Saturday, January 30, 2010

No idea why people don't want more me. But from emails responding to the posted inteview of Alex Dimitrov...

You want more him. And the Wilde Boys.

As publisher/editor John Stahle thankfully reminded me, here's a place where you will see them:

It is in GANYMEDE: a literary/art print journal by and for gay men published quarterly as a paperback book in New York.

It seeks GAY MEN WRITERS of short stories and poetry.

The next issue, a whopping 400 pages, will include a poetry section of 86 pages and 20 poets led by Gregory Woods and including some eight members of Wilde Boys plus discoveries from around the world (Estonia, Slovenia, etc).

Here's the link for details, tables of contents, readable sample pages:

Here's the link for submission guidelines:

Here's the link for the magazine's first poets' anthology:

Friday, January 29, 2010

An Interview with the Wilde Boys Queer Poetry Salon Founder, Alex Dimitrov

On the eve of the 8th Wilde Boys queer poetry salon, I asked founder Alex Dimitrov some questions.

Q: I heard about your queer poetry salon, the Wilde Boys. In fact you are quoted as saying that it’s for “beautiful boys who write and appreciate beautiful poems." Could you go into more detail about the salon? When it meets? Who’s invited? And why I wasn’t offered a personal invitation to attend. I’m a fucking heartthrob. When I sashay through my Upstate New York Walmart, everyone-and I mean everyone- does a double take.

A: Come sashay through the gentrified streets of downtown Manhattan with us—we’re Wilde, I promise. I know everyone thinks Manhattan is so over, and that a downtown art scene can’t thrive here like it did before, but that doesn’t seem true to me when it comes to contemporary poetry. I started Wilde Boys because there were so many intriguing and talented young gay poets who I would see at readings, or read in journals, but never had the chance to really talk to. Although we were all getting our MFAs in the same city, we weren’t getting together and talking about poetry and life, as we should have. You know the opening lines of Frank O’Hara’s poem “Song”? “I am stuck in traffic in a taxicab/ which is typical/ and not just of modern life.” Well, during graduate school I would always change it to, “I am stuck in a poetry reading with beautiful boys who are anonymous/ which is typical/ of getting your MFA in New York.” Meaning let’s leave the academic poetry reading and go back to each others' apartments where we can be the poetry reading.

Q: This sounds wonderful. Does the group have any historical precedents?

A: Absolutely. While I was studying at Sarah Lawrence I always fantasized about starting a group like Edmund White’s The Violet Quill. I thought of him and Andrew Holleran getting together with all the other gay fiction writers in the early 80s in New York, you know after Stonewall and as AIDS was just beginning. Just the idea of that kind of artistic community gave me life. And I thought, why can’t gay poets do that?

Of course they have done it—the Pink Poets in the 1990s, which I believe Alfred Corn started. I remember David Groff telling me about them and encouraging me in my hope to start something similar. In addition to all my peers, there were so many gay poets in New York who I read and admired—Mark Doty, Mark Bibbins, Richard Howard, it’s an endless list. So I thought, we live in the same city, we love poetry, we love men—why not get together? Tom Healy has been incredibly generous in hosting the salon at his apartment many times. We’re having our first Wilde Boys reading with Mark Doty on February 8 at the Cornelia St. CafĂ© in the West Village. And Bibbins has been coming to the salon from the beginning. I’ve invited Richard, and I think he finds the idea very charming, but he hasn’t been able to come yet. I think he will. We all adore him. We’d love to listen to anything he had to say.

Q: When I was an undergraduate at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, I went to kiss ins so someone would finally kiss me. It never happened. Could you talk about aesthetic beauty and politics? And how these come into play in your salon and what you discuss—how you even go about discussing it?

A: Beauty, like art, is political. No way of getting around that—and why would you want to? Our discussions are charged with everything from how we choose to express our sexual identities on the page and in our lives, to whether or not the imagination is bound to identity—if we can push past it, if that’s a good thing, or even possible. To be clear, I don’t think the imagination is bound to anything. I think it’s as real, perhaps more real than reality.

