Monday, September 28, 2015

Newfangled 7 Happened a While Ago and Who's Reading at Newfangled 8

So being the poor blogger that I am, I have taken way too long to write a post about what happened at Newfangled 7 back in August. I have no photos from the evening; I think I may need to start taking at least a few photos of each reader at future Newfangleds. I just get so into the readings that taking photos is not on my radar at all. Anyway, I've also already deleted the photos that each of the readers had previously provided for publicity stuff. My solution to not having photos of the readers is to insert the image, created by Greg Newton of the Bureau of General Services--Queer Division, that was used on the Facebook invite and anywhere else the reading was publicized. It's a combination of all of the readers, along with all of the info regarding the reading. And here it is:


Ignore the man on the far left. Focus on the three younger gentlemen.

We went in alphabetical order so Ricardo Hernandez read first. He was much too modest in discussing his work prior to reading each poem. Reading and hearing his work, it becomes very evident why he was chosen to be included in the Emerging Poets Fellowship at Poets House and as a Lambda Literary Fellow in 2014. Check out his work here, http://www.poetshouse.org/programs-and-events/workshops-classes-residencies/emerging-poets-residency/ricardo-hernandez, and here, http://www.cortlandreview.com/issue/68/hernandez.php. Ricardo is super talented, and I personally am looking forward to reading more of his work in the future.

Joshua Kleinberg read second. His work tends to go darker, yet he is full of humor when speaking between the poems and even at times within the poems. He leaves me wanting to read a full collection of his work ASAP; let's make this happen people. Here's two places where you can read his work: http://ilkjournal.com/journal/issue-three/josh-kleinberg/ and http://www.inpatientpress.com/blog/2014/5/20/two-poems-by-joshua-kleinberg. Check out his Tumblr page here: http://joshuakleinberg.tumblr.com/.

The final poet of the evening was Tommy Pico. I've seen Tommy read twice before and knew that I absolutely had to invite him to read at Newfangled. I was thrilled that he agreed to do it. He simply slayed the audience as always. His voice is tremendous and necessary. If you haven't seen him read, you MUST. Check out some of his work online: https://www.guernicamag.com/poetry/thems/ and http://www.glittermobmag.com/tommy-pico.html. Check out his Tumblr page here: http://heyteebs.tumblr.com/.

Reading at NEWFANGLED 8 on Saturday, November 14, at 7:00 p.m. at the Bureau will be PETER LABERGE, ANDRINIKI MATTIS, and ANGEL NAFIS. I can't wait!



Monday, August 31, 2015

Revised Version of the Last Poem in My First Book

Antony and the Bookcase

Wearing a black T-shirt on a treadmill running,
block-print word crying across my chest.
Bought it at a concert—Antony and the Johnsons—
a singer draped in ivory, circled by an orchestra,
band members at stage corners, my first time at the Apollo.
Songs about nature, the destruction of . . . the Crying Light,
the human plight; I’m running in place again, a loose book
on a library shelf during an earthquake, like Satan is at it,
fork-tongued vibes through Earth’s crust, tainting
literature, history, Christian fundamentalists. And singing lifts
and tumbles over heads in an audience, every emotion felt
by the well adjusted, the addicted, the entering a hospice,
the learning to walk again, the first time, and crying is not a bad thing.
So Christ on a cracker, an obscenely obese man struggling across
a gas-station parking lot; I watch through a gym window, thinking
this is why I come here—a place I’ve nicknamed the jail yard,
all cinder-block walls, rundown equipment, men working out
wearing jeans and construction boots. Muscles work when pushed,
undamaged, free of deformity. It’s showtime at the Apollo,
time to get a full-length collection published, please the handful of people
who enjoy reading my poetry, attempt to battle the academic, conquering
voices: who’s in, who’s not. I’m crying for my word kept quiet, the weight
I work hard to keep off, songs about relationships ending, the temperature
changing, transgenders joining in camaraderie and love. Antony on stage,
tall in a dress, waves of fabric white and bleached in spotlights,
Lady Justice, blinded, emoting to a crowd of faceless forms,
thrown from shelves, cracked ceiling, instruments played.
I’m cooling down, a Satanist in love with the sky, tree leaves,
obsessed with human interaction, a black T-shirt from a concert,
the word crying, and attempts at climbing Empire State high,
a King Kong–sized homosexual, to get to the choking point,
scream until numb, a book cover missing pages, libraries burst
into flames, gas-station explosion when a car crashes pumps,
we all sit down: the crippled, the hopeful, the dumb.

Friday, July 17, 2015

What Happened at Newfangled 6 and Who's Reading at Newfangled 7


So Newfangled 6 happened back on Friday, May 29, and I'm finally getting around to commenting on it here, for the occasional person who happens to check out my blog. Above is a photo of the sign outside the doorway to the Bureau of General Services--Queer Division, where Newfangled happens every three months. Unfortunately this is the only photo I have from that evening. I typically pilfer photos from the BGSQD Facebook page for these posts but they haven't posted any photos. I never take my own photos at the readings because I'm just so focused on the readers that I can't even think about snapping photos. Perhaps I'll attempt to get one good photo of each reader at the next Newfangled before each one really gets into it.

Chase Berggrun

The first reader that night was Chase Berggrun. Chase was an absolute treat. The poems they read were from a collection of erasure poems from Stoker's Dracula concerning gender identity (this is a very basic summary of what Chase presented and what my memory is allowing me to describe, but really, Chase captivated the audience). I need to finally read the copy of Dracula I've owned for many years, and I cannot wait for Chase to get this collection published and make it available to the public.

Tom Capelonga

The second reader was Tom Capelonga. His poems were more on the narrative side and checkered with pop references--similar to the majority of my own work, which is probably why I asked him to read in the first place. These poems were a pleasure to hear, and Tom was a pro at delivering them. I hope he keeps at it.

Paul Tran

The third and final reader was Paul Tran. Paul has a more spoken-word style to his work and performance that is explosive, dynamic, and gripping. The end of his poem focusing on Vietnamese women working as nail technicians at nail salons was so cutting and emotionally charged, I nearly fell over out of my chair. All of his poems blew my head clean off.

Please please try to keep up with these three poets and familiarize yourself with their work. You will not be sorry.

And now to the future: the next Newfangled, which is the seventh in the series will be happening on Saturday, 8/22, at 7:00 p.m. at the BGSQD, which is located at the LGBT Center on 13th St. in Manhattan. The three readers will be Ricardo Hernandez, Tommy Pico, and Charif Shanahan. You do not want to miss this.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

What Happened at Newfangled 5 and Who's Reading at Newfangled 6


So Newfangled 5 happened at the BGSQD back in February, the first reading of 2015 for this quarterly series. The readers were Wo Chan, Jake Matkov, and Jayson Smith. As usual, the house was packed. These younger queer poets know how to fill a house, which I absolutely love. The whole point is so people can come and hear them and be introduced to new voices they may not have discovered yet. I started off the evening reading David Trinidad's poem "Chatty Cathy Villanelle" from his book Plasticville. Here's a photo of that happening:


 
Then I introduced the first reader, Wo Chan. Here are two photos of Wo reading:




Then I introduced the second reader, Jake Matkov. Here are two photos of Jake reading:



Finally I introduced the third and last reader of the evening, Jayson Smith. Here are two photos of Jayson reading:



Not only were all three readers super dazzling but they were also beacons of fantastic personal style. It was a pleasure to have met them and listened to them. If you didn't make it, you missed out.

