Sunday, September 27, 2009

On Why I Created This Blog

Occasionally, I receive mean emails asking me why I started this blog. Although they are assaultive, I think it’s a good question. Here are some of the reasons:

I became bored writing poems. I didn’t know why I was writing them. My second book was placing as a semi-finalist in contests, and I didn’t want to rewrite anything. Or write new poems. Why submit a book if you know it’s flawed and you don’t want to change it? I miss writing poems a little. I hope I miss writing them a lot soon. Or eventually.

For years, I had wanted for years to teach a Gay and Lesbian Literature class. I finally got the opportunity. It sucked. For over a decade, I’ve been teaching. The Gay and Lesbian class was the worst class I’ve even done. After the third class session, I knew it was going downhill; I didn't how to fix it. My students are good people. They pretend I didn’t do a bad job. But I know I did. (Dear students, I’m not looking for affirmation.) I thought if I ever teach this class again, I need to know more than I did before. This is one of the ways of knowing more than I did before. I’ve only talked a little about pedagogy. I plan on doing more.

I’ve always been lonely. I wanted to talk to more people other than my partner of eleven years and the handful friends I have—all of which I would do anything for.

I always wanted to be a movie critic. This seemed like a reasonable alternative.

For the on-line magazine coldfront, I wrote a review of Randall Mann’s “Breakfast with Thom Gunn.” I received immediate angry emails. I like attention.

I was sad . One of my solutions to relieve this sadness: To think about something other than my own sadness. It seemed like a good idea.

When you submit a review to a magazine, it takes a bit to get acceptance and then an audience response. I wanted it right away. I’m into instant gratification.

I love the sitemeter on blogs. It’s nice to know people are reading what you wrote.

I love having the covers of my books on display.

On one of the worst days of my depression I was supposed to be in New York to receive an award. I was in a bad place. I’ve always had a deep dislike towards gay men. One of my big regrets in life was not going to that ceremony. It would have been affirming. But I didn’t. This is a way of saying to gay men, I’m here.

Reginald Shepherd died. I loved his blog. I wanted to be like him.

I wrote a memoir. I need to stop writing about my life. I've been asked to edit an anthology. I hope it all works out, and I do get to do it. The idea of having a reason to spend more time with other peoples' work excites me.

In my classes, I have them write close readings. I would never ask someone to do something I wouldn’t readily do myself. This seemed like that sort of opportunity; I needed to prove to myself that I wasn’t hypocritical.

I wanted to support gay presses and gay men by buying every single book/magazine that had queer material. It seemed important to support a community that helped me. Forcing myself to write reviews of gay authors seemed like it could be a galvanizing force for purchasing that material.

I prefer to not have to deal with my body when I meet people.

I was happy when I received attention for my books. I wanted to possibly make someone else happy.

I wanted to say to gay men, Hey, I see you!

Proposition 8 told us we don't matter; we're invisible. I wanted to say that isn't going to be true no matter how much you try to do so.

Gay men are good people. By spending more time with their words, maybe I would become a better person.

I like to read people who are like me. I am scared of people who are like me. I need to try to get over that fear.

I wanted straight people to hear what it's like to be me. So many have listened to me. I wanted to say Thank you.

I’m nosy. I love to see what gay men have to say about themselves and the world.

I see literature as self-help. I like to be told how I can better live my life. Gay men seem to be the best resources for that need.

I like doing what everybody else is doing.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Please Buy and Read Schneiderman's article on James Merrill in the September/October 2009 issue of "The American Poetry Review"

[Look at the end of the post for a brief description of James Merrill's landmark "The Changing Light at Sandover."]

I never thought that I'd be using the phrase "fun and educational" as the most sincere form of praise. But I am now. Jason
Schneiderman's article entitled "Notes on Not Writing: Revising The Changing Light at Sandover" no doubt is one of the best things I've read in the last year.

I would buy any magazine which has an article by Schneiderman. Or Joel Brouwer (who is from all accounts happily married to a woman). I look forward to all their critical pieces.

Schneiderman's article provides a historical context to James Merrill's books, a critical analysis, inclusion of theory and philosophy, and autobiographical experience. This is exemplary creative non-fiction.

I don't know Schneiderman, but I would ask him to autograph this article. It made me happy. All for different reasons, I know I'll feel a same sort of giddiness when Matthew Hittinger and Eduardo Corral and Tony Leuzzi have their books published.

Here's a choice quotation from the article:

"Persuasion and command are never as far apart as we might like to think. But whatever linguistic and logical knots this line of thinking may lead to, at the center of the paradox is Merrill, whose book represents a Herculean effort as well as a simple secretarial task."


"In the interview Merill maintains that he did progressively less shaping of the text as the work progressed: the voices simply came straight off the [Ouija] board in verse by the end. So if these transcripts are sheer reportage, how much has Merrill actually written? Is one answer to the question of how to write, to not write at all?"

And even great one-liners: "My own belief is that love cuts out the bottom 30% or so of human suffering..."


