Monthly Archives: March 2013

The Passionate Attention of an Interesting Man – Ethan Mordden (Magnus Books)

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Buy it now from Amazon.com

“You can lose your way sometimes,” Alex finally said. “So it’s nice to be
looked after. Independence gets so exhausting.”

This observation by one of the characters in “The Food of Love,” the last
story in this powerful collection, provides not only the title of Ethan
Mordden’s book, The Passionate Attention of an Interesting Man, but also
distills its core essence into a single line.

These stories are about power, surrender, and their symbiosis that
sometimes qualifies as love. It could even be argued that the stories are about
the benefits of surrender.

The stories are less about love, and more about need: how
path-of-least-resistance lives collect around the dense power of someone whose
nature it is to take charge. They are about men who have somehow lost their
way, or never really found it in the first place and are drawn into another
man’s power, helpless as a derelict spaceship in the tractor beam of galactic
pirates.

Mordden’s language sometimes sparkles, sharp as broken glass, and at others
slides forward with subtle menace. He’s a wonderfully gifted writer and in this
collection has created original settings in which to explore power differential
in relationship.

“Tom,” the first and longest story, is a love story of two straight men who
grow from housemates to friends to friends, to co-creators of a model
railroad that represents far more than the answer to childhood longings. Tom,
taciturn and muscular, has inherited his house and his drive to control from
his father. He speaks in menacing terms, but their meaning proves
disconcertingly kind. Lloyd is a socially adept but directionless journalist
who grew up in an orphanage and answers Tom’s ad for a housemate. They come
together to grow a truly memorable relationship.

“Hopelessly Devoted to You” is a brilliant story told by two narrators.
Jason is the impossibly dramatic diva whose speech is the iconic ramped-up
cleverness that leaves the rest of us gasping in the dust:

 

“Call us queens if you will—and you must!—but, all the same, we
are professionals, ready to execute our three sacred missions:

     Watch.

             Report.

                   Exaggerate.

 

Rick is Jason’s quiet, solid friend who shows up in town from New York
without much explanation. The story is built around glittering rumor,
speculation and fantasy concerning Lyle Hickock, “automobile mechanic to the
stars and the hottest man in town,” as invented by Jason and his queenly
circle, laced with dashes of New York music, dance, theater and magical
thinking.

Rick provides a grounded, sensible foil to Jason, and actually carries the
punch of the story, including its uncompromising wisdom. Toward the end of the
story, Jason drives Rick home:

 

   And one evening, when I was
driving Rick home—yes, he still doesn’t drive his own car—I asked him,
out of the blue, if I he thought I would ever meet someone like Lyle and be
able to slumber in his arms in perfect union […]. Rick knew I wasn’t fishing
for consolations. I wanted the truth, and only a friend-for-life can give you
that.

   And he answered, “No.”

 

“The Flippety Flop” continues Mordden’s exploration of roles, theater, what
some men need and can give each other. I found this story less compelling, as
well-written as it was, and more predictable.

“The Suite” is a surreal story about CJ, who is hired by a faceless company
and brought to live on their corporate campus, a Microsoft-meets-Hotel
California setting where corporate status is advertised by the kind of living
quarters an employee is assigned. It’s also the only story in which the book’s
thematic exploration of power differential manifests as outright abuse. It
matches the implied abuse of the corporate culture.

CJ barely exists as a character (which
given the author’s obvious skill has to be intentional) even though we see
everything through his eyes. He’s numb. He’s the only character in the book
whose motivations are missing, making truly adrift. He excels, apparently, at
his corporate work but pays little attention to what he wants. He submits to
his dominator without the slightest self-examination, and for that I found his
story unsatisfying.

“The Food of Love” is utterly captivating, and I use the term with intent.
Alex is a successful actor whose living arrangement with a female friend and
her older lover is revealed to be as unusual as the narrator’s own relationship
with Cosgrove, who lives in undefined service to him.

In a now-familiar mix of themes that are raised in the preceding stories
(acting, roles, audience, attention, power, love, and need) the reader meets
men who find (or have found) relationships that work for them, and over the
course of the story the reader gains thought-provoking insight into what those
solutions entail.

Overall,
Mordden’s writing is beautifully dramatic, believable, clear, honest,
thoughtful and compelling. I could give you more excerpts to prove my point,
but instead you’ll just have to read the collection for yourself.

