Archive for category Gay Poetry

“Getting Past Almost”– an erotic treasure


Lee, Donovan. “Getting Past Almost: Expanded Edition”, Writers Club Press, 2002.

An Erotic Treasure

Amos Lassen

Being from New Orleans, I gravitate toward books about the city and I don’t know how I could have missed this one. The author sent me a copy yesterday and I immediately sat down and read it and I was impressed. It is quite, to say the least, erotic. I often have wondered about books that have so much sex but this one is special—it has a great story as well. The sex is very hot but the plot of the book is so good that even though you are reading some of the hottest fiction I have ever read, there is that wonderful storyline that makes it all that much better.

From what I have read the book has been published twice. Donovan Lee, the author and also the name of the main character, decided that after it succeeded in its initial publication to pull it back and add some of what he had previously cut as well as add some new material. All in all, it is a wonderful read.

I do have the feeling that I have spoken to the author and I wonder if it is who I think it is. At any rate, let me write about the book.

As the narrator, Donovan Lee, tells a friend of his about his gay sexual experiences we are let into the life of a young man discovering and experimenting with his sexuality. He relates to a high school friend some of his escapades and another friend happened to see something he should not have causing some trouble for the two friends. Young Donovan is ostracized and as soon as he graduates from the high school in the small town in Louisiana where he lives, he heads for New Orleans in search of love and happiness. What he finds is sex, sex and more sex and ultimately falls in love with his dream man. However his happiness is threatened and this threat could ruin his happiness. What Donovan does learn is to accept himself and all those changes that come with living.

To tell you anymore would ruin a good read and I would not want to do that. This is one of those books that you will read and remember for a long time and not just because of the sex but because we learn about self acceptance and being ourselves. I tell you that is one book that you will enjoy from cover to cover.

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“Gay Haiku”–short and sweet


Derfner, Joel. “Gay Haiku”, Broadway Books, 2005.

Sweet and Sassy

Amos Lassen

Joel Derfner is my new hero. After reading his new book, “Swish: My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever”, I made my own quest to find his first book, “Gay Haiku”. It sounded like it would be great selection of short jokes but it is so much more than that. Yes, it is funny but it is also insightful and biting. It is a description of the crazy and maddening world of gay dating and it is very easy to relate to the haikus that he gives us. In seventeen syllables he catches each moment perfectly something that authors have written full books about and not managed to get.

The Haiku poem has long been part of the Japanese literary tradition. Usually a haiku expresses peace and contemplation as well as spiritual enlightenment with a balance of rhythm and rhyme. Rather than write about the changing of the seasons or the miracles of nature, Derfner writes haiku about the changing of boyfriends and the miracle of shopping. (How can one not love that?). Included are 110 irreverent and witty haiku poems and each is fresh and original. Topics of the poems include decorating, dating, shopping culture and politics, family and, of course, sex.

“Gay Haiku” is terrific and is a laugh a line. It will probably give you an impetus to write haiku of your own.

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“Another Word for Sky: Poems”–dreams


Michaelson, Jay. “Another Word for Sky: Poems”, Lethe Press, 2007.


Amos Lassen

As most of you know I do not review poetry often probably because I rarely read something that can be reviewed. To me poetry is very personal and I find it very hard to put my emotions on the page. However, I am going to try to give an objective and sound review to Hay Michaelson’s “Another Word for Sky”. I am a faithful reader of Michaelson’s website and journal “Zeek’ and have read both his books as I am particularly interested in queer Jewish issues. Michaelson, like myself, is a queer Jew and a philosopher. Unlike Michaelson, I am a college professor and he is an intellectual that people listen to. He is a bit of a Renaissance Man with a quest for knowledge that seems to grow continuously. And Jay Michaelson is a poet and a damned good one. His passion shows through his poems and they speak on many levels. He flirts and plays and he is erotic and sublime. His poetry is tender and raw, satirical and devotional and he seems to be controlled by Eros. Writing about love he is passionate and naked as he is when he writes about G-d. Michaelson lets us into his magical and mystical mind through his lyricism and he inspires and infuriates. However if there is anything that characterizes the poet it is that he is himself, Jay Michaelson with his desires and yearnings, his sexuality and enlightenment, his joys and his miseries.

