The time has come once again for the National Poetry Writing Month, or NaPoWriMo! April is the cruelest month if you participate in this fiendish task: write one poem a day for the entire month. That's write (get it?!): 30 days, 30 poems, accept no substitutes. As in years past, I will be chronicling my efforts here (as well as in private with the members of my writing group.) I will update this entry daily with new titles for the poems in progress. If you're interested in joining or sharing, comment below. Let's keep it communal and fun!
***April 1 - "A New Cosmogony"April 2 - "The Park" (the above poem was inspired by these photographs)April 3 - "As If to Say, 'You Are Not Omnipotent'"April 4 - "Elegy for Roger Ebert"April 5 - "Manifest Destiny" (the form of which I stole from this poem by Corey Van Landingham)April 6 - "Watching Bats at Twilight"April 7 - "Boy in Porn"April 8 - "Reconsidering the Prospect of Cruises"April 9 - "Celestial Triptych"April 10 - "Beyond the Mirror Stage"April 11 - "Scourge"April 12 - "A Brief History of Addiction"April 13 - "Initiation"April 14 - "Friend of Dorothy"April 15 - "Gotham City Nocturne"April 16 - "Queen of the Valley"April 17 - "Advice to the Cowardly Lion"April 18 - "No More Hurting People--Peace"April 19 - "Ascension"April 20 - "Black Ice"April 21 - "Wear the Body"April 22 - "Everyone Else Has a Boyfriend"April 23 - "Prey Tell"April 24 - "Cast the Body"April 25 - "Pearl"April 26 - "Drownded, for Drowned"April 27 - "Little Tokyo"April 28 - "Man of Steel"April 29 - "V for Voyeur"April 30 - "Double Agent"
I'm very pleased to announce that Guernica
, one of my favorite online arts and culture journals, published my poem "Self-Portrait as an Incubus"
in their most recent issue. Humorously, or not, it's an erotica-themed issue, and I contributed a recording to go along with the poem. Do check it out and let me know what you think. This marks yet another poem in my manuscript that I've managed to publish. That makes nearly all of them.
This is the first year I've put myself through sending out my manuscript, and I've realized something I've always known about the process: waiting is difficult business! It seems like it's been ages since I sent out the manuscript in the fall, but in reality it's only been a few months. How is this possible? How can every day feel like it goes by in a flash while the months seem to stretch into oblivion? I guess this is just what happens as the mind ages. Yay?
I'm waiting for more than just news on the manuscript, though. In some ways I'm waiting for my life to get going. Sounds dramatic, but I've been quite stuck lately. I won't go into specifics now. Once I've managed to pull my leg out of the quicksand I've got my leg stuck in, I'll be a bit more explicit. For now, at least, I'm not sinking any further.
The writing and revision is coming along a little better than it was before the new year. I might even try dabbling in fiction again, or figuring out what to do with this superhero story I have percolating in the back of my brain. I might pursue it as a comic if I could find an artist to work with. I can draw well enough myself, but I don't really have the skill or consistency for something sequential. Here's hoping!
Despite being uncertain about where my future is heading, I just applied to Sewanee and will soon apply to Breadloaf. Yet more waiting. I seem to be unable to stop accruing more sand in the hour glass. Once it's over I can breathe. Otherwise... well, as long as I steer clear of caffeine I'll survive, hehe.
Anyone else out there waiting for news? Or have an interest in helping me grapple with making my own superhero comic?
A few days ago I found out that Matthew Dickman, he of the amazing poetry wonder twins, selected my poem "Homosexuality" for inclusion into this year's Best New Poets
anthology. I can't tell you how exciting this news is! Although the Colorado Review
did me the wonderful honor of publishing it, I actually sent the poem to BNP
through their Open Submissions (the also take nominations from MFA/PhD programs and individual journals.)
What's most exciting about this news is that I'll be appearing alongside a plethora of other poets whose work I love. I even know a few of them personally. The full list is here
. Check it out. Given that there's fifty of us, you might know some of them.
In other news, I'm living in Athens, Georgia, beginning my doctoral studies, and polishing my manuscript (which has changed forms considerably since I first assembled it) for submissions. I can't believe how far I've come since I took my first creative writing workshop as a freshman at UCLA. It's unreal.