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©, 2013, Lloyd Meeker

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A Conversation with Jamie Freeman By Gavin Atlas

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Jamie Freeman describes himself
as a part-time writer with a full-time day job. He dabbles in genre fiction
(erotica, gay romance, horror, micro-fiction and literary fiction), reads
obsessively, and knows every musical theater lyric ever written.  Jamie is the author of works such as Quicksilver
in the Hand
(Untreed Reads), The
Marriage of True Minds
(Dreamspinner Press), The
Wages of Sin
and Brother
Dave’s Traveling Damnation Show
, both from
Fantastic Fiction Publishing. 

 

GA: Hi, Jamie! 
Great to have you at Out in Print. 
Your twitter ID is “BitterJamie”. 
Considering U.S. politics and the hypocrisy of the powerful and
closeted, I would call you Understandably Bitter Jamie.  Still, you seem like a sweet guy, so let’s
try to cheer you up.  What are some
things that usually make you laugh? 

JF: I love a good farce – doors slamming, romantic
misunderstandings, rapid-fire dialogue, disguises and prat falls.
  I read P.G. Wodehouse and Joe Keenan to cheer
myself up sometimes; both of them make me laugh out loud.
  And I watch an endless stream of Frasier or Will
& Grace or Arrested Development reruns.
 
In my life I always try to surround myself with people who have a quick
wit, a keen sense of the absurd, and the ability to make me laugh.
  I think if my life were a sitcom, I’d want it
to be written by Joe Keenan and Amy Sherman-Palladino and directed by James
Burrows.

 

GA: Keeping with the cheering up theme, I think
you live in Gainesville, Florida, so what are some things that, hopefully, you
enjoy about the South
?

JF: You know, as a teenager I dreamed of escaping
the South, couldn’t wait to get away from the churches and the mosquitoes and
the gators.
  But after college I wandered
back and rediscovered my hometown.
  I
think I saw it with new eyes.
  Gainesville’s
a university town nestled among the live oaks, palmettos, and pine forests of
North Florida.
  It’s like a natural
spring, a little blue oasis surrounded by rural red counties.
  There’s a fantastic, valiant library system
here, legal protections for the LGBT community, a gloriously diverse population
(at least for North Florida), and a gay mayor.
 
In a way, it’s the best of both worlds: 
the liberal atmosphere of a city varnished with all the eccentricities
of a small Southern town.
 

 

GA: I  know
one thing that is important to you is music, particularly musicals.   Which songs or albums make you happiest?  Do you have favorite songs to sing?  I noticed in “Brother Dave’s Traveling
Damnation Show” that there’s music playing through most of the story.   Does music ever trigger a story idea for you
or affect your writing in other ways? 

JF: I have a couple of playlists on my iPod that
I listen to when I need a boost.
  One has
a bunch of the “I Can Do It” songs – think of “Don’t Rain on my Parade” from Funny
Girl – and the other has act one finales – think “One Day More” from Les Miserables
or “Defying Gravity” from Wicked.
  I know
every lyric of every song, but I’m a truly terrible singer.
  I only sing when I’m alone.  I’m so terrible my poor dog will scamper out
of the room when she hears the opening bars of a Sondheim ballad.

But listening to music has become an integral
part of the creative process for me.
  I’m
always jacked in, listening to something whether I’m mulling over plot points,
outlining, writing or editing.
  I try to
pick music that matches the mood of the scene I’m working on, but it’s all very
organic.
  A scene may veer off and I’ll
have to stop to change the music, or the music may lead the narrative in an
unexpected direction.

 

GA: You have a story in a Cleis Anthology, Brief
Encounters
, called “Senator Blanding Fucks Up”.   I’ve tried to write similar stories many times,
and when I read yours, I thought, “That’s genius.  That’s exactly it.”  I bet much of the LGBT population seethes
when some anti-gay politician or minister is revealed to be a self-hating gay man
himself. So I imagine “reactionary revenge erotica” is empowering or thrilling
for many people, but how do you feel about that assessment? 

JF: Well, I think you’ve hit the nail on the
head, Gavin.
  People love to see Icarus
fall.
  I think a lot of these modern
political outing stories are like Greek myths come to life.
  Powerful, ambitious men (not women,
interestingly) consolidate power by railing against the gay agenda while they
slink in and out of public restrooms or vacation on South American beaches with
male prostitutes.
  But eventually these
guys always fly too close to the sun and someone brings them down.
  Living in the South I sometimes feel like there’s
a closet case behind ever angry pulpit and a self-loathing bully behind the
wheel of every pick-up truck.
  Wherever
it’s unacceptable for homosexuals to live peacefully in the open, there will be
self-loathing men hiding behind their sermons or their fists.
  Until they fuck up, like the good Senator
did.