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A Note on Reviewing

A Note on Reviewing

Amos Lassen

Now that i have entered a new website, I thought I would share my thoughts on book reviewing and react to several comments I have received. I have been asked several times how I select the books I review. My selections are based on two sources. I have been reviewing for years now so publishers send me review copies. There is also the option that I use that if I see a book that I think looks interesting and I have not received a free review copy, then I buy it and if  it is worthy of a GOOD review, I report on it.

I have also been asked why I never give a bad review or if I do I balance it with good points. My purpose in reviewing is to incre4ase awareness of a larger world. If a book does not deserve a good review, I choose not to write about it. My ultimate purpose is to get people to read and if I write about book that has no redeeming value I defeat my purpose.

The other remark that I have received and I have expected it is “Why am I so “hung up” on the Jewish gay issue. There are several reasons for this but by and large it is because I am Jewish and gay and know what I went through reconciling that. It is not a question of being a Jewish issue, it is a religious issue and I have tried to make my reviews read so that any religion or minority group can be interchanged with the word “Jewish” and what the books that I review say can apply to any situation, any minority, and any religion. I am sure some think, “there he goes again with that Jewish business” and to some degree you are right. Just substitute yourself for the word “Jewish” and I think you will understand what I am trying to say. I have also been awarded a grant to write a book about growing up Jewish and gay in the South so quite naturally I spend a lot of time reading books about the subject. My reviews are an exercise for me to voice my opinion and if you feel they do not apply. Just skip over them.

Books for women? I know I have not written much here but I have finally begun to receive books on the subject, so stay tuned. I have a review I am working on now and hopefully there will be more in the future. In the meantime let me just say keep reading.

I have had one major disappointment. I am in contact with many authors and publishers and when I see raw talent, I will go above and beyond so that people are aware of the author. Recently I met a new vibrant young author, a poet who had just self-published his first book. I felt that people had to get to know him and I pushed that book like I have never done before and quite naturally the writer and I became good friends–or so I thought. I introduced him to many, many writers via facebook and other means. I wrote to people I know and told them that they had to read this book and I even went as far as to name it number one on a list I prepared for Lambda Literary Foundation. Shortly afterward my life hit a crisis with the infamous Amazon affair and I really needed a friend. Where was he? Nary a word from him yet his book continued to climb to the tops of many lists and he did so well that he opened his own press and managed to get a nice group of writers to publish with him. We are were scheduled to have lunch to discuss the rift between us when he decided that he had to go away for the weekend and was never heard from again. His poetry recently appeared in major publications and he won a place on the American Library list for which I nominated him and so on and so on. Am I bitter? I guess I am a bit but I learned that when someone writes a book and wants me to review it, I will but I will never go out of my way again and then get slapped for it. We all have our day and his will come.

On a positive note, I am currently moving over 5000 reviews of GLBT movies and books to this site so be patient. This will be the official archive of my reviews. Thanks for reading.

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“Shades of Love”–a beautiful book

Yeros, Dimitris, (photographer), Edward Albee (foreword), John Wood (introduction) and David Conolly (translations. “Shades of Love: Photographs Inspired by the Poems of C.P. Cavafy”. Insight Edition, 2011.

A Beautiful Book

Amos Lassen

C.P. Cavafy is a very special poet and he was one of the first openly gay writers long before we even knew the term coming out. His poems represent the height of man/man love and now Yeros Dimitris has added gorgeous sensual photographs to some of the poet’s works. The photos are basically homoerotic just as are the poems. The result is a book of beauty and a volume every man will be proud to own.