Here's all of us together for a group shot. My left hand looks enormous.

(All photos in this blog post were taken by Donnie or Greg, the owners of the Bureau of General Services--Queer Division.)

And now, the three readers for the upcoming Newfangled 6, happening at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, May 29, at the BGSQD, are Chase Berggrun, Tom Capelonga, and Paul Tran! More info to come later this month. You do not want to miss this reading!


Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Newfangled 5!!! And Out of Cupid's Mouth Reading at the Center

So there are loads of fun stuff that I'm either involved in or reading at later this month (February 2015). The first event is the next Newfangled, the fifth one I've curated and the first one of 2015. The reading series features three young queer male poets who are in the earlier stages of their writing careers, wherever that may be. Newfangled 5 is happening at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, 2/21, at the Bureau of General Services--Queer Division. Here is the Facebook invite with more info: https://www.facebook.com/events/1570754629832439/?notif_t=plan_user_joined.

The readers for Newfangled 5 are as follows:


Wo Chan

WO CHAN is a queer Fujianese immigrant living in Brooklyn. Wo is the recipient of fellowships from the Asian American Writers Workshop, Poets House, Kundiman, and Lambda Literary. Their work has been published (and forthcoming) in cream city review, BARZAHK, the Lambda Literary Fellows Anthology, and VYM Magazine. Wo is also a member of the Brooklyn-based drag troupe, Switch n’ Play, and has performed at venues including Brooklyn Pride, Princeton, The Trevor Project, and the Architectural Digest Expo.



Jake Matkov

JAKE MATKOV received a scholarship to the first grade. He was cast in Annie Get Your Gun as the Gun and has had nightmares ever since. He is an MFA candidate in poetry at LIU Brooklyn, where he holds a teaching fellowship in the First Year Writing Program. He is one of the cofounding editors of visceral brooklyn, LIU Brooklyn’s online lit journal. His work has appeared in thosethatthis, Downtown Brooklyn, and Brooklyn Paramount; he has publications in Liquid forthcoming. You can find him @ooohjakie. He says hi.



Jayson Smith

JAYSON SMITH is a writer, choreographer, & curator hailing from the Bronx, NY. His work is published/forthcoming in various journals & anthologies, including Kinfolks Quarterly, boundary2: an international journal of literature and culture, and MUZZLE Magazine. A recent Pushcart Prize Nominee, Jayson is currently on staff for Union Station Magazine and a curator for Poets in Unexpected Places.

So there you go. These fellows are going to rock your world, so please do come by and enjoy this evening of poetry.

And then I'm taking part in a reading sponsored by the Rainbow Book Fair and The Center called Out of Cupid's Mouth. It's happening at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, February 24. Here's more information:


And here's a cool banner advertising this reading:


Oh, and here's a Brady Bunch-like box of photos of al of the readers for this Out of Cupid's Mouth reading:


I think this reading is going to be very eclectic. I hope you can make it. I hope they hire a beefy young guy to walk around dressed like Cupid and holding a bow and arrow. Hairy and a small belly a plus.

And then . . . on Friday, February 27, at 7:00 p.m., at a bar in Williamsburg called Over the Eight, I'll be one of the readers at Poets Who Love Poets #2 presented by No, Dear magazine. The fantastic poet Jeffery Berg is in the current issue of No, Dear, and he was asked by the editors organizing the reading what poet he would want to read with to be invited to read. He chose me, and I was so crazy honored to learn of this and immediately said yes to their invite. So other than Jeffery and myself, I don't know yet who else will be reading. Once I have more information I will post it. I think this one is going to kick royal ass. You must come!


Sunday, January 04, 2015

Full Gaskins & Siek Inteview, Part 3 (final part)


This is the final part of the full interview between me and the poet Christopher Gaskins discussing our first full-length poetry collections, Purpose and Devil Piss and Boys Have Been . . .

Interview Between Poets Christopher Gaskins and Robert Siek, Part 3

Robert Siek: “Days Like This” sort of mirrors my poem “Holiday Eye Exam” in that we both use the weather to exemplify the voices’ emotional and mental states and that worse times are to come. Your poem ends with “It’s colder than I’d expected and / the leaves are shaking.” My poem ends with “The sky is grayer, and a snowstorm is coming.” Did you have the same reaction upon finishing my poem “Holiday Eye Exam”? 

Christopher Gaskins: It did seem familiar to me and I did connect the two. I feel like in both of these poems, our speaker takes a break from all the experiences that he has been narrating, and we get a “check in” point to see how he’s been holding up, what his emotional state is. What we see is that things do take their toll, maybe not something specific connected to a specific experience, but overall. We’ve become overly sensitive, acutely aware of our surroundings and other people, and our moods are reflected in the weather. I like how, in our respective last lines, my poem implies fear with its “shaking” and your poem implies chaos with its “snowstorm”—what meaning do you think there is in this? And the fact that we both end with darkness/grayness and cold?

RS: I think poets generally are more sensitive and it shows in the work. It’s why we aren’t accountants or corrections officers. And that sensitivity is a prize and a curse, which many others would agree with. These two poems exemplify that idea. Sometimes it all gets to be too much, just like you said, plain and simple. I’m not sure if it gets easier with age because we don’t care as much, which makes living life simpler, or we just learn that sometimes you need to just let things go because time is short and allowing that sensitivity to destroy us isn’t worthwhile in the end. Maybe I’m just speaking for myself, but I think we’re on the same wavelength with this.

CG: Most of your poems have a duality (or pairing)—present vs. past and reality vs. fantasy. Present vs. pastmany poems start in the present and then incorporate the past, which has some connection to what’s happening in the present of the poem, either literally or figuratively; some examples of this I found are:
  • “Plug Filter” – washing dishes (present) vs. picture/mom /house in ’87 (past)
  • “Chat Rooms” – hook up (present) vs. kids w/ magazines (past)
  • “The Filthiest Reminders” – a need to write (present) vs. a need to use drugs (past)
  • “Purpose and Devil Piss” – the purpose (present) vs. devil piss (past)
      Is this pairing, or opposing, of the present with the past intentional? What kinds of connections (symbolic or otherwise) exist between the present and the past? What is the significance/deeper meaning of this duality?
     Reality vs. fantasythere’s a real event that is happening in the reality of the poem’s plot, then some fantasy (something imaginary or not real) is incorporated into the poem. Is this done to emphasize a contrast? Is there a connection (literal or figurative) between the two? Is this juxtaposition significant?