 

GA: Going back to music, your book, Quicksilver
in the Hand, brought to mind the Kate Nash song, “Foundations”.  That made me think perhaps your book should
be read twice, the second time to identify where the problems start and each
following misstep.   I imagine writing
this might have been cathartic for you, but were you also thinking of a
potential benefit to readers?  If people
started recommending Quicksilver to each other, perhaps as an ironic primer on “how
to treat your partner like he’s a child and your subsequent terrible
relationship” would that feel satisfying? 
Weird?  Not at all what you’d
want?
 

JF: “Foundations” is a great song and an apt
point of reference for describing Quicksilver. 
It’s funny, that story has gotten a really wide array of responses from
readers.  Everything from “can you write
a sequel so that Julian and Tony can get back together?” to “it’s so
unrealistic – how could Julian have stayed with him past the first date?”  Everyone has their own perspective on what
was going on between the two of them. To me, the essential truth is that Julian
is a man who stays too long at the dance; Tony is a man who always needs to
have his dance card filled.  I started
with a story tentatively titled “27 Things I Hate About You” – which was
actually a lot more like Nash’s song – but then I began to wonder who would
care about this crazy angry character, so I wrote “27 Things I Love About You”
as a companion piece.  And then as the
two pieces evolved, the concept of time kept popping up unexpectedly – think about
that great tick-tock beat of the Kate Nash song – and as the sense of time and
inevitability started to dominate the work, the Shakespeare quote surfaced from
somewhere and the work resolved into the story you read.  I think if you asked a dozen readers when the
trouble started, they might each choose a different moment.  If people recommend it to each other, that
would be just great.  And if they want to
argue about what’s really going on between the two characters, even better.

GA: When reading, what kind of characters or
plots do you gravitate towards most?  

JF: I read a little bit of everything, and I
always have about half a dozen books going at once.
  I’d have to say I’m a character-driven
reader.
  If the characters are strong or
compelling, you’ve won me over.
  If the
dialogue is smart and real and engrossing, you’ve got a fan for life.

 

GA: A story I read of yours, “The Ambivalent
Gardener and the State of Grace” (from Muscle
Men
, Cleis Press) conjured up Eudora Welty for me.  Was that intentional?  In general, which authors or books have
influenced you?

JF: I may have to turn in my Southern Writer’s
card for admitting this in public, but I’ve never read Welty.
  Or Faulkner. 
Or O’Connor.  But I grew up in the
South listening to the same musical cadences of life, watching the shimmering heat
engulf everything during the summer and the cool breezes stir the Spanish moss
as winter approached.
  I used to listen
to my grandparents gossiping and telling stories at the kitchen table, blowing
cigarette smoke into a blue cloud that hovered over coffee and cakes layered
with homemade jam.
  I believe there’s an
essential rhythm to life here that, when I start to write about home, seeps in
and pervades everything.
  It’s really a
beautiful, terrible, wonderful, scary thing.

In high school I simultaneously discovered
the Violet Quill writers and the Edwardians.
 
Some of the writers to whom I return again and again are from those two
groups:
  E.M. Forster, Virginia Woolf,
Edmund White, Felice Picano, Robert Ferro, and Andrew Holleran.
  I also love Michael Cunningham, David
Leavitt, Christopher Isherwood, and P.G. Wodehouse.
  When I’m writing dialogue, I often read plays
by Tennessee Williams (he probably influenced Sherie and Wanda), Edward Albee
and John Guare.
  And over the past year
I’ve discovered the genius of Samuel R. Delaney.

GA: Hey! I was just going to ask about Wanda and
Sherie.  “The Ambivalent Gardener” contains
amazing Southern voice and characterization. 
You describe Sherie as speaking “with the slithering cadences of orange
blossom honey and malice.”  This may
sound crazy, but I want more of those two. 
What was the inspiration for those characters?  Also, I understand you’re developing this
story into a longer work.  Can you tell
us about the project? 

JF: I love Wanda and Sherie.  They are such a fun pair to write – and they
will definitely be back!
  I used a pair
of great aunts and a gay couple I know as a starting place for the two of them,
but before I’d even finished writing that first scene, they had jumped out of my
head and taken on lives of their own.
 

When I finished that story, I knew there was
so much more to tell, so I’ve been working on expanding it to novel
length.  I’ve just reached the halfway
point, but it’s going well.  I’m hoping
to have it completed later this year (Fingers crossed – I’m a terrible
procrastinator!).

 

GA: The genie question:  Keeping in mind that there’s fine print that
you’re not allowed to wish for “infinity wishes” or “world peace” what would be
your magical request?  