Cavafy wrote about the emotions that engulf man and the photos represent this perfectly. Just as Cavafy is difficult to translate, I imagine choosing photographs for the poems was also difficult. We are all aware of the problems with translating poetry and a translation never quite catches the nuances of the words the poet uses in his own language and I am very familiar with this as a colleague and I have been working on translating some of the poems of Chain Bachman Bialy, the once poet laureate of Israel.

The entire book does not succeed but when it does it is glorious. We clearly feel Cavafy’s rejection of the heterosexual life and his love and sexuality for the human male. I, personally, love the book but I can see where other people might find faults. That’s what taste is all about.

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“Vintage”–a gay ghost story

Berman, Steve. “Vintage: A Ghost Story”, Lethe Press, 2007.

A Gay Ghost Story

Amos Lassen

Steve Berman has written a very smart and a very stylish book, “Vintage: A Ghost Story”. It is a fantastic look at gay love with a gothic twist.

One night while walking down a deserted highway in September, our young gay goth hero comes upon a beautiful stranger who appears to have stepped out of imagination. However, the beautiful boy is not as beautiful as first perceived. It seems that he is a ghost, the ghost of an athlete who met his death years before. More important is that this ghost has a secret ad an obsession. Looking at the dark side of life in the city, the book shows that the dead ever really rest and they never find the peace that supposedly comes with death.

“Vintage” is full of power and emotion dealing with difference in the modern world. It is not ghosts that haunt us but the decisions we make are the issues we must deal with on a daily basis. “Vintage” is not just a ghost story but it is an honest story of coming-of-age. We get to look at youthful dreams as well as childish fears. In dealing with both this world and the one beyond, Berman writes beautifully and says things that we have never read before. His detail is lush and vivid as he writes about youthful lust and desire and happiness and the loss of joy. Ghost stories ever seem to go out of style and a really good one stays with us for a very long time.

Berman skillfully combines issues of importance to our lives today—alienation and love. As the ghost relives his past ad finally faces exorcism, we are brought face to face with the problems of growing up gay. The result is a beautiful love story—something that has been rare in gay literature of late.

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“Sweet Son of Pan”–erotic poetry

Healey, Trebor. “Sweet Son of Pan”, Suspect Thoughts Press, 2006.

Erotic Poetry

Amos Lassen

I first came into contact with the work of Trebor Healey by reading his first novel, “Through It Came Bright Colors”. I remarked then that his prose was poetic in quality and then sure enough he issues a volume of poetry, “Sweet Son of Pan”. This is a beautiful collection of erotic poems which are alive with feeling and emotion and they are raw and very hot. So much poetry has roots in eroticism that the amount of graphic images in Healey’s poem is not surprising. As Healey celebrates maleness and the magic of the male form, he expounds on the freedom to be who we want, sexually and otherwise.

This collection of erotic poems draws its being from the thoughts of gay men and is written as homage to sensuality. As we journey on the path we see our own selves, our unified own unified soul and we disregard time—time is eternal. The sanctity of peace brings about sexuality and to further enjoy that sexuality even more, Healey invites us to his sexual, poetic orgy where we lose ourselves in the beauty of words.

Pan, the demigod, born of a divine father and a mortal woman walks the line between the heavens and earth. If we give into him, we are raised to that place where the mundane and ugly and gross is separated from the aesthetic. It is our choice to beckon Pan and tell him that we are ready to join him and by doing so we “consummate our immortality”.

Healey obviously has surrendered to Pan and the results are these beautiful poems. When I say that the poems are erotic, I do not jest. Look at some of the titles, “The Star Spangled Boner”, “The Aristocracy of the Scrotum”, “Melchor’s Ass” and “Sex and Death”.

If you do not like poetry or you have never read poetry, Healey’s book is a great starting off place. The visions that are conjured by the poems are like photographs of the mind and the language wall linger on your heart and soul.

Check out Trebor’s poem in the new book about the Radical Faeries.

