My AWP packing list is longer and more specific than my pre-AWP To Do list ("Extra low-rise jeans" and "1 long sleeve/short sleeve tee combo" vs. "Deposit rent $" and "Pack a book").


My Cavafy

At C. Dale's encouragement, I read Cavafy's Collected Poems this past week, and happily, the referral was just what I needed. Cavafy's poems are surprisingly modern to me—both in subject and language, especially in contrast to some of his more formal contemporaries. I enjoyed his more erotic poems more than his historical poems, naturally.

What's interesting to me about Cavafy is how he positions desire (in his case, homoerotic desire) in his poems. Without trying to confuse a popular notion from queer theory, there's a sort of triangulation at work: for Cavafy, desire is the intersection of person, place, and moment—a beloved is rarely evoked beyond the context in which they are initially or repeatedly encountered. For example, several poems take place in bars or taverns where the speaker and his beloved once gathered, or used to frequent, or even, in some cases, the place where the speaker first glimpsed a hauntingly beautiful stranger and continues to wait for his reappearance.

In college, I used to write in a coffeeshop near my dorm, and most of my love poems were about (surprise) hot guys in coffeeshops. There was one guy who looked sort of like a grizzled James Dean, and he had my coffeeshop heart for a long time—he smoked Camels; in the process of doing the crossword puzzle, he'd doodle and scribble all over the comics. We went on this way—me, pining; he, puzzling—until the fateful day when he thrust his index finger deep, deep into his nostril, dug around a bit, and pulled it back out, bearing...bearing the fruit of his labor.

Back to Cavafy: one of my favorite poems is "He Asked About the Quality," in which a customer discusses scarves with a clerk under the watchful eye of the shopkeeper:

"They kept on talking about the merchandise—but
the only purpose: that their hands might touch
over the handkerchiefs, that their faces, their lips,
might move closer together as though by chance—
a moment's meeting of limb against limb.

Quickly, secretly, so the shopowner sitting at the back
wouldn't realize what was going on."

It's surprising to me how contemporary this scene could be; I think nearly every living homosexual can identify with this scene, or with the sense of cloaking desire under the eyes of the heterosexual other. I wonder now if "quality" is a pun, as in the Friends joke of Chandler's fuzzy queerness: "You have a quality."

By far, though, my favorite poem of Cavafy's was this one:

Hidden Things

From all I did and all I said
let no one try to find out who I was.
An obstacle was there that changed the pattern
of my actions and the manner of my life.
An obstacle was often there
to stop me when I'd begin to speak.
From my unnoticed actions,
my most veiled writing—
from these alone will I be understood.
But maybe it isn't worth so much concern,
so much effort to discover who I really am.
Later, in a more perfect society,
someone else made just like me
is certain to appear and act freely.

As though every poem I write doesn't hope for this same thing.

You Do Madonna, Madonna, Madonna—But You Do It Inside

Tonight I went to a dance performance sponsored by Dance Arizona Repertory Theatre (DART). DART partnered with a school and a local Boys and Girls Club to involve children ages 7 - 15 (ish?) in learning modern dance.

It was so beautiful and surprisingly affecting to see these kids really, really dancing, being into it, being confident. They danced side by side with DART dancers and did some really spectacular pieces, many of which were accompanied by poetry or prose.


Star-Crossed Lovers But, You Know, Without All the Dying

Last night I attended a screening of the film Latter Days, with an open panel discussion following. I'd seen the film before and enjoyed it; unlike a lot of queer films, this one doesn't play coming out with kid gloves: it hurts. It's hard to watch. It's an outrage. And the characters aren't easily likeable, I think, either. The summarize the plot, the film chronicles the interactions of Aaron, a "good" Mormon on his mission and Christian, a shallow gay whore. Romance ensues.

The ensuing discussion was led by a four-member panel: a young gay man who'd been raised Mormon, an actor, another young gay man who'd been raised in the religious deep South, and a "post-Mormon feminist intellectual" raised in a half-Mormon/half-non-Mormon family. The audience participated.