At any rate, I hope to update this blog more regularly in the coming months. Keeping a record of my trials and tribulations might not seem terribly important to anyone else but me, but it's something I feel I have to do, something that will make me feel like I'm not ignoring the way everything around me is evolving. I want to keep aware, to
One of the things I love about 32 Poems
(along with journals like Hayden's Ferry Review
and Cave Wall
) is how much they support the writers they publish. Case in point, the "Contributor's Marginalia" on the 32 Poems
blog. It's a wonderful feature wherein poets published in a certain issue respond to the work of their issue mates, essentially performing their own close reading of the poem for blog readers. I think it's brilliant for a few reasons--namely that it makes the poems in the issue more accessible (hopefully enough to elicit more subscriptions) and demonstrates what a thoughtful, considered response to another writer's work can yield. Charlie Clark wrote a very gracious response to my poem "Winter in Paradise,"
while I wrote up a response to Corinna McClanahan Schroeder's "Years Later, I See My Old Self Stumbling Down the Street."
I like the sense of community this blogging experience fostered between the three of us (and counting) and hope you (whoever you are, you wonderful soul, you!) will take a gander at them. I learned plenty about my own poem and what it's doing from another person--I think we all can yield much by checking into the ideas other people have on what we do or look at.
On Sunday I received an email from Ash Bowen alerting me to the fact that my poem, "Homophone," had been accepted for publication on Linebreak
, one of my most favorite journals, and one of the best published online. Well, shortly before this week's poem went live (they post a new poem every Tuesday), Johnathon Williams, Ash's co-editor, emailed me to let me know that my poem was going to be the one they published this week. I am delighted that my poem was published yesterday, and was read by the astonishingly smart and talented Brittany Cavallaro. You can read the poem and listen to Bri's recording here
One of the big reasons this happenstance made me happy is due to the fact that I'm the third of three Ohio State MFA students the magazine has published in the last three weeks, something I haven't seen since I've been following Linebreak
. You should definitely consider reading last week's "Youth Retreat"
by Matt Sumpter (read by Geoffrey Brock) and "Self-Portrait with Bullet Speeding Toward My Skull"
by Nick McRae (read by Kyle McCord), the poem Linebreak
published two weeks ago. Both are strong and evocative, and tell you a lot about the daring writing going on in our program!
Last night the gay poetry world (small and insular as it is) was rocked by an article posted on Lambda Literary Review’s website. Titled “Anne Sexton, Aesthetics, and the Economy of Beauty,”
what begins as a fairly intriguing examination of how Anne Sexton capitalized on her physical beauty to further her poetic myth morphs into a strange, slanted critique of the comments made by the poet Eduardo C. Corral (who, full disclosure, has become a real friend of mine) in a recent interview with Ploughshares
. Michael Klein, who conducted the interview, asked Eduardo about his experiences since moving in New York and how he fits into the gay poetry community there. In response, Eduardo said this:
Beauty is on my mind these days. The queer poetry community in New York City is full of beautiful people, which makes me an outsider. I’m not beautiful. I’m overweight. I’m unfashionable. I live in the wrong neighborhood. But let me add: I’m happy. I love myself. I love my life in New York City.
"I’m disappointed in many of my queer peers. So many of them want to be part of the hipster crowd. So many of them value looks over talent. The cool kids form clubs, become gatekeepers. So many of my peers are clamoring to be let in. I don’t want in. I want to write poems, I want to read, I want to support others. I believe in community, but I’m hesitant to reach out to some of my peers because I’ve already been spurned by a few. One young man told me, “You don’t look like the rest of us.” But I’m not going to let narrow minds ruin my time in the city. I will continue to show up at readings, at poetry events. I’m here. I’m queer. I’m big. Get used to it!"
Taken as a whole, Eduardo’s response condemns (in the most genial way imaginable) the focus on style over substance that characterizes an increasingly mainstream and monolithic aesthetic in the gay poetry community (in NYC, yes, but arguably elsewhere too), making a case for accepting queer identity of a much broader kind (he speaks of weight here, but race, gender, etc. can easily be attached to the list of things that keep men like him, like me, out of the “in” crowd.) It’s a swipe—make no mistake—but a fairly innocuous one. More than a purposefully nameless critique, it is an acknowledgement and celebration of difference, the only healthy and positive response to a writing community that rejects you on the basis of your looks (not the words your body automates onto paper.)