RS: I have a habit of just sitting down with an image and then kind of vomiting my poems on the screen, and in doing that, I guess I just go all over the place, taking things from the past, present, the real, and fantastic. I don’t think too much about what I’m doing other than making connections, a rhythm, and building these images up to create an emotional impact of some kind. I typically have no plan. But I do tend to be very cyclical within my poems, meaning whatever images wind up in the poem as it moves along will eventually swing back at the end in some type of reappearance or re-creation of the image. I don’t know why I do that. I guess it provides more order or a conclusion for me. I need to wrap all of this craziness up in a neat little package. But I honestly feel like I could say all of the same things regarding present vs. past and reality vs. fantasy in your work. What do those ideas mean to you in your work? Are you thinking about them while writing your poems?

CG: With my poems, I submerge myself in a particular experience after it’s over, which could be anywhere from hours to months later, so in that sense I’m entering into the past while still in the present; depending on how far removed I am from the experience I’m writing about, the present gives me a perspective/understanding that I may not have had at the time. Sometimes the passage of time only intensifies an experience, like it’s been marinating in my mind/heart, and then it all comes out on paper as though it just happened. It’s like vomiting in the sense that you feel better once you’ve gotten it out of you. There’s no conscious thought behind the present vs. the past other than this. As far as reality vs. fantasy goes, if anything I feel that I’m searching for and uncovering what’s real in my poems and trying to get past any illusions; perhaps it’s all really one great big fantasy world I’m creating in my mind, but reality is a matter of perception anyway, isn’t it? One man’s fantasy is another’s reality?
     Getting back to your poems, with this pairing, sometimes what it seems to me like you’re doing is viewing the commonplace/ordinary through a symbolic lens of make-believe, and then examining what you see through that figurative lens, almost like “putting a new spin on something old.” Examples of this reality vs. fantasy are:
  • “Home”—in apartment (real) vs. The Wiz (not real) 
  • “Auto Shop Mixer”—in the auto shop (real) vs. Oz and hooking up (not real) 
  • “Devil Dogs Perform”—in living room watching porn (real) vs. porn (not real) 
  • “Bad Girl Gone Good”—poet w/ boyfriend (real) vs. Shug Avery (not real) 
One poem in particular could be either (or both) present vs. past and/or real vs. fantasy:
  • “On Being a Good Patient”—dentist (present/real) vs. slave boy (past/not real) 
For a couple of poems, this duality seems to be an unconscious desire to live/inhabit a more colorful world then the one you’re actually in:
  • “Wild Wild Life”—leave boredom (“Road to Nowhere”) and enter excitement (“Wild Wild Life”) 
What is the significance of this duality in these poems? Do you agree that these dualities (or pairings) exist in the poems, or am I reading too deeply into their meaning and seeing something that’s not really there, or meant to be there?
     I noticed other pairings, or contrasts, too, such as:
  • “Holiday Eye Exam”—outside vs. diorama box 
  • “Groceries and Goliath” 
  • “St. Joseph’s Lavender Azaleas”—being stuck between youth and the elderly 
  • “Haunted Homo”—bed bugs vs. hook-ups 
RS: It is entirely intentional that I am “putting a new spin on something old” when that is evident in a poem. I always have “make it new” in my head while writing poetry. I loathe cliché and am out to destroy it whenever possible. So those pairings you speak of are me destroying the old, the cliché. I’d like to think all poets are attempting to accomplish that in their work, but it’s not always true, or some people are just not succeeding at it. I know I don’t get it right in every poem I write, but I’d like to think there’s something fresh even in the mediocre to crap poems I’ve written.

CG: Many of your poems have a “sudden” ending that is powerful and I really, really like these a lot. What significance is there in the way certain poems end? How do you know/decide when a poem is “finished”? Do you ever start a poem with the ending in mind first? Examples of some endings of poems that struck me are:
  • “Killer’s Morning” 
  • “Devil Dogs Perform”—after the orgasm, what’s left/next? 
  • “Haunted Homo”—why use such a harsh word as “faggot” in the ending? 
  • “Neighborhood” 
  • “Alternate Ending”—I’m not sure of the meaning of the last line 
  • “Purpose and Devil Piss”—I feel like there’s more to the figurative meaning to the last stanza that I’m not getting 
RS: I think the end of a poem is incredibly important, so I’m totally flattered and pleased that you “really, really like” my more “sudden” endings. I just always try to end a poem with a big bang if at all possible. I recall a professor in undergrad describing the feeling he got when finishing the Emily Dickinson poem “I dwell in possibility” as having his head blown off. I got the same feeling from that poem. It left me stunned. Since then I always aimed to achieve that in as many of my poems as possible. That’s where that comes from. And I guess you kind of just know when a poem is finished. At least for me, it’s when I feel like I made that bang, whether it was a loud one that makes your head or heart explode or a quiet one that goes off slowly. Of course there’s been many times that I thought a poem was finished and then went back to revise it and ended up changing the end, along with other parts of the poem. And no, I hardly ever have an end in mind from the start of a poem. Something might come to me in the middle of writing a poem, but I never start with an ending in mind. How about you? When do you know a poem is “finished,” and do you ever start a poem with the ending in mind?