I have a complicated relationship to this film. Without too many spoilers, it's beautiful and disappointing; it struggles with enormous societal issues but sugar coats its ending; it polarizes these star-crossed lovers but creates for them a level playing field.

And you can see, even as I write this, that I can't quite make up my mind about it.

What the film does well is offer a peek into many secretive aspects of the Mormon tradition. And, I suppose, if you're Mormon, it confirms a lot of your fears about the gay tradition. The performance by the actor who plays the gay Mormon really does save this film from mediocrity, and a cameo by Mary Kay Place as he conflicted mother nearly steals the show. And that's is hard to do in a film that has a fully nude man-on-man sex scene.

In the end, though, I think Latter Days is able to transcend a lot of the Hollywood conventions that it relies on. The lovers find love, yes, but the ending isn't quite as easy or neat as most audiences would like it to be. It's a complicated film. It reminds us that when it comes to love, there are never easy answers.


A Present

One of my favorite poets published a poem dedicated to me in Hunger Mountain's spring issue.

I can't even describe how awesome that is.



If anyone missed Carrie Underwood's phenomenal rendition of Heart's "Alone," you can catch a rerun of it tonight on Fox—apparently some kind of phone number mishap is causing a rerun of last night's performances. It's the best performance I've ever seen on an Idol episode.


At Last

Quarterly West has taken two of my poems!

I nearly fainted. Right there at the post office.

Since an organization can't protect itself against stalking per se, this may be their last ditch effort to get me to stop submitting to them, which I've done fairly constantly for about two years.

It's a journal I love to read and I'm so thrilled to have poems in it now.

Oh, they took stuff from Therapist with a Dream Inside: "On Misunderstanding the Actual Meaning of Penisbreath Until an Advanced Age" and "Saturday Night: Underage, I Escape My Misery in Liquor."

I Remembered This Today

When I was a kid, one of my favorite books was called Something Queer Is Going On.

You know what? It certainly is.

I Am a Generous Lover

C. Dale is encouraging his boys to take this quiz.

Take the quiz: "Your Bedtime Body Language (PICS)(Guys Only)"

On Your Side
You are probably mild-mannered and rational. Since this semifetal sleeper takes up a minimal amount of space, he tends to be a giving lover. Also, he's way too sensible to play -- or stand for -- mind games.


The Stick

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?
The Joy of Gay Sex

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?
Xander from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I had a recurring dream that we were dating. Nothing naughty, just really mundane stuff. We'd go shopping and be in love. It was nice.

The last book you bought is:
Making Gay History: The Half Century Fight For Lesbian & Gay Rights

The last book you read:
C. D. Wright's Cooling Time: An American Poetry Vigil

What are you currently reading?
Frank Stanford's The Singing Knives

Five books you would take to a deserted island:
I'm going with heft. If these books don't last a lifetime, perhaps I could float away on them:
The Changing Light at Sandover, James Merrill
The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara, Frank O'Hara
The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera
Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology
Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
(and my secret sixth selection, tucked into my underwear: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood--because on a desert island, you need some light erotica)

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?
Maria, who knows more good books than I do
Woody Loverude, my man in Amsterdam
Eduardo C. Corral, my man in Inglewood


The Anxiety of the Line

During the recent writers conference, one of the panel moderators brought up an interesting idea during his panel. He was talking about the thought process that goes into writing poems; specifically, he said, determining how to break lines. He called this process the anxiety of the line, a diagnosis I really like. Does the line inspire anxiety? And if so, how do we, as poets, combat it?

I think many poets would contend that there is no anxiety in the line because they could easily identify their pre-determined measure that solves "the problem of the line." And that's fine—but I'd answer that this pre-determined measure is a succinct counter-agent to the anxiety of the line, with which all poets must at one time or another confront.

There are a lot of theories about lines, and we all know them: the line is a breath, the line is an independent unit, the line is a measurement of speech, etc. These are all counter-agents to anxiety. Anxiety, unlike other variations of "fear," has only a vague object; unlike "fright," whose object is a specific time & place ("he jumped out from behind the door and frightened me"), and "fear," which has a more general object ("I fear snakes"). Anxiety is the fear of an idea, and its control over us is precisely its intangibility: it cannot be confronted and mastered. Fright passes; we can avoid the objects we fear—but anxiety is what will keep us awake at night.