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“Seminal: The Anthology of Canada’s Gay Male Poets”– quite a collection

Barton, John and Nickerson, Billeh, editors. “Seminal: The Anthology of Canada’s Gay Male Poets”, Arsenal Pulp Press, 2007.

Quite a Collection

Amos Lassen

Reading poetry can be a very rewarding experience and it becomes that much more rewarding when we read poets of our own. John Barton and Billeh Nickerson have assembled the first anthology of gay male poetry from Canada and it is not to be missed. Their comprehensive work gives us all kinds of poetry—from the funny to the most romantic, translated from the French or written in English—it is all here and it is a wonderful way to muse over life. Covering the time span from 1890 to the present, there are poems for every occasion. The central motif is queerness and reading the poetry gives us a sense of beauty and originality not unique to just Canada but universal.

Poetry can also give us a sense of history for whatever is learned by the past poetic tradition in many cases remains true to the present day. Traditionally the poetry we read in school is heterosexual as our poetry has been hidden for so long. Even now, when we have achieved so much in the societal sphere, our poetry, unlike other forms of our literature, has been missing. The poet has a hard time finding an audience and a publisher so poetry has been kicked to the side. Barton and Nickerson worked to make that poetry visible and here it is in one beautiful volume.

If you have ever been interested in reading gay poetry, you know how difficult it as been to find it with the exception of those crossover poets like Mark Doty and others.

Poetry appeals to the emotions, it affexts us and we naturally respond to it. Poems aesthetic reflections of the times in which we live and is perhaps the most open and erotic of all forms of literature. “Seminal” has that central commonality in which all of the poems are gay men who write beautifully about the gay subjects about which we know and care and it deals with the human condition.

Because our human condition is a shade different from everyone else’s, it is appropriate and necessary that our poets bring this home. We want to belong to the larger picture but we also want our unique traditions-one of which is our poetic language.

“Seminal” has one fault and that is that it deals only with Canadian poetry—but that is its goal so it is not a point to be argued. It is a starting point and hopefully the publication of this book will present a challenge to others to bring forth their poetry as well.

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“YOUNG, JEWISH AND LEFT”–changing the world

“Young, Jewish and Left”

Changing the World

Amos Lassen

What do queer culture, diversity, Jewish/Arab history, anti-racism, secular “Yiddishkiet”, leftist politics and religious/spiritual traditions have in common? Obviously a great deal according to a group of young Jewish left-wingers who feel it is partly their duty to repair the world. They aim to reframe Jewish identity by utilizing a fresh response to the issues that concern them as they strive to reach a balance between racism, spirituality, sexuality, Awareness, Zionism, resistance, liberation and social justice.

Their aim is to build more progressive organizations, new rituals and a more inclusive community imbued with a sense of pride. They draw their inspiration from the heroic Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of World War II and the Workmen’s Circle ( a communist and socialist organization which was popular among American Jews in the 50’s and 60’s). They are radical and they are proud and want to create a more real and just future. They spend time learning about and identifying with “a collective, rich Jewish heritage of reform and rebellion”. We are all well aware of the rising tide of right-wing religious fundamentalism that is exerting great influence on the United States and the world today. And if for no other reason than this, this documentary inspires.

The young people in this movie are those that came of age after the movements of the New Left of the 60’s and 70’s so they have not been tempered by the ideas of others. They have created a new ideology to which they subscribe in contrast with the historical context of the previous generations. They struggle with what it means to be Jewish today and envision set goals for those who will lead the Jewish community in the future. They are brave and outspoken and what they say is powerful ad very, very real.

We hear of their personal experiences and their fresh takes on ideas that we have been forced to deal with for ages and that might actually have solutions in the future. These very brave young people have set themselves on making a better world for al of us—not just Jews.

We meet Loolwa Khazoom, an Iraqi Jews who is editor of “Flying Camel: Identity of Woomen of North African and Middle Eastern Jewish Heritage”. She tells us how, when she was a student at an Amerian Hebrew school, her rabbi told her that it was sinful to use a Sephardi (non-European) Jewish book of prayer. (I was never aware that prayer was based upon country of origin—I knew the prayers were a bit different but it seems to me that prayer is prayer, no matter the language or origin).