CG: What’s odd about the way I begin a poem is that words and lines will “appear” at random times in my mind, usually the first line or lines of a poem, and I will grab whatever paper is at hand and start writing it down, and during that process the last line or lines of the poem will also come to me and I write that down on the paper too, somewhere to the side or at the bottom.  Then, I begin coaxing the rest of the poem out of my subconscious mind, trying to figure out (if it’s not immediately obvious to me) what this poem is about.  As I’m writing, what I’m doing is trying to “connect the dots” between the beginning of the poem and the ending of the poem.  I’ll keep writing down thoughts, adding lines to the beginning lines, and keep going until I catch up to the ending lines.  I’m never sure initially how many lines there will be between the beginning and the ending, or how long the poem will be.  I just “know” when I’ve connected the beginning to the ending.  Usually this is how the writing process goes for me.  On occasion, I will start writing a poem and keep going until I think it’s finished, but then revisit the poem and revise it, sometimes removing great big chunks of it, sometimes rewriting the ending completely.  I have a few poems that I’m still trying to figure out how it should end.  I have one poem, and this is unusual for me, that has two endings and I like both and think both are powerful and effective, but the version I’ve gone with and that was published in an anthology was the shorter one.  That ending seems to be more powerful than the version that is longer, although the longer version furthers what I was trying to say.  But like you, I think the ending of a poem should give a “punch” or “explosion,” even if it’s a subtle one.
     Another thing I’ve noticed is there’s a lot of interesting and meaningful symbolism in many of your poems; is this intentional? Are there certain symbols that you are drawn to, or that you connect with and use a lot? If so, why? 
     Examples of some symbolism I noticed are:
  • “Plug Filter”—what does the plug filter symbolize?
  • “Fireworks”—is this symbolic for an orgasm? Is the poem about masturbation?
  • “Cartoon Bears and Cotton Briefs”—the cartoon bears symbolizes the girl and the cotton briefs symbolizes the boy? If so, what meaning is there in this?
  • “Routine”—does this symbolize a (typical) day in the life?
  • “On Being a Good Patient”—or maybe being a “good boy”? Is this poem about being accepted by society, of fitting in?
  • “The Nonrecyclables”—does this symbolize homosexuals within a heterosexual society?
  • “Fit for Worship” and “All the Life Forms”—the symbolism compares to a church (religion) in that a gym is a place that gay men go to regularly and worship the beauty and physical perfection of men (three gods are even mentioned in the poem); like churches (religion) are there rituals? Sacrifice? Communion?
RS: I think my usage of the symbolism I choose to include in my poems has to do with that idea again of me trying to “make it new” or “put a new spin on something old.” I try to think of things in the most far out over the top way and whatever images come to me for my metaphors and similes, I work with those. I suppose that’s also why I go to pop culture imagery so often; not that artists and poets haven’t been using pop culture to draw their images from, but I personally feel like pop culture opens up many doors that I like to explore and run with. So the plug filter just fit into the poem as I wrote it and then at the end I kind of felt like it was central to the poem—the idea that regardless of time and the many pieces of life (like pieces of wasted food to memories of the house you grew up in), these things get caught and stay with you, whether it’s though memory or just the routine of life (breakfast in the morning and rinsing off a dish). “Fireworks” definitely has to do with explosions, from actual fireworks being shot in a No Trespassing area in the middle of the night to hormones firing up in the body when you see a half-naked neighbor in a window to the orgasm one might achieve when masturbating fantasizing about that neighbor jerking off while watching you walk around in your apartment in your underwear. I think the cartoon bears (Care Bears of course) and the cotton briefs (tightie whities) are more literal in “Cartoon Bears and Cotton Briefs.” They just weave into the narrative of the poem to express the lust factor. I like the dirty thoughts about the boyfriend in the elevator running parallel to the cartoon bears on the wrapping paper and the childhood memories they invoke in the woman and the voice of the poem. “Routine” is more about overcoming the everyday and typical to make a name for one’s self and find his or her audience out there. “On Being a Good Patient” is most certainly about being accepted by society and fitting in, even when that seems impossible. “The Nonrecyclables” is partly symbolic of homosexuals living in a hetero society, but it’s also a picture of how we are really all the same after all is said and done—we are all going to get old and eventually die. And in being in the same boat, why can’t we somehow have more compassion for one another and try to get along; it’s hard to have that attitude living in New York City. “Fit for Worship” is simply an exploration of narcissism in society; the voice of the poem is questioning the reasons for getting in shape and staying in shape: Is it to remain more desirable, sexy, or is it for health reasons, or both? Is it worth all the hard work in the end? “All the Life Forms” is more of a homosexual trying to understand heterosexual men in the context of a locker room. He can’t decide if he’s “disgusted or horny” in the end.

CG: “Truly Phototropic”—the identity of “he” is never clarified or named; who is the “he”? Also, is this poem about being torn between one’s duty as a poet and life that is being lived elsewhere (kids, boyfriend, NYC, etc.)? If not, what is this poem about, in a figurative sense?

RS: The “he” was my ex-boyfriend who I was with for seven years. When I originally wrote the poem, his name appeared in the poem. When I was putting this manuscript together, I chose to remove his name from the poem out of respect to my current boyfriend (the love of my life), who my book is dedicated to. It really wouldn’t have mattered, but I felt it was necessary; I ended up liking the poem better with “he” used instead. And yes, I think you got the poem. At the time that I wrote it, the relationship was still fairly new and we had been spending so much time together that I started worrying that I wasn’t writing as much and I was concerned about how the relationship was affecting my writing.

CG: Hmmm. Perhaps you’re more considerate than I am. I didn’t remove any names while I was putting my manuscript together. Not out of a need for vengeance or to call anyone out, but more out of a need for truth. These were my speaker’s (and in a sense my own) experiences and I didn’t want to pull any punches. I want it to be real. If sometimes these men aren’t portrayed in a flattering light, then sometimes neither is the speaker. Honesty, either in documenting the actual experience or conveying the emotional aspect of it, is paramount to me as a poet. And if anyone rises out of the murky depths of my past to complain, well… I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it, I suppose. (Hey, at least I didn’t use any last names.)
     Moving forward, I wanted to ask you, what is “Joy and Peace This Season” about?

RS: It’s about helplessness. My aunt and uncle’s son, my first cousin, was going through chemo and surgery for bone cancer in his pelvis, and they were so far away with the holidays coming. What can you do but just try to be there the best you can, part of which is mailing a Christmas card, despite the horrors of life, the sense of doom. I think it brings more depth to the message in the card. And comparing his existence to that of my nephew felt important, like this could happen to him too, like you never know what life is going to give you. Unfortunately a year or so after I wrote that poem, my cousin lost his battle to cancer, so I felt like the poem needed to be included in this book, not only to commemorate him in some way but also because I felt the poem was successful in expressing the emotions a situation like that can create. And I think he would have liked to know that the poem exists and that people out there may be reading it.

CG: “Golden Age”—how is it a golden age? Does this also contain a duality, either past vs. present or real vs. fantasy?

RS: It’s not really a golden age. The voice of the poem is kind of pissed that it’s not really a golden age anymore, or he kind of doesn’t even give a shit that there was a golden age of Broadway. This poem is all about duality, from past vs. present to real vs. fantasy. It’s all over the place.

CG: Why end your poetry collection with “Antony and the Bookcase”? Why begin the collection with “1979”? What meaning is there in having these poems begin and end the collection?

RS: I ended the collection with “Antony and the Bookcase” initially because it was the most recent poem I had written that I liked before pulling together the collection, but it became apparent to me that it was the right poem to end the collection with. I felt like it summed up all of my feelings about being an artist and getting my work out to an audience however possible. And I started the collection with “1979” because I wanted to start with a poem that stemmed from my childhood, kind of like the earliest I could go back in the story of my life. I think it creates the perfect starting point.
     How about you? You already discussed why you started the collection with “Stephen’s Body,” but why did you choose to end the collection with “How Obvious, Then”? I have my notions but am curious to see what you have to say about it.