In "Suture," her famous work in film theory, Kaja Silverman posits that movie viewers undergo a cycle of anxiety and mastery in the course of watching a film. Each scene break, which suddenly, traumatically supplants a viewer in an indeterminate time and place in the narrative, creates anxiety. Because she is a post-Freudian Lacanian, Silverman connects this "splicing" effect with the original trauma of castration anxiety (but, you know, figuratively). Like the ambiguity of "cleaving," "splicing" means both to rupture and to connect. In this instance, the separateness of the scene shift and its resulting nervousness/anxiety is only cured by the epiphany of what-it-is: the narrative solution. By identifying the new scene's place in the narrative thread of the film, the movie viewer cures the anxiety: the splicing joins rather than ruptures. And so, the film continues in this cycle of rupture-splicing—or, rupture/suture.

I think the line in poetry is a lot like this.

The line in poetry is a rupture. In fact, I would hazard that nearly any form of writing that involves a line break will be commonly mistaken for poetry in American culture, whether it be poetry proper or a variation, such as song lyrics or greeting card text. The line is poetry's bread and butter. We, as poets, cultivate that anxiety of the line—and use it, often to our advantage, to transfer the line's anxiety to the reader. Masterful use of the line cultivates tension, surprise, humor, irony, melodrama...the line break splices.

I think every time we write a new poem, we are able to re-examine our relationship to the line. The line, to me, is a funny thing because it is not only the words, it includes the line break, the rupture of the message, and the white space beyond it. I'm not sure that as poets we've really come to terms with the line yet. What it really means to us. What it is capable of.

Or, not.

Some poets write in prose and then go back and add line breaks later. For other poets, the line is a series of bars—musical segments—and for others, an equation (I don't think you're alone, Emily). Does breaking the line make me feel anxious when I write? I'm not sure. I might be beyond noticing it, having constantly found solutions for breaking lines (form, rhythm, syllabics, meter, prepositionics, etc). But I'm thinking about it now. Late at night, the line just might be the next thing that wakes me from sound sleep.


The Poem As Metaphor

One thing I've noticed among poets is our tendency to describe our relationship to poetry in terms of another art. Both Chase Twichell and Frank Paino consider themselves "frustrated painters" or "painters with words," while someone like Beckian Fritz Goldberg says that she progresses through a poem by how it sounds, by its music. C. D. Wright and Lynn Emanuel both experimented in a wide range of arts before becoming poets, and their poetry, I think, reflects this.

I did something uncharacteristic of myself today. While revising a poem, I added something to it. Typically, I'm a deleter when it comes to revising—I only see what shouldn't be there, and, I noticed, while writing, my main goal is just to get whatever I can onto the page because I know I can always come back later and take away whatever doesn't belong.

I think this makes me a sculptor.

(Confidentially, I took a sculpture class as an undergrad with Maria. One of our assignments was to build an animal from found sticks and twigs. Maria constructed a beautiful turtle. I, lacking similar vision, bundled some large sticks into a faggot (literal definition of that term) and built a nearly-life size giraffe. I articulated one of its legs so that its paw dangled from its L-shaped arm and called it "Limp Wristed Faggot." My sculpture teacher was not amused.)

Sometimes sculptors have to add things back.

I've commented before about how connected I am to cinema, how I perceive there to be a natural relationship between film and poetry, and yes, this does somehow fit. I'm most interested in cinema that is visual—Baz Luhrmann, Pedro Almodóvar, Steven Soderbergh, etc. Cinema is an edited art, which means things are spliced out and spliced in; I have been known to gerrymander two poems together or to split them up.

If I were to describe myself as a poet in a metaphor, I would consider myself to be a frustrated filmmaker. Not necessarily a sculptor, although I think our methods are similar.

What's your metaphor for poetry?



