Jory Mickelson: How and when did you come to poetry?
Dustin Brookshire: I started writing teenage angst poetry in middle school. I would take my poems to the library and bind them together with the spiral binding machine. However, I can’t recall being exposed to poetry in middle school. Maybe I’m somehow blocking it out, or it could be an accurate memory from a small town, county school system.
As a reader, I fell in love with poetry my senior year of high school when I was lucky to have Mrs. Callan as my AP Lit teacher. She introduced me to Anne Sexton, Dante's Inferno, sestinas, and villanelles. I couldn’t step rereading "Her Kind” after being introduced to it in class. Symbolic retribution, Hell, terza rima—a delicious oh my! I wrote my very first sestina in Mrs. Callan’s class; it was about a whore seeking forgiveness. While Mrs. Callan took every chance to encourage her students, she was a bit conservative, so I’ll never forget the look on her face when I read my poem to the class.
JM: Tell me about your role as founder and editor of Limp Wrist Magazine. Where did Limp Wrist come from?
DB: I discovered a nifty online publication called ToasterMag. It had a bit of everything except for creative writing; I contacted the editor and next thing I knew I was on board as ToasterMag's freehand editor. When ToasterMag's editor decided he wanted to move on to other projects, he closed it down. I was saddened because I enjoyed my first taste of being an editor. My partner at the time suggested I start my own online magazine. At first I dismissed their suggestions but the more I thought on it the more I thought,”Why the hell not?” I got on it like Dolly Parton on a guitar, and Limp Wrist was born.
JM: Limp Wrist says it has a queer sensibility. Can you tell me how you would characterize or define the words queer and sensibility? Is it Quentin Crisp in his fedora or something more?
DB: Queer sensibility is my way of saying, if you don't like the gays; Limp Wrist isn't a place for your work or eyes. While I don't think everything needs a label of gay or straight, I do think we're living in a time where the LGBT community often gets second chair when deserving first or at least deserving to share first chair with our heterosexual counterparts. (I'm of course referring marriage equality, DADT, and so much more.) I am proud to promote Limp Wrist as part of my stand—doing my part using what I love the most, the written word.
JM: I have to admit it, even I don't like some of the gays. I know that some of your own poetry is rooted in activism. Can you tell me about the activist work you are involved with and how you got to be involved with it?
DB: Loaded question! I think there are tons of reasons for my passion of activism. I grew up in a loving family, but I grew up in a family where I felt I wasn’t encouraged to ask why—that didn't go over well with me. I've always had the instinct to ask why or "why couldn't it be done another way?"
I grew up in Calhoun, Georgia, which you could call a one-horse kind of town. Calhoun's only claim to fame is that it is the exact midpoint between Atlanta, Georgia and Chattanooga, Tennessee. It’s the kind of town where any minority should sleep with one eye open. If I had a dollar for every rebel flag I saw plastered to trucks during my high school stint, well, I don't think I'd be so Donna Summer working hard for the money. I was surprised and angered repeatedly by the way people who were “different” were treated, and by the attitude of most people that it’s just the way things are.
I had a lit teacher in high school that was a complete bitch to me. I never understood why. I always ended up bonding with my literature teaches, and it drove me bonkers that I couldn’t figure out why this woman always wore her asshat when dealing with me. She never crossed any lines where I could report her to administration, so I had to deal with it. After graduation, I ended up befriending a former teacher, and it was through this friendship that I found out why the lit teacher treated me differently. To other teachers, the lit teacher once commented that she thought I was gay, and she didn't like gay people. This experience in high school was my first real encounter with someone misusing her position of power. Once again, I was pissed off.
I’m pissed off when anyone misuses his/her power. I don’t care the position—whether it be in politics, religion, or relationships. People must never forget that we give our elected officials and religious leaders their power. Again, WE give our elected officials and religious leaders’ power. Vote them out of office; don’t attend a service—we have to keep them in check, or we don’t have a right to complain about them.
Combine it all together and you have a Dustin ready to change the world. Isn’t that a thought of grandiose? But really, I think all of my experiences growing up shaped me into an activist.
I serve on the Atlanta Pride Committee as well as the Atlanta Queer Literary Festival. I use my blog, “I Was Born Doing Reference Work in Sin,” as a way to keep elected officials in check. Blogging about elected officials can work; a few years ago, my blog was a reason a Georgia State Senator called me and I ended up with an invitation to the Governor’s office for a bill signing.
I have the same passion for poetry as I do activism, so I think there was no other choice but for there to be a marriage between the two.
JM: I grew up in rural Montana, so I can relate to the time you spent in Calhoun. I thought confederate flags meant that people were fans of the TV show “The Dukes of Hazard County,” like on my Bow and Luke Duke TV tray.
I was thinking about how you said you weren't encouraged to ask why as a child and began to wonder if in a way that poetry is a way to ask why--a way for poets to question the world around them.