JF: You know, I struggle to find time to write,
mainly due to the fact that I have a day job that interferes with my nocturnal
writing schedule.
  So I’d have to ask the
genie for enough money to not have to work.
 

 

And also, world peace.   

Thanks, Jamie! 

Keep up with Jamie at his blog, Stalking the Truant
Muse
(jamiefreeman.net)

 

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A Conversation with Craig Laurance Gidney

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A Conversation with Craig Laurance Gidney

by Gavin Atlas

Craig Laurance Gidney is the author of the new novel, Bereft.  He is also the author of the short story
collection, Sea,
Swallow Me
which was nominated for the 2009 Lambda Literary Award for
Science Fiction and Fantasy.  He was also
the recipient of the 1996 Petrey Scholarship to the Clarion West Workshop.  He lives and writes in Washington DC.

Gavin Atlas: Hi, Craig!  Thanks for talking to Out in Print!  Bereft opens with a short introduction to the
making of masks and the observation that the perfect mask hides the face while
revealing the soul.  What would your
perfect mask look like?
 

Craig Laurance Gidney: My mask would be Venetian. A rococo design with inlaid
mother-of-pearl, jewels and fringed with feathers. It would suggest some kind
of mythic, mystical creature, caught in the process of transformation.

GA: Your protagonist, Rafe, is caught between
worlds.  He’s often uncomfortable with
the friend he calls Sideshow because of “ghetto” behavior, but Rafe doesn’t
relate to the wealthy preps at his new private school either  The angel statues in his room, the broken
bottles and drunken homeless men on the steps of his building, and the
narrow-mindedness of both faculty and students surround him.  While I know he’s in the process of finding
himself and his support structure, if you were to put him in a situation where
you think he’d be most comfortable, what would it be like?
   

CLG: I think he’d be most
comfortable at a science fiction convention. I can see him and his friends pawing
over obscure computer games and gawking at the stars of various movies and TV
shows. Rafe is a geek at heart.


GA: Could you tell us about your golden-boy
character, Toby, whom your protagonist Rafe sees in his dreams as Legolas the
elf archer from the Lord of the Rings?  
In your mind, how bad a person is Toby or do you see him as more screwed
up than cruel?  If you were to follow
Toby’s story, where do you imagine he’d be in five or ten years? 

CLG: I see Toby as a Type A
personality. He always has to be the alpha dog. He is also a child of
privilege, and I don’t really envision him stepping outside of that way of
viewing the world. He won’t be taking any Women’s Studies courses at college.
In ten years I see him as a ‘dude-bro’, a member of a frat, forever climbing
the ladder to success. He might change, but it will be a forced change, not the
result of soul searching. He will become that type of person who begins
sentences with, “I’m not racist, but…”

GA: Because of the focus on angel statues and
masks in Bereft, may I ask what do you have on the walls of your room?   How does the art or design in your space
affect your mood and your writing, if at all? 

CLG: In my writing
room, which doubles as a bedroom, there are a few framed posters. Two are by
the surrealist artist Leonora Carrington and one by Max Ernst. Above my bed, a painting of a cobalt
blue woman’s mask stares out above me. A row of glass paperweights sits on my
chest of drawers. I must create in a sanctuary of sorts, I find. I turn on
music when I’m writing—both the visual and aural art help submerse me into my
fictional worlds. I also have to pick the right font to write my stories in!

GA: Rafe’s father makes Rafe aware of
cultural annihilation when mentioning his frustration with the white-only
characters in science fiction and fantasy that Rafe reads.   He brings up stories about a “mischievous
spider and “a black mermaid who was fiercer than Ariel”.  Let’s say a college professor teaching spec
fic wanted to combat cultural annihilation in the curriculum.  When thinking either in terms of what’s been
most fascinating or most important, what stories or books would you love for
people to be exposed to? 
 

CLG: I would direct
them to the works of Octavia Butler, an African American writer whose speculative fiction
focused on marginalized people. I wish I had read Philip Ridley’s work when I was
younger—he writes these weird, magical realist queer fairytales for young
adults. In the Eyes of Mr. Fury and Crocodilia are both out of
print, but snatch ‘em up if you ever find copies.

GA: When thinking of your other writing, do
you have any favorite stories or works?  Are there any characters you’ve created that
you wish you could hang out with?
 

CLG: I would love
to hang out with Olokun, the African sea god who appears in the title story of
my collection, Sea, Swallow Me & Other Stories. Breathing underwater
would be such fun; I had a crush on Aquaman when I was younger! C.B. from Circus
Boy Without a Safety Net
would also be a hoot to hang out with, as would
the avatar of Lena Horne, who also appears in the same story.