Micha Bazant, a male, heaps praise upon new feminist possibilities within traditional Jewish patriarchal masculinity. He sees a future in the religion where women achieve the equality of man both in the community and in the eyes of G-d.

Shira Hazzan tells of how she and her partner who is transgender were “laughed out of the synagogue” and she therefore created a radical prayer book for the High Holy Days (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) and then organized a “queer-positive” celebration”.

Even for non-Jews what these youngsters are doing is important as they bring about a new policy in which we all will be included. I cannot express the pride I feel now and felt when watching this youth as they set about repairing the world. Their message is strong and important and they are very brave individuals.

Young, Jewish and Left” is a wonderful cross-section of today’s youth as visionaries and activists. Likewise the film affirms the history of Jewish resistance and equality for all people. It criticizes the Jewish reactionaries who have done little to change ideas about occupation, resistance, homophobia and patriarchy and it calls the Left of today to task for not having a true understanding of Jewish history and culture. These young Jewish activists have wonderful stories about the motivations, the conflicts and the visions of injustice in society and these are stories that must be heard. Liberal Jews have often been ignored and have faced exclusion form both mainstream Judaism and society at large because of their progressivism and not just because of liberal political fabrication but because they voice discontent. The new radical thinking of these young people help to give us a safe space where the pretense of Jewish singularity is shattered and where Jews can be both Jews and citizens of the world on their own terms. I applaud them for this and for so much more.

This film can become a major tool to forge headway toward building a new and true Amerian Jewish identity–amend that to say world Jewish identity. The determination of these youngsters is empowering and we can hope that it will bring about a dialog which is lacking among Jews today. As a gay Jewish man who as felt exclusion many times, I am beginning to see rays of hope for al of us who have been ostracized for being what the world calls “different”. I have been able to make my place but how many have not? This knew radicalism can bring about a place for all of us.

A Judaism and world that is creative artistically and active in solidarity devoid of homophobia and racism may sound like a Utopia but if we work together it can come to fruition as is shown by the hope expressed in the film

“Young, Jewish and Left” shows empathically that the legacy of socialists ands anarchists, Yuppies and Hippies, organizers and agitators of the past are still very much alive and thinking. Long may they live!!

Now that people have political identities, they possess more fluidity. The Jewish ghettoes of America are no more and Jewishness has become fluid as well. The role of Israel in the world has changed as well as compared to the 50’s when the viability of a Jewish state was questionable. We no longer fear quick annihilation of the State of Israel and Israel has also become a huge military machine doing things that in may cases is unacceptable to the world at large(yes, I am really saying that). We must now take a careful look at ourselves, our homeland and our religion and act on those things we do not agree with. The world will change and we can only hope that we can all make it a better place.

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“The Beautiful Tendons”–30 years of poetry

Beam, Jeffery, editor. “The Beautiful Tendons: Uncollected Queer Poems, 1969-2007”, Lethe Press, 2008.



30 Years of Poetry

Amos Lassen

“The Beautiful Tendons” is a collection of award winning poems by Jeffery Beam. The poems are lyrical and metaphysical as well as sensual and dramatic and they memory pieces. There is melancholia and love in the poetry and they are both tender and erotic brimming with sensuousness. Beam’s poetry is of both the body and the soul.

Beam characterizes himself as “a Queer poet, child-like, saintly, sees the Kingdom of Heaven in every leaf, every drop of blood spilled, every meal, every automobile, every homeless person’s cardboard box, every bright mansion, and every bird song. The Queer-spirit sees All-in-All in every act of love. With a self-description like this, it is easy to see how Beam could write so beautifully.
Here is a collection of poems that is accomplished and graceful as they speak of desire, contemplation and passion. It is Beam’s experience and spirituality that makes these poems such a gift.

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