Leave it to Sibling Rivalry to come up with the great idea of devoting an issue of their Assaracus journal to publishing poetry (and in some cases, prose) by the best and brightest current gay publishers. This volume is an embarrassment of riches for the beautiful and inspiring poetry, the deeply absorbing prose, and the informative articles about the publishing houses. Here you have terrific artists and businessmen like Jameson Currier, Steve Berman, Donald Weise, Felice Picano, Lawrence Schimel, Charlie Bondhus, Ian Young, Perry Brass, John Lauritsen, and Borland and Pennington themselves serving up chunks of their art along with insights about the publishing business in the beginning and now. The treat is in seeing both sides of these talented and driven individuals, giving the reader a feel for the men as well as the work they produce and publish. Rarely have I re-read portions of a book during my review period, but I did just that savoring parts of this collection. You’ll be well-rewarded if you can do the same. We need a second volume for the distaff side, Bryan and Seth. Please.
And speaking of terrific ideas (and delectable covers), Ron Suresha has put together an incredible collection of bear poetry from such bearluminaries as Jay Neal, Daniel M. Jaffe, the always welcome and always interesting Jeff Mann, Emanuel Xavier, Owen Keehnan, Raymond Luczak, Alfred C. Corn, Gregg Shapiro, and so many others. From the pitstinkykink of Jack Fritscher’s “Lazy Bear Gym Exercise,” to the delicious “blow for bucks” of Shawn Syms’s “Head Money” to the road story of Dan Stone’s “Goldilocks and the Papa Bear” to the Christmas porn of Jeff Walt’s “Santa,” Hibernation has all of the bear bases covered. But in addition to all the basic reference points, we find some surprises delivered. Miguel Morales turns in an aching ode to aging in “Reflection,” and Rocco Russo delivers some heartfelt discourse on domesticity in “If I had the time”: There goes the buzzer on the dryer and/The bark of the dogs to walk and the towels/To press or was it the sheets to spread…/I had wanted to write you this poem/But alas I will navigate the terrain of/My household and wait to embrace you. As with the previous entry in this roundup, all I can do is ask for more.
On another side of the genre we find well known furry and performance poet Morris Stegosaurus delivering his first collection to Evan Peterson’s Minor Arcana Press. Absurdist, avant-garde wordplay collides with odd imagery made even more disturbing by its juxtapositioning with common everyday subjects to form a universe uniquely its own. The titles only tell a part of the story: “This is Where Monkeys Fuck Up,” “Amazon.com Customer Review of Tuscan Whole Milk,” “In Base 13 I Am Still Only 29,” and the bizarre “Only a Puppy May Lick the Drunk Death.” Well, they’re all bizarre, really, but Stegosaurus’s world is so well and completely constructed that if you stick with it, it makes its own sense and never colors outside of its own lines. Its humor and sense of playfulness is evident throughout, including my favorite, “YMCA Debunked”: Contrary to the opinion so eloquently expressed/in the Village People’s 1978 hit single,/staying at the YMCA is an unpleasant affair/to be avoided in all but the most desperate circumstances/…The mattresses are stuffed with bread crusts, and/instead of a Gideon, each bed stand contains a copy/of the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition bound in naugahyde. Stegosaurus’s world is well worth the trip.
Back to Sibling Rivalry for a wonderful, if harrowing, collection from Robert Siek, Purpose & Devil Piss. Siek’s first collection is a masterwork of dread, menace, and foreboding. Even the most humdrum objects and concepts acquire a weighty danger, much like the clown on the cover–ostensibly cute but kinda creepy. Not that the peril here is supernatural. On the contrary, it comes from addiction, recovery, relationships, memories, and unignorable trauma. This is evident from the opener, “1979,” which name-checks horror movies The Brood and Phantasm and goes on to mention surgical steel, gloves, razors, and sealants. None of these are used on the narrator, of course, but their very presence lends an atmosphere of tension and fear. This is carried through in less obvious ways in such poems as “Leaf Blower,” “Turkey on Saturday,” “Hari-Kiri Holiday,” “Killer’s Morning,” and “Haunted Homo.” The search for a connection, even if it’s only for online sex, is never far behind, as in “Good Wording and Perfect Punctuation,” but even this has hints of danger: Maybe he can make me smile, or maybe he and I will write love poems/or letters or see The Color Purple for the tenth time together./Six different guys listed it as a favorite movie. One chose the book/as his best read ever. Like a homeless man balling pages
from a shredded dictionary and chucking them like basketballs/into a fire-pit garbage can, I continue to survive, to seek love./I forget an ex-boyfriend, a bad dream—an SUV/making a U-turn in the middle of a state highway—/you smash into the side and explode. Siek’s work is not to be read with the lights off.
Daniel Nathan Terry’s Waxwings could, on one hand, be called nature poetry, but its meaning and sincerity transcend that (and other) labels. Nature is never far from Terry’s mind, as you can tell from such titles as “Winter Moon,” “Burning the Peach,” “The Swan,” “Snow falls in Hartsville,” “The Witch’s Tree,” and “Landscaper’s Curse,” but what better metaphor for life and all it encompasses is there–especially for one who makes his living with nature as Terry, being a landscaper, does? And Terry’s language is beautiful. It’s measured, intricately-wrought and finely balanced, hardy enough to withstand multiple readings yet so delicate you’re afraid to blink lest a misreading destroy its beauty. But beauty like this is tough to decimate. Although it all works together in concert to form one whole portrait, one of my favorite pieces is the title work, “Waxwings,” which opens: Waiting for the school bus at the end of the gravel drive,/eyes skyward, the boy counts thirty-seven waxwings/necklacing the telephone wire. They are too distant/to see the glistening red drops for which the birds are named,/but he knows they’re there, at the tip of those folded wings/like seals on old correspondence between lovers. Other concerns crop up in this collection such as self-discovery (“Gay Son of a Preacher”), familial relationships (“The Last Christmas with My Brother,” grief (“Late Morning in Oakdale Cemetary”), and the question of whether or not permanence is actually permanent (“In the Tattoo Parlor”), but in the end Waxwings comes down to man’s relationship to the natural world around him, no matter what the setting is. Highly recommended.
And there you have Out in Print’s Spring Poetry Roundup. You owe it to yourself to pick up any or all of these slender collections, whether your interest is in the odd, the beautiful, or the inspiring. It’s a shame fiction writers of our station (and by that, I mean those of us who aren’t Stephen King or J.K. Rowling) make so little money from our craft, but what happens to poets is a crime. Once again, this is my call to support gay poetry so that the amazement can continue.
© 2014 Jerry L. Wheeler