The speaker in The Possibilities of Mud roots down and out in the Texas Gulf. He puts himself in league with the deer of the arroyos and the other animals in the world. “The cattle egret is a golden life as much as she is white”–each creature seems a lesson in how to let the world be enough. The speaker’s insistence on likening animal and human bodies is wonderfully devastating: in “By the Arroyo We Asked For Water and Survived” we begin simply with the speaker observing a coyote search for water, then comes the merciless sun on this tableau, all elements and creatures arranged in congress with each other, literally at eye level. The “us” in the poem’s final line, which names the coyote, the speaker and the mesquite pods, feels true to the poem’s world and the speaker’s want to value, to love, everything living. (more…)
Michael Carroll: On His New Short Story Collection, the Benefits of a Spare Writing Style, and His Literary Inspirations
In Little Reef and Other Stories (University of Wisconsin Press), his first collection of short stories, Michael Carroll, 49, employs an economy of words that describe characters deeply drawn. We’ve known people like them. These are contemporary characters “who are stuck in a quagmire of ennui.” (more…)
Winner of the Lambda Award for Gay Erotica 2014
In the 1978 Oliver Stone film Midnight Express, a young American is sent to a prison in Turkey for attempting to smuggle hashish out of the country. I was thinking again about this dark movie as I was reading The Padisah’s Son and the Fox, a new erotic novel by Alex Jeffers, whose cinematic qualities would facilitate its own film adaptation. (more…)
This month, Sibling Rivalry Press released Prime: Poetry & Conversation, a lively collection of verse and dialogue between poets Darrel Alejandro Holnes, Saeed Jones, Rickey Laurentiis, Phillip B. Williams, and L. Lamar Wilson.
Prime: Poetry & Conversation is a first-of-its-kind document of poetry and ongoing conversation in the black, queer literary community. Sparked into existence by a Best American Poetry blog from Jericho Brown in which he singled out some of the most exciting young, black, and gay men writing today, Prime features poems by and dialogue between poets Darrel Alejandro Holnes, Saeed Jones, Rickey Laurentiis, Phillip B. Williams, and L. Lamar Wilson. Jericho Brown provides the introduction for this collection, which is proudly published by Sibling Rivalry Press.
In the book’s introductory essay, poet Jericho Brown offers a beautifully rendered paean to the young voices presented in this collection.
The first time I saw Nikki Giovanni give a public reading of her work, I was an undergrad at Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana. I remember a lot of what she said, but I sometimes wish I would forget her answer to a question someone in the audience asked just after the reading:
Q: What advice would you give to a young writer?
A: Never say no.
Giovanni’s answer is the right answer, the truth. But I’ll be damned if it ain’t the hardest part of what we do when we make poems or when we contribute to any poetry community (whether it’s by way of writing reviews or hosting readings or encouraging young poets who may or may not have a fingernail of talent).
The poet’s life is not an easy life, for to live it well one must be prepared to follow the strangest and slightest notions, to take self-effacing risks, to jump off cliffs that are nowhere but in the mind. People look at you crazy because you feel all the bruises that come at the end of a plummet, but they don’t see a single blemish. Don’t believe me? Ask Adrienne Rich. In “When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision,” she says:
For a poem to coalesce, for a character or an action to take shape, there has to be an imaginative transformation of reality which is in no way passive. And a certain freedom of the mind is needed, freedom to press on, to enter the currents of your thought like a glider pilot, knowing that your motion can be sustained, that the buoyancy of your attention will not be suddenly snatched away. Moreover, if the imagination is to transcend and transform experience, it has to question, to challenge, to conceive of alternatives, perhaps to the very life you are living at that moment. You have to be free to play around with the notion that day might be night, love might be hate; nothing can be too sacred for the imagination to turn into its opposite or to call experimentally by another name. For writing is renaming.
In mid-December of 2011, The Best American Poetry Blog asked me to post something substantive every day for a week. And at the moment they asked, I was so mad at Nikki Giovanni that I didn’t know what to do. In spite of the common desire to do nothing during the holidays but be drunk, I couldn’t say no because it was an opportunity for me to take advantage of the BAP platform and ask some questions I thought the larger world should be asking. It was a chance for me to show others some work I had seen and loved and that I thought wasn’t getting enough recognition. It was an opportunity for me to tell my man I love him and let the world know how much I try to make gratitude the center of my life.
As I write this, I am most grateful for the work of Darrel Alejandro Holnes, Saeed Jones, Rickey Laurentiis, Phillip B. Williams, and L. Lamar Wilson, the young, black, and gay men I referred to that week as The Phantastique 5.
