Poets Repeat Themselves

One of the most promising of the young Negro poets said to me once, "I want to be a poet--not a Negro poet," meaning, I believe, "I want to write like a white poet,"; meaning subconsciously, "I would like to be a white poet"; meaning behind that, "I would like to be white." And I was sorry the young man said that, for no great poet has even been afraid of being himself. And I doubted then that, with his desire to run away spiritually from his race, this boy would ever be a great poet. But this is the mountain standing in the way of any true Negro art in America--this urge within the race toward whiteness, the desire to pour racial individuality into the mold of American standardization, and to be as little Negro and as much American as possible. (Langston Hughes)

Replace Negro with queer, white with straight, see also discussions on various blogs about this context.


Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Currently devouring:

"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains." So begins Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, an expanded edition of the beloved Jane Austen novel featuring all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie mayhem. As our story opens, a mysterious plague has fallen upon the quiet English village of Meryton--and the dead are returning to life! Feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennett is determined to wipe out the zombie menace, but she's soon distracted by the arrival of the haughty and arrogant Mr. Darcy. What ensues is a delightful comedy of manners with plenty of civilized sparring between the two young lovers--and even more violent sparring on the blood-soaked battlefield. Can Elizabeth vanquish the spawn of Satan? And overcome the social prejudices of the class-conscious landed gentry? Complete with romance, heartbreak, swordfights, cannibalism, and thousands of rotting corpses, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies transforms a masterpiece of world literature into something you'd actually want to read. (From the back jacket)

The book also includes a few illustrations of "zombie mayhem," as well as a Reader's Discussion Guide that begins with this question:

1. Many critics have addressed the dual nature of Elizabeth's personality. On one hand, she can be a savage, remorseless killer, as we see in her vanquishing of Lady Catherine's ninjas. On the other hand, she can be tender and merciful, as in her relationships with Jane, Charlotte, and the young bucks that roam her family's estate. In your opinion, which of these "halves" best represents the real Elizabeth at the beginning--and end of the novel?


My Food Shame

One of my most embarrassing confessions: I've only just recently eaten an orange.

I was sort of famous among my former colleagues for having never actually eaten an orange in my life. If someone in the office was peeling an orange, even if it was in another room, I could smell it and it would make me nauseated. Despite this, I have often enjoyed other orange things, like orange sherbert, orange soda, even orange juice, including the occasional Screwdriver or Sloe Screw Up Against the Wall.

It's often embarrassing to let people know I don't eat oranges, or endure having orange eaten in my presence, so I keep pretty mum about it.

A couple months ago, I attended a work-related event at which a fruit medley was served. It looked delicious, but it contained....blood oranges. Not wanting to be rude, I took some of the salad, trying to avoid the blood oranges without drawing attention to myself. I was unsuccessful and ultimately had two of the little sections on my plate.

When I look at an orange, I don't see fruit. I see the veins like housefly wings; I see alien eggsacks from science fiction films, I see internal organs. The blood orange was even worse--blood mauve, veiny, fleshy.

But I was a good boy. I was a grown up. I ate those two little sections of blood orange right up. And it wasn't awful--I liked the tartness, but the texture still bothered me.

Yesterday I bit the bullet, so to speak, and tried making pork tenderloin with an orange and red onion salsa. I bought the oranges--I even peeled them myself!--and coarsely chopped them, then added the ingredients. I made the black beans and rice, I made the pork...and then topped it with the salsa. There was no going back.

Until I tasted one of the orange bits. I nearly puked. Needless to say, I scraped it ALL of my pork and ate around it.

But I could still taste it, slight undertaste in everything on my plate, circling like little tastebud sharks...


Why We Can't Help But Love Lauren Conrad

It's Lauren Conrad's last season on The Hills, they're saying, and it seems to me a good opportunity to self-examine why I can't seem to feel anything but love for her.

