Tag Archives: Poetry

A Conversation with Emanuel Xavier

939f830c09c60ad8956ed0.L._V192444789_SX200_I first met Emanuel Xavier at Saints and Sinners in New Orleans. Listening to him read was (and still is) a powerful experience. He takes control of his audience, whispering and shouting his truths into its ear like no one else quite can. And those are some powerful and universal truths indeed, be they in prose form (Christ Like) or poetry (as in his most recent release, Nefarious). He recently took some time from his busy schedule of readings and general NYC life to answer a few questions for Out in Print.

Out in Print: What poet or poem was most responsible for your interest in poetry?

Emanuel Xavier: Assotto Saint. He was a gay Haitian poet that died in his thirties to AIDS in 1994. I was working at a gay bookstore in New York City and came across his poetry books. I seriously thought I might be HIV positive at the time and his words inspired me to want to leave something behind. I had an interesting journey and did not want my story to be forgotten or written by somebody else. It turned out I was perfectly healthy but now I had a poetry collection and a voice that needed to be heard. I never even met him or had the chance to thank him but he gave me permission as a queer writer of color to unapologetically pursue my dreams. I had no formal education as a writer and my only literary connection was working at this bookstore but I was determined. More people should know about his work and contributions to our community. Writers like me wouldn’t be here without him.

OiP: Your work is so confessional and personal – is that freeing for you, or does it limit you in some respects?

EX: Both. I have found great freedom in my writing but it has also kept me from perhaps settling down. It has helped me deal with my own personal demons and confront issues that are important to me. However, as far as dating goes, guys are either concerned that they may end up in one of these poems or too concerned with sharing their stories hoping they will. It would be to my benefit to write in metaphors or about things like a pair of scissors.

OiP: Although I know it’s like asking if you have a favorite child, what poems in Nefarious stand out for you as particularly representative of 9781608640942__90288.1378848589.1280.1280what you do?

EX: “The Thing About My Pussy” was great fun because of the double entendre and the humor. Other poems in the book are more representative as far as dealing with sex, religion, politics and delving into my past which those familiar with my work know me for but this one was a lot of fun to write.

OiP: Your readings are always amazing. What do you enjoy most about live performances of your work?

EX: Writing is a solitary act. Not all writers make great readers or like being in front of an audience. It’s not a requirement. Some think it’s perverse to get such pleasure out of a public setting. However, I enjoy being up on stage. My introduction was winning the very first slam poetry competition I ever entered at the Nuyorican Poets Café. I knew then that I had a natural gift for bringing my words to life. It shaped most of my earlier work and I can still get an audience’s attention. I still get nervous much like anybody else but it only means that you actually care.

OiPHow do you feed yourself creatively? What fuels that fire?

EX: I try to read as much as possible when I’m not watching movies or too much television. Sometimes you just have to live and experience life. You never know what will inspire you. I’ve had writer’s block and it’s not fun.

OiP: You’re definitely NYC born and bred – what are the best and worst things about living there? Would you ever live any other place?

EX: Like any other hotspot, it’s that much more of a challenge to find someone to settle down with. Career-wise, it’s full of opportunity if you know where to find it. I genuinely love New York. I’ve lived here all of my life. I’d like to think I could experience living elsewhere at some point. I think perhaps San Francisco could be an ideal setting somewhere down the road.

OiP: I love hearing about writers’ processes. Do you work on paper? Computer? Morning? Evening? Music or total silence?

imgresEX: Sometimes it just needs to be on paper first before I go to my laptop. Other times, it’s right on the computer. Time of day is irrelevant if you are feeling inspired. If I need a push, I’ll listen to some music for motivation. Mostly I prefer to write in silence. Words and thoughts formulate better for me if I’m focused.

OiP: What’s your dream project?

EX: A movie based on the novel Christ Like. There’s been interest but it would have to be done right. By the time that actually happens, it would probably be a period piece.

OiP: What’s next for you? What work do you have in the pipeline?

EX: I see more poetry in my future but I have been approached about writing a memoir. I’m considering my options.