Tellingly, Jameson Fitzpatrick (I can’t really avoid naming names here) excerpts a fragment of Eduardo’s response, then goes on to characterize his reaction as a “lament” that, nonetheless, caused him to “bristle”—Fitzpatrick went on to say “this sort of attitude, taken a bit further, could lead to the devaluation of something important to me—namely, fashion and beauty.” How Fitzpatrick manages this jump, exactly, from one poet’s dissatisfied comments with the narrow standards of physical beauty the mainstream community imposes (as well as the valuation of physical beauty over artistic beauty, whatever that is) to an attack on the things he loves and finds valuable is a mystery to me still. What is not mysterious, however, is Fitzpatrick’s reading of Eduardo’s comments as referencing Wilde Boys, the much buzzed about salon that the only other poet named in the piece (aside from Sexton of course), Alex Dimitrov, runs.
Dimitrov, too, is quoted, and speaks of the aesthetics of beauty removed from the body. What interests me about Dimitrov’s comments aren’t his insights, but how disjunctive this version of him is with the version quoted in the New York Times article
profiling Wilde Boys. How do we reconcile his comments in the Lambda piece:
"I think about beauty in my poems, but so did Keats and Rilke and Sexton. I think many poets are obsessed with beauty and its power, its allure, its danger, how fleeting it is. And when I say beauty I don’t just mean in the corporeal sense, like being at dinner or in bed with a beautiful person. Rilke wrote, ‘beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror.’ Yeah, definitely, I get that. I mean, why is beauty necessary? It makes life bearable. Even if it’s impossible to hold onto it, or enjoy it without being destroyed by it."
with these comments:
“I invited the cute gay poets right away,” Mr. Dimitrov said. “I sort of had a list of gays that I wanted to come, and some of them that I wanted to sleep with.”
I don’t have the answer. Full disclosure: I solicited work from Alex for The Journal
last spring, taking three of his poems (presumably from the forthcoming Begging for It
). I like Alex’s work; I don’t know him well enough as person to speak on that, but it appears to me, whatever his intentions, he’s created a hydra, a many-headed monster that has further bifurcated an already divisive, tenuously connected community. I don’t fault him for how he’s presented in the Lambda piece—after all, Fitzpatrick, not Alex, decided that Eduardo’s comments were directed at them and their circle. Of course, in framing his comments, Fitzpatrick includes a transparently idolatrous biography for Dimitrov, something he doesn’t bother with Corral. On his blog, Pansy Poetics, Steve Fellner explicates the politics of race that are working to motivate Fitzpatrick’s terminology, stating:
"the entire article acts as a vehicle to express his self-confessed fear that the poetry world may be ruined by talking about appearance and by extension whiteness. He uses the typical codified language to make the issue of race completely present and invisible at the same time: "beauty," "style," "substance," among other things."
I think this is a perceptive critique of the racial undertones characterizing the Wilde Boys set—in all the photos I’ve seen, and there are numerous out there across the blogs, it’s striking how homogenous the bodies of attendees are, not just along shape (CA Conrad notwithstanding) but along color as well. Obviously, I’ve never attended the salon myself (based on the pictures I’ve seen, I would probably need to lose between 20-30 lbs. to qualify for invitation); like most people commenting on this world, I’m an outsider and am reacting as an outsider. Presumably so is Fellner, who rightfully chastises Fitzpatrick for naming names. Fitzpatrick, thus far, has responded in brief on his blog
, wherein he admits disagreeing with Eduardo’s take on the gay poetry scene, then disingenuously states he “applaud[s] his bravery in saying it, and truly regret that he has not felt more welcome in New York.” Why is it that this feels more like a cold, political gesture than a heartfelt apology? Perhaps because he doesn’t seem able to own up to his own comments, and the backlash that has followed the publication of his article. He ends his post with the following:
"Names are too often left out of discussions which are, in fact, about individuals, or partly in response to the statements or behavior of individuals. I personally feel this practice, for the sake of decorum, is dishonest. Whenever, as writers, we publish our words, I believe we give consent for others to respectfully, critically disagree with us, as was my aim here. That so many of the people responding negatively to my experience of the world have not granted me a similar courtesy–well, that just makes me sad."