To my students, I'll confess; I sometimes use Wikipedia, too. Here's what Wikipedia says about James Merrill and his poetic project. In case, you didn't know. The description is as good as anything as I'd summarize for you:

"With his partner David Jackson, Merrill spent more than 20 years transcribing supernaturalcommunications during séances using a ouija board. In 1976, Merrill published his first ouija board narrative cycle, with a poem for each of the letters A through Z, calling it The Book of Ephraim. (The Book of Ephraim appeared as part of the 1976 collection Divine Comedies, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1977.)"

So this was the end result:

"The Changing Light at Sandover is a 560-page epic poem by James Merrill (1926–1995). Sometimes described as a postmodern apocalyptic epic, the poem was published in three separate installments between 1976 and 1980, and in its entirety in 1982."

Friday, September 25, 2009

Why Alfred Corn De-Befriended Me on Facebook (PART ONE)

Since I started my blog, nothing has been more shocking and hurtful than Alfred Corn's decision to de-befriend me on Facebook.

For a gay man who has been as influential and powerful as Corn I am bewildered why he would cut off ties with a young queer who has intermittently read his poems. Over a year ago I wrote responses to his posts on his blog. Once he even responded saying I was full of passion.

But no longer. According to Corn's public statements on Facebook, I accused him of being --his words, not mine--"a culture-vulture."

He is one. But still.

The fact that he uses words like "culture-vulture" prove his old age. Not mine.

I don't have anything against vultures. They live for a pretty long time.

So have Corn's poems. His poems would have been hits in the 1890s. Which is a good thing. A lot of important events happened back then. I can't remember them. But still.

I've never met Corn. The one thing I know was conveyed to me by a friend who went to Columbia. The stories may have been a bit sketchy, but I have no doubt there is some truth to them. She told me that he put letter grades on their prosody assignments. You would have to write, say, ten lines in iambic pentameter. For each line that failed to qualify as such, your grade on that assignment would go down.

At the time I heard this, I was going to Syracuse, studying fiction with Tobias Wolff. I wrote short stories. The following descriptions are of actual ones I turned in.

One involved an evil man named Joe attacking and trying to rape a young woman at an AA meeting. Peaches, a sassy woman, pulls him off her. The story ends with the women going to Arby's and drinking milkshakes.

Another story centered around a boy with two different colored eyes and a face ruined by a crazed pit bull.

Tobias Wolff didn't have much to say to me. He said once that he liked my leather jacket. Which was cool. It didn't matter to me that he was wearing one that looked identical to mine.

Syracuse was a lot of fun, but when my best friend at the time told me Corn stories, I was upset I couldn't afford Columbia. Everyone seemed to be serious there. A spondee out of place and they would fuck you up.

I wanted to receive the same education as my friend so I studied every one of Corn's books. Or tried to. I picked up a book, I put it down. The poems were long suckers. But it was even worse: It seemed like you needed to know a lot about The Bible. Or History and Myth.

I am still the kind of guy who at Blockbuster Video will only rent from The New Release Section.

Not to mention the Bible scared me.

Myths and History just bothered me. I've never been good with names. No way was I going to be one of those people who use flashcards to remember stuff. I'm not good with props. I always lose them. That's why I've never has a cigarette. Despite the fact I love smokers. They always slink away from the party at odd times and have deep conversations on a porch.

So: I was stuck at Syracuse with Toby.

I always meant to read more of Corn's poems. But then I started perusing J.D. McClatchy's books. And occasionally glancing at Richard Howard's. Sometimes even Thom Gunn. What surprised me was this: they all blurred into one another. This statement is not necessarily a critique of their work (Howard's syntax is always intriguing).

But at the time Corn was a success, gay male poets felt compelled to prove their worth by overstuffing their poems with classical allusions. They felt people would then feel they were well read. And if they were well read it could justify, at least in part, their subject material: queerness. They could talk about something new if they knew everything old. That sort of mentality. Gay poets suffered a lot back then. They did the best they could.

So: recently I wrote a post about a J.D. McClatchy poem. Which simply retold the myth of "Er." It was an empty poem that didn't seem to have any sort of reason to exist except to show off its Knowledge of Literature in a pointless way. It seemed like a SparkNotes plot summary written by an elderly man who had a better sense of grammar.

Corn did not like this. We exchanged some words on Facebook, and then he asked if I thought of him as a Culture Vulture. It sounded like an appropriate thing to think. I agreed.

Corn claimed that I didn't read enough of his poems to make such statements. I said that I had had read more than anyone else my age. This went on at least five rounds. Days later, I looked at my list of friends to admire my more beautiful ones and I saw that he debefriended me.

How could he do this to me?

Tonight I am in my Lucky Charm Pajamas, listening to my partner snore, visiting my favorite website Squarehippies. I have an obsession with men's pectorals. I'm adopted. I was never breastfed. Someday soon I hope a man with a good chest will stalk me.

But for now I'm alone. I am holding Alfred Corn's poems in my hands and I don't really know why the man behind the poems has forsaken me.