She's pretty much everything we should hate: fabulously rich, dubiously famous, amazingly beautiful, and accepting hand-over-first the extraordinary opportunities presented to her. But despite the outward appearance and definitions, she's also exceptionally down to earth, hard working, and sane.

Lauren Conrad and her stints on Laguna Beach and The Hills represent a few typical American fantasies. First, the obvious: that we have all the resources we need to live a lifestyle of decadence and leisure. It's true; she does. She eats out at the hottest LA restaurants, goes out to bars and clubs regularly, and has a flattering luxurious wardrobe. She jets off to Cabo--becase, why not? Or plans an impromptu trip to Hawaii with the girls because hey, girls need to get away sometimes too.

But her narrative arc on The Hills is really a rags-to-riches story turned upside down. If all our material needs were met and all we had to focus on were giving our lives meaning, what would we turn to? Work and love, the only things missing. Lauren's career Cinderella story found her working a highly-coveted internship at Teen Vogue, where she will forever be known as "the girl who didn't go to Paris" when she could because she wanted to live with her alcoholic deadbeat boyfriend instead (but she went to Paris the next year, so don't worry). She scored a hot job at fashion PR firm People's Revolution with Kelly Cutrone, one of the best reality TV personalities ever. She works hard, she makes tons of mistakes, she learns from her mistakes, and she keeps working toward her dream.

This makes her a singularity among the rest of her friends in LA, which is the second fantasy Americans hold for themselves: that we are the sane harbor in a sea of totally fucked up people around us.

Two words: Heidi Montag. Nice girl, but whoa. She gots problems. Well, problem: Spencer Pratt. Lauren's pal Whitney was pretty down to earth--but then again, we never saw Whitney's life beyond Teen Vogue and People's Revolution. On The Hills, she existed solely as Lauren's sounding board and sage advice giver. Audrina, also a nice girl, can't seem to stop falling for the wrong guy, and can't say shit when she has a mouthful. Pile on Brody Jenner, with his penchant for douchbaggery, getting thrown in jail for fighting, and chickenhawking young ladies and you've got quite a mix. Oh, and Stephanie Pratt, who, like a mosquito, knows exactly what to buzz in people's ears.

As she mixes with everyone, Lauren is our touchstone, generally unflappable, her eyes bulging out at the antics around her the same way ours were. She flatly confronts the lunacy around her to the people she has issues with, and she avoids gossiping beyond the harmless or inane. She's also a great friend, always there when people need her--even Heidi sometimes.

Ah, Lauren...what will I watch when you're gone? Here's to hoping you'll follow Whitney to Diane von Furstenberg in NYC, where you can bitchslap the smarm off Olivia's face and take your rightful place: on my television and in my fashion fantasies.


How to Be Community

Been thinking about Steve Fellner's post here about perspectives on gay male poetry community.

There are a few things I personally think are important about being in a community, any community, and having good experiences there:

1. Be nice to other people.
2. Don't say shitty things about other people in the community.
3. Help other people get to where they're going.
4. Respect that people have different expectations of the community.

Not saying shitty things about other people doesn't preclude the necessity of critical writing on others' work--but such writing can be done respectfully.

I think about Tyra Banks, how she hates girlfights. A girl got kicked off Top Model a few cycles back for throwing beer in another girl's weave. You know why? You don't throw beer in another girl's weave. This cycle, Tyra called out Celia for revealing to the judges that Tahlia didn't want to be in the competition. She made coy allusions to her feud with Naomi Campbell.

"You don't mess with another girl's money," she said. Or, for us (since there is no money in poetry): you don't mess with another girl's right to write what she (or he) writes.

I don't love all gay poetry. Some of it I don't even really like. But I make no claims of being the arbiter of good taste (in fact, I think we can all agree that I often confess to being the Arbiter of Questionable Taste, or at the very least, the Arbiter of Fourteen-Year-Old Girl Taste). And I wouldn't want to do anything to someone in my community that would, in Tyra's words, mess with another girl's money.