When a group of black bodies stands
out from the rest and needs to be remembered
because they all resemble each other, some
use highlighters to brighten the black bodies . . .
These lines from Phillip B. Williams’ “Manifesto” seem to me the best from which to begin a description of Prime. Over and again the work in this small anthology presents lawmaking lines of direct statement that ask the reader to re-envision the very act of reading and what that act means for subjective perception. What is text to those so often left out of literature? What is literature to those unwritten or written wrongly?
Throughout these poems, our eyes are turned toward so many objects we thought we knew, thought had seen properly. Now we face even the furniture that sits about us as if it is slanted and painted new colors until we have no choice but to re-see ourselves, or as Darrel Holnes would say, “Only the living have a reflection and you see yourself.”
These poets are living indeed, and forging with each of their words the stuff of life, whether through complaint: “I’ll tell you my problem/I’m a man who would love/another man, whether/as a son, whether as a—” (Laurentiis) or ironic praise: “You cannot tell a soul/Must lie still be quiet/Just take it like the man/You always wanted inside” (Wilson).
I am most taken, though, by how much these poems mean to participate in life to the point of being redeemed by that participation. These poets, in spite of being perfect candidates for that which is only academic and/or only conceptual, write as if poetry can speak directly to the soul, as if poetry is quite possibly the last hope they have to reach beyond themselves and touch anyone who perceives them:
. . . Like a son rushing
to his mother’s stumble, the poet catches her
as if his arms are the prayer’s answer
& when her knees meet the earth
so do his . . .
(from “The Poet’s Revolver Opens Its Mouth” by Saeed Jones).
Prime is a lovely (and loving) book by five men bound to change the way we read poetry because this is a book of poetry by poets committed to allowing the poems they write to change them. None of these poets ever say no.
A Room in Chelsea Square by Michael Nelson was first published anonymously in 1958. It was reprinted in 1986 by Gay Modern Classics and is now being re-introduced by Gregory Woods in a very recent—and very handsome!—reprint from Valancourt Books. All in all, a nice package: a contemporary gay poet who hails from across the pond introducing a novel by a bygone gay Brit. (more…)
Assotto Saint and I were both finalists for a Lambda Literary Award in 1997. He was up for Gay Biography, I was up for both Lesbian Studies and Fiction Anthologies. Neither of us would win that year, but I would have other chances. Assotto and I had both won before, but in those days, when everything seemed so temporal, the moment was everything. I wanted the win for my political offerings and I wanted it for him for history. I was very ill that year, bedridden and almost unable to move, and Assotto was on my mind a lot–all of them were, the gay men I had loved, who I had lost. (more…)
This week in the LGBTQ-themed arts:
Christopher Murray of the Huffington Post reflects on the contemporary approach towards looking back on gay life during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, providing a homily to Richard Elovich’s performance piece Someone Else from Queens is Queer. (more…)
Margaret Thatcher was no friend to Scotland – hundreds gathered in Glasgow’s George Square to celebrate her death in 2013 – nor was she one to the burgeoning gay community – she passed Section 28 which outlawed the promotion of the “acceptability of homosexuality” in 1988 – yet for the young Damian Barr, her indefatigable resolve and uncompromising femininity were beacons guiding the way to a better life. In Maggie & Me: Coming Out and Coming of Age in 1980s Scotland, Barr recounts an often-harrowing childhood in North Lanarkshire. However, in quite a characteristically Scottish fashion, bred in a people whose summers always retain “a patch of snow-wash denim blue in the indigo of night,” his story is not weighed down by hardship. Rather, with a playful prose, both light and expressive, Barr’s is an account of optimism and the bold pursuit of a happier future. (more…)
In his new book Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), John Waters details his experience hitchhiking from Baltimore to San Francisco while offering up delirious, wildly exaggerated best and worst case scenarios of what could have happened.
Here we discuss his career in writing and film, gay bookstores, a porno Walmart, and some of the people he met along his journey, including a 20-year-old guy dubbed “The Corvette Kid.” (more…)
“I text Ben: ‘r u ever so depressed u dk what 2 do?’ He responds: ‘yes but my options are lmtd. usually i drink and sleep and wait.’”
“The Banal and the Profane” is a monthly Lambda Literary column in which we lift the veil on both the writerly life and the publishing industry. In each installment, we ask a different LGBT writer, or LGBT person of interest in the book industry, to guide us through a week in their lives.