I gave him an opinion. Is it that bad?

I didn't buy his books used. There are a lot of them. Go see for yourself. The temptation was huge. But I did pay full price. I didn't see them as total relics. I paid full price. I said I love you in the only way I know how.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Sequel to Sunday's Commentary about Tom Healy's Book "What the Right Hand Knows" (PART TWO)

In Tom Healy’s book “What the Right Hand Knows,” one of my favorite moments includes the opening stanza of “Mirror, Mirror”:

What do we do when we hate our bodies?
A good coat helps.
Some know how to pull off a hat.

Once again, Healy’s pedagogical instinct kicks into full force. Here we appreciate him as our teacher. (Who can’t appreciate the humorous qualifier “some”? Or that there is an eerie accuracy in his advice?)

But then as the poem continues, Healy doesn’t seem to trust us to make our own observations/inferences in regards to his initial remarks. He offers a fairly obvious litany of other possibilities:

There is also the company we keep:
surgeons and dermatologists,

faith healers and instruction-givers...

Healy is no doubt the latter: an instruction-giver, a bit of a control freak. (Are those super short lines, often arranged in couplets always a result of content releasing the necessary form or does Healy fear that more spontaneous longer line.) Sometimes his controlling tendencies works against him. Even in this fine poem, he feels the curious need to tidy everything up in a way reminiscent of Billy Collins: a gesture to the somewhat saving grace of reading:

..ever so slightly, holding novels in bed,
concentrating on the organizations
of pain and joy

we say is another mirror,
a depth, a conjure in which we might meet
someone who says touch me.

I commend Healy for having faith in explaining possible cures to depression. In this case, it can obviously be specified as body dysmorphia. He doesn’t resort to the boring tactic of lesser poets: showing and telling. In dealing with urgent issues, telling is more than appropriate. It may be necessary.

Showing can just take so damn long. As a self-appointed pedagogue, Healey needs to get right to business. And he does. That’s an act of poetic generosity.

At the same time, it’s also important for Healy needs to trust us a bit more, and not become enraptured by his own more obvious pontifications.


In the Jane Kenyon poem "Having it Out With Melancholy," she writes:


Elavil, Ludiomil, Doxepin,
Norpramin, Prozac, Lithium, Xanax,
Wellbutrin, Parnate, Nardil, Zoloft.
The coated ones smell sweet or have
no smell; the powdery ones smell
like the chemistry lab at school
that made me hold my breath.

Ostensibly a throwaway numbered section in her poem, Kenyon does something stunningly intelligent: she normalizes the use of pharmaceutical drugs for depression. By offering a litany of their names, they have a numbing, sing-song effect. Leave it to those euphonious X’s and Z’s. (Drug manufacturers strive to use as many of those letters as possible. It has been proven that people have more faith in drugs with those particular letters, sounds.) By grouping within three lines these drugs to treat manic-depression alone or in combination, Kenyon’s makes them sound oddly relatable. What person undergoing mental illness hasn’t struggled with the ridiculous even if sometime necessary use of pharmaceuticals? No matter how intense the effort, you’re always- for better or for worse- stuck with your own hardwiring. To a degree.

The brilliant simile (“the powdery ones smell like the chemistry lab at school”) provides a curious quasi-mock-nostalgic remembrance. No doubt people who suffer from chemical depression deal with enough stigmatization. Through demystifying the drugs, making their “taste” so relatable, she normalizes them. To an extent. This is generosity.

There’s a similar strategy operating in Healy’s “Voodoo.” It’s undoubtedly one of the most important poems in the book, possibly the most generous. Based on some of the lines, particularly “Here and Now” (After I found/my blood in trouble”), the persona of some of these poems seem to be HIV-impacted. Like Kenyon, this raises issues regarding the representation of medication as well as people dealing with “illnesses” that could be considered self-inflicted: depression, or in Healy’s case: AIDS.

Immediately, the narrator declares that “Everyone is so involved/keeping track of my pills.” It’s important that the pills transform not once, but twice into a transcendent, almost heavenly object. As the narrator first observesL his housekeeper “...counts them out in Creole,/numbering a scattered universe clustered on the bed/” He also declares a bond to his housekeeper who claims they’re (the universe of pills) are like “the rosary.”

This latter simile yields an affection between the two. Not only does he presume that she sees them as having some sort of transcendent power, they also have their own mysterious set-backs. He doesn’t name the actual drugs (a smart move: naming them would again make Healy fall into his fall-back role of pedagogue). Yet he doesn’t deny their potential dangers: after all, she puts a “curse on one that’s striped/turquoise and kelly green.” Healy doesn’t lecture. Which bears repeating. At the same, I want to emphasize that discursiveness can be a necessary tool.