Q: One of the things that sounds great is that the salon is a reason for gay men to get together and truly talk. In something other than a coming out group. Not that I’m against those sorts of things. Can you talk about the long-term goals for Wilde Boys? How it moves beyond the academic? How it impacts the community at large?

A: I think it’s interesting that you ask about how Wilde Boys has the potential to move beyond the academic, especially since poetry is thought of as a very academic art form. I love what Louise Bourgeois says about the academic practice of art history in relation to her own artistic practice. "I am not interested in art history, in the academies of styles, a succession of fads. Art is not about art. Art is about life.”

This is why the idea of a salon appeals to me more than say a workshop, or being stuck within the bureaucratic confines of what academia interprets to be an artistic community today. It’s no question that the institutionalization of the MFA has changed the arts, and poetry. I suppose it’s clichĂ© (or impossible), but I love the bohemian idea of the poet. I want to try and recreate that with Wilde Boys. To feel that you can write a poem and walk down the street and read your poem to your friend, who’s also writing a poem, and then invite all your other artist friends and talk about how ridiculous life is. To exist in the gap between art and life, like Robert Rauschenberg did.

Q: How do you feel straight people are responding to Wilde Boys? I saw that the amazing Patricia Smith was wonderful in asking how she could support you, thinking that maybe there was a zine you were all putting out.

A: To be honest, anyone who is queer friendly and dazzling is invited to come to Wilde Boys. And a lot of poets and people in the community have taken interest in how they can support us, or have asked to attend a salon out of curiosity. And I think that’s great—I wouldn’t say no to anyone. Also, wouldn’t it be fantastic if a painter came to one of the salons—and now I’m starting to fantasize about the Cedar Tavern in the 1950s where painters like Rothko and de Kooning, but also poets like O’Hara and later Ginsberg, came together. We can do that today. Why not? As O’Hara says, “everything continues to be possible.” This is New York.

[The first photograph above: David Wojnarowicz, Arthur Rimbaud in New York, 1978-9]

Saturday, January 23, 2010

On Being Called a Faggot and Having Something Thrown At You from a Moving Car

Yesterday someone called me a "Faggot" and threw a cup at me out of a moving car. There's nothing inherently remarkable about the incident; I've been called a faggot a lot and had a lot of things thrown at me (more often than not by gay men.). At the same time, what bothered me about this event was that the first thought that crossed my mind was this: I have a Ph.D. You can't call someone who has a Ph.D. a faggot and then throw a cup at him.

This is the truth: all that went through my mind was that I understood if someone called an undergraduate a faggot and then threw something at them. Even a Master's student. Especially one majoring in something like English or History.

But I have a Ph.D. Things don't happen like that to people who have Ph.D.'s

I walk everywhere. I have a phobia of driving, my mind races normally, but behind a vehicle it's even worse, the only time I've consistently driven is when my partner had to have a serious operation. I was too ashamed to ask for help --it felt too embarrassing to ask someone to escort me. Too weak. What person can't take their own partner to the hospital! I decided that it was much better to risk a serious car accident--we were on our way to the hospital after all--than admit an insecurity. (For the longest time, when people asked me why I didn't drive, I lied and said I have a D.U.I. It sounded more cool. People did always seem impressed, like I was edgy or something.)

Once during the summer I was walking towards campus and a teenage looked at me and yelled to his friends, "Look at that guy! He's wearing Birkenstocks. He's a fag."

I jogged home, not because of the vehemence of his anger, but I was concerned that others would yell at me if I kept my Birkenstocks on. I had never known Birkenstocks were a clear indicator of someone's homosexuality. Maybe if I had worn socks it would have confused them. Still I put on my Nikes and everything was fine.

In yesterday's fiasco, I was wearing boots. And even though I had never gotten my diploma framed, I had proof of my Ph.D. at home. When one Christmas, my partner's mother framed my partner's Ph.D. diploma, she asked me if I wanted her to do the same. I was too embarrassed to admit I threw it out when I moved. It felt like it was taking up too much space, and I like to travel lightly. Also: my teachers gave me a low pass on my exams. Fuckers.