I agree with his comments about names in this instance. Fitzpatrick has made a mess with his simplistic portrayal of Eduardo’s comments and what they represent, and must be held accountable. The problem with his reasoning as it applies to his own writing is that Eduardo didn’t name names because it was the polite, deferential thing to do—he wanted to express his frustration without identifying, putting on blast, if you will, those individuals contributing to those feelings. He was being subtle, nuanced in his critique. If you knew the people, then you knew what he was talking about. If you didn’t, you still did, because mainstream gay culture (all gay culture?) operates along these exclusionary lines. What Fitzpatrick did was kick a hornets’ nest, provoking the ire of poets (gay, straight, and otherwise) who take issue, or at least find suspicious, this ramped up focus on physical attraction as a marker of writerly success.
For my part, it’s always been my dream that my intellectual and artistic gifts could make up for any physical inadequacies I possess. I would say the reality is a mixed bag, but as an artist, at least, I’ve taken solace in the fact that the work is ultimately what matters most. I like to think I am attractive in a corporeal way—I like to feel
it more—but in the face of this codified, exclusionary culture, it’s hard to bolster one’s diminishing, fragmentary ego. That’s why I’ve been heartened by the responses of the many gay poets I love and admire, and the anti- Wilde community, if it can be called that (I don’t have any other terms) is a strong, varied one, one that eschews this mainstreaming for something altogether more vibrant and multifaceted in nature. I’m a gay man, a queer person, someone who values physical beauty (in conventional and unconventional ways) and I hope I more than that. I don’t think Jameson Fitzpatrick considers himself to be more than the sum of those wispy, gay parts, and for that I am sorry. I’m no better, no worse. As one of the commenters on Fitzpatrick’s piece says: “It’s one thing to aspire to beauty. All serious poets do that. That’s not the same thing as trying to build a world without people who you consider to be ugly.” Beauty is relative and should be expansive, not narrow. Let's all try and be a bit better about expressing that.
I realize “the cruelest month” has been dead and buried for about twenty days now, and that many poets have already expounded upon the virtues of National Poetry (Writing) Month—see Jacques J. Rancourt’s brief post on the Potomac Review’s blog
for a quality example—but I have some thoughts I’d like to share, late though they may be.
Unlike most other poets I know, my writing last month was done in isolation. No surprise there, as most poets write an isolation. Writing is a solitary activity, which is not a fresh observation, but one that can be vexing and perplexing, even to long time practitioners of the art. Since moving to Ohio, I’ve become increasingly more solitary, or comfortable in my solitude, and that has only made my work stronger, more focused. Yet the sweetest thing about National Poetry Month is the communal aspect of it.
Like I said, I wrote all my NaPoMo poems as a hermit, but the internet, bringer of all things delightful and distracting, provided me with a virtual community, a chronicle of other’s efforts, which spurred me on, which inspired me to keep going. Rebecca Hazleton
and Oliver de la Paz
, two poets I admire greatly, chronicled their writing on their blogs, and their examples particularly pushed me to keep going, even when it felt like the gas was running out in my tank, and there were no pit stops in sight. I particularly enjoyed reading Becky’s blog because, in addition to posting her daily list of titles (something I mimicked on Facebook), she also posted some lines from the works in progress as well as sources of inspiration. Many of her drafts were inspired by the work of Julie Heffernan, an artist I was not familiar with, but now find endlessly fascinating. Next year, when I take on this project again, I might shamelessly steal this tactic as well, if only to better chronicle the weird bits of matter and anti-matter that stirs my brain.
As for the poems I wrote, I was surprised, at the end, that I had a lot of stirring, strange work. Work that felt oddly complete, fully, or thereabout, realized. This is largely because I cheated. By that, I mean that only a handful of the poems I wrote in April were totally and completely new—the majority of the poems I “wrote” were in fact revisions, but the revisions were so massive it seemed to me fair to think of them as new inventions, despite their antecedents. Many of these poems made it into a new draft of my manuscript, a draft that feels as complete as any group of poems I’ve ever assembled. What’s funny to me about the poems I wrote is that they largely engaged with concepts and abstraction—two of them actually deal directly with the heart, both in the real and as a symbol—two aspects of poetry I’ve often felt incapable of grappling with in either a coherent or interesting way. The jury’s still out on whether I have indeed accomplished something with these poems, but they certainly feel to me like well thought-out, intriguing conceits. The other interesting observation I’ve made about these poems is how family began to emerge as a theme toward the end—I wrote two poems about my mother, one about my father, and one more generally about family. As someone who arrived as an MFA student struggling to suppress what I felt was a grossly uninteresting urge toward writing autobiography, this evolution is exciting. The portraits of both parents and family seem urgent and real to me. I might have given myself a bridge to my next book-length project. Only time will tell.
