Friday, April 16, 2010

On Knockout, Jeff Mann, and Paul Lisicky

You've got to hand it to editors Jeremy Halinen and Brett Ortler for daring to call their new magazine "knockout." I always think it's dangerous to give something a name that you could easily turn into an insult with a slight inflection of your voice. Knock it out of the ballpark. Or knock you out like a sleeping pill. But fortunately for the editors' sake, their magazine is dynamic and fun.

A lot of literary magazines, especially the predominantly gay ones, are sweetly boring. I usually end up giving up and just reading the contributors' notes. The same way I did craigslist personals when I was young and single.

Not only is the content excellent, but the magazine is "doing its part of fight suicide in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth population." Charity and beauty don't often go hand-in-hand, but these co-editors show us they can. As the editors tell us "five percent of the proceeds from sales will go to The Trevor Project, which focuses on helping the young people of our community.

Now I'm even more pissed off that I was solicited and then rejected!

But when a job's well-done, a job is well-done. I haven't read every single piece but so far I think that the stand-outs are Jeff Mann's "Here's to the Death of Our Enemies" and Stephen S Mills' "Against Our Better Judgment We Plan a Trip to Iran."

Do help make sure this magazine stays alive. Please buy an issue. If you're unhappy with it, I'll personally write you a note of apology. Even if you're not interested in the magazine, give something to their charity which does help queer youth. Here's the link for the magazine:

Here's the link for The Trevor Project:


On my Facebook page, I always switch my age from time to time, moving it back slowly, but sometimes too fast so that one of my students recently said, "You're just like Benjamin Button." Growing old is horrible. Yet old queer codgers need to stop whining that young queers aren't reaching out to them.

They are. Or at least they reach out to the ones not obsessed with proving their scholarly erudition. But sometimes it's even tough not to wonder "why should they?" Educational institutions still don't help GLBT students much. ROTC is still here, and domestic partnership isn't a reality even at a lot of institutions. School essentially teaches you to be a middle-class professional, fitfully dull and reasonable. Edgy, contemporary literature remains invisible, and rarely do we question if the stuff in the Norton anthologies hold any value for us.


So much gay literature dealing with growing older possesses a wistful thoughtfulness that borders on the ingratiating--spiritual transcendence is more than not an overrated phenomenon; we're stuck on earth--let's deal with it. And for a gay man to engage such questions regularly, you can't help but wonder if they are in some sort of denial. We're being killed. Don't abandon us for an angel who has the privilege of moving up and away.

One of the remarkable finds in "knockout" is Jeff Mann's "Here's to the Death of Our Enemies". It's a rightfully erratic sloppy sonnet, loosely rhymed except in the final couplet. Look at the opening:

Memorializing the banal or constructing wish-fulfillment
fantasies, these fill my forties. Men I'd like to rape, men
I'd like to kill. Weight Watches recipes, cat littler at Wal-Mart,
new varieties of gin...

Queer male rage is something not often explored, or even acknowledged.

For me, I always become nervous, perhaps unjustifiably so, about middle-aged wistfulness. My partner and I fought about the merits of Paul Lisicky's "On the Table" in the same issue, an honorable elegy to Arden, his dead dog. I was called a speciest for not valuing the poem as much as he did. And I fear he might have a point. "Would you question a poem about Gesundheit?" Gesundheit was the name of our pet bunny. She was sick at a pet store, and her cage was right next to the snake's, so I had no choice to buy her. Much to the shock of the octogenarian store owner. She sneezed a lot (the bunny, not the store owner), so we named her Gesundheit.

It's perhaps too easy for me to devalue the domestic and jump headlong into the public. Today the federal government allows us same-sex visitation rights, and we're supposed to jump up and down. Sadly, I thought those were already offered. We're further behind than I even thought. So it's a relief for Mann to write:

...Right-wingers dead, pious eyes grown black
with flies, heaps and heaps, and our apish executive branch
simmering among them , sweetly gutted....

Anger is something that always scares people. Some straight people value our victim narratives a bit too much. But perhaps gay men privilege them even more. To a degree. Or for different reasons. But still. What do we do with a cathartic fantasy of us causing the harm, rather than the other way around?

The spiteful cacophony, its jagged syntax is justified, its refusal to be tamed, necessary:

...More and more,
manner sleep, fail to fill the breach. The list of hate
grows longer. The skull smokes and churns, a dark ark,
More and more, out Elysium's illegal, our skin is bark.

Unlike some of the well-meaning gay older men, Mann restores these literary allusions in a way that is useful--his elders should pay special attention. It's a rare occurrence that a gay poet uses the literary allusion not to pander to straight audiences. If you're drawing on the classics, then your works contains a certain literary gravitas. I think it's important than Mann reclaims the classical reference--telling everyone with a ferocity we have to find new ways of living. The poem names the classical reference as a limitation rather than elevating it as a way of receiving dumb affirmation.

1 comment:

  1. I think you're asking a very interesting question here: when is anger acceptable in poetry?