Because I go everywhere on foot, I imagined myself eventually catching up to them, tapping one on the shoulder and saying, "Do you remember me?"

I'd have to remind him--all faggots looked the same to him, I would be sure of that much. Or maybe I'd be projecting. I don't know.

"Do you remember calling someone a faggot and throwing something at them out of a moving car?"

He would have forgotten. I'm sure it was something he did all the time.

"Well, that was me. And I just want you to know that I have a Ph.D. It may be in English. It may be in English with a creative writing dissertation. But it doesn't matter. You passed a line. I worked for that Ph.D. I took Latin, for Christ's sake. For four semesters. On top of what I did in undergrad. I partied too much because people in my program were pretty lame. They were the kind of people who actually took the time to read every single thing on their book lists. And I had shitty health insurance, so my gums are all messed up, and I'm afraid that no stranger will ever kiss me again if my boyfriend gets bored of me. He's the kind of person who gets annoyed when all someone does is talk about themselves. Which I always assumed that's why you lived with someone in the first place. So, I must ask, how can you do this to me?"

But none of that happened. I went home and watched the documentary "Outrage" alone in my room--it's about the outing of closeted politicians who pass anti-gay legislation. It clocked in at a brisk 90 minutes, and I felt like I had done something. I had no idea what. But I did do something. I thought. I thought long and hard. That's what thoughtful people do, right? Self-reflection is a good thing, no?

And then I felt something, but not quite, like sadness.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

An Ice Breaker for the Creative Writing Classroom

Recently I've been asked what sort of exercises I do in my creative writing classroom. Here's one I do almost immediately to explain to them a number of things. These are directions:

1.) There are about twenty students in my class. Before class, I write either an occupation or weird noun on twenty different index cards. Examples: fire hydrant, abacus, real estate agent, trampoline champion, etc etc.

2.) Give each student a card.

3.) Randomly put students in group of four or five.

4.) If your class is 90 minutes, tell them they have 20 minutes to create a 5 minute skit that must incorporate either verbally or non-verbally each item/occupation on each group member's card.

5.) Before they break up into groups, tell them they will be "judged" (and I do mean judged) based on their creativity, whatever that word may mean to them. They've got to define it in their own terms.

6.) Repeatedly emphasize their skits will NOT be judged on the quality of their performances. But by sheer creativity. Also: tell them the performers are not allowed to laugh during the skit; that's not acceptable. Which it isn't.

7.) Let them go into their groups.

8.) Don't watch them prepare. It's annoying to do so. Go get a snack from the vending machine (my favorite: Funyuns or Hot Fries).

9.) When they come back, tell them that after each skit they must write down the "weird" parts and what they see as the most "creative" aspect. After all the skits are completed, they MUST rank them. Someone will ask: Do we rank our own? Say definitely yes. They'll be uncomfortable. Which can be a good thing in the classroom.

10.) Have a stopwatch. Remind them that each group must perform for five minutes. No exceptions. That was the "formal" rule. No exceptions. Tell them you'll cut them off when it's time.

11.) Let them perform.

12.) Have them do the skits.

This is where things get good. Have them rank the skits. Briefly tally the votes for what is their favorite and what is their weakest. Then get into a conversation as to why they voted the way they did. You're teaching them how to critique here. Always, always ask for specifics. Unless you pressure they won't do it. You want to get them in practice for when the comment on their peers' work. Also: this exercise is a good touchstone for them. The spontaneous creativity they exhibit in their skits disappears once they start writing their own narratives. Refer them back to this exercise.

