25 September 2011

Only the Appearance of a Whole

This weekend has been filled with a small accretion of idea bits and fragments, that have sort of reached a critical mass in my head.  If my mind were a junk drawer, it would be time to clean it out.

One thing that struck me this weekend was my tendency to pick up old books, even if I may never read them.  A great example of this is a book I got first published in 1939 called Cowboy Dances: A Collection of Western Square Dances by Lloyd Shaw.  This book is filled not only with photos of the dancers, but diagrams for dancing groups and a whole commentary on what music may be appropriate to listen to.  More intriguing is that the foreword is written by Sherwood Anderson, the author of the novel Winesburg, Ohio.

On Saturday, at the Farmer's Market, I saw a half dozen elderly couples square dancing.  It is one thing that I have always wanted to learn, but never gotten around to.  Do young people square dance these days?  Perhaps buying older books on subjects that intrigue me is one way to give form to my countless aspirations.

Right now, my friend is taking her elderly father through  Montana on his "last tour."  At the age of 88, she doesn't think that he will be able to make another foray into the Big Sky State where he spent the first half of his life.  She said that they were stopped in Ekalaka, Montana which is a town that nearly touches the divide between North and South Dakota.  I went to another book that I have to learn a little bit more about where they were at.  In Montana Place Names from Alzada to Zortman published by the Montana Historical Society, I learned that Ekalaka is named for the niece of the Oglala Sioux chief Red Cloud.  She and her husband opened a store and saloon there in 1885.  The town is currently a whopping 410 people.

Over the weekend, I stopped at the small town of Garfield, Washington in hopes of eating at a BBQ joint and cafe run by an elderly couple.  I haven't been up that way in about five months.  When I arrived, the place was closed.  Instead, I ate at Grumpy's Bar and was told by the woman at the counter that the elderly woman was ill and her husband spent a great deal of time taking care of her so the restaurant folded.  Another place that I enjoyed visiting has faded off the map.

This morning I drank my coffee out of a cup I bought from the Steamboat Rock Restaurant in Grand Coulee, Washington this summer.  It was perhaps the ideal small cafe.  The woman who was our waitress had worked there for 36 years.  The decor was replete with wagon wheels and knotty pine paneling.  It probably hadn't been remodeled since 1960, and this was a positive thing.  Although things looked worn, they were spotless.  I bought a cup at the counter, because I know that someday soon, this place will probably also slip into history.

And that is what this post is really about: the way that life continues to slip into the past.

How elusive our points of reference can be.  Memory too continues to shift inside of us.  My recollection of the ham and egg sandwich I ate at the Steamboat Rock Restaurant will continue to haunt, even though it was perhaps the aura of the place that charmed me.  I begin to long for such things, especially when faced with the fact that I will most likely not be back to that part of Washington for years, if at all.

And this is where writing comes in, at the end.  Through writing, I am able to capture if not the actual moment, at least a texture of it.  If not the exact shape, then at least I can sketch its gesture in words.

Writing, can sustain us, even if all else recedes   

18 September 2011

Winged City Chapbooks, Contests, Publication!

On Sunday, I received and email from the folks at Winged City Chapbooks (an imprint of New Sins Press) that they had selected my manuscript "The Geography of Removal" as their annual contest winner.

Thrilled could be used to describe my reaction.  Perhaps squeeing might be a better aural approximation.

I had submitted "Geography" at the beginning of February and to three other contests/publishers.  I got a "no" from two of the publishers earlier in the summer.  One thing I try to do with submissions is to forget about them as often as possible.  I have a list of who I send things off to.  I might even write on the calender "Check with Journal X" three or four months out from the date I send things off, but otherwise I try not to think about where my work is at.  After six months I was thoroughly surprised.

Now things heat up.  I found out this week that my chapbook will be released at the end of  February, just in time for the Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference (AWP).  This means that I will be in Chicago for the conference and to do a book signing at the New Sins Press table.