 

GA: Could you tell us about your favorite
music and film? 
 

CLG: Well, a lot of the titles of my stories
come from music. “Sea, Swallow Me” is the title of a Cocteau Twins song and
“Circus Boy Without a Safety Net” is an adaptation of a phrase used in a Tori
Amos song. I tend to gravitate towards those works that are atmospheric and
have some imaginative flair. I can only write with wordless and vocal-less
music, so I like a lot of ambient music. I’ve been recently listening to a work
by an artist named Cold Specks. She’s an Afro-Canadian who writes and sings
what she calls “doom soul”: which filters folk blues through a Gothic
sensibility.

As for films, there are too many to list.
Recent films I’ve loved are Beasts of the Southern Wild and Pan’s
Labyrinth
.

GA: I saw an interview you did with author
Hal Duncan, and you asked him a mischievous question, so would it be all right
to ask something similar?    Who in the
world of speculative media – TV shows, film, and cartoons – is hot to you? 

CLG: Let’s see. Glenn, Rick and
Daryl from The Walking Dead—though I imagine they’d be
hygiene-challenged at this point! Idris Alba from Prometheus. John Cho
from the reboot of Star Trek. And many of the men of the American Horror
franchise (Dylan McDermott, Zachary Quinto, etc.).

GA: Here is a question in two parts since you
create both real world fiction and speculative fiction.   First, using real world rules, could you
describe your perfect day?   Where would
you be?  What would you do?   Who would you spend time with? 

CLG: A perfect day? I would spend
the day with a good friend of mine. We’d go to one of those indoor skydiving
places. Afterwards, go book shopping. Eat dinner at a Three Michelin Star
restaurant. And at night, see one of our favorite bands together.

GA: Okay, now could you describe your perfect
day, if it would be different with the help of magic, time travel, space
travel, or a pantheon of handsome demi-gods? 

CLG: I’m torn.

Part of me just wants to
hang out with some dead famous authors. Share an absinthe with Arthur Rimbaud,
talk about art and madness with Sylvia Plath.

Another part of would love
to be Dionysus, the god of wine and abandon, just for a day. You know, wander
around and drive random people into wild frenzies.

 

GA: And last, what are you looking forward to,
in terms of writing projects or life in general? 

CLG: I am currently
working on 2 novels, both with speculative/fantastic elements. I won’t say
more—I don’t like to jinx projects in progress!

 

Thanks so much, Craig!

Keep up with Craig at his blog, Strange Alphabets (http://craiglaurancegidney.com/)

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Picano on Poetry

Presence – Scott Wiggerman (Pecan Grove Press)
Confessions of an Empty Purse – S. McDonald (Frontenac House, Ltd.)
‘Tis Pity – David Bateman (Frontenac House, Ltd.)
The Sensual World Re-Emerges – Eleanor Lerman (Sarabande Books)
It might be difficult to believe, but the early years of the gay liberation movement were accompanied by an explosion of poetry. Among the women poets that stood out then (and now too) were June Jordan, Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich and Judy Grahn. But the gay male poets from England and the U.S. in that era were really too many to count: and the work of people like Sandro Penna. Takahashi, and Constantin Cavafy was just coming out in translation. A few years later, some of America’s best poets would come out also: Thom Gunn, James Merrill, Richard Howard, et al. 
As one of the earliest of gay publishers, through SeaHorse Press, I confidently published editions of two thousand copies of poetry by myself, Dennis Cooper. Rudy Kikel, Mark Ameen, and Gavin Dillard in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Most of those books had to be reprinted once or twice in equal quantities because of demand. Poetry spoke to us directly then. Indeed, I was certain enough of the power of gay poetry that I gave a reading from my book, The Deformity Lover, at that most infradig of Manhattan private clubs, Flamingo, before a night of debauched dance in 1979. This probably sounds like an Age of Fable to poets today who are happy to get a few hundred copies out, but it is true.
Partly, I think, it was because we were in a hurry and didn’t have time for reading novels: after all we were busy creating a Lesbian and Gay Culture, experimenting here and there, trying this and that. Good poetry is instant and memorable. You can read ten lines in a few minutes and say “Yes. That’s exactly it.”  At that time we were describing and explicating our selves and our experiences rapidly: Experimenting like mad. My title poem began, “The first one he loved – an accident/– was a deaf-mute/golden lean as a/ West Coast basketball star.” Who doesn’t get that? Cooper’s first collection was titled Idols and we all knew precisely who those guys were, both the Shaun Cassidys and the Seans across the street. Himself an excellent poet of a later generation, Walter Holland, taught a gay poetry seminar at The New School, and he called us Post-Stonewall writers “The Gilded Poets,” which others likened to The Silver Poets of 16th Century England.
Today few gay poets are well known or well read. Deservedly, Mark Doty, is one, so are Alfred Corn, David Groff, and J.D. McKlatchy. But, more off the track, I can recommend Jeff Mann’s Ash, Trebor Healey’s Sweet Son of Pan,  Emmanuel Xavier’s Americano and Carlos T. Mock’s Infinitas. And check out the titles that Assaracus puts out. The cohesiveness inherent in announcing, declaring and explaining “gay” is gone. Instead there’s a wonderful and intrepid variety of unique voices.
The four books reviewed here represent a sampling of what I consider some of the most interesting voices available today and while they by no means demarcate anything as clear as a trend or a school, they do show what Queer writers are doing with verse to make it new and individual. 
Eleanor Lerman’s poetry is so reminiscent, it seems familiar. She grabs your ear like the Ancient Mariner grabbed Samuel T.’s narrator and you listen: She opens with:
The body, which used to
float down the boulevards, wraithlike
radiating attraction, topped by
a face like a knife with a baby pout
now refuses to get out of bed
Why? Ask it. Go on, anyone
So this is a poetry of mature reflection as well as accusation. But by the middle of her collection, in the poem, “Rehoboth,” she can relax into:
Did I leave out that I miss you,
Whoever you are? That I don’t
need your help, but I wish that you
would come and live with me