Some of the things that I've noticed almost all the time:

a.) They like to be funny in skits. This desire to be funny almost always disappears when they start committing things to paper. Remind them of this as the semester goes on--refer back to the skits.

b.) They use a variety of points-of-view. Sometimes they'll do it "Our Town" style with a single narrator providing transitions. Sometimes they won't have any narrator. in their pieces, they'll go to the default mode: first person. Remind them as the semester goes on of this.

c.) They're dialogue will almost always contain at some point an intriguing image or funny detail. As the semester goes on, they're dialogue will be more and more functional--something used simply as a way of quickening the story, filling those pages.

d.) No matter how much you emphasize, when they first start committing things to paper they will inevitably set their stories in a bar or a living room. In their skits, because of the strange props and professions, they often provide intriguing settings. This is something that is so important in creating narrative scenes: odd places and props. Bring them back to this fact throughout the semester. It's one of my major points. Give characters good "stuff"; they'll be forced to use it, and your piece will often create more dynamism.

e.) The class will almost always vote for the one narrative skit that comes "full circle." A gun will be introduced and someone will die. The one that is the most rambling (and usually the best one) will be valued the least. Emphasize to them that often times when they off "track," the digression sometimes was the most fascinating element.

f.) In their scenes, more than once character will be between more than two characters. Three, four, sometimes five will be reacting to one another. It's cool. When you start reading their work, the conversations will almost always be between only two characters. Remind them that the cliche can be true: the more, the merrier.

Friday, January 15, 2010

On the Difference Between Honesty and Bluntness

Honesty is different than bluntness. Bluntness is the intensity of how you say what you mean. You can be a little honest and very blunt at the same time. A good critic should always strive to be honest. If you're not honest, you're not a good critic. But you don't have to be blunt to be a good critic. When a critic is very blunt, people assume he's being rude, and he might very well be. Honesty isn't about etiquette. Bluntness is. With a poet friend you can be blunt, and they probably will forgive you, and still want to hang out with you on Friday night and drink margaritas and watch Buffy reruns or Dollhouse.

I pride myself on being a critic who is honest. Honesty is a good thing especially if you have the right friends, they forgive you if what you say hurts/annoys them. My friends are smarter than me, which is deliberate on my part. When you have smarter friends, they quickly figure you out and know how your mind is troubled. Once my partner and I got into a fight, and I got hysterical, and he said, You are crazy and insincere. He knows who I am. I love him.

Sincerity is a different thing altogether from honesty and bluntness.

A well-intentioned critic may panic that the honesty won't be noticed, so they freak out even more and become more blunt. You can't use bluntness as a vehicle to become more honest and therefore noticed. In fact, if you try it, it may have have the opposite effect, especially when it reaches people you may not know. All people will notice is the bluntness and no one hears (understandably) the desire to be honest. No one will hear the striving to talk critically and sometimes even affectionately. No one will hear that you try to be honest to disclose something like love to certain poems and people (and sometimes even other posts on other blogs.)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

I'm assuming it's a mistake, even though I was told it wasn't...

This post may be completely invalid if "Persistent Voices: Poets Lost to AIDS" was not meant to be placed in The Gay Men's Poetry category and instead LGBT Anthologies for this year's Lambda Literary Awards. Two different people (one associated with the Lambda Awards) told me this wasn't a mistake. I was asked to keep the sources anonymous. I will delete this post if I received inaccurate information.

I have a number of problems with this decision (if it is indeed true):

1.) An anthology should be in a category for anthologies if one is available. And there is.

2.) It is unethical to pit a a volume of poets (plural) against a single-authored book (singular). It's a tag team.

3.) In an anthology, you're choosing a few of a author's best poems. In a single-authored volume of poetry, you have inevitably a range of quality. (My attitude is if the author has one poem you love, it's worth buying. How often does lightening strike in the same place?) In other words: it seems that it could only be fair to compare the best two or three poems of one author in the anthology with two or three of the best poems of the single-authored volume.

4.) One judges an anthology different than a book of poems. I would make the claim that the actual quality of the poems included in an anthology are in a way less significant. When I read an anthology, I'm looking for issues of typography, cultural and aesthetic diversity, layout, introduction, development of theme, contemporary relevance etc. etc. etc. These issues are of primary importance. I judge a single-author volume of poems simply on the aesthetic merit of the work.