It's not true for everyone. And so what? Everyone has different expectations of the community. So I don't get to say they're doing it wrong if they spill beer on my weave or mess with my money.

I don't go into the community expecting to get something. I try to go with something to give away. Maybe I sound very Buddhist right now, and I'm okay with that, but I always think about what my mom used to tell me when I'd complain about not getting any mail:

"You have to send a letter if you want to get a letter."

Yeah. Community's like that.


Feeling My Age?

Over the weekend I enjoyed a lovely brunch with a poet friend here in DC (where I got to have aebleskiver--one of the few ethnic treats of my childhood!). Over the course of our meandering conversation, we talked about what it meant to feel old.

"I was just thinking recently about how no matter how old I am, I feel old," I told her. I expected her to reciprocate the sentiment.

"Not me," she said. "When I was in my thirties I had so much energy, and it stopped all of a sudden. I do feel like a different person now."

Since our talk I've been thinking about this because

a) I've continued to feel old
b) I've continued to feel tired

I had to remind myself that I spent seven years living on college campuses, and that for the last three of those years, I lived with 18-year-olds. Hundreds of them. I lived with them, then I taught them in comp and creative writing classes, and then I spent the next four years working on their campus, surrounded by them.

For all intents and purposes, I spent roughly the first 13 of my adult years completely surrounded by 18-year-olds, deprived of adult contact and conversation, except among colleagues.

Although it's not much time between, say, 18 and 25, the mental distance is vast. I watched young adults make the same mistakes I made, had conversations in which they said to me the exact same crazy/stupid/arrogant things I said in my own youth.

More than that, they saw me as old. They weren't able to distinguish much between me and some of the regular tenured faculty, for example. I was pretty much a generic "grown-up." I had a "real life," whatever that meant. Bills, I suppose--a car payment.

It reminds me of an encounter I had at my Target Greatland. My cashier, a girl in her late teens, had been awkwardly talking to an older man. I took his age to be about 45. As he left, she rolled her eyes. "God!" she complained. "He always flirts with me. It's so gross--he's, like, thirty." She laughed and looked at me. I must have had a shocked look on my face; she dropped her laughter and silently scanned my items.


She's the One

Let's just say it: I'm obsessed with Martha Stewart's tweets.

I'm getting the hang of Twitter. Slowly. Now that it updates my Facebook status, I like it a lot better because I'm not duplicating efforts--I hate duplicating efforts.

I love following (note: this is not the same as stalking) Martha. Today she's traveled from Hollywood to the Texas panhandle where she's touring some kind of factory:

"feedlots everywhere, 66 miles from new mexico, 100 miles from okla. beef, oil, tilt rotors, bomb disablement all here."

I imagine Martha driving solitary down a two-lane stretch of dusty Texas highway (I mean, next to her driver), tweeting as the existential experience of America's nothingness moves her.


Hauling it In

Recent acquisitions:

Dark Wild Realm, Michael Collier
The Prayers of Others, David Keplinger
Honey, Richard Carr
Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion, C. M. Mayo, ed.

I attended a bilingual reading by the Mexican poet David Huerta last week as well, and was fortunate enough to meet the editor of Mexico's most significant poetry publication, Periódico de poesia.

I also got to hear talks by CBS correspondent Kimberly Dozier, who was amazing, and Washington Post writer E. J. Dionne, who was wicked, witty, and smart, as well as Collier and Keplinger.

It was a pretty full week last week!


Familiar itch

I'm going to start writing again. I feel like I want to have words in my mouth.



Alexander Chee posted this on Facebook: a capitalist response to the #amazonfail debacle.

Yes, taking gay books—or any books—off the rankings list seriously limits how many will sell, but isn’t it up to the bookseller to decide what the market wants, what it will sell and how it will sell it? (More behind the link.)

While I do feel like it's every retailers prerogative to stock what they want, I wonder when those stock choices become silencing rather than just market-driven. Of course the market for gay-themed publications is small. But is it unnecessary?