CG: Again, my collection is a story arc of sorts. It’s a speaker’s journey through the world of male-to-male experiences. Like most of us, he is searching for love and every kind of peace and happiness that comes with finding it. While figuratively at a starting line at the age of “twenty-two,” he falls “in love” and from there self-navigates through a variety of situations and interacts with the many types of characters that people the gay world, eventually arriving at his destination, where love may be a “reworded truth” but is still mutually acknowledged “in these early morning hours.” He’s learned a lot about himself and who he is, as well as what the gay world has to offer, both good and bad, and appreciates landing safely in the harbor. 
     How did Purpose and Devil Piss come about?

RS: I basically went through my work from the past fifteen years and selected my favorite poems. Then I chose the order and edited the collection down to a more reasonable length. There was no plan, like this is what my collection is going to be about. I just wanted to throw my work together into a collection to submit for publication and this is what I came up with. I like how it turned out, and of course I’m thrilled that Sibling Rivalry Press did too.
     How did your book come about?

CG: I always had the idea in mind, the story arc I just explained. The trick was how to tell this story and after many frustrating attempts, it made the most sense to arrange them more or less chronologically, so that the speaker’s journey and development seem more organic and genuine, which I believe it does. I felt that LGBT readers, as well as others, would connect to the book or learn a lot about how a gay man enters into the gay world and moves through it, what he finds and what he’s searching for and how he evolves throughout the process. I had one reader, a heterosexual woman, tell me that when she in a sense “removed” the “he” from the speaker’s identity, that many of the poems related directly to experiences she’s had and how she’s felt many times in various relationships. That was one of my goals in putting together this collection, to have it relatable to anyone, not only LGBT readers, although they were first and foremost in my intentions.            
      Whether intentional or not, lots of books of poetry have story arcs. What story does Purpose and Devil Piss tell?

RS: Purpose and Devil Piss does not have an intentional story arc but the poems having been collected together in chronological order certainly created a loose story. It’s basically a piece of the world through one person’s experiences in life. It’s an exploration of people interacting with the voice of the poems and with one another.

CG: Talk about the process of publishing. What was your experience? What did you learn? What was the toughest thing? 

RS: I work in publishing, so I kind of knew what to expect. I’m a production editor, meaning I take care of the copyediting and proofreading of the books assigned to me, but this is for a large publishing house that needs very systematic procedures to keep the publication of many, many books a season happening on time and without any major disasters. So for me it was kind of a more laid back experience dealing with Sibling Rivalry being they are a smaller independent press with much more casual procedures. It was strange being on the opposite side of the production process though. I enjoyed it. Bryan Borland and Seth Pennington were fantastic to work with. I think the most difficult part of it was deciding on a cover. I knew I somehow wanted to the use the photo of me from first grade dressed like a clown for Halloween, which is mentioned in the poem “Plug Filter,” on the cover, but I wasn’t sure how that was going to work into some type of successful design. Bryan and Seth made that happen with their freelance cover designer. As soon as I saw it, I knew it was exactly what I wanted.
     How about you? What was your experience with the process of publishing? What did you learn and what was the toughest thing?

CG: As much as I enjoyed the entire process from start to finish, I never realized how much work was involved. Both Bryan and Seth were amazing and professional to work with, and at one point I told Bryan how much I appreciated the smooth sailing of getting published with SRP, how positive and nurturing it was all the way through. What made it particularly difficult for me, and this had nothing to do with Bryan and Seth or Sibling Rivalry Press, was my workload as a public high school teacher that had to be done simultaneously with my work on the book. Anyone who works in public education knows the daily work and stress that we teachers buckle under and there have been many, many days where unlike Atlas, I have wanted to shrug the weight of this career off of my shoulders. But hey, I love writing poetry and I love teaching adolescents and the dark and tangled mess that our government has made of education can’t last forever. Hopefully the sun will come out again soon, before the red tape of bureaucracy strangles me….
     Dennis Cooper has championed your book. We know you’re a big fan. What does his support mean to you? What does his writing mean to you?

RS: Dennis’s support means the world to me. The first time I read his work in the Norton Anthology of Post-modern American Poetry at some point during my second year of undergrad, I was struck and sucked in; he instantly became my ultimate literary hero. Eventually I got my hands on Dream Police, and, of course, was further spellbound. At that point I would have never imagined actually meeting Dennis or having any type of contact with him. During the second year of getting my MFA at the New School, David Trinidad, who was one of my teachers at the time, asked me if I would be interested in taking part in a writing workshop that Dennis would be leading at Rutgers University; it was mainly for David’s Rutgers students but he knew I was a crazed Cooper fan. Of course I managed to get my ass to Rutgers to take part in the workshop. Dennis chose my poem to discuss and you know my head totally exploded at that moment, and this was after it had already spun a few times because I had met my literary hero and was now sitting at a table with him in a classroom. Dennis and David invited me to join them for dinner after the workshop and before a reading Dennis was giving later that evening, but I was such a fucking disaster at that point in my life that I totally had no money to spend on dining out and had to reluctantly pass on joining them. Anyway, Dennis and I emailed a few times after that and kept in touch. Every time he came to New York City to a do a reading, I was there. And I’ve thankfully had a few opportunities to join Dennis and others eating out. Dennis supports so many writers and artists that it makes me wonder how he has time to do his own work, considering how much energy he puts into his blog and all of the folks that visit it. So when I finally had a book coming out, he was the first person I asked to write a blurb for it, and of course being the saint that he is, he agreed to write a blurb. I still can’t believe that I have a book out and that there’s a blurb from Dennis on it (an insanely positive blurb that makes me want to pass out every time I read it), along with blurbs by Wayne Koestenbaum and Emanuel Xavier (both of which also make me lose my mind with excitement and total glee). So, it goes without saying that Dennis is still my hero and that I look forward to every new book from him with the same enthusiasm I felt upon reading Dream Police for the first time. His books are like priceless treasures, especially the signed copies. I can honestly say that Dennis’s support and championing of my work feels like the most recognition I need to feel like the book was a success, almost like his opinion is all that matters. But having said that, I do want many other people to read my work and respond to it. I write with the intention of others reading my work, like an artist painting or sculpting with the hope that the piece will end up in a gallery or museum where countless people can see it and react to it. To me that’s the point, reaching as many people as possible and making some type of effect on each and every one of them.
     Christopher, is there a poet or another writer who is a similar hero to you? If so, have you made contact with this hero and shared your work with him or her?