Upstairs, there are empty rooms  
and the curtains move with the breezes 
someday it will be spring again,
come home, come home      
   
Torontoan, S. McDonald’s Confession of An Empty Purse at first glance seems like the good old gay poetry. But if the Tallulah-esque drawing on the front cover wasn’t a clue, some titles are: “transsexuals on parliament,” “dr. renee richards or how I stopped worrying and learned to love the gender variant,” “our lady of playtex,” and ‘too big for high-heels.”  This is on-the-street, in the women’s aisles of department stores poetry by a TG who knows everything and shall clue you in, ruthlessly, heartlessly, entertainingly, in perfect meter. As in “a round white suitcase.”

I used to want a
round white suitcase 
with a long strap handle
on top

You know, something
Julie Christie would have used
in Darling.
It’s so sly that you read on and are not anywhere ready for the end:
Holding my
round white suitcase
like a host
blessing all 
who pass me by:

transubstantiation,
Anyone?
But then reality sets in for McDonald, as it does in “Slip” Here is the entire poem:
I want to be as thin as the scars on my wrists.
Another Canadian David Bateman is more, shall we say, Jacobean. In the aptly named ‘Tis Pity, the author is pictured on the cover of the book, in what might be Sascha-Fierce-TG -drag. But the poetry inside is often as personal as it gets, and at times funny and horrible and moving all at the same time.  In a major poem on what it is to be infected with HIV, “What’s it like” he opens with a dialogue of an unspecified  “she” asking exactly that. He begins to answer:


Uh, well, it’s just great, sweetheart
It’s given me a whole new lease on life
mind this lease is quite a bit shorter
than the last one I had