I will keep you all informed as things progress.  Thanks to New Sins Press and thanks to all of my readers for your continued encouragement and comments.

13 September 2011

New Places to Find My Work: RFD Magazine

The Fall 2011 issue of RFD Magazine is dedicated to Walt Whitman and Edward Carpenter.  My essay about Whitman, Montana, and Allen Ginsberg "Stranger if You Passing Meet Me" can be found therein.

RFD Magazine is that began in 1974 after "The Whole Earth Catalog" refused to print anything about gay men.  Originally aimed at reaching rural gay men, RFD has since expanded to include the the Radical Faery Movement and the larger LGBTQ community.

It is the oldest reader-written quarterly for gay men in the world, now entering its 37th year of print.

Copies are available here: http://www.rfdmag.org/

05 September 2011

Notes from the Invisible Man: Erasure of the Queer Narrative

I recently had a lively exchange with a fellow poet about women getting it on with other women in poetry.  In the poems, the speaker or narrator (as far as can be surmised about such things) identified as heterosexual.  The poems under discussion were brave for their honest discussion of secrets and sexuality--experiences that get swept under the rug or locked up in gray metal boxes labeled shame.  I commend these poems for telling.

That said, something still bothered me about them.  Not the poems themselves, but the way in which “queer” content was being told by straight narrators.  Human sexuality is a variegated and prismatic animal, and I acknowledge that any rigid construct of sexual behavior is prone to exception and failure.  Although many poems, stories and essays in this category are not aiming for it, by their very nature they intend to provoke or shock a reader with the content.  They are written to a heterosexual audience.  Primarily, they are received into a heteronormative tradition that sees them at odds with the accepted narratives and boundaries
Further spurring my cantankerous brain was that my poet friend recommended a book by an (assumingly heterosexual) author wrote about someone gay dying of AIDS.  I want to acknowledge that the book had great literary merit.  It was moving.  It still unsettled me.

HIV and AIDS are by no means a “gay” disease.  The AIDS pandemic  as they say, is everyone’s problem.  But the context of the book was viewed through the lens of the AIDS-crisis in the United States during the late 1980s and early 1990s.  The bad years.  The plague years.  The days of ACT-UP, PWA, and the introduction of the new cocktail drug therapies.   The book is told through the lens of a heterosexual who lost a homosexual family member.

What I am grasping my way toward here is that too often, (I will go out on a limb for controversy’s sake and say most often) any visibility that queer narratives get by heterosexuals are from heterosexual authors.  (David Sedaris aside, because he is really Erma Bombeck come back from the dead.)  As a queer man, my narrative about the queer experience, my own lived truth is given second place for a heterosexual narrative which touches, but does not encompass my life.  As LGBTQ people, we come to know our own stories in literature written by queer authors AND we usually read what the larger heteronormative culture has to say about us.  It is expected for us to read and to know what author X and Y have to say about queers.  But we aren’t given the same equity.

Most heterosexuals remain ignorant of queer authors.  They don’t read our books.  They aren’t really interested in doing so.  Why should they?  Heteronormative culture doesn’t expect to find anything about our lives to reflect anything of their own.  Isn’t this the great argument mainstream gay culture makes about same-sex marriage, “We are just like you!”?  Who are we lying too?

When my heterosexual friends recommend  books (by straight authors) with gay themes to me, I am happy for it.  There is usually an expectation that I should know about the book already since it is “about me.”  When I go on to recommend a book back by a queer author, I am usually met with a blank stare.  “Who?” my heterosexual friends ask. “I have never heard of that.”

And without me, they probably never will.

03 September 2011

Recent Searches That Led People to My Blog (Borrowed from Eduardo C. Corral)

These are key search words for finding my blog:

battleship game pieces

amos lassen

black and white portland maine

assaracus poem

"ian denning" (in quotes no less!)

gay face smiling


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