CG: No, all my heroes are dead poets and writers. (Gee, what does that say about me?) For many of the modern poets and writers who have inspired me, it was more about certain poems or books, not so much their collective work. Oddly enough though, I did have a chance to meet and share my work with a hero of sorts. I competed and won a spot in a 14-person class at the New York City Public Library in 2009, a fiction writing class taught by Edmund White (of A Boy’s Own Story and States of Desire fame, as well as many others). On the last day of the week-long course, I sat in his office and read him one of my poems and told him how he had been an influence on me and my writing. Unfortunately, he seemed more interested in telling me how I’m “cute as a button” and “a sexy little thing” and before I could share any more of my poems with him, he was reading me an excerpt from a novel he was writing at the time, and don’t you know that it was a filthy sex scene he was reading aloud to me, peppered with winks and grins the whole time! When he was done, I told him how much I enjoyed hearing it and appreciated him sharing it with me, and left the office before it got any more awkward. As for another hero of mine, Suzanne Vega, whose poetry and music have had a huge and life-long impact on my writing, I have often imagined talking to her and sharing my work with her, and have only gotten as far as becoming friends with her via Facebook. I still have hopes of one day making this actual friendship a reality and maybe even sending her a copy of my book, explaining how her song “Soap and Water” helped me through a break-up and inspired my poem “Quilts and Blankets,” although now that I no longer live in NYC, it seems harder to make that happen.
     But hey, as you and I both know, dreams do come true, right?

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Full Gaskins & Siek Interview, Part 2

Here is the second part of the full interview between me and the poet Christopher Gaskins, in which we discussed our first full-length poetry collections, Boys Have Been . . . and Purpose and Devil Piss, with each other.

Interview Between Poets Christopher Gaskins and Robert Siek, Part 2

Christopher Gaskins: I also had some other questions. Is the title “Like Clockwork” ironic, since your father waking you up at 4 a.m. was a break from the norm?

Robert Siek: Yes, it’s ironic, but I also want it to bring to mind the way the human body works, which is quite clockwork, and further mirror the workings of a house, which is a metaphor used in the poem.

CG: Why do you and your boyfriend laugh at Plath’s emphasis on the word “bastard” in “Fresh Air”?

RS: It’s just funny. She sounds so forceful and stern in recordings of her reading “Daddy.” Her reading voice was so demanding it borders on being empowering and camp, almost like she’s stomping her foot or cracking a whip while saying it. I guess I just have a sick sense of humor.

CG: Ha! Ha! I’ve heard Plath read “Daddy” as well, and I agree completely! It is a bit over the top, and I’ve always loved the intensity of how she emphasizes “bastard” as though she really, really means it, dammit! I too try to bring an intensity to certain words, or phrases, in my poetry, which I notice in your poetry as well. Perhaps we’re both stomping our feet and cracking a whip!
     In “Dreaming It,” is the idea of astral projecting a metaphor for transcending one’s gayness, which Tim after a certain point could no longer do?

RS: Not really. I actually did meet someone in my teens who said he could astral project. And he did turn out to be gay and become a homeless heroin addict.

CG: In “Photo in the Silver Bedroom,” is Steff’s one eye blue and the other eye red, or did I misread that?

RS: It’s a photo. There’s red eye in one of her eyes. This was before red-eye correction options on photo editing programs.

CG: I’ve also been annoyed by a level of illiteracy in dating websites, and agree with you that “every word is important, and correct usage of punctuation / counts for something,” which isn’t really a question, but I just wanted to share that.

RS: Ha ha ha. Well it bothered me enough to mention it in a poem. I’m glad we’re on the same page with that.

CG: Is the leaf blower in “Leaf Blower” a metaphor for clearing/cleaning up your life?

RS: I never actually thought about that. It just fit into the poem, but perhaps I had that in mind on a subconscious level. I did actually charge a leaf blower for my father’s birthday present one year when I was very down and out.

CG: In “No Standing,” is there meaning in the usage and sequence of first one balloon that reads “Happy Birthday” and then a second one that reads “Congratulations”?

RS: Yes, the Happy Birthday message accompanies the initial surprise of the first kiss between the two men in the poem being electrifying and a positive, almost out-of-body experience for the voice of the poem. Then the Congratulations message is a follow-up when the kiss is over and the voice knows that this is a good thing and is definitely going to lead to more good things.

CG: Is “Bandstand Boys, Football Players, and Greasers” all told in a flashback where you (as the narrator) are in the sixties? Do all three parts take place in the sixties? Or is the setting in current time, but with references to the sixties, and if so, what meaning is there in this?

RS: The narrator in the poem starts listening to a collection of songs from ’60s girl groups, and that sparks the fantasies described in each part of the poem. On a surface level the poem is an exploration of fantasies and where they can take a person. But I like the idea of taking these innocent scenarios and squeezing them through a Tom of Finland filter and fucking things up.
     So let’s talk more about your book, Boys Have Been . . .
     I viewed the experience described in “Stephen’s Body” as something life changing—the discovery of something new, awakening to one’s sexuality. For me, the last three lines set the rest of the book in motion. Do you agree with that notion? Is that why you chose to make this the first poem in the book? “Damnation deflating with a reluctant hiss, a wrinkling of purpose" is superb, and I love that the idea of “purpose” plays a role early on in your book, as obviously the title of my book puts the word in the reader’s mind from the get-go.

CG: Yes, that is what the poem is about and that is why I chose to begin the book with this poem. It is meant to set the rest of the collection in motion. It establishes a “coming out” awareness in the form of a physical/sexual encounter that also establishes a “purpose” in the speaker’s mind, a goal that he is on the voyage to reach, which he does at the end.

RS: In “Dancing Alone with Darren” there is a frenzied feeling, a struggle. Is the voice of the poem trying to seduce another man into dancing closer, into feeling the passion of the moment? I picture one man making greater effort to seduce a reluctant participant, until finally the “snap of air” between them is broken and the two come even closer together.

CG: No, actually. I wanted the poem to be just vague enough to have more than one interpretation, but my intention was to depict the speaker and another man slow dancing, very close, very intimately and seductively, but with that hint of danger in the sense that it may not last as a relationship and then with a break-up at the end, with the end of the dance representing the man leaving. The poem was meant to convey the speaker’s awareness, if only in hindsight, of the warning signs and how he was “beguiled.” Maybe the encounter with this man was too intimate, too perfect, or too romantic to last, because it doesn’t. The end comes as suddenly as the end of a dance.
 
RS:
I noticed that the fire and volcanic imagery first appear in “Sexed,” but do not return until later in the book. Having read the entire book, I know that you use lava and scalding and other forms of burning imagery in a fair amount of the poems, kind of symbolizing destruction through anger and lust, burning up with both. There is “lava hot chocolate inside of my igloo-hard hermetic heart” in “Cold,” which I read as a mixture of lust and a desire that it leads to love, the voice of the poem declaring, “my love a coal and two hands groping the bare ice walls.” In “Hot Ass,” the whole last third includes coal and fire imagery, the pair of men igniting into flames after one turns over the coals of the other’s skin and in “yellows and oranges” they meet.  