Healey sees the maid as making no judgment against him; in fact, she normalizes his meds by translating their use in the context of her own Creole culture. The narrator may be a white, middle aged, gay man but he generously cross-identifies with her, seeing the pills as a useful tool (rosary) and danger, deserving of a curse. The poem demystifies and explains in concrete terms the one-word title: “Voodoo.” From the perspective of the narrator and the housekeeper, the health dangers are there, but embedded in the poem, so is generosity of vision and understanding.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Ungenerous Depression and Tom Healy's New Book of Poems "What the Right Hand Knows" (PART ONE)

It may be fabulously retro for a queer poet to write in the personae of a clinically depressed homosexual. Or for that matter to be one himself.

There are no queer role models in Tom Healy's new book of poems "What the Right Hand Knows." And we’re all the better for it.

Perhaps most accurately described as a queer Jane Kenyon, Tom Healy includes in his collection a good amount of poems about the unpleasant banality of loneliness. I could see Kenyon and Healy paling around together, even though I think Healy would benefit from the friendship more than Kenyon. He’d learn some good stuff about poetry.

Both of the poets are invested in sadness, self-inflicted masochism, an occasional nod to the pastoral, an overdetermined minimalism that can play, if not monitored, as self-parody. But Kenyon’s depressive nature in her poems –shall I dare say it?- prove to be more generous. Here’s the final titled section from Kenyon’s often-anthologized poem “Having It Out with Melancholy.”:


High on Nardil and June light

I wake at four,

waiting greedily for the first

note of the wood thrush. Easeful air

presses through the screen

with the wild, complex song

of the bird, and I am overcome

by ordinary contentment.

What hurt me so terribly

all my life until this moment?

How I love the small, swiftly

beating heart of the birds;

singing in the great maples;

its bright, unequivocal eye.

What’s so wonderful about Kenyon’s closure is her acknowledgement of the embarrassment of psychic pain. No doubt mental illness is comically shameful to the person suffering, but that fact is often overlooked. When Kenyon writes “What hurt me so terribly/all my life until this moment” she gestures towards her own silliness, her own frustrated inability “to get over herself.” For those of us who’ve underwent a depression-chemical or psychic, or both-there’s always a tendency to not acknowledge the “dark” comedy of depression: “ordinary contentment” itself becomes such a relief it yields a dangerous self-dramatization all of its own. When the stability disappears, a sense of foolishness occurs: you’ll wonder if it really was ever there in the first place.

Here’s the first numbered section of Healy’s poem “An Act of Forebearance”:


You’re the type

who’d murder.

I’m the one

who eyes

his own wrists.

Should we wed

and spend life

thwarting one another?

Instead of developing this relationship, the poem transforms into a pedagogical lesson, explaining to us self-evident elaborations:


Compare apples

and oranges.

Compare fiction

and breathing

One peeled,

One bitten.

Which, my spider,

is which?

We swing

in the threads

of this web


for sting,

for struggle.

Put the cliched metaphor aside. (Does a teaching lesson really need innovative figurative language anyway? It may be best to work in clichés. You then have no choice but to focus on the meaning of the image, not the image itself.) This poem’s idea is simple: the ambiguity and conflation of victim, victimizer, etc.

The final section only compounds this fact with a self-conscious gesture to language: “Consider/what it would/have been for us/to flower-/or stealing/the work/of another verb,/to weed.”

Billy Collins could be faltered for his own lack of generosity, too. Like Collins at times, Healy sets up a conceit, offers a slight twist, quite often a reference to his own writing and reading. Then he perfunctorily moves onto the next poem. Which often trudges down the same rhetorical path as the last. The only difference: you actually believe Healy has read what he names. It seems fitting that at the end of the first numbered section of the poem "Body Electric" that Healy's personae reads Henry James. And unlike Collins, understands it.

There’s a stinginess in this volume. I do not mean in any way I want to know anything more about these speakers’ familial histories. I could care less, and it seems that Healy, much to his credit, feels the same way.

In fact, so much art, in particular Hollywood movies, fail as a result of the desire to pathologize characters through family history. Did we need in the atrocious remake of Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory scenes of his relationship with his father? Why do we need an explanation of why Willy Wonka behaves the way he does? Why attempt to explain away the mystery of eccentric human behavior? (Same thing with Michael Myers. In the John Carpenter original, Myers’s streamlined pursuit of the murdering his victims engenders the fun; we don’t go to see a detailed trajectory of his own childhood abuse, as in the remake.)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Possibility of Excessive Glibness as Romance in Eduardo Corral’s Poem “Caballero”

[Blogger's Note: Due to my inadequacies, I cannot figure how to post excerpts of a poem with its intended spacing on the page and resulting line breaks. Such representational problems don't do justice to the poem, so I please ask you to clink on the link to see Eduardo Corral's great poem in its entirety as it was meant to be seen.]

Recently in my creative writing class, I shared this observation: young male undergraduates rely too much on glibness; the females privilege sentimentality. I have no doubt that a lot of the CW bloggers would find something pedagogically unsound in making such a public statement in the classroom. And they might be right.