I’m excited about the poems I’ve written and those that have yet to be. Lately I’ve been slow in churning out poems, in grasping for inspiration, but, for once, I’m okay with that. The batteries need to recharge. I’m glad that NaPoMo is a once a year occurrence, and I hope it will be as fruitful for me next year as it was this year. Until then, it’s revise, revise, revise, submit, submit, submit, eat, sleep, write, repeat. Funny how ideal this rhythm has been, and continues to be, for me.
In celebration of all things poetry (well, most things. I could do with less drawn out submission timetables) I recorded a video of myself
reading Carl Phillips' poem "The Gods" for A Poem From Us, a very cool website that features people reading some of their favorite poems (written, of course, but poets other than themselves.) Check out their website to see Kathy Fagan reading Christopher Howell, Mary Tabor reading Robert Hass, and many other great readings.
One of the things that drew me to the MFA program at Ohio State was the opportunity to do cross-genre work. I have no serious aspirations toward becoming a prose writer (nor do I want to cast aspersions on those poets that do); I simply liked the idea of being able to dabble in flushing my words to the right margin if my heart so desired. I had every intention of signing up for a fiction writing class last year, but poetry, as often happens, got the better of me and kept me busy with the writing/revision/submission schedule I've grown so accustom to. Indeed I had also considered taking a fiction writing this fall, only to once again be rebuffed by burgeoning thesis writing. What that left me with, as far as opportunities to take a prose workshop is concerned, was this spring's class in Creative Nonfiction. I'm a month in now, and I have to say that I love writing in the genre, as well as seeing how my thinking about CNF is beginning to transform, ever to slightly, my thinking about poetry, and how I write it. I joked to my friends before signing up for the class that I was going to need to learn (or remember) how to "tell the truth."
The thing is, in poetry, there's no requirement for cleanly demarcating what is "true" and "fabricated" the way there is in both fiction and nonfiction. We've seen our fair share of scandals over the years in this regard (the famous case of J.T. LeRoy, for instance, and remember that James Frey dude?) and, to be honest, the need to know has never been a need I've felt in the writing I enjoy. I am probably in the minority here, but I just like to luxuriate in good writing, and I understand, perhaps because I am a poet, that there's so much artifice in the making of art, that asking questions like "is this real?" or "did this really happen?" seem beside the point. The J.T. LeRoy situation is a rare example of an instance where thinking that art is just artifice belies the fact that a middle-aged woman knowingly defrauded her fans and admirers by collecting money on behalf of her transgender HIV-positive child prostitute alter ego, an alter ego many people believed to be a real person. I guess I bring this up because I am interested in how I think about "truth," that interminable goal of art, when I don't ever consider the "truth" in my poems--yes, they are based on my real life experiences, to a degree, and yes, I do think in more similes than the average person probably does, but much of the figuration is fabricated. The gods don't really talk to me, or as directly as they do in my poems, lovers aren't as accessible to my psychological probing, etc. (yes, I said probing, what of it?) Yet, despite the fabrications, the poems still feel "real" to me. I hope they feel that way to other people too.
The demands of CNF are different, and it's been fun figuring out where my boundaries are: whether I am comfortable approximating a date and presenting it as fact, as opposed to acknowledging the approximation. Whether I remember someone's name (I have sources to draw from, but would rather not call my mother and make her think I only want to hit her up when I need to know the names of her cousins who used to get Vidal Sassoon to cut their hair. It was the 70's and they lived in LA.) The nice thing about writing CNF now is that there are a bunch of great poet-memoirists out there leading by example, poets like Mark Doty, Nick Flynn, Michael Klein, etc. It's inspiring. I don't know whether I'll ever aspire to write something as lengthy or complete as a full-blown memoir, but for now, this writing is fun, and a new challenge. As I tell my friends, with a diagonal cutting motion of my hand, I'm telling the truth and telling it: slant. The only way a poet knows how.