CG: The opposition of cold vs. hot, of ice vs. fire in all its variations is intentional. For me, in the voyage of self-discovery/acceptance that my collection is (albeit in terms of a speaker who is navigating through a mosaic of male-to-male experiences), there is the battle between cold and hot. The speaker knows he is nervous, self-conscious, scared, holding back in fear of getting hurt, wanting to let others in but not necessarily knowing how; he often keeps others at bay even in intimate situations. There is the constant search for the flame that will melt all the ice once and forever, but even as the speaker encounters various forms of “fire” there is always another layer of “cold” and the battle continues until the end of the book, as seen in the last series “For Steve,” in particular the poem “In Bed, At Last.”  It’s also a full circle because Boys Have Been . . . starts out with a poem about falling in love (and losing it) and then ends with a poem about being in love (and keeping it). The ending of the book is not about conforming to society or finding Mr. Right, but about landing safely on the shore after traveling through the waters of gay relationships (of every kind), or maybe even surviving the waters of gay love/lust. This opposition and battle of cold vs. hot as a theme appears in many of my poems, even as the subject of the poem itself.     

RS: Back to “Sexed” I love the hesitation being divided “into equal cut pieces, into leg silhouettes at right angle shapes, a weightless egress.” There is this relief that often takes place in your poems, momentary, a crossing of lines—

CG: There are a lot of lines being crossed in Boys Have Been . . ., lines that have figuratively been drawn in the sand—not always by me—and then crossed either by me or someone else.  Sometimes this is a good thing, and sometimes not. 

RS: And then he enters you, this serpent Satan figure, the voice of the poem struggling against what he wants and what he’s always been taught is wrong. You’ve taken the Garden of Eden imagery and used it differently than what I did in my poem “Purpose and Devil Piss,” where I compare myself with Adam, as being a new person, ready for anything this new world has to offer. In your poem, you are the garden and the evil, or what you perceive is evil, is gaining ground and slithering in deep, but the reader gets the sense from the poem that this is okay, because you are “closer to breath, exhaling Pompeii,” which is a tremendous release. Is my interpretation of this poem on the mark? Was this what you intended? 

CG: Yes, that was what I intended, but let me also clarify and add to that. This poem is about the speaker’s first time being a bottom, about being uptight and scared about doing it, but at the same time excited about it and wanting it, about wanting to obey the “laws of God” but also wanting to give into the temptation to “know everything” which is represented by Satan as the serpent. This serpent is phallic, so the symbolism of the poem is meant to depict the speaker in all his relative innocence being seduced and his lover entering him, a lover who is experienced. Even though it is initially terrifying, the relief you picked up on is intended. The sigh that is exhaled and described as Pompeii also represents the speaker’s orgasm. It ends up being a fear that is conquered and destroyed, and an experience that is exhilarating. I hope all of that came through as well when you read it.

RS: Yes, that definitely came through. Not to worry.
But this struggle never seems to entirely disappear through the rest of the book, despite leading a life of casual sex with other men and seeking Mr. Right. Do you also agree that there is a constant struggle but that it transforms through the book, that this voice of the poems is consistently the same voice who is a person seeking self-acceptance and learning through multiple hardships and heartbreaks, life’s lessons in love, that it is possible to be okay with one’s self without being in love, part of some romanticized relationship? Was he always trying to fill a void, as in the first section of “For David,” through these various men who one after the other broke his heart? 

CG: Yes, the voice of the book is consistently the same voice, a speaker who develops and evolves as he journeys through and explores the gay world looking for “self-acceptance and learning through multiple hardships and heartbreaks,” as you put it. At times it may seem that the speaker is trying to fill a void, but that’s only after a particularly bad break-up. For me, he’s trying to solve a riddle, or reach a goal, to get to that “place” where he feels he should be, both literally and figuratively, a “place” with no more restlessness, no more confusion, no more questioning. It’s a “place” where he understands both himself and the gay world he is a part of. He has attained insight.

RS: Also, it wasn’t until I read the second section of “For Steve,” where you discuss the fire he set, how he “sparked desire and shattered the cold,” that I realized that you use more “cold” and “ice” imagery earlier on in the collection. There’s the dialogue in the third section of “For Dave,” in which Dave admits that his friends and mother find the voice of the poem to be “distant and cold” and in the seventh section of “For Dave,” the voice is left whole “like plush / stuffed animals filled with snow” and the voice’s “hands are cold.” Are these connected? Did you write one with the other in mind, or is this just a coincidence?

CG: I did not write “For Steve” with “For David” in mind, or vice-versa.  But as I explained before, the theme of hot vs. cold is a common one in my poems. Here it is a coincidence, but on a sub-conscious level it’s intentional I guess.

RS:Violet” is a favorite of mine. There is anger again but this time aimed at the voice of the poem in a more direct manner. The idea of punishment is front row here, the thought of the voice of the poem finding some sort of pleasure in being beaten, of being a “bull’s eye whirlpooling down,” evidenced by the “plaster-lipped smile, the bloom, implosion of masochist’s love.” The last four lines leave the reader questioning this person’s true self, his “expression’s unknown depths.” Is this really okay because it's love? As long as I’m loved I can take the beating?

CG: I intended this title to hint at the word “violent.” On his journey of self-discovery, the speaker is experiencing for the first time this type of love, where the lover abuses the beloved (the speaker), and aside from the perversity of feeling wanted as the object of these “affections,” he also enjoys it for the novelty of it, not really sure how he feels about it. The fact that the speaker’s expressions have “unknown depths” represents how he doesn’t know where his limit is, or in other words where the bottom of these depths is, and how much he is willing to take, or even if he wants this kind of love at all. As the speaker moves on to other romances following this poem, it is evident (hopefully) that this kind of love is not what the speaker is looking for, and that having discovered one of his limits, he is on a mission to find what his other limits are (as detailed in subsequent poems), in the sense that these limits together might help him define who he is, as well as help him figure out what he is looking for by discovering what he doesn’t like/want along the way.
 
RS:
I found “For Louis” to be the start of a different kind of loss, the constant search for love despite challenges and then finding one's self alone after ruining relationships, being a serpent slithering over this person obsessed over in dreams. Everyone has played this role, been the suitor who tries and tries but gets nowhere, eventually seeking acceptance, discovering his or her faults in the situation, and going through a sort or rebirth once the obsession has lifted, “this limb of love, nicknamed ‘Louis.’” I like that the voice recognizes the opportunity to use this experience as fuel for a poem, and that this will be the first of many. Is this actually the first “For . . .” poem of those in the collection that you wrote first? Did you have others in mind when writing this one, or you just ended up writing one after the other over time because that’s simply what came out? 

CG: Yes, actually, it gave me the idea to write poems in a series and was the first one I did.  While in a particular experience, or relationship, I write poems as I go and then put them together to chronicle the entire experience from start to finish.
 
RS:
In “The Last Time I Loved Him,” later in the book, the poem works through another failed relationship, exposing another man who became distant, pulled away, and left the voice alone, filled with something “hotter than lava before it has cooled and hardened.” What exactly is “it,” this thing that “survives like death, unraveling hate”? Without knowing exactly what it is, the imagery surrounding it stills feeds the reader and allows for a familiar sense of something human. Does the reader really need to have an exact idea of what “it” is?