5.) What judge is going to have the conviction to rank an AIDS anthology below a single-author book of poems? I will be using "Persistent Voices" in my intermediate undergraduate workshop as the central text. And from my somewhat cursory scanning of the book, it looks exactly what I'm looking for as a pedagogical tool One of my pedagogical challenges is to push my students beyond making simple sentimental readings of the poem. (Not that sentimentality is necessarily a bad thing. Or primary objective.) For so many gay poets, it would be equally if not more difficult to choose a single-authored book as opposed to an anthology possibly containing poems written by deceased friends, lovers etc.. This intensifies a politicized sentimental attachment to the anthology. And in the context of a contest warps the ability to make as objective assessments. And who can blame them?

6.) It may be said that my questioning of the placement of the anthology doesn't matter. Let's simply recognize those who have passed away This award would be a testament to their work. I would say this sort of claim yields a certain anti-intellectualism, making the awards pointless. Why even create a contest which should revel in the fun of ranking books if you're not going to maintain a logical maintenance of the various categories?

7.) I can't tell, but it seems there are no other anthologies of poetry in the LGBT anthology. This doesn't make any difference. There are so many different kinds of prose in the anthology category (romance to non-fiction to at least one containing multiple genres) It's as difficult to assess various prose genres against one another as an anthology of poetry against prose.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Should an HIV Negative Teacher Disclose Their Status When Teaching the AIDS Anthology "Persistent Voices"?

One of my pedagogical questions for myself in teaching the AIDS anthology, "Persistent Voices," is if I should disclose my HIV-negative status in the classroom. Here are what I see as the advantages and disadvantages in doing so:

1.) If they know I'm HIV-negative, students may be more likely to engage in an aesthetic evaluation of the material. If they think that there's the possibility of me being HIV +, then they might feel "forced" to praise the material no matter how weak some of the poems may be (and some of them are. Which isn't a bad thing. All anthologies have weak material. That's the fun of teaching an anthology--you essentially make your own anthology within the framework of a larger anthology. This is why teachers create selected readings)

2.) If they know I'm HIV-negative and there's an openly HIV + student in the classroom, that student may feel that they bear the brunt of authenticating the material. This could limit the conversation in that no one would want to "hurt" the student's feelings. It would also advance a whole set of problems when I disagreed with the student.

3.) If I declare myself as HIV-negative, I might allow myself to be less self-conscious about how HIV + "feel" or what I have to say about aesthetic and political issues. It's exhausting even if of ultimate importance to realize and acknowledge the diversity in the classroom.

4.) If I don't disclose my status, I might have to spend an inordinate time in the classroom attempting to "convince" my students they can really tell me what they think of the poems.

5.) If I don't disclose my status, students might assume I'm HIV + and tell other students of what they assume my status to be, and I could be gossiped about.

6.) I like being gossiped about. I like attention of any sort.

7.) If I don't disclose my HIV-negative status, I might be saying that one should withhold naming in a public realm. Which may make me come across as cowardly. It may also come off as an endorsement that HIV-status should only be talked about to a certain extent. And in certain ways.

8.) If I disclose my HIV-negative status, it may make the material feel less urgent.

9.) If I don't disclose my HIV status, it'll force students to be even more usefully self-conscious. They could give more thought to the poems and perhaps even more importantly in their relationships with people beyond the classroom.

10.) If I don't disclose my HIV-status, an HIV + student may assume that I might be able to help them with knowledge I don't possess.

11.) If I disclose that I'm HIV-negative and I've had a boyfriend (not husband, that would be delusional, even if sweet, to claim) for 12 years would that cause students to think of me as The Good Homosexual because my relationship may be similar to their parents'. Except that I've been pretty happy.

12.) If I disclose my HIV status, will my students think that I think I believe monogamy is the only way to go?

13.) If I disclose my HIV status, will my students incorrectly believe that I think that pure lust and acting out and recreational sex are bad things? Or even lesser things? When I actually believe there needs to be more of them in this world.

14.) I am HIV-negative. That's a fact. Why try to elude a fact?

15.) Isn't there something inevitably self-congratulatory in an HIV-negative gay man teaching an AIDS anthology?