But I always find it amusing how many poetry teachers/bloggers claim to teach sophisticated, experimental texts in the classroom. Our students understandably have a difficult time offering a close reading of an Accessible Narrative Poem. Anyone who thinks differently hasn’t been in the classroom long enough, or hasn’t put enough pressure on students to find out how they really do go about analyzing a poem. Reading comprehension is what needs to be taught in our undergraduate classrooms. Like it or not. Only then can they interpret.

Even the most talented undergraduate struggles with identifying abstractions, interpreting connotations of a group of similarly charged words, teasing out ambiguity. And perhaps the most difficult thing to learn: active versus passive voice. Try it some time. It’s a doozy.

Yes: I teach Show, Don’t Tell. And that often, understandably, takes weeks for them to grasp.
Images make students jittery—they have to pause and linger. The males want to avoid that all together, and often their work is a summary of telegraphed punchlines.

I will hide Eduardo Corral’s poem “Caballero” from them. It’s a complete success in what exactly I fear my male students will do: list a series of telegraphed punchlines. This is the most surprising aspect of Corral’s poem: it’s a series of defiantly glib statements that accumulate in a genuinely romantic way. By the end, you find yourself thinking: Here is one of the most deservedly sentimental poems.

Corral’s poem taught me an important lesson: excessive glibness and genuine romance do not need to be mutually exclusive.

Corral’s poem is no more than a series of one-liners. And here, that’s all it should be. Not too many poets would dare to announce the punchline before it presents itself, setting us up with brazen line breaks and smart typographical arrangement.:

...Once a year
he eats a spoonful of dirt
from his father’s grave.
In his sleep
he mutters lines
from his favorite flick,
Contra Los Vampiros.

So many gay poems strive to be gritty in a false way: depictions of dull, anonymous sex, offering a blow job at a public park. Here’s the ultimately grittiness eating “a spoonful of dirt” undercut through the pathos of the next line (“from his father’s grave”). That pathos, too, though is deflated once we realize that he’s made a smart joke.

Or look at this:
When a word stalls
on his tongue he utters,
Sufferin succotash.
Stout. Apache-
dark. Curious
and quick.
He builds up the bridge
of his nose with clay.

Who cannot resist a somewhat somber poem that unexpectedly includes the phrase “Sufferin succotash."?

It takes a fun poet to also mine the potential laugh in a mere two-word fragment. Here we have the simultaneous use of “Apache” as a noun and adjective. That’s one of the wonders of poetry: how a line break can create more. In the best poems, there’s an abundance. Even in ones as compact and smartly overdetermined as this. This line break strategy invariably heightens the glibness:

lost in the desert,
he ate beak-
punctured pitayas;
pissed on his fingers to keep them warm.

Yes: the joke is telegraphed once again. But anticipation still results: the word beak standing in for the chicken as a whole, a meal, as well as it describing the injury to the cactus.

Is love ultimately as telegraphed as a joke? With the poem’s closure, (“When I ride him at night I call out/ the name of his first horse.”), I don’t know if the sentence is the quintessential declaration of love or a glib final punchline. With multiple readings, I don’t know if there is any differentiation between the two. Or that there should be.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

This Was the Offensive Letter We Received from Wall Street Music Hall Regarding Homophobic Musical Performer BuJu Banton's Rochester Concert

[Blogger's Note: In response to our letter raising the issue of Buju Banton's performance in Rochester, this is what we received: a form letter failing to answer our concerns. They supplied us with an impersonal, shamefully oversimplified response to our concern of Banton's encouragement of anti-gay violence. Immediately below is what we received.]

(New York, NY -
3, September 2009) Gargamel Music is pleased to confirm that four-time Grammy nominated Reggae artist and icon, Buju Banton will kick off his hotly anticipated Rasta Got Soul US Tour on September 12th in Philadelphia. We are disappointed by the hasty cancellation of a few shows by Live Nation/House of Blues and Goldenvoice/AEG, but fans will be happy to know we have over 30 confirmed shows that are definitely playing and we are working to replace the canceled dates. Now our team is primarily concerned with setting the record straight on the grossly inaccurate portrait of Buju being painted by certain organizations and systematically relayed to the masses and the media.

Buju Banton was all of 15-years-old when he wrote "Boom Bye Bye" in response to a widely publicized man/boy rape case in Jamaica. It was not a call to violence. The song was re-released on a popular dancehall rhythm in 1992 and caused a huge uproar after receiving commercial radio play in the States. Following much public debate back then, prominent gay rights leaders - and Buju decidedly moved on. For the record, it is the only song he ever made on the subject - and he does not perform it today.

Those who have followed Buju Banton's musical journey and have actually listened to his extensive catalog, know of his development into a world-class singer, songwriter and performer who can quietly sell out such prestigious venues as the Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York and Brixton Academy in London. He does not advocate violence. There has never been a shred of violence at any of his live shows. In fact, he commonly preaches against violence - against all people.

Buju's consistently positive messages of peace, love and enlightenment have never been lost in the music. His 1995 Grammy-nominated album 'Til Shiloh marked a spiritual and musical transformation that yielded the classic narratives "Untold Stories," "Wanna Be Loved" and "Murderer," which personified the horrific increase in gun crimes in Kingston's inner city. His Grammy-nominated Inna Heights (1997) garnered him numerous comparisons to the late, great Bob Marley.