OiP: What else would you say about Nefarious 

EX: I haven’t had the great opportunities that come with an academic background or the support of a major publishing house. There are still so many challenges to being a queer AND minority writer. That and the unlikely trajectory from Pier Queen to this new poetry collection make me appreciate the fact that I still have a career after all these years. All I’ve ever known is the fight to survive. It’s been a bittersweet journey but, if it’s inspired anyone along the way, then it’s all been worth it.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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A Conversation with Shannon Yarbrough

IMG_20130719_075701 Author, blogger, and amateur gardener extraordinaire Shannon Yarbrough has written about OCD baristas (Stealing Wishes), dysfunctional families (Are You Sitting Down?) and the difficulites of coming out in a small town (The Other Side of What), and for his fourth novel, Yarbrough has taken on the audacious task of mashing up Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with Emily Dickinson in Dickinstein: Emily Dickinson, Mad Scientist. Yarbrough put down his trowel and his laptop long enough to answer some questions for Out in Print regarding Dickinstein as well as some other subjects.

Out in Print: How did the idea of mashing up “Frankenstein” and Emily Dickinson come about?

Shannon Yarbrough: It happened last year on opening day for the movie of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. I was driving to work and some local radio station was talking about it. I had read and enjoyed the book the year before and was anxious to see the film. I started wondering what inspired the author Seth Grahame-Smith to write it, so when I got to work I did what anyone would do. I Googled it! Like any writer, this led me to thinking about what kind of mash-up I’d do if I dabbled in this genre. I immediately thought of Frankenstein. Vampires and werewolves have gotten plenty of attention in book, films, and pop culture, so I had to be different. But Frankenstein usually gets thrown into the zombie genre that’s all the rage these days since he was “undead.” I couldn’t get the classic Boris Karloff Hollywood image out of my head though and I wanted to pay homage to him. Given the themes of mortality in Frankenstein, I got to contemplating Emily Dickinson’s poetry which has similar themes, and slowly the two blended together in my head.  I knew it was a stretch but once I started my research and began to form a plot in my head, it just worked!

OiP: What kind of research did you do and how much?

SY: My research was quite extensive actually. I did a lot of it before writing a single word, and continued my research during my writing. Though the book is fiction, I dickinstein-frontcoveronlywanted it to feel real to the reader, as if it could have actually happened, and since Emily was my main character, I wanted her to be as real as possible. All of the background information I wrote on Emily and any secondary characters she interacts with is based on real history and real people. I had actually never read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, so I had to start there obviously. I was amazed at how different it was from what I thought I knew just based on pop culture or Hollywood. I’d read all of Emily’s poems before, but I read them again. Her poems introduce each chapter and there are pieces of poems throughout the story. I also picked up some other older volumes of her poems that contained historical information and letters. Next, I had to research quite a bit about her life, family, and home. Since I wasn’t able to visit, I purchased a spectacular coffee table book filled with pictures of her home and gardens which was quite helpful.

OiP: Was it tempting to write this first person and actually put yourself in her head? Or is there a reason you shied away from that?

SY: I admit I write better in first person at times. It certainly would have been exciting to be in Emily’s head, but I didn’t want to restrict myself there. I think the book would have certainly had a different tone. I needed that third person narrator who knew all mostly because of Emily’s relationship with others in the book: her best friend, her sister, brother, the maid, her biology teacher, her mother and father, etc. Their influence on Emily and on the storyline was just as important, so I had to make them multidimensional, instead of the reader only seeing them through Emily’s eyes.

OiP: This is such a different book than Stealing Wishes or Are You Sitting Down? Did it call for a different process in the writing?

SY: Yes indeed! Most of that involved the research. Anything from electricity in the 1800’s, to the school Emily attended, dialogue or even clothing all had to be researched to make my story feel accurate and historical. I’d always drawn from my own life and personal experience when writing my previous books.

OiP: What was the most difficult part about writing this book? The most enjoyable?

SY: The most difficult part was the dreaded middle, where most writers get stuck. When I sat down to start writing it, the story came pouring out. But I got to a certain point where I started losing steam. I knew how I wanted the book to end. I just didn’t know how to get there.  So, I actually skipped ahead and wrote the ending which was definitely the most enjoyable. After I’d finished it and had my ending, I backed up and had a better understanding how to tie it all together.