Throughout this weekend I've been thinking about my current manucript-in-progress, which, depending on the day, is complete or in need of revision. I've come up with a new organizational strategy and two possible solutions:

Solution 1: Cannibalize Therapist with a Dream Inside for relevant poems for dispersement throughout.
Solution 2: Divide section 1 into 2 sections and append a new 4th section of an in-progess long poem I want to complete, but revise as a series of linked poems instead of one discrete poem.

Thoughts, thoughts....

Also, a horrific ear ache.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

A bit of my poem "Her Breast" has been added to NewPages. What a nice surprise.

I met Eduardo at the conference this week. He is awesome. We had a great pizza and poetics talk last night. E, thanks for hanging out with me. It was really a pleasure spending time with you.

The answer to the earlier quiz was C. Jean Valentine and D. A. Powell, both of whom are beautiful people, generous with their time. I was Jean's official "book opener" at her booksigning the other night. It was good times.

Also, I developed spontaneous laryngitis on Thursday. It lasted into today, when I had to introduce Beckian Fritz Goldberg and D. A. Powell at their joint reading. I sounded like a pubescent boy crossed with Demi Moore.



Guess which famous poets were just in my car??

a. Billy Collins & Naomi Shihab Nye
b. Carolyn Forche & C. D. Wright
c. D. A. Powell & Jean Valentine
d. Maureen Seaton & Robert Pinsky


Bulimics Across Minnesota Smile Knowingly

As I was preparing over the weekend for my interview with D. A. Powell later this week, I ran across references to Kevin Killian, a poet I've told myself again and again to check out. I finally got myself to a library and checked out the only book of poetry ASU keeps by him: Argento Series. I just finished it on the way home today, partially because my bus was late twice in the past two days, and mostly because I couldn't (wouldn't) put it down.

I work through poetry very detectively: I attended an AWP panel last year moderated by Jim Elledge, whom I love, and heard David Trinidad read. I read David Trinidad's books over the summer and read somewhere a reference to Tim Dlugos. Then I read Tim Dlugos (LOVE*FAINT*SWOON). I read somewhere a connection between Dlugos and Killian. I added Killian to the list. I think Killian is also mentioned in the preface to Tea.

When poets know poets I like, hang out with poets I like, or work with poets I like, I tackle them in succession.

Anyway, Argento Series is a weird book, and actually timely for me. I find the universe refers me to the books I need to read when I need to read them. I'm hesitating to mention this is a book that discusses? mentions? memorializes? critiques? AIDS. I don't know how to say it, and the phrases "the poetry of AIDS" and "AIDS poetry" don't cut it for me anymore. How reductive. How irresponsible.

In a conversation I had with Sarah and Todd last night, we got to talking about AIDS poetry—in a roundabout way, I think—and I started to realize exactly what an emergency AIDS is. Unlike gay men my senior, it didn't happen to us: it was always there, it was something we talked about in high school. How traumatic to have lived through. And confusing, and horrifying, and uncertain, and emotional.

I don't want us to stop writing (talking) about AIDS.

AIDS is not banal. It's not controlled/controllable. It devastates other continents. Critics put down gay men's poetry and begin their review: As an AIDS memoir, Killian's book echoes much of what we've already read...

Poetry, in its most effective form, can be a bright light to clean up the shadows. But this monster doesn't run an hide when you flick the switch. It's reading the same books we are, knows the same things we know. Killian's book is a firm reminder to me that our work continues. We have this beast who knows us. But we make ourselves beautiful. Chains of words.

*climbs off impromptu soapbox*


Consider This

"I have the sort of mind that…enjoys the simultaneity of experience…If two objects occupy the same space, is one a metaphor for the other? If so, then life is the cause of death; love, the root of unhappiness."
                    —D. A. Powell, Tea (preface)

The Dead Zone

Since completing my last poetry "project," I haven't written much at all. I noticed after finishing my thesis, I took a natural, non-stressful break from writing poems to just relax—it felt to me like that was part of the process of manuscripting: finishing and resting. Digesting the poems I'd written. Letting them grow a little on their own without my constant attention or fussing.

I finished a second manuscript a month or so ago. It came quickly—once I started writing again after the thesis, I wrote a lot of poems in quick succession over a span of about 2 or 3 months. And suddenly, I had 70 pages of work, most of it linked thematically and vaguely narratively.