Many of your poems seem to tell the reader where they come from, "Drunk Dialing Denise Duhamel" is a dream and "No Comedy in Tragedy" from a movie. Then I come across darker, uncomfortable poems like "Stuck" or "Soap." I know that poetry seeks to mine the truth--the emotional truth of an event. Where do your poems come from? What sparks them?
DB: Denise Duhamel once said, "As poets, I think we write from a deep wound." For me, I feel Duhamel's words ring very true. "No Comedy in Tragedy," "Soap," and "Stuck" all come from an extremely deep wound—rape. "Stuck" not only deals with the rape but also brings in the issues that I've dealt with since childhood. Rape and issues with my body are a driving force behind a lot of my poetry. When I put together my chapbook, To the One Who Raped Me, which is forthcoming from Pudding House, I thought I had written all the rape poems out of me, but I soon realized I was naive. Sometimes it takes time to realize the depth of a wound.
Of course, not all my poems are about rape and body issues. With a Southern Baptist family, my coming out experience wasn't very pleasant; a number of my poems deal with acceptance/rejection because of homosexuality. I have a bone to pick with religious hypocrites. I have never considered myself religious, but I consider myself spiritual. I often find myself writing about religion, and I’m usually doing it in a sarcastic manner to drive what I hope is a good point home.
Going back to your comment—I'm sure I believe that poetry seeks to mine the truth. I like that comment, but I can’t say I agree…wouldn’t that mean that all poets are truth sayers?
JM: Coco Peru's monologue from Trick is ringing through my head now, "As a truth seeker I feel that it is my duty to inform you..."
Poetry tends to have a small audience. How would you introduce poetry to people who have an involuntary flinch at the word "poem"? Further, what do you think that poetry has to teach people that usually avoid it?
DB: My BFF happens to be straight Church of Christ guy—who is also going to say when he reads this, "Why do you always have to mention that I’m heterosexual and Church of Christ—often says he doesn't like poetry, good poetry. (To a digress a moment—I love mentioning it because he has what I call the right kind of religion. He’s big on the caring/loving, not so much on the judging.) His statement is sassy; I love it and try to steal it as often as I can. I think that each person has his/her has a type of poetry that he/she would consider good poetry, and that doesn’t mean that poetry that doesn’t fall into that good poetry zone is bad—it’s a preference like Pepsi or Coke. Poets/poetry lovers should feel charged with the duty of sharing poetry. I'm notorious posting poems on the Facebook pages of my friends; most of these friends are people who would claim they aren’t fans of poetry. I seem to have a 99% success rate with these non-fans enjoying the poems I post. If you say you don’t like poetry, email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) because I want to email you a packet of poems by Denise Duhamel, Beth Gylys, Nin Andrews, and Laure-Anne Bosselaar—I firmly believe I can change your mind.
What can poetry teach people who don't normally read it? Well, another loaded question! There is so much that poetry can teach people who normally read it! What is learned depends on whom you are reading. You'll take away something different from a Mary Oliver poem than you will a Dara Wier poem than you will a Cecilia Woloch poem. From my experience, people who don't read poetry don’t read it because of bad memories from middle and high school. I think if they give poetry a chance they’d discover they actually like it. I won’t even have to use a line that I often use on guys because it won’t even hurt for a minute—give poetry a chance!
JM: Which gay male poets do you admire? Which ones do you want to sleep with?
DB: Well, I often feel there is a gay man trapped inside Denise Duhamel. Does that count? I enjoy reading the work of Matthew Hittinger, Charles Jensen, and C. Dale Young. I admire the godfather of gay poetry, Mark Doty. I wouldn’t mind standing at the counter watching while a Hittinger and Jensen sandwich is being made!
JM: Tell me about your chapbook that is coming out with Pudding House. To the One Who Raped Me isn't going to be a book of light verse. Rape seems to be one topic that is rarely named directly in contemporary poetry. (Or I may just be under-read.) Can you tell me more about your chapbook?
DB: The publisher actually wanted me to change the title of the chapbook; however, I made my argument and won that battle. Before I could talk about the rape, I could only write about it. These poems helped me to come to terms with many aspects of the incident. I almost vomited on a podium the first time I read a poem from the chapbook; however, I knew I had to keep reading the poems after someone from the audience thanked me for making her feel not so alone. I won’t lie—I was selfish with these poems because I was trying rid myself of pain via poetry, but when that lady came up to me and made her comment, I knew had to keep writing and sharing about my experience—to make others feel not so alone, to show others it does get easier.
I originally planned to self publish To the One Who Raped Me, so I have a few blurbs for the book; however, Pudding House has a no blurb policy. I want to share one of the blurbs to answer your question.
“Dustin Brookshire’s To the One Who Raped Me serves as a harrowing analysis of the aftermath of violence in our culture. As he connects personal experience to film and vice versa, his poetry is one of witness and courage. Brookshire’s poems are culturally relevant while connected to ancient power structures and cruelties. To the One Who Raped Me is an amazing and important series of poems.” -Denise Duhamel