OiP: I’m always interested in how writers write. Do you do extensive first drafts with little revision, or do you write quickly and revise later? Paper and pencil or computer? Morning, afternoon or anytime?

dcccc0f28dfe7c4c6c1aa2a2b46b606SY: Stealing Wishes and Are You Sitting Down? were both written in sequential order, meaning I started right at the beginning and I wrote straight through to the end. As I already stated, that didn’t happen with Dickinstein though I did attempt it. I typically like to write one or two chapters a day, always on the computer. I step away, and then go back and reread them the next day before I start writing again. I fix any obvious errors, add or delete, and then start writing the next chapter. Once I’m done with the first draft, I print it out on paper. I let it sit for one week and then I pick it up and reread it with a red ink pen and a yellow highlighter in hand. I mark it up, fix things, make notes in the margin, and then I use it to construct the second draft. Once I’m done, I print again and repeat. After my third draft, I send it off to my editor. I’m typically a morning person when it comes to creativity. Through the week, I have an hour in the morning once my partner leaves for work and before I have to get ready for the day. I call it my magic hour because I’ve always been able to get so much writing done during that time. But with Dickinstein I actually wrote quite a bit at night too. After my partner went to bed, I’d spend an hour or two researching, reading, or writing and then pick up where I left off again in the morning. I wrote the first draft of Dickinstein in just eight weeks, averaging about 10,000 words a week!

OiP: Would you do another mashup?

SY: Definitely!  And it’s already been churning in my head for months. I’ve even been doing some light research. I don’t want to give it away but I will say it involves our beloved Truman Capote!

OiP: What’s the next project?

SY: If the Truman mash-up doesn’t come into fruition, I have a historical novel that I’ve been writing off and on for almost eight years. It takes place during present day and the Civil War. It’s a ghost story centered around a retired famous piano player and her page turner.  I’ve completely started over from the beginning numerous times and only recently I changed the lead character from male to female. If I never write another book after it, I am determined to at least finish this one some day!

OiP: What would you like people to take away from Dickinstein?

SY: If anything, I hope that readers will develop a newfound respect or at least an interest in Emily Dickinson.  I took great care in keeping true to Emily and her life. I’ve admired her ever since I was in college, so writing her in a somewhat historically accurate manner was very important to me. My tagline for the book is, “What was Emily really doing all that time up in her room?”  I’ve always had an interest in conspiracy theories or alternative history, so it was fun to create this unconventional world for Emily in order to answer that question, and in turn I challenged myself as a writer. I’ve never wanted to plug myself into one genre or subject. That’s why all of my books are so different. Writing Dickinstein has definitely been my biggest challenge as a writer, so I just hope readers are inspired and enlightened by it.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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Dickinstein: Emily Dickinson, Mad Scientist – Shannon Yarbrough (Rocking Horse Publishing)

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I love authors who are not afraid to mix things up and take chances. That’s the heart and soul of discovery and creativity, whether or not it works. Explore those edges. Expand those boundaries. Push the borders. Even if the result is failure, the attempt is noble and encourages others to do the same. But Shannon Yarbrough’s mashup of Frankenstein and Emily Dickinson is no failure. It’s not even close. Dickinstein is a wholly sucessful hybrid that gives some new insights and context to her poetry yet provides thrills as familiar (and philosophy as deep) as Mary Shelley‘s original.

Given Frankenstein to read by her friend, Benjamin Newton, Emily Dickinson is inspired to attempt her own experiments into regifting life to creatures of nature. She even establishes a code of behavior for this experimentation and finds that it informs not only her poetry, but her outlook on life itself. But, like many discoveries, it soon grows out of her control, aided by one of her professors who wants to see the principles applied to men. She reluctantly shows him how it works, and he sets about building a larger scale model. They are unable to find a human subject in accordance with Dickinson’s code, however. But when her friend, Newton, dies suddenly…

Dickinson’s reclusiveness and eccentricity lends Dickinstein an all-important air of possibility and makes the suspension of disbelief that much easier. Dickinson herself is not portrayed as an eccentric, however. She merely has other things on her mind. Her curiosity and powers of observation are keen, stimulating her mind so much she cares not whether she misses a meal. Yarbrough does an admirable job in bringing her to life and must have read her work closely indeed in order to construct a character who the reader believes could have written the poems which begin each chapter. And this reader firmly bought it. The poetry and the prose merge until one is another iteration of the other.

Leonard Humphrey, the professor who expands the scope of Dickinson’s experiments, plays the only other major part here–but he too is well-rounded. Intellectual, but with a touch of malevolence. All the other characters, including Newton, seem to be minor and fade into the background. This is clearly Dickinson’s show, which is as it should be.

As with John Schuyler Bishop’s recent Thoreau in Love, there is a marvelous sense of wonder and excitement in Dickinstein, and it’s not confined to the title characters. Creative joy seeps from the pages of both books, Bishop and Yarbrough running over their fields holding their soaring kites in their hands, giddy and giggling as their inventions fly marvelously high. And that sense of joy is infectious. Whenever I had to put Dickinstein down, I couldn’t wait to get back to it to see how her experiments would proceed, how the storyline would resolve itself.