but I still love this one
it makes me look at a beautiful sunset and say
“Hey look at that, eh, its another bloody beautiful sunset.”
Bateman then takes the question onto an entire life and death and everything in between journey, well worth reading for the mental gyrations and emotional gymnastics filled with personal and cultural references that you simply know have to accompany such a diagnosis. He places himself 
On the gutsucking soil of some posing-as-meek colonialist
Un-commonwealth country
And offers: 
it is a terrifying comfort
that’s what its like
it’s the only way to fly.
I’ve got some favorite poems here. “Mist” is impossible to describe, a Debussyan adventure in sense and texture and sound. Far easier is “why did you have to go to a car wash on the way to our mother’s funeral?”  A question posed to a hetero older brother that is both hysterically funny and at the same time a real look at how utterly and painfully different sibling’s sensibilities can be, even at such a momentous occasion.
I love you a lot
but I love pretentious cafes more
overpriced appetizers
outlandishly small entrees served in the middle of a 
pristine white plate
smeared elegantly with pureed broccoli
sour apple martinis with a slice of 
green apple on the rim
and people who know enough not to take me with them
to the car wash 
on the way to my mother’s funeral.
But if the last two writers can be said to represent “edgy” who could be more down-home than Texan, Scott Wiggerman? His latest collection, Presence, is divided into sections denoted by the four elements, with a fifth, Sprituality, added on. These well-wrought poems, often in classic forms like sonnets and sestinas, deal with art and artists domestic life, relationships (“Skin, Power Outage, Shoot-Out”) landscapes and still-life, and are not very different from many of his Southern or Midwestern straight peers. 
Take “The Chosen,” for example, about the animals in Noah’s Ark. As Wiggerman imagines them:
Sex, too, proved suscepitble to boredom
soon the cobras claimed headaches;
even the rabbits agreed to separate berths.
And his take on relationships is calm, considered, and deadly. In “Prespective” he writes
I will never know at what point
I started to disappear
to fitler away like hourglass sand …
But then we arrive at Wiggerman’s gay themed poems (“Family Will, Coming-ut, Letter to my Father-In Law” etc )and these are the artistic,considered and consolidated emotions of a strong, politically uncompromising, out gay man.  
In “Coming Out,” the poets provides a long, curously familiar development of a man coming out with all of its side trips and illusions busted. Concluding
I have lived this poem
for enough of a lifetime
but no more
I’ve come too far
to ever go back.
And in his “Letter to My Father in Law, i.e. to his lover’s parent, who “stares through him like glass,” he opens ruthlessly:
I rode your son hard last night,
Broke him like a wild stallion.
Head pulled back, nostrils wide as moons
Feral cries piercing midnight’s marrow.
Both of us panting at breakneck speed
The rank sweat of man transformed to beast
Effusive as newly drilled oil.
You must know about cowboys and oil.
 
It’s a killer of a poem,  the kind of thing you and I always wished we could say to someone who hates us but who is so close to someone we love. 
Presence is exactly that: a major poetic presence. Highly recommended.
© , 2013, Felice Picano

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Deprivation – Alex Jeffers (Lethe Press)

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Buy it now from Lethe Press

I must confess to loving books with interesting and
intricate plots, marveling at the author’s skill at planning what exactly
happens when. On the other hand, I also love books which have no plot at all
but pull me in and keep me entertained with deep, full characters and marvelous
writing. Alex Jeffers’ latest, Deprivation, is a perfect example of the
latter.

Ben Lansing has a problem, even though he doesn’t perceive
it as such. He doesn’t sleep well; however, he does dream. His dream life seems
to be richer than his waking one of a less-than-dream job and the rigors of a
long commute. He’d much rather be with his Italian lover, Dario, or conjuring a
hippogriff, or fantasizing about animated Renaissance sculpture than deciding
whether or not he’s in love with his former Italian teacher, a randy bike
messenger named Neddy or his possible (and possibly straight) roommate
Kenneth—not to mention his stress over his parents’ impending divorce.

But Ben Lansing’s problems are our delight. Although events
occur and things happen in Deprivation, there is no plot to speak of.
But anyone who enjoys immersion in other worlds will find Jeffers’ literate and
impossibly precise language a rare and beautiful thing. His dream of the
hippogriff is amazingly creative, and he brings it to life with such verve and
style that it truly makes me envious. And that’s only one example.

It would be a waste, however, to characterize Deprivation
as a series of finely wrought dreams. It’s also a sharp character study of
Lansing, a mild and placid man whose deprivation is mostly self-imposed. Oddly
removed and distanced from his, admittedly, boring post-college job as well as
his parents and what few friends he has, he seeks his refuge in art and
literature—reflections of life rather than life itself. Jeffers, then, has
created a cautionary tale whose central character cannot participate in life
because he doesn’t have enough experience with it to be comfortable living in
reality.

This is a direct parallel with Lansing’s parents, Ian, a gay
doctor/father and Sandra, his straight novelist/mother who have lived together
for a number of years in a reflection of a marriage rather than an actual one.
Next to Ben, these character studies are the most keen in the book. The honest
deceptions they have lived with throughout their marriage have set Ben’s
fantasy world in motion, touching off his escapes from reality.

Also well-drawn are Neddy, the badboy bike messenger Ben
thinks he falls in love with, and Kenneth, a straight—but not so
straight—man who wants Ben to be his roommate. With benefits? We’re never sure,
and neither is Ben. One thing is sure: Jeffers’ sex scenes are so marvelously
stylized, you don’t even realize the characters are having sex until the
clothes are off and things are well underway.

Deprived, then, is a wonderfully plotless piece of
art to be savored and admired. How could you possibly ask for anything more?

