Archive for category Gay Poetry

“GOSPEL EARTH”–”a little book of big poems”

 

Beam, Jeffery, ”Gospel Earth”, Skysill Press, 2010.

 

 

“A Big Book of Little Poems”

Amos Lassen

Jeffery Beam is a favorite poet of mine and I feel so lucky that he emails when he has no poems, announcements or new books out. When I first heard of “Gospel Earth”, I could not wait to read it and now that I have, I feel that I have begun an entire new level of understanding. Beam proves that there is indeed beauty in the written word and whenever I need a lift, I read one of his poems.
The poems in “Gospel Earth” bring us the world of nature and each and every poem is something of beauty. The book is a collection of short poems with a large message and as you read the poems come together as we embark a journey of the senses that also incorporates bliss and despair and gesture and silence. The language stuns the reader and seduces him to go deeper into his thoughts as he reads.
The collection is set on Beam’s home turf of North Carolina and he uses it as a home base as well as a jumping off place. As we journey we are taken into the mind of the poet to a degree and even more deeply into our own minds. While there are a few longer pieces here, the book consists of short poems in almost all of their forms. Beam is esoteric and metaphysical and we feel what influenced him to write the poems here. We are made aware of which poets influenced his writing (Rilke, Dickenson, William Carlos Williams, the Objectivists, etc) but they are all Jeffrey Beam who shares with us his intimacy with nature. Because there is so much in “Gospel Earth” it is a difficult book to write about and review. Once you begin to read it you will totally understand what I say here.

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“Gay Bookstores: A Dying Breed”–an article by Jesse Monteagudo

Since Amazon has become the major distributor and seller of books and film about the GLBT community have we forgotten our own bookstores? Think twice before you purchase from Amazon and remember that when you buy from a GLBT bookstore the money goes back into our community.

Gay Bookstores: A Dying Breed

Jesse Monteagudo

Like many lesbians, gay men, bisexuals or transgender people, I came out of the closet with the help of gay books and gay bookstores. Though we didn’t have a gay bookstore in Miami when I came out in the early1970s,

Oscar Wilde Bookshop

I took advantage of the mail order services provided by the newly-established bookshops.

My first visit to the Oscar Wilde Bookshop in Greenwich Village (1977) was like a religious pilgrimage; an experience that I repeated two years later when I first visited Lambda Rising Bookstore in Dupont Circle in Washington, DC. Both Oscar Wilde and Lambda Rising were part of a chain of independent bookshops that dotted the gay ghettos of North America: Glad Day in Boston and Toronto, Giovanni’s Room in Philadelphia, Outwrite in Atlanta, A Different Light in West Hollywood and San Francisco, Little Sister’s in Vancouver and, of course, Lambda Passages in Miami.

Sadly, the quantity and quality of exclusively gay bookstores have declined during the first decade of the 21st Century. In 2009 the Oscar Wilde Bookshop drew its last breath; and just last month Deacon Maccubbin, the founder and still co-owner of Lambda Rising Bookstore, announced plans to close his stores in Washington, D.C. and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Maccubbin’s reasons are understandable: he and Jim Bennett, his partner and co-owner, want to retire after 35 years in the book business. But their departure will leave a gap in our community that may never be filled.

The demise of Oscar Wilde and Lambda Rising bookstores (among others) leave behind only a handful of exclusively GLBT bookstores, including Giovanni’s Room, Outwrite, Little Sister’s and Lambda Passages, all teetering on the edge of insolvency. These and other stores can not compete with major chain stores like Barnes & Noble or Borders, or mail order houses like Amazon.com.

Though the existence of a GLBT book section in a major chain store is of course a step forward for our community, it cannot take the place of our small, independently-owned, queer bookshops. Long before B&N and Borders took notice, our community bookstores were making GLBT books available, supporting GLBT authors and fostering good GLBT literature. Deacon Maccubbin criticized gay writers who put links to Amazon and other online sellers on their Web sites: “I wonder if they really think they would have been published at all if not for the gay bookstores that sprang up around the country in the 1980s and 1990s. . . . In the 1970s, that literature barely existed.”

But gay bookshops do more than sell books. According to Completely Queer: The Gay and Lesbian Encyclopedia, “gay and lesbian – and feminist/women’s – bookstores have traditionally served as informal community centers, offering everything from space for bulletin boards to tourist information to legal and medical referrals. Many also provide space for meetings, performances, and readings.”