Long before Hollywood raised its collective consciousness about Darfur, there was Buju Banton wailing about the genocide happening in "Sudan" on 1999's Unchained Spirit. His Friends For Life (2003) and Too Bad (2006) projects were both acknowledged with Grammy nods for Best Reggae Album. Buju's latest Roots Reggae opus, Rasta Got Soul (2009), has already been welcomed with critical acclaim in the US, Europe and Japan.

The artist's love for humanity is not just demonstrated in words but also in deeds. Twelve years ago he responded to the AIDS crisis in Jamaica by launching Operation Willy, an organization focused on raising monies for HIV positive babies and children who lost their parents to the disease. For three years he served as a celebrity spokesperson for Upliftment Jamaica, a US-based non-profit committed to working with underprivileged youth back home.

Yet none of these personal and professional accomplishments matter much to a gay lobby hell bent on destroying the livelihood of a man who has spent an entire career making amends -- his way. Sadly, their 17 year fixation on waging war against one artist has prevented them from turning this initiative into a larger, more fruitful discussion that could perhaps effect real change.

A Letter My Partner and I Sent to WaterStreet Music After We Found Out Homophobic Performer Buju Banton Will Be Performing Here In Rochester.

[Blogger's Note: This is the letter my partner and I sent to the following contact: We were told in a reply email that we were part of a national "gay lobby meant to destroy the livelihood of a man..."]

To: John Chmiel, Water Street Music Hall staff, et al

As members of the Rochester community, we are respectfully writing to voice our concern over the appearance of Buju Banton at the Water Street Music Hall on September 19.

Please consider the following:

--- Are you aware of the controversies surrounding Buju Banton's past violent anti-gay hate speech? If not, here's the link:

Here's another link which views the common belief that Banton's music as something of an anthem for violent anti-gay murders:

Here's another link of his relationship to very real atmosphere of violence towards gays and lesbians in Jamaica:

--- You may have read of the cancellations of Banton's concerts elsewhere in the country.

If not, here's the link:

Here's another link:

--- You may also have heard that Banton signed what was called the Reggae Compassionate Act a few years ago to denounce antigay lyrics and activity, but Banton later attempted to deny signing such a statement, odd behavior from someone who truly wished to move away from his past advocacy of antigay violence:

Nor should it be easy to ignore Banton himself being investigated for actual, physical violent antigay attacks, as recently as 5 years ago: ("In 2004, he was investigated over the beatings of six gay men in Jamaica’s capital city of Kingston; he was acquitted in 2006 for lack of evidence. Human rights activists pointed out at the time that Jamaican authorities tend not to handle such cases aggressively.") See the Minnesota Independent link above for verification.

Had Buju Banton made genuine rather than convenient effort to apologize for his advocacy of violence towards gays, this might be a different situation altogether. But as in the Jamaica Observer article above, by backing off, qualifying, or downplaying such efforts, Buju Banton has made pretty clear that any passing movement he's offered to stop vocalizing homophobia has been only in the interest of attempting to preserve whatever concerts he can hold on to and money he can still make in the U.S. and Europe, and what Banton's publicists have said is sometimes in stark contrast with what Banton himself has suggested.

The Water Street Music Hall offers a great and diverse selection of concerts that appeal to various segments of the community and we have nothing but respect for your venue. However, we would like to inquire as to if the Water Street Music Hall would accommodate a performer with quite the same history, had it been aimed at a minority other than the GLBT community? We sure hope not. Or perhaps you are unaware of Buju Banton's history? We say this out of concern that you may unknowingly be doing irreparable damage to both the Water Street Music Hall's reputation, as well as your relationship to the Rochester and surrounding areas GLBT community, as well as their friends, families, and allies; many members of this community having been (and hopefully continuing to be) frequent customers and supporters of many shows at your venue.

Surely there are other artists who can represent the reggae community, without Buju Banton's disturbing history? And who might better serve the purpose and standards of Water Street Music Hall and maintain your venue's quality, without damaging its relationship to the permanent Rochester community?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

On Publishing Too Much

Initally, I thought I was happy for him. Last year, through his Facebook account, I even congratulated Poet O on winning a contest for his fourth poetry book. I really did think I was happy. From his blog, he seems like a nice man with children. Then a few days later, I saw on his status update, that he was sending more poems out for publication.

This infuriated me. I wrote him an impulsive email asking him if he felt like he was putting out too much of his own writing in world. To me, he felt greedy.

I tried to frame my question as if it was posed to him out of curiosity. But it wasn’t. He needed to defend himself, I felt. And I needed to be the one to make him do it.

I never checked back to see if he posted an answer.


Now my father is a born-again Christian. He was a meter reader for his whole life. When I sent him my poetry book, he said, “Next time you write something can you just put the words in normal paragraphs like everyone else.”