I'll probably be adding and maybe even subtracting from this post as the days go on.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

An Explanation of The Sort of Assignment I Will Assign to My Undergraduate Poetry Workshop Regarding the AIDS Anthology "Persistent Voices"

For my intermediate undergraduate poetry workshop, I've decided to use the anthology "Persistent Voices: Poets Lost to AIDS" as the central text. It's edited by Phillip Clark& David Groff.

In my poetry writing workshops, I spend the first part of the semester, if not more, simply reading published poems and enjoy watching them struggle to make sense of them. I say that there's nothing wrong with saying wrong things--we all do. All that happens is you lose your self-esteem. And most of the time you rebound them. Participation is key in my class. In some ways, it's much more important than the actual writing.

I tell them that it is important to what I call "making a generous public display of their confusion."

Each students has to do a presentation on a poem that adheres to a certain set of rules. This is what they are:

1.) They must choose a poem from Verse Daily or Poetry Daily. I choose those websites that contain poems most often by living poets--I believe it creates a sense of urgency. And we all want to feel contemporary and edgy. I'm not any different than them. When I rent a movie from Blockbuster Video, I only choose something from the New Releases.

2.) It must be a poem that intrigues them, but contains something that confuses them, something that they can't get their mind around. They don't need to understand it. But they have to be able to identify it as specifically as possible, and have question(s) prepared that might draw upon mine or the class' interpretive abilities. I always ask them in class: "What is weird about this poem? What do you think is stupid? What is boring?" I am always disgusted with teachers who say their discussions didn't go well because all their students would say was it's boring or stupid. My reply is that most things are boring and stupid. Also: such baldfaced claims can lead to understanding (if the intuitive impulse isn't already there). What's cool also is that whatever is boring or stupid or weird is where the art is. They just don't know how to name it as such.

3.) They must try to understand every single aspect of the poem: from diction to stanza breaks to the use of write space, etc. They must try to identify and explain the intersection of form and content within the poem. And I mean everything: image, allusions, line break, stanza size, white space, etc etc etc

4.) They must identify and explain what they as writers themselves would rip off from the poem themselves.

During their 30-45 minute presentations, I allow them to first talk about the poem and their responses to those standards pretty much in that order for the first 10-15 minutes. And then I interrogate. I am a horribly impatient teacher (and person), so I often will cut them off before they're done. I claim it's because they aren't going to an intellectual place that I feel benefits them. But part of the reason sometimes is I'm aggressive and rude. (If I should ever be interviewed for a job at another college and someone asked me that stupid question, "What is your biggest problem as a teacher?" I'd say that: impatience.)

When they turn in a group of their own poems to be workshopped, one of them must emulate the one they presented in class.

(I should add I do not run my workshop in the One-Poem-A-Week Style. I've always found that counterproductive to talking about art. Creative writing teachers rarely produce a poem in a week that's worth showing--why should we expect our students to? So this is what I do: on-and-off during the semester we work on small exercises and then they have to turn in a portfolio of 5 poems. We spend 30-45 minutes going over the portfolio. Sometimes all energy is directed toward one poem. Sometimes time is given to all of them. Other times just a stanza. This also works better, because students are often repeating the same problem or reifying an unproductive limitation They're only critiqued in class once. I think reading published poems is more important in certain ways than going over their own in a workshop.)

The benefit of presenting an oral presentation on a Poetry Daily poem is that they get to choose whatever they want in terms of form and content. They have hundreds and hundreds of poems to choose from.

So now I'm doing something different. I've chosen this AIDS anthology "Persistent Voices." In the Introduction to the book, Clark and Groff that it is "not an anthology about AIDS, although many of the poets included here do confront AIDS, directly or obliquely." Pretty much I agree. But such statements are going to matter little (if at all) to my students. And it shouldn't. This isn't a critique of the Introduction, but a line of inquiry about how to successfully use the anthology as a pedagogical too rather than for personal reading.

To my class, I could make the pointless claim that this anthology isn't completely about AIDS or gayness, but using those two issues as a vehicle to talk about The Human Condition. But they'd know I'm full of shit. I choose the anthology because it is about gayness and AIDS. I would never allow to use the words "The Human Condition" in their oral or written critiques. How can I use them?