CG: Not necessarily, but I want the reader to be able to figure out what the “it” is and I think that the poem as a whole is the clue, rather than any certain lines. If there is more than one possible interpretation of what this “it” could be, and that interpretation works for the reader, then that’s still valid. I’m okay with that. But for me, the “it” that I meant is love, in that “it” = the love I had for him.

RS: The poem “Sunday Night Out in the East Village” is one of my favorite poems in the collection, definitely for the manner in which it was written and the incredible imagery displayed, such as the “arms like waves that crashed in silence” and “We were breathing humidity, / this steam we created . . . we looked around us and it fogged our vision.” And then the last four lines just bring the entire thing to a dark, fiery, and subtle explosion of an ending. I thought, yes, that’s how it goes in those places, those scenarios in the gay underground sex world. I love that it was complete abandon in this piece; the voice of the poem wanted sex—period—and he was going to get it, becoming one with the waves of other men and their “cocks and lava,” their hairline trails leading “toward Mt. Vesuvius,” and admitting to being “erect, about to erupt and scald the mouth of this man who has come here to engulf the flames.” Obviously from what I just quoted, you have again used lava and fire and even a volcano. In this case, I believe the lava is pure lust, as it fuels “each sudden impulsive fellatio”—it’s a gut hunger for sex, for getting off with a stranger.

CG: Yes, the lava is pure lust as well as representing an orgasm.

RS: And the “Mt. Vesuvius” is obviously a collective cock, as you also mention how the voice of the poem is about to erupt and “scald the mouth” of another man. I’ve also noticed at this point that you repeat the image of the hairline that extends on many men from the navel down to the pubic hair. There are other instances in your poems that you use that image as a directional, and again there is also “slithering” happening: this time being the sweat running down backs “like elongating tongues.” Is the repetition of these images through many of the poems in the book on purpose? Was there use intentional or was this something that occurred subconsciously, much in the same way that I’ve focused so much on death, fear of death, and danger in my poems?

CG: Ok, you caught me red-handed! I must confess that the repeating image of a man’s “happy trail” is intentional, and very much so. On one hand, it’s one of my favorite places on a man’s body and the image is always with me in my imagination; it’s definitely a turn-on. On the other hand, it’s usage is figurative in that this “happy trail” is a path that hopefully leads to sexual gratification first, and then leads to emotional gratification; in other words, like that old saying of how falling into bed leads to falling into love. Also, the “happy trail” is very seductive, hinting at something exciting that is hidden and unknown, especially in someone I’ve just met or someone I don’t know. It points the direction in which treasure is buried beneath clothing. The “slithering” imagery is unintentional, however, but I do like the onomatopoeia of the word “slither” and it fits so well with many of the ideas or feelings I’m trying to convey in my poems. 

RS: I also feel that “Sunday Night Out in the East Village” is almost an expansion upon what you’ve created in the poem “The Men at The Metro.” Although I wonder since “The Men at The Metro” appears earlier in the book, was it actually written earlier, as there is more hesitation and self-consciousness happening in this poem?

CG: Yes.

RS: Being the voice of the poem is “at the edge of fornication,” I’m imagining that his location is a bit more sexualized and geared toward casual sex in the open as opposed to picking someone up and going home with him for sex. I may be misinterpreting that.  

CG: My intention, in “The Men at The Metro,” was to portray the speaker being aware of the sexual overtones and possibilities that exist in gay clubs, or at least consciously recognizing this as an accepted fact, while at the same time knowing that he is not yet a part of all this or even ready to be a part of these sexual aspects of nightclubbing, that his “trial by fire” isn’t over and that he will at some point be faced with this challenge/experience. The speaker is learning by experience in the book, not by knowledge alone. By the time we get to “Sunday Night Out in the East Village,” the speaker has gained enough experience and momentum that he is ready to face this final challenge, as it is one of the last ones he must experience (which is why it is toward the end of the book).  

RS: Either way, there is still more hesitation, like a runway on which these men must run down to make it to the total orgy of hands, mouths, sweat, ejaculation, and so forth that we find in “Sunday Night.” To me it makes sense that this poem would be earlier. Note that the “carpets / are strewn like hair below the navel”—again the image of the happy trail. And then we have “Men belong here, boiling within their own debris of eyes and  / grins, / accidental erections”; the boiling is reminiscent of the many other instances of heat and fire appearing in your work, but the statement “Men belong here” is something I feel goes along with the idea that the voice of the poem is not entirely comfortable with being part of this. This reminds me of the idea of their being “Christopher and his kind,” which comes from the last section of the poem “For Hiram.” This usage of “his kind” also appears in the poem “For Jason,” in which the last section is titled “Jason and His Kind” and it says that in his dreams, “Jason, / his kind, / are fucking and fucking me.” In “For Hiram” the “his kind” that is spoken of seems to be the deviant homosexual, the voice of the poem deciding that Hiram is not of the ranks of men who are “fucking and fucking” each other but never making true connections beyond a momentary release and filling of a void, which is the same thing as those men who belong at The Metro. I’m wondering if “his kind” is a play on Anne Sexton’s “Her Kind,” which I also use in my poem “Purpose and Devil Piss,” when I say that “I catch one out of four watching this kind living it”; the voice of the poem being an effeminate gay man reading a novel on a subway train and thinking and looking around in between the reading and discovering yet another man, who he assumes is straight, looking at him like he’s a monster, or a Manson girl with an X carved into her forehead. But where I’m using this image sort of as an empowerment, in a similar way that Sexton used it, I feel like it’s being used in your poems as a scarlet letter, something one shouldn’t really be proud of, or something the voice of the poems was working on getting more comfortable with and finding absolute acceptance of. There is acceptance here because there’s really no fighting it but it seems like this discomfort with being of “his kind” comes and goes in the poems and that maybe the answer is finding the love of his life, that man who will respect him and treat him right, and fully embracing that romanticized story of settling down and spending the rest of our lives together, becoming just like everyone else—all the straight people heading to the chapel. Do you agree with all of this or am I way off?

CG: Yes, it is a nod to Anne Sexton, whom I’ve read, as well as a nod to Christopher Isherwood “Christopher and his Kind” with “kind” = homosexual, the ones “fucking and fucking” each other (to start with, see my comment earlier about my intentions regarding how my book ends and what I meant). These ideas you’ve mentioned are there, and more or less intentional, however with Jason “his kind” is the homosexual who plays games and ends up hurting anyone who falls for him, in a sense “fucking” him over as well as “fucking” him. With Hiram, it was more about the speaker feeling that it was obvious he’s gay, and that maybe this is what frightened Hiram away.  In addition to having a crush on Hiram, the speaker had been hoping to initiate him into the gay world, take him under his wing and introduce him to its possibilities.  Thus, the literal teacher-student, as well as the mentor-learner, experience is one of the many man-to-man experiences the speaker has throughout the course of the book.