The late John Preston, writing in The Big Gay Book (1991) called gay bookstores “the one single most consequential element in the development of gay culture. These stores have been willing to stock our books when others wouldn’t have them. They represent a distribution system for our journals and newspapers. They are often the first stop that isolated gay men [and lesbians] make when they get to a major city, desperate for a gay cultural fix.”

Preston’s statement holds true almost two decades later. The surviving GLBT bookshops, especially those that have coffee shops, provide a social outlet for our community members, especially queer and questioning youth. Unlike bars, bookstores are alcohol- and stress-free and are accessible to all segments of our community. They provide us with hard-to-find items produced by gay-owned, small book, audio and video publishers.

In lesbian and gay bookstores we get personalized service from knowledgeable, gay or gay-friendly staff members who know their merchandise and who are part of our community. Many of these shops have Web sites and/or catalog services that makes it is as easy for us to buy from them as it is to buy from Amazon.com.

Sadly, the rise of gay-friendly chain stores and online sellers has been fatal to gay bookshops everywhere. Many surviving shops have had to diversify in order to survive, by selling or renting DVDs, t-shirts, greeting cards and jewelry along with books and magazines. Independent gay bookstores, like other “Mom and Mom” or “Pop and Pop” businesses, can only thrive by providing their customers with products and services that the major chains can’t or won’t provide — such as adult videos or DVDs that are not available elsewhere.

Only that – and a loyal customer base – will allow our few remaining bookshops to live long and prosper.

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“The Songs of Antonio Botto”–gay poetry

Botto, Antonio. “The Songs of Antonio Botto”, translated by Fernando Pessoa, Josiah Blackmore (Editor), , University of Minnesota Press, 2010.

 

Gay Poems

 

Amos Lassen

Recently I have been reading a lot of gay poetry but I must admit that I had never heard of Antonio Botte until I got this book. Sotto was from Portugal and lived an open gay life style in the early decades of the twentieth century. His poetry is sensual and candid and I think the beauty of his work is in the unapologetic attitude he had both about himself and his writing. That, in itself, is important when we consider that the very poems here were published in 1922, a time when being “out” could be understood to be a political action. We can guess what the public reaction was—he was ostracized and hated by many but he also received hands of support by those who cheered him on.

I would go so far as to say that this collection serves as his memoirs. Reading them is akin to listening to a confession in all of its intimate details and eventually, even with all of the erotica present, he was accepted even though his sexual descriptions were condemned.

It took 26 years to get a published English translation of the poems even though they had been translated some fifteen years before their appearance on the printed page. Eventually Botto achieved fame and many consider him to be an author who helped push the closet door open in terms of gay literature. I was amazed at erotica and the set and likewise the rhythm of the poems and lush language and style held me captive.

The songs are divided into eight sections and they cover the gamut of gal life from young boys to elegies. Likewise he uses the gamut of emotions and we laugh and cry with him, we feel pain and we rejoice. Botto was a voice in the darkness who dared to tell the truth. Botto’s output was large—some twenty books of poetry, plays, stories and children’s literature.

After Botto died in 1959, his writing seemed to hibernate and since he never really achieved the acclaim he deserved during his lifetime, it is now our turn to make sure that he is included in our cannon. In reading about Botto, the man, I learned that he worked as a civil servant but was fired in 1942 with the charge of “lacking moral character” whatever that means. He married so that there would not be stories of this kind circulating. Finally seven years he left Portugal and he and his wife relocated to Brazil where he died eleven years later when he was hit by a car. This v0lume assures Botto a place in gay literature and it is so good to have him there.

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Aaron Powell’s “Behind Concrete Doors”–a look at the Blatino lifestyle

 

Powell, Aaron. “Behind Concrete Doors”, edited by Clarence Haynes, Book Bloc Publishing, 2010.

The Blatino Lifestyle

Amos Lassen

“Behind Concrete Doors” is a small book with a lot of punch. We enter the world of the Blatino and we are led through it by Aaron Powell. This is a lifestyle of secrets, of men looking for sexual release but hiding their sexual identity. Made up of stories within poems, we watch (read)—almost like a voyeur standing on the edge, mesmerized by what we see and then being pulled in. For me, it was almost like being one of the characters that Powell writes about. The scene is raw and dirty.