So the question for me comes to, how do I convince (ie justify) them into thinking that they should in the classroom engaging in my own interest. Especially if I'm not entirely sure this is a good decision: am I not going to cause some students to disengage with poetry in ways that they wouldn't if they could choose a poem with content of their own liking?

I always tell my students I'm not interested in content. Form is what matters. And now as a gay teacher, I'm choosing a poem which satisfies my obsession with certain subjects. Am I not revealing myself to be a huge hypocrite that could cause a certain amount of damage with my own students?

After all, they are going to be spending a considerable amount of time discussing poems from an anthology around a particular subject. Which happens to be one of obsessions. Of course, I will encourage them to critique my choice and the anthology, but what other pitfalls come from my choice and what are the limitations and potentialities of using this AIDS anthology?

In my next post, I'll talk more about my apprehensions in this decision (as well as brainstorming "solutions" to pitfalls). I'll also, I think, be describing what happens throughout next semester. If my students help me shape the ways that can or should be done.

Monday, January 4, 2010

On Jason Schneiderman's Mythic Utopia

Because I'm teaching a SUNY Brockport Wintersession course, what essentially amounts to an entire semester compressed into two weeks, I don't have much time. But I do want to offer a quick response to Jason Schneiderman's anti-intellectual post that appeared on the Tuesday Best American Poetry blog. I apologize in advance for the bad proofreading and to an extent, the sheer unchecked emotionalism of this post. Hysteria isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Here is the link to Schneiderman's post:

I want to deal with one brief section. Schneiderman self-admittedly offers a superficial reading of what's been going on in PoBiz for the last few decades. Of course, there's nothing inherently wrong with a gloss.

This is the conclusion he comes up with:

"So if the 80s were about the rise of language poetry & multiculturalism, and the 90s were the decade of the culture wars, what were the 00’s? Our last siecle totally came to a fin, and what should we say about the poetry of the last ten years? OK, so don’t all beat me up at once—I’m blogging, so I’m embracing interactivity and I want to hear from you—but I think that the 00’s were when we all got along."

And then he offers an emphasis:

"But I feel like in the 00’s, a lot of the fights kind of seemed less important. Like everyone’s toolboxes got shared, and we stopped having to stress over who’d be a new formalist, who’d be an old formalist, and who’d be an old school Shklovsky reading Russian formalist."

Again, I don't (can't) go into much detail because of time, but even in the gay poetry scene, there are definitely many factions. How couldn't there be? There is so much at stake: job, awards, fellowships, conferences, anthologies, etc. Associations with particular aesthetic lineages and certain gay poets can yield much greater success. This isn't old news, and even though it isn't, it is worth complaining about, even if we can predict what those complaints are. I refuse to believe that one should simply shut up and accept things the way they are. If gay men did that, we would not have at the very least opened up the conversation about gay marriage in a world that wants us to accept that we're better off dead.

I would like to offer one autobiographical story which is not in and of itself proof of the serious factions in the gay male community. I won't reveal the names. Not out of coyness--God know, I've named names on this blog, sometimes stupidly, and thoughtlessly. But I want to use the personal experience as a way of addressing larger issues.

Some time ago I was asked to be on a committee to help choose the winner for a gay poetry award. There were many books submitted. I had not met or talked to any of the authors of those books face-to-face. I thought one book which eschewed conventional narrative was one of the best. I also articulated that I thought a Latino author produced one of the other great books of that batch.

After I decided on who I thought should win and shared my opinions, I got into an argument via email with two members of the committee. One said about the non-narrative poet: "You know all that book is is a brain fuck. You don't write like this, Steve. Stop trying to show how open-minded you are."

When we discussed the Latino poet, I was told that the only reason I championed his work was because I liked to "look all multicultural."

Needless to say, I was in the minority and neither book was a finalist.

Schneiderman knows better. I would not presume to psychoanalyze anyone (I have no idea what thoughts are going on in his head, and I'm not a trained professional), but I believe he must have something at stake in this obvious denial of an imbalance of equality within the gay community .