And again, I'm finding myself quiet. Over the last several weeks, I've read fairly ravenously. I always feel like I'm never reading enough because there's so much poetry in the world and I want to understand as much of it as I can. I also know that while working, it's imperative for me to keep reading if I ever want to write again.

Lately, I've been feeling that familiar itch, but the poems that I'm writing are shitty. Unfocused, painfully executed...nothing short of disaster. I'm trying to find my next project because I seem to write best when I write in series/sequence. Or when I provide myself with an arena to play in—that's basically how the bulk of both manuscripts was written.

I sort of know what my next project needs to be, but I'm torn in a couple different directions.

Anyone else? Do you write pretty constantly or is there a natural ebb and flow? How do you balance furious writing times with times of silence?


MiPO Print

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Clip-and-save photos of your favorite poets (and poems, too).


10 Poems Project

The ten poems I'd use to introduce people to me:

Margaret Atwood, "[you fit into me]" from Power Politics
Tim Dlugos, "G-9" from Powerless
Russell Edson, "The Fall" from The Tunnel
Lynn Emanuel, "Halfway Through the Book I'm Writing" from Then, Suddenly—
Beckian Fritz Goldberg, "Refugees" from Never Be the Horse
Frank O'Hara, "Poem [When I am feeling depressed and anxious sullen]" Collected Poems
D. A. Powell, "[dogs and boys can treat you like trash. and dogs do like trash]" from Cocktails
Adrienne Rich, "Diving Into the Wreck" from Diving Into the Wreck
Jack Spicer, "We Find the Body Difficult to Speak" from One Night Stand and Other Poems
Mark Strand, "Keeping Things Whole," from Sleeping with One Eye Open

Contextual Map of Southeastern Wisconsin

In answer to the question, "Charlie, where are you from?"

Click here.


Adding More Titles to the Never-Shrinking Reading List...

I read today, courtesy of a link in C. Dale's blog, that Mark Wunderlich is not only Queen of His Domain, so to speak, but he is also (like me) from rural Wisconsin.

But he is probably from the "Wisconsin" part of rural Wisconsin, while I am from the "Chicago" part of rural Wisconsin. They're very different states. In the former, they craftily make furniture out of people (Ed Gein). In the latter, they eat them (Jeffrey Dahmer). This summarily divides the entire state population into two neat categories: but make no mistake, anything from Wisconsin can probalby kill you (beer, Carmex, errant bratwurst, Tommy Thompson's Health & Human Services tenure).

Does anyone know if Michael Burkard is Queen of His Domain? My Magic 8 Ball encouraged me to ask again later.

Eternity for Gay Men

Where do the non-believing souls of gay men spend eternity?


I'm thinking of calling my next manuscript Sitting in Himbo.


Hot for Teacher

When I was a wily undergrand--the salad days of my capricious youth--I once took a class from a teacher with the same name as a popular softdrink.

I developed a crush on this drinkable prof. I carefully planned out my outfits each week so that my cutest, most attractive clothing landed on our class days.

I chewed on the stem of my tortoiseshell eyeglasses thoughtfully, made crinkled facial expressions while he talked. The key: I rarely spoke in class. I hoped this enhanced my air of mystery.

And then one day, running into my prof on campus, I said something harmlessly flirtatious and charming (also rehearsed). Picture me sitting outside a campus building in autumn, chunky scarf wrapped haphazardly around my neck, the smell of burning leaves in the air--my head tossed back in a laugh, a freeze frame. Careless afternoon.

And then he flirted back.

Oh Lord, I didn't even know what to do.

It was exciting and scary at the same time. I wondered if I would be able to get an A in the course (it was, also, the most difficult college course I ever took), and yes, if I would get an A in...other things. I continued my flirtation, but more carefully.

In the end, I met a boy closer to my age and foolishly began dating him instead. I never did let my teacher down easily--I just sort of vanished the way students do...into the administrative ether.

My question is, though--as teachers, have you ever been Hot For Student?

Don't use your real name for protection. Or tell me about a "friend" of yours who was Hot For Student once.