Powell’s blending of erotica, short pieces and poetry is a novel approach and it works. The vivacity of the images here is sensuous and slaps the reader in the face making him want to continue the read in an almost fanatical fashion. Imagination soars as men engage in sex on what they call “the down low”. We are shocked by the reality of what we read and we keep reading ready to be shocked again and again. Powell says what few would not dare to utter and there is beauty and truth in his words. The overriding feeling is one of lust but it combines with other issues such as family, death, love, relationship and others. I found myself exhausted when I closed the covers if the book and I sat back and thought about what I had just read. That does not happen very often. We need to keep our eyes on Aaron Powell; I have a feeling that is just the beginning of his literary career.

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“Long Distance”–HGM/HIV+ in New York

Cordova, Steven. “Long Distance” (Canto Cosas), Bilingual Review Press. 2010.


HGM/HIV+ in New York


Amos Lassen

Steven Cordova gives us the life of a young Latino HIV positive gay male in New York City. Now that AIDS is a treatable disease it is a difficult topic to write about. When people were dying from it, there were many laments and elegies but today a new kind of poetry is needed to deal with the disease (and I think that we agree that this is a good thing). Cordova does this with wit and humor and he tells us boldly not to think about death anymore. It is now time to live and live and live. The death sentence associated with AIDS is no longer there.

Interestingly enough, these poems hit as hard as the others did—the elegies and the mournful verses but the effect they leave is one of hope instead of desolation and despair. Cordova takes us in a completely different direction and it is welcome. At the same time, however, we do not forget what we lost to the terrible disease. Now instead of closing doors, they are flung open.

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“Kaddisn and Other Poems, 1958-1960″–perfect timing

Ginsberg, Allen. “Kaddish and Other Poems: 50th Anniversary Edition”, (The Pocket Series) with an afterword by Bill Morgan, City Lights Publishers; 50 Anniversary edition, 2010.

 

Perfect Timing

 

Amos Lassen

 

What perfect timing to come out with a new edition of “Kaddish”! It fits perfectly with the release of the film. ”Howl” about the author. “Kaddish” is the Hebrew prayer that Jews say when someone dies.

Ginsberg’s “Kaddish” is about Naomi, his mother and is one of the poet’s most famous poems. It is interesting that the original Kaddish does not mention death at all yet it has become an integral part of every Jewish service. Here it appears with several other Ginsberg poems and with a new afterward that is only available in this special edition. There are also photographs that have never been published before.

Ginsberg changed the face of poetry for many and is often regarded as the “father of the Beat Generation”. It is his works that heavily inspired the counterculture in the twentieth century. In this new edition we get the best of Ginsberg in a convenient pocket sized collection and when I got mine it was like seeing an old friend. We carried it around with us when we were in college and my copy had long been misplaced or lost.

“Kaddish” is not only about Ginsberg’s mother but about Ginsberg himself as well. His mother was mentally ill and of course that influenced her relationship with her son. Ginsberg wrote this after her death and in doing so he was saying goodbye to his mother for the final time. In writing about his mother’s life, Ginsberg also wrote about his own life especially his childhood and adolescence and we see how the mother/son relationship affected the poet’s writing. In writing about his mother, Ginsberg was also forced to look with himself and there are times we feel that he is analyzing himself as we read his lines.

Naomi Ginsberg was a schizophrenic woman in her later life and her struggle for normalcy weighed on her son. The poem is deep and sometimes shocking but above everything else it is real.

“Kaddish” looks at suffering and he tries to understand it and we feel the pain that he felt in dealing with a mother that was ill. But she was not always ill and when she had her sanity she taught her son about life and how to live; she in stilled values in him. Yet the poem is also more than an elegy for his mother. It looks at madness and Ginsberg shows the connection between madness and the modern world. We also feel Ginsberg’s loneliness that he felt came to him because his mother was set apart and the guilt feelings that he suffered because of it. He looks at death and in doing so he makes peace with his mother. This is an emotional look at mother and son and it deeply affected me as I am sure it will affect some of you. Remember though that you are getting more than “Kaddish” in this volume and therefore the little book has something for everyone.

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“Track Conditions”–memorable memoirs

 

Klein, Michael. “Track Conditions: A Memoir”, University of Wisconsin Press, 2003.

