flying past the dugouts.
Echoing the rest of the book, the âCentaurâ sequence concerns itself primarily with desire and disappointment, the human and the animal, the erotic and the grotesque, and the oftentimes murky borders between these sets of seeming opposites.
Sections II and V, both of which feature series of standalone lyrics, pick up these themes in poems such as âPromiscuityââin which an isolated, reflective speaker exhorts himself, âI must stop thinking /about my heartâ and âOne of the Magiââa meditation on the impulse to find familiarity in the divine, written in the voice of one of the visitors to the Infant Jesusâ nativity â and âSelf-Portrait as Robert Mapplethorpeââabout the eponymous photographerâs attempts to grasp his humanness through a string of sexual encounters. One of the last poems in the book, âRevision,â sheds light on another of the bookâs predominant themesâthat of remaking, reseeing, as Wrenn âswitch[es] every pronounâ and leaves the reader at âthe moment blown into glass, /held and broken.â
There is much of the grotesque in Section III, a poem sequence titled âVirus,â in which Wrennâs speaker discusses his fatherâs battle with illness and the speakerâs resultant examination of his own mortality. The admixture of beauty and ugliness here is nicely encapsulated in the third poem, in which Wrenn writes âThe staph infection on the inside /of his thigh persisted, a field of red poppies /unable to wither.â Adding to the complexity, these reflections are intermixed with erotic memories and borderline incestuous desires. The seeming lust for the fatherâexpressed in lines such as âDaddyboy, why do I want to inhabit you?â and âJust outside a tortoise burrowâ /thatâs where I left his dick. /Wrinkled clownââseems to be symbolic of a desire to know the father in ways that cross the traditional boundaries of shared knowledge between a parent and a child, likely brought about by the realization of their shared mortality and the imminence of the fatherâs death. Furthermore, Wrennâs use of sex as the metaphor effectively expands the desire to know the father outwards to a desire to know the unnamed lover who is also mentioned in this section, a man he âenter[s]âŠ /without latex,â a satisfying experience, but not as satisfying as his ultimate wish âto break through /âŠthe skin around his heart.â This is a bold move and, while it works for Wrenn, I would have liked to have seen the section focus even more tightly on the father/lover dynamic. How do gay menâs relationships with their fathers affect their perceptions of their lovers? This is a question that Wrenn raises but ultimately leaves unanswered.
The mythic is taken up again in section IV, âThirteen Labors,â based on the twelve labors of Hercules. Helpful to those of us who are a bit rusty on our Greco-Roman mythology, Wrenn provides a truncated list of these labors in the bookâs index. Interestingly, these labors are generally reseen through the lens of technology: the hydra is slain in a computer game; the cleaning of the Augean stables is reimagined as a Photoshopping of an unflattering self-portrait; an online avatar frightens off digital Stymphalian water-birds. At their best, these poems speak to human joysâânaked bodies against the vast /touchscreenâs glassâ[where] thereâs squeaking, /laughingââand insecuritiesâconstructing âprosthetic tricepsâ and a ârubber torso rippling /in the window light.â The less effective poems err on the side of obtuseness. I could not make much sense, for example, of the eleventh labor, âMarriage,â which closes with the lines
Hesperian tree pulp
plus butterwort lube for
guardian serpent: weâre
climbed left to right
Even so, what I find most impressive about Wrenn is his ability to write both strong lyric poems and compelling experimental pieces like âCentaur.â He looks at familiar poetic conceptsâdesire, mortality, isolation, communionâin bold new ways, and this more than makes up for the occasional slip into the cryptic.
By Greg Wrenn
University of Wisconsin Press
Paperback,Â 9780299294441, 77 pp.
The things gay men do outside of same-sex sex, the way they are, their subjectivity, are well documented in popular stereotypes, but less so in scholarly writing. Daniel Humphrey, in his new book-length study on the Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman, points out that since Bergmanâs films were brought to America in the 1950s, gay men have been watching them in a unique way that was then âforeignâ and today seems just as âstrangeââtwo adjectives Humphrey spends a large amount of his book historicizing. Combining theory-heavy formal film analysis and a compelling treatment of urban homophile history, Humphrey enlivens a forgotten mode of Cold War-era queer art-house spectatorship in order to offer up âother ways of being homosexualâ that are at once historical and new. (more…)
Taylor Mead, actor, Beat poet, performance artist, queer, died in Colorado on May 9th. Maybe in Denver, maybe not. Probably of a massive stroke. He had planned to return to New York where he had spent a flaming, fabulous youth. He was 88. (more…)
When B. Ruby Rich coined the term âNew Queer Cinemaâ in 1992, she was referring to an exciting moment in film when a wave of young queer filmmakers like Gus Van Sant, Isaac Julien, and Todd Haynes burst onto the film festival circuit with gritty, experimental films like My Own Private Idaho, Looking for Langston, and Poison that unflinchingly portrayed the provocative and uncomfortable realities of queer identity and existence. As Rich herself describes the movement:
âEmanating from a (mostly) new generation, the NQC embodied an evolution in thinking. It reinterpreted the link between the personal and the political envisioned byÂ feminism, restaged the defiant activism pioneered at Stonewall, and recoded aestheticsÂ to link the independent feature movement with the avant-garde and start afresh.â (more…)
“Being an activist-writer means keeping the door open for others, not closing it right behind you.”
As one of this country’s best known-known and beloved contemporary writers, Rigoberto GonzĂĄlez’ work is wide-ranging (poetry, fiction, memoir, and children’s literature) and prolific (over fourteen books in the past ten years, with a fourth volume of poetry,Â Unpeopled Eden,Â forthcoming). For GonzĂĄlez, authorship and activism go hand-in-hand. His work–which is at turns personal, polemical, and intellectual–has inspired other Latinos to write honestly and authentically about their lives, and he has played an integral role in bringing those stories to light. As a longtime columnist for the ElÂ PasoÂ TimesÂ GonzĂĄlezÂ reviewed hundreds of Latino books, and heâs at the forefront of a new movement of writers dealing with queer issues as they pertain to Chicano youth. The award-winning author was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to talk to us about the second novel in his YA trilogy (The Mariposa Â Gown), his new essay collection (Red-InkedÂ Retablos), a new book of short proseÂ (AutobiographyÂ of My Hungers),Â and his ongoing mission to âpopulate the bookshelves.” (more…)