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.