It seemed like a reasonable request.

Two years later I sent him the memoir. “Why did you write this?” he said, “Did you really think people were dying to know the man behind something called ‘Blind Date with Cavafy?’”


In this current economy, poets are suffering. In already oversaturated book contests, often bogus to begin with, you can’t help but notice how many wonderful poets aren’t getting their manuscripts into the world. Out of fear of sounding biased, I won’t mention a local writer, I’m going to write about one of his poems soon. But I will say Matthew Hittinger and Eduardo Corral are two favorite. That said, I don’t want to meet either Corral or Hittinger in real life. Next to their poems, they can’t be anything more than pleasantly dull. And Hittinger needs some new photos. Once again, these don’t compliment him. Smile a little, dammit.

No doubt Poet O has a list of writers he loves. No doubt he champions emerging and new writers. Shouldn’t he refrain from entering these contests, and allow others have a greater chance at publication, love?


Recently a best friend found her first book into print. It took too long. No doubt she will start having big things happen. I’m jealous. She’s one of the most talented poets I know.

This jealously makes me think I should write and publish another book. I have two. What I can’t make up for quality, I may make up in quantity. That is, if I move fast enough.

At the same time, she’s having a second child. She’ll never write as much as she’d like. Even if she does, she’ll never feel like she has. This makes me happy.


A best friend is HIV-impacted. He’s been sick and looks pretty shitty. “As bad as I look,” he said the other day, “I could still get someone hotter to fuck me quicker than you.”

It was accurate.

Then he said, “You know a lot about books. Who should I read?”

I mentioned an author, and he looked him up on “This guy has six books,” my friend said, “What one do I read?”

I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know. There was too much to choose from.


It bothers me the way people criticize Joyce Carol Oates as too prolific as a writer. What does that mean? Who's too say how much you should publish?

I'm pro-choice. It's a woman's right to choose.

And more importantly, isn't every single story, fiction, essay, and even word you possess the ultimate act of generosity? You're offering everyone all your drafts without qualification. You're saying: Here's where I messed up. Here's where I'm redeemed?


Is having more than one or two books to someone like Steven D. Schroeder PoBiz? Is that where he would locate the have/have-nots? Does he deem someone like John Gallaher who lately seems to be competing with Oates for more book publications (and is winning) a representative face of PoBiz? Or is someone like Jack Gilbert who produces a book every ice age Po-Biz? Gilbert must be pretty connected if he can hide for so long, appear just enough to win every award, and then disappear no doubt cashing in his checks on trips to Disney World. And Gallaher does possess a tenure-track job (most of us lack), edits one of the few truly eclectic journals, posts a lot of happy photos with other key poets on his blog, which is enviably popular.

This isn't to say either one of them doesn't deserve what they have received. But still. (I own books by both of them. Even though they're not gay. I'm open-minded. And frugal. I own one by each.)

Outside of their poems, Gallaher and Gilbert seem reasonable, a bit glib. (They both would, I suspect, be cagey and self-effacing and slightly disingenuous about their own relationship to that often unexplainable entity PoBiz, which I don't think exists.) Is that calm (sometimes glibness) a characteristic of PoBiz? Is ultimately, ironically PoBiz just that? Can PoBiz be defined as being at rest, in contemplation, that sense everything is good, the world in place, and poetry is about pleasure, not necessarily instant gratification: publication.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Poems of Miguel Murphy and Invigorating Juvenile Melodrama

Unabashed juvenile melodrama invigorates gay writer Miguel Murphy’s poems. This might seem pejorative, but I think it’s rare to find a poet who trickily embraces borderline pretentiousness in order to create work that’s direct in its longing for those pre-adulthood years. In the poetry book Now You’re the Enemy, Hall sporadically abandons his hyperbolic comic conceits in favor of a far less provocative description of a dysfunctional relationship between mother and son.

Murphy doesn't fall into that trap.

Here in one of his more recent poems, "Estrella Avenue" published in the fantastic on-line mag diode, Murphy isn’t talking about familial relationships, but that of lovers, an older and a substantially younger one. Murphy smartly refuses to rely on journalist understatement - a trait Hall will hopefully relinquish. With swift and deliberate over determination, Murphy inflates lyric moments with such force that even the clichés take on a wacky spin. Just look at the opening:

You open small windows for love
when you care
and someone else means more to you than
yourself. Mexico
is a dream still, and we are there together.
The wet hustle of starlight
and the dogs run stray—
There is color, and it’s the most
important thing. It is.

How can you now want to read a poem that dares to begin with such adolescent banality? The narrator is undeniably young. Even as he offers the sentimentality there’s an irresistible tentativeness; Murphy's choice to put the phrase “when you care” on one line in and of itself gestures to a teenager’s idea of romantic uplift, but then the unclean line break after the “than” comes across as a deliberate stumble. The narrator is trying to articulate love the only way he knows how (ie. Hallmark card), but his own self-consciousness interrupts his train of thought, and he clears his throat and gives it another try.