Memorable Memoirs

Amos Lassen

Michael Klein is an award winning poet and should win awards for his wonderful memoir “Track Conditions”. It is both shameless and fascinating. After he followed his lover to an Ohio race track, Michael Klein began a three year career as a groom in the world of horse racing. He managed to bond with the 1984 Kentucky Derby winner, Swale. However he was plague with alcoholism and deeply concerned about his relationship with his lover which was on the skids as well as memories of having been abused as a child. His memoir is a story written from the heart and it is a tale of resilience. Using the race track as a metaphor for life, he shares his joys and his pain.

This is some of the most beautiful writing I have ever read but that does not mean that Klein does not get down and gritty. He holds nothing back as he illuminates his life. His life is not a pretty story—it is filled with excesses, but even so it is beautifully rendered. Here is an honest recreation of a life that is compelling.

We read as Klein succumbs to alcohol and enters a depressive state over lost love, dependency and casual random sex. It is never easy to read coming-of-age stories that are filled with pain but this is a coming-of-age story not to be missed.

It is likewise a story about horses and with the equestrian background we read about a relationship between tow men that are in the midst of deterioration.

The world of horse racing is a homophobic place but Klein managed to survive it and move up along the circuit as a groom. He discovered an affinity for horses and loved them as they loved him. We get to look into the world of horses and learn things that the average person never knows. He refers to the secrets of the world of horses as “racetrack society. The world of horse racing is a gritty and unreal world but it is not just that world that Klein tells us of. He writes of how little was available to a young homosexual with very limited means.

Written in the past tense, the memoir puts a distance between reader and writer from his beginnings until 1984 with quite a shocking ending. Klein makes no evaluations or judgments, he leaves that to the reader.

It is Klein’s openness that makes this book so good. He defies the usual conventions of narrative and he is a writer to be cherished. The book is unique and very special and in no way follows the styles of other coming out stories. It is harrowing tale of redemption written by a poet in prose. The chapters are short and amazing and we realize early that there is little chance of resolution to be found. It is not a tell-all memoir, rather it is a half-told life and has something for everyone. It is not a book just for gays but rather a small life story that looms large.

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Amos Lassen

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“then, we were still living”–the past, the present and Michael Klein

Klein, Michael.“then, we were still living”,GenPop, 2010.
The Past, The Present and Michael Klein
Amos Lassen

Before I began to read this new collection of beautifully written poetry, I returned to a book of Michael Klein’s that I had reviewed a while ago, “The End of Being Known”. I leafed through the book and began to remember what I had read and released that the prose therein was truly poetry and was interesting in that the experiences he wrote about do not really lend themselves to poetic rendering—abuse, alcohol and the inability to maintain a long-term relationship. Not only did I find my own typos and grammatical errors, I understood that I had met Klein stripped bare in his book. I was gearing myself up to read the new poems and to see if I would learn more about the poet. In these new poems, Klein once again evokes the past and uses it as a way to understand the present. Every single word that he writes is laden with meaning. Klein brings us into his world with sublime language that makes us sit up and take notice. The poetry that is intimate for the poet becomes intimate for the reader and a bond is forged.

Klein looks at intimate subjects—love, death, the soul of man and we find the union between language and meaning to be the way he sees things. Words of description that do not usually go together seem to best explain the effect the poems had on me. They are beautiful yet terrible and they are totally necessary in order to know what Klein is writing here. Klein looks at the world through a broad lens and brings it to us deeply and clearly making sure that each word that he uses has a purpose. There is a great deal of meaning in short poems of, say, eleven lines and that is simply because Klein will not let a word go to waste or be used for naught. There were times that I felt naked reading poems by a naked poet and the reality of looking at the world realistically and through the eyes of Klein upset me and comforted me at the same time.

Looking back at the memoir I mentioned earlier, I decided to do a quick comparison and went back to read about Klein and his twin brother. I then returned to the new volume and his poem “The Twin” I saw a maturation in the treatment of his brother (and of himself). I also realized that the earlier book was a memoir in prose and here was Klein’s memoir in poetry. However, this time it is deeper and more precise, sharper and more complex.

When I closed the book, I understood that not only had I read beautiful poetry but that I had been part of an experience that I would not soon forget. That could be the reason I am having a hard time reviewing this book. It has affected me and I know that I will carry some of it with me….and that’s a good thing. When a book or a poem or a collection affects me thus, I have learned something and that just does not happen often enough. I could have, in this review, concentrated on one or two of the poems but to do so would deprive the reader of the chance to approach the poems and rejoice in their beauty.

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Amos Lassen
what’s new?