If capitalism is dependent upon utility, why do we have products like Snuggie?

And is it possible that in light of all the recent controversy about the gays' rights to equality, we've become a tad sensitive to having our access to seemingly accessible things unceremoniously revoked?

Perhaps the books being pulled isn't the issue, Sara Nelson. Perhaps it's the fact that:

1. The author who inquired was told his books featured adult content, wherein "adult content" includes positive mention of homosexuality.

2. Heterosexual books with graphic sex and violence were not pulled nor marked "adult" (and despite your admonition, this is more than an ironic element of the situation; it's hateful).

3. Books promising to cure homosexual lifestyles--which surely must include the same adult content identified in issue 1--were not pulled, mysteriously enough.

Are we wrong for reading this as Amazon putting forth a political agenda? And should we not feel outraged at being disinvited from the bookselling party, when once we all sat equally at the table?

Shhh....I'm not out to Amazon.com yet...

...because I still have a sales ranking:

Amazon.com Sales Rank: #2,145,270 in Books

Or maybe because it's ostensibly about a heterosexual romance that nobody's noticed...except [news flash]: in real life, Maribel's a dude!


Lost in the Amazon(.com), or Amazon Puts a Scarlet "A" (for "Adults Only") on some GLBT's writers' books

Currently going around:

Yes, it is true. Amazon admits they are indeed stripping the sales ranking indicators for what they deem to be “adult” material. Of course they are being hypocritical because there is a multitude of “adult” literature out there that is still being ranked – Harold Robbins, Jackie Collins, come on! They are using categories THEY set up (gay and lesbian) to now target these books as somehow offensive.

Now in fairness I should point out that Amazon has also stopped ranking many books in the "erotica" categories as well which includes straight erotica. But that's a whole other battle that I'll leave to the erotica writers to take on.

Now I could probably convince the automatons at Amazon that The Filly is YA and therefore not “adult” in the least, and I could probably even convince them to reinstate my ranking. But if they are excluding books just on the basis of being “gay” then by all means exclude mine too because I don’t want them just to reinstate just the “nice” gay books, they need to reinstate all the gay books and if they are really going to try and exclude so-called “adult” material, then how come this has an Amazon ranking?

This morning, the official response:

"There was a glitch in our systems and it's being fixed," Amazon's director of corporate communications, Patty Smith, said in an e-mail Sunday.

As of Sunday night, books without rankings included Baldwin's "Giovanni's Room," Vidal's "The City and the Pillar" and Jeanette Winterson's "Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit." The removals prompted furious remarks on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere online.



Credit: John Groseclose

Phoenix's Stray Cat Theatre is at it again, putting cutting-edge shows on stage affordably but with exceptional quality. Their current show, columbinus, is a haunting docudrama that blends The Laramie Project with elements of The Real World.

Credit: John Groseclose

Without seeming glib, columbinus begins simply, bringing together 8 high school students for a typical day of classes, gossip, lunch, and turmoil. Each cast member walks out on stage, strips down to their underwear, and then goes to sleep, only to then start their day all over, putting on the familiar clothing of the archetypes they represent: the jock, the popular girl, the religious girl, the prep, the freak, the nerd, etc. For the next hour, these unnamed archetypes circle each other like sharks, preying on the weaker and butting chests with the stronger.

Although it has bearing on the second half of the show, the way columbins begins was too vague for me. I hope I don't seem jaded, but the play seemed to state the obvious (that everyone in high school has life-threatening problems/fears/concerns), and then it stated it over and over again. This is really a problem of scripting rather than performance. The strength in the opening was the poetically-crafted dialogue, acting as a sort of Greek chorus of voices who pop and sizzle individually, then snap together percussively.

The actors were all exceptionally made over into teenagers, both looking and acting like crazed hormonally-charged weirdoes. I especially liked "the bad girl," whose anger was always barely contained--but likewise her vulnerability.