That the word “Mexico” begins immediately is telling. No line break for a complete rest. Instead there's a need to rattle on, his best hope towards stumbling to an adult expression of love.

This poem is emblematic of the best of Murphy’s work. It’s a remarkable feat: to have a young narrator wax nostalgic for The Now, not the past. That’s youth: mourning for what you still have in the present. Being an adult is longing for what has truly been taken away.

You see that the narrator’s overdetermination to be the ultimate lover makes him an oddball romantic, so sexily tender, something lacking too often from poems and in life. The narrator is trying hard to be the man he wants to become. His repetitive assertion of color mattering (“It is”) exemplifies the narrator’s desirous ascent into manhood. He’s more than describing his feelings; with the assertion, he’s declaring that his truth should be ours.

Again the “you,” that beloved is obviously older than the narrator. He is the one “writing the grants and scheduling the hours.” How does this cause our juvenile narrator to react? He throws a charming tantrum:

What a dismal, soulless America
dressed in partitions, so I’m dramatic as chains
like the sea
and when the lyric stops,
its manic, dark murmuring your own
for self-worth,
we’re not in our house in the future in Guanajuato,
for the moment we are alone
kissing the black mouth of a telephone,
each of us considering our own light-year.

Other than the killer closing line, what I like most about this excerpt is the velocity of the narrator’s mind. He begins with awkward politicized histrionics (“soulless America/dressed in partitions”), then an unapologetic yet knowledgeable awareness of his behavior (“dramatic as chains”) and then reverts to the juvenile: thinking an extended phone call, and the romanticized isolation it engenders may be a panacea.

Until the time they are bound to be once and for all together. And live happily ever after.

Yea, right.

The beloved "you" and the readers of the poem know better. Thankfully, the narrator does not; his delusions are what intrigue us and where Murphy's best poetry surfaces.

On more than one occasion the narrator sounds like he’s regurgitating the idea of illusion versus reality in his high school lit class. Look how he compares “reality” to “the practiced one,” the phony:

Because it takes a wall of
star-blue to stupefy a man to his very loneliest
self, to stand before
the real life, and not the practiced one
a gate of green pipe cactus in the yard and wildflowers lacing
the shadows, in which we bandage the wounds with work
and get drunk
for love.

Through all these shifts, Murphy accomplishes something exciting. He fuses the voice of a silly young romantic man with that of his own: an accomplished poet who is creating his own idiosyncratic turns-of phrase: “wall of/star-blue to stupefy a man...” This persona is irresistible. Against your better judgment, he convinces you of romantic impossibilities.

Of course, Murphy and his persona are lyricists.

They're all about the moment even though you know in a couple of years, or more often a couple of weeks, after he’s forced to deal with “his very loneliest/self”, he’ll be back. He still wants to learn and fuck. When he grows up and becomes sober, he’ll be a lot less fun. He’ll be recovering but will have all the same dumb baggage. You'll long for the youth drunk on love and language.

Monday, September 7, 2009

For Jason Schneiderman with Affection: On Blurbs (Part Two)

[As I've said on this blog on more than one occasion, I have a great deal of respect for Schneiderman. I think, in fact, he's doing some of the most exciting work --critical and poetic--I know of in the gay scene. I mean this with no sarcasm: his intelligence is intimidating. But since he asked me to do some synthesizing of my last post, I have no choice but to do so. And in that processing, I can't help and bring out some of the more problematic sentimentalities of his comment, request.]

For someone to say no to a request for a blurb is an affirmative act. It reminds Literature that there are standards. It means, if you are the one refused, that you do not matter. The world can go on without your book. What can reveal itself to be a more liberating critique?


If one should choose to blurb a book, they should then honor all requests for blurbs. There is no reason to reject anyone. Their affirmation of someone else’s words allows them to live past their death. That is the only reason I can imagine Richard Howard continues to blurb unnecessary books. Howard is implanting a memory of himself in as many writers’ heads as possible. He is making himself immortal. He is doing what every human need to do: transform himself into an indispensable god.


Humility is as boring as modesty. It means you need someone else to inflate the importance of your words. It means you’re not worthy of your job. It means you may need to find esteem in a different profession.


Queer poet Jason Schneiderman raises the question of a blurb’s ability to sell poetry books. It doesn’t. This is self-evident. A blurb does something more important: it says that someone who is beloved feels you deserve to be beloved. That is not a gift. It is an imperative.

(I love you, too, Schneiderman, but you need to get over Lewis Hyde.)


You should not be grateful for a blurb. The one writing the blurb should be grateful for your request. Your request says you read their work. Is there any greater gift than that?


A blurb is not about the book receiving the praise. The author writing the blurb uses his affirmation as a way of securing admiration for his younger, less talented self. Most often he does not see anything but himself in the book. His words describe his most often inaccurate image of himself. Through the act of writing the blurb, he is reminded of his youth: the possibility of the Something More beyond his own words. This reminder offers him a meager, but necessary, reason to live. There is always more love. There may be more love if you offer more words.