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Meeting Bryan Borland

 


 

Borland, Bryan. “My Life as Adam: Poems”, Sibling Rivalry Press, 2010″.

Meeting Bryan Borland

Amos Lassen

My head is spinning right now after having met Bryan and read his book of poems. Interestingly enough I had never heard of Bryan and we live in the same town, have several of the same friends and travel in similar if not the same circles. Bryan read one of my reviews and contacted me about his book of poetry and we met and had lunch together. This was yesterday and I had yet to read his work. Upon meeting him I was very impressed with his sincerity and his intelligence (and his appearance). I went back to my office and began to read and as I read I found myself swimming in a sea of emotion. Here is a memoir (a very early memoir) of Bryan’s life (so far) and it is achingly beautiful. There are seventy poems that introduce us to the poet and all of his joys and sorrows. Bryan is a young man who writes with style and elegance, with sadness and with humor and his poems tend to remind us of what it was like growing up, coming out and becoming an adult and they are filled with the boyish charm of a young writer who, I feel, at least, is destined for a big, big future in literature. I found myself pulled into his life, laughing with him and yes, crying with him. He doesn’t just invite you in, he pulls you in and it is difficult to move until you have tasted every morsel of what he has to say. It is absolutely wonderful to see the sophistication of one so young yet so intense.
This is obviously a very personal work that Bryan has chosen to share with us and we are very lucky for that. In talking with Bryan I learned that he had been present at the movie evening when I brought Ky Dicken’s “Fish Out of Water” to Little Rock and he explained to me how that film changed his life. Right here in this book is the poem “Resurrection” that he wrote after that evening and I feel so flattered that something I did had such an impact on him. “Resurrection” is filled with sardonic wit yet it caused me to tear up because what it says is so unbelievably true. Also the poems that Borland wrote about his deceased brother are lyrically beautiful and one feels the love they shared and that Bryan’s life has been totally altered by the death of someone he loved so much.
In a world where so many try to break into literary circles, we are all aware of how difficult it is to do so. Mark my words, Bryan Borland has taken the leap into the pool and comes up a winner who I am sure we will hear a great deal from. He manages to touch on so much–religion, sexuality, Southern life, self-acceptance and although Bryan is a gay poet he is so much more than that.
What astounded and awed me the most is the level of maturity seen in this young thirty something writer. His skill is amazing and his words ring true. You ask can I give any more praise? I probably can but I would rather that you pick up a copy and see for yourself.

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Holland, Walter. “Circuit”, Chelsea Station Editions, 2010.

It seems to have been a big year for gay poetry and some of it has been terrific—Xavier, Luczak, Allison and so on. And then there is Walter Holland who brings us a book about the way we live. We see gay life through a series of rituals that are constantly changing and the circuit that he writes about is one that moves without stopping—from the personal, to the political, to the party and to the cycle of life. It as if Holland is an observer and a participant and therefore can give us two different views. He moves from joy to grief and then back to joy again much in the same way that we do in life. He lights up gay life by using actual happenings as a mirror for us to see ourselves and while it may hurt at times, it is so completely honest that I had to sit back, pause and begin again. I was touched and I was raised up by the sheer beauty of the writing and as the poet explores his own past, he also explores the past of many of us. The poems are quiet yet they open memories and although they deal with reality, they also provide consolation. For my generation, Holland takes us on a trip down memory lane and causes us to reclaim what we may have forgotten. I, of course, refer to the AIDS epidemic where pleasure and loss mingle and pain and happiness intertwine. One had to live through it to understand completely but for those who did not, they can learn what it was like. We endured “beautiful” pain and we smiled through our tears.

Holland does not mince words and we take a journey into the gay mind through time and to places that have become signposts on the road of life. He is personal and universal at the same time. Divided into six sections Holland looks at the world in precise and gorgeous language and it is near impossible not to be moved by what he writes. He lays himself open and we enter his insides and find ourselves there. The old adage of absence making the heart grow fonder is not completely true here because the absence spoken of is forever and while we may love again, we will not do so in the same way.

Holland writes of Fire Island and the parties, of the AIDS wards in New York hospitals, of Provincetown, of morality, immorality and mortality and how we deal with grief. He looks at us and the way we lived and is not afraid to say what he feels as he combines the joy of being gay with the sadness of loss. His writing is sublime, real and committed and I am still shaking a bit after having read it.

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