Credit: John Groseclose

By the end of the first act, two of the archetypes morph seamlessly in Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the Columbine killers. It's a powerful moment, one that asks the audience to consider just how easily any of these students could have snapped and become like them; it asks the audience to consider our own part in fostering violence and intolerance.

The second half of the show is much, much stronger. We watch Harris and Klebold plot, prepare, and then attack their school. The playwright smartly backs out of this sequence, letting historical documents and survivor testimony stand in for crafted dialogue. Survivors describe their terror blankly, focusing events more than feelings. We hear of heads exploding, legs torn to shreds by gunfire, the way a body feels as it stops breathing. We watch our friends die, we play dead, we beg, we profess our belief in God, we are shot.

It's an almost indescribable sequence, staged flawlessly by Ron May and his cast. The rhythm, the lighting, the staging, the sound effects, and the performances are all top-notch, lacking both irony and pathos. The real strengh of columbinus is its resistance of editorial, putting before us the evidence, then asking us who we are.


Found again

My motto
As I live and learn, is:

Dig and Be Dug
In Return

   —Langston Hughes

Also, I got a little older over the weekend. Not a lot, but just a smidge. That's what happens when you celebrate the anniversary of your 29th birthday. I'm calling it "lyric aging."


Shameful Pleasures

I'm ready to talk about it finally. One of my biggest and most shameful addictions? It's not Hilary Duff. It's not Gossip Girl--not even the Gossip Girl novels I devour while riding the Metro. It's this: dating & relationship advice for women.

I have to admit I'm both horrified and fascinated by it. Take Dating Tip #1 in this article:

"If you know how to date, and you're meeting losers, get off the market and go into dating detox. Clean your energy up so those people don't ask you out anymore."

This is ridiculous. I might be an Arizonan at heart, but even "clean up your energy" is too New Agey for me! If you're dating losers, why not start asking some men out? The ones who aren't losers? She goes on to say:

"The problem is we women are very impatient. We want it now. Instant gratification! Sometimes the best single men are worth waiting for."

Actually, I think the problem is women like her, who put rigid rules into place. I have a very hard time believing that the heterosexual world is really built on distinctions like this. But even within this article, she claims women both "want it now" and "women are Crockpots. Women heat up very slowly. They take in information; they decipher it and download it into their computer." And then on the converse: "Men are microwaves...Men know in one second, yes or no."

Girl, please. I can't even tell you how wrong that is. I have known and dated so many indecisive men it's not even funny. And although I do tend to make snap decisions or "want instant gratification" and/or "want it now," I'm pretty sure it doesn't create a vagina. Beau, for example, cannot order off a menu because he can't make up his mind. When he finally decides, he wishes he'd ordered that other thing.

It scares me that women out there might be reading this and acting on the advice. It's worse when the male columnist writes about dating. All these articles are like, "What are people of the opposite sex really thinking?"

And my question is, "Why not just ask them?"


Being a better blogger.

I am trying to commit to being a better blogger. To me, this means:

a. Posting more regularly
b. Posting things that don't suck

Both have been a challenge lately.

There's something about living on the East Coast I didn't expect: time suck. I am losing hours and hours of my life in ways I couldn't anticipate. For example, although my work commute is the same as it was when I lived in Phoenix, it now takes me 45 minutes to get to a social engagement in DC--by Metro. This is mostly because I

a. stubbornly refuse to drive in DC under most circumstances, unless it is a Sunday
b. don't drive anywhere if I suspect I may have an alcoholic beverage
c. don't drive if I've been fortunate enough to get parking at my apartment building that day

Everything else seems to take longer. Driving to Target/groceries takes longer. Walking the dog takes longer. Getting settled at home after work takes longer. It takes longer to get to the gym and back, longer to work out, and longer to do my dishes and laundry.

I feel mostly like all I do is go to work, do laundry, do dishes. It's awful!

But, I also watch a lot of television. Right now I'm watching hours of Battlestar Gallactica every night.

(No, this is not an April Fool's post. Sadly, this is really just my life.)