But what upsets me about his post is most evident in the following sentence. I'll repeat an actual quotation from above for emphasis:

"OK, so don’t all beat me up at once—I’m blogging, so I’m embracing interactivity and I want to hear from you—but I think that the 00’s were when we all got along."

This is the sort of white middle-class thinking that caused Proposition 8 to go through. To translate the sentence: "I'm not necessarily directly impacted by what's going to happen, I have enough, but sure, I'm going to let you duke it out."

If he has the self-awareness that people might disagree with him, he has the ethical responsibility to name the opposing arguments, show other points of view. (I would argue that things are more conservative now than then. But that's another post.) In other words, Schneiderman ride on the backs of more politicized gay men while he boasts about some fiendishly wonderful queer and straight utopia.

Inevitably, anyone who is going to disagree with Schneiderman will be branded as a troublemaker. Even though! oh yes! he wants to hear from us! can he sound anymore like the quintessential passive-aggressive academic! (Why do so many gay men feel compelled to get advanced degrees!)

I am a big fan of Schneiderman's, as I've written about his poetry and critical work on my blog. I am excited about his new book and will pre-order it when available. When he has a new critical article, I'll go to great lengths to get a copy. He is someone I genuinely would like to meet, and I highly anticipate the day I do. But I don't know if I can read any more of these particular posts. This is the first time his writing has made me sad.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

On Schneiderman's Fear of Intimacy

On the Best American Poetry blog, Jason Schneiderman charms with the common and slightly annoying fear that there’s a “false intimacy” between memoirists and their readers.

Here's the link:

(Be sure to scroll down for the post entitled "Here on the Island of Misfit Toys [Jason Schneiderman]")

Here is the link:

In a bouncy and sweet style (meant descriptively, not coyly), he describes his trepidation towards poets who cross over to memoir. He charms with the claim that he fears a “false intimacy” between memoirists and their readers.

For me, the phrase false intimacy is as suspect as the unreliable narrator—words so feverishly elasticized that they have lost much of their meaning. But perhaps more troublesome is mainstream critics of memoirs use peculiar adjectives like risk-taking and courage and intimate to praise autobiographical writing.

In a creative non-fiction course, I taught Julie Gregory’s “Sickened: The Memoir of a Munchhausen by Proxy Childhood.” By transforming her parents into farcial one-dimensional characters, she catapults herself into heroine status, escaping their clutches and fighting to bring the issue into the public. No surprise that critics called it an “intimate” portrayal of a poisoned childhood, etc. etc. What disappointed me about the book is it never investigated what would have taken true courage to do: to add weight to the childhood memoirs of being relieved in going to school, etc. That’s courage: to admit the joy in your own victimization.

I know that a lot of people worship Kathryn Harrison’s father-daughter incest narrative “The Kiss.” While I do empathize for sexual abuse survivors and their abject victimization, their stories don’t necessarily (on subject alone) catapult themselves into works of art. Critics praised “The Kiss” for its rawness, its courage, its intimate confessions. There’s no courage for me in simply sharing autobiographical experience, no matter how tragic it may be, and it isn't even necessarily courageous. To publish a book is to want, to ask for, whether or not its visibility, money, praise, sympathy, or all of the above.

This is what makes “The Kiss” courageous: she writes the incest narrative in a style similar to that of a junky Harlequin romance. Take a look at the short, choppy declarative sentences, the vague sense of time and place, the reckless pacing to arrive at what are for most readers the most unfortunately “enjoyable” plot points: the sex scenes. Harrison’s success in expertly and shamelessly modeling her tale as a bad romance novel is where the courage lies. No matter how "sickened" some detractors may have been. "It's badly written," they shout.

From reading her novel basely loosely on the same material, it is readily apparent that she can write a complex, syntactically complex sentence. Here she makes what may seem the oddest rhetorical choice, but within those formal strategy is the risk-taking.

Perhaps Schneiderman is weary of intimacy, because he’s ultimately looking for it in the wrong place: the elements of the victim narrative or the redemptive moments. It may help Schneiderman to remember that he may be able to find the intimacy he craves in the same places he sees it in poetry: the formal strategies, the subversion of certain narrative expectations.