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©, 2013, Jerry Wheeler

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Beloved Gomorrah – Justine Saracen (Bold Strokes Books)

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Buy it direct from Bold Strokes Books

I can’t think of anything more incongruous than ancient
Biblical texts, scuba diving, Hollywood lesbians, and international art
installations but I do know that there’s only one author talented and savvy
enough to make it all work. That’s just what the incomparable Justine Saracen
does in her latest, Beloved Gomorrah.

Sculptor and scuba diver Joanna Boleyn is engaged in an art
project on a coral reef in the Red Sea. While diving to scope out her assigned
spot, she finds some cuneiform tablets—and gets attacked by a shark, attracted
by dead fish thrown from a yacht owned by film actress Kaia Kapulani.
Kapulani’s lowbrow agent/husband Bernie suggests they forestall a lawsuit by
paying Joanna’s hospital bills and inviting her onboard to recuperate. Kaia and
Joanna fall in love, of course, their affair complicated by Kaia’s marriage,
international intrigue, a bombing, a murder attempt and—oh yes—an ancient
re-telling of Sodom and Gomorrah that could rock all of organized religion.

This is a heady brew for anyone, but Saracen makes it all
not only accessible but damn fun to read. The debunking of the religious myth
could have been overwhelming, especially to atheists like myself, but Saracen
sets the scene, lays the background, and then sets off the bomb with
considerable restraint—just enough to parallel the affair between Joanna and
Kaia.

And that’s another tale. As fun as standing mythologies on
their heads may be, it’s not enough for entertaining fiction. For that, you
need an interesting plot and three-dimensional characters to work through it.
Again, Beloved Gomorrah comes up a winner. 

Joanna is a wonderful creation: adventurous, loving, and
passionate about her art. Kaia is more than a match for her—a woman on the
verge of shaking up her life and her career in more ways than one; an aging
actress ready to move into the next phase.

Saracen’s prose is efficient and purposeful; it’s
straightforward enough to get the point across and just showy enough to make
you grin while reading. My favorite example is this perfect sentence: “Seven
o’clock and the sky was just turning from whorish orange-fuschia-pink to
respectable blue.” It still makes me smile. She also has a great ear for
dialogue that sounds spoken instead of written.

Even if you’re not interested in Sodom and Gomorrah as
paradise or seeing avenging angels as terrorists, you’ll love being sucked
underwater by Saracen’s characters in this addictingly readable novel. Highly
recommended.

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©, 2013, Jerry Wheeler

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Fortune’s Bastard (or Love’s Pains Recounted) – Gil Cole (Chelsea Station Editions)

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Buy it now from TLAgay.com

I’m such a huge Shakespeare fan that I always approach
imitations, pastiches, and take-offs with trepidation. I want to like them, but
so often they are disrespectful and unfortunately ignorant of their source
material. Not so with Gil Cole, who has mashed-up “Twelfth Night” and “The
Merchant of Venice” into a tasty mulligatawny stew whose flavors are as complex
as they are delicious.

Antonio abandons the home of his comfortable youth in
Florence to make his own gay way in the world, becoming a pirate and an actor
before finally settling down in Venice to resume life as a respectable
merchant. He never, however, forgets his first love, Francheschino, whom he
encounters again in Venice, living a dangerous, boy-loving life. Can they
resume their affair, or is Francheschino doomed?

This sort of blending is tricky at best. How do you keep the
originals intact enough to be recognizable while melding them with enough
invention to make them your own? The question is rhetorical for me, because I
don’t have the answer. However, Gil Cole does. The balance is perfect, and the
original storylines he creates to bridge the familiar episodes seem all of a
piece with The Bard of Avon.

Part of this strategy is the character of Antonio, whom Cole
infuses with such life and lust that you can’t help but follow him and root for
him throughout his adventures. And his adventures are the sweeping, epic kind
that take him from town to town, land to sea and back again, replete with
heroism, hedonism, and—yes—homosexualism. His love for the pirate Rodrigo is
deep and hearty, the bondage scenes delicious torture, and the three way with
the moor Adjullo a hearty serving of horny.

Even the minor characters—chiefly Antonio’s benefactress
Caterina and his fellow merchant Gerald deNorville—are drawn with loving care.
Cole’s Caterina is a wonderful concoction, half bawd and half dame with a
vengeful streak a mile wide, and deNorville is a great comrade with a penchant
for conspicuous comsumption that ultimately turns Antonio’s fortunes.

Altogether, Fortune’s Bastard is a thrilling
Shakespearian epic that approaches the mastery of the plays it’s based on, with
the added virtue of having its tongue firmly in its cheek. Richly respectful,
it deserves a read if you love your swashes buckled. And who doesn’t?

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©, 2013, Jerry Wheeler

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