So, Dickinstein is a great mashup and a rousing read full of intellect and creativity. Highly recommended.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

Don’t miss our exclusive interview with Shannon Yarbrough on Thursday. You’ll learn all about Dickinstein and so much more – that’s Thursday at Out in Print. We’re all you need to read about all you need to read. 

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Nefarious – Emanuel Xavier (Queer Mojo Press)

9781608640942__90288.1378848589.1280.1280Buy from Queer Mojo

The transformation of personal pain into art is one of the most difficult yet most effective tools the writer has at his command. When misused, it’s as horribly transparent and obvious as an amateurish plea for sympathy. But when properly applied, it’s as devastating as any weapon in the arsenal. And if any modern LGBT poet has the power to devastate by relating the specific yet universal truths of his life, it’s Emanuel Xavier. If he hasn’t proved it with such wonderful volumes as Pier Queen (which I have as the original chapbook) and Americano, he offers yet another chance to experience it with his fourth book of poetry, Nefarious.

From his youth as a homeless teen, drug dealer, and street hustler, Xavier is making peace with both himself and the universe as he nears forty, but that doesn’t mean he’s forgotten his struggles or his outsider status. Or that he doesn’t repeat some of the same mistakes, as in adding another ex to the pile in “Screen Test,” hoping to find something with whom to share his life (“Encounter” and “Gl’amour”) or turning maybe too far inward. However, it could be the restless search keeping him alive, as expressed in “Mi Corazon”:

“I search for my soul in paintbrush strokes/listen for my muse in Mr. Softee ice cream truck jingles/smile at strangers on the subway for simple humanity/This heart seems a novelty but it continues to love/It makes children out of full-grown men/withdraws the instinctive awareness of animals/It beats enough passion to arouse poetry/etching words that mean nothing yet everything.”

But perhaps the heart of Nefarious is in the multi-layered (and multi-part) “Eucharist of the Reformed Whore” which stretches the middle of the book into a long, deliciously emotive howl that touches on his past, his present, his career, his love, his ambition, how he falls short of his own goals, how he makes love, and how he makes life. Through stanzas both long and short, Xavier’s observations are pointed and plain, all the more powerful for their simplicity: “I didn’t have freckles as a child/They came about as I got older/It seems I get a new one every time I hurt.”

If all this sounds too serious for words, it’s not. Xavier’s natural humor often shines through. He’s not above a good pussy joke (“The Thing About My Pussy”), and his tale of an incontinent trick, “Golden Shower at a Motel 6 in San Antonio,” has some priceless lines:

“In his twenties, he was too old/for diapers. Too young for medical/issues. Waking him up seemed/foolish….I wondered if he still expects/me to suck him off/when the sun comes up./Tomorrow I’ll call him Pee Diddy!/I’m afraid to think what ‘getting/shit-faced’ might mean in his universe.”

But as wonderful as these lines are, they’re even better in context. Xavier has, once again, crafted a fiery blend of truth and triumph, as elegiac as it is electrifying. If you have even a passing interest in poetry, you need to read this. If you love poetry, it will already be on its way to you.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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Running for Trap Doors – Joanna Hoffman (Sibling Rivalry Press)

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The best authors writing from New York City have an underlying feel for the pulse and beat of that city. They know its quirks, its frailties (yes, it has them), and its avenues as well as its alleys. The very best of these authors can translate that into a universality people of all urban areas can feel and know. Joanna Hoffman’s recent release, Running for Trap Doors, has that universality while still retaining the peculiar tang of the Big Apple. 

Hoffman’s work has a weary, resigned pride in its middle-class excesses or lack of them. Its pride also evidences itself in the way she portrays her family, but its tempered with either anger or a detached, observational quality all the more powerful for its absence of emotion, as in her father’s reaction to her birthday lunch at a Chinese restaurant in “1989, Age Seven,” her characterization of her grandmother as crazy old lady in “Godface,” or her mother in “Golden”:

My mother told us/we had to fast on Yom Kippur/to cleanse our sins,/then ate a package of saltines/right in front of us/I’m sick, she snapped. It doesn’t count.

Hoffman’s narrators simply don’t fit in with either their own conception of themselves or society at large. They are uncomfortable in social situations (“Rush Hour Mob,” “Touch”), afraid of expressing their emotions (“What I’ve Been Scared to Tell You,” “Emoticon/English Dictionary”), and consumed by the consumer society as in “Why I Had to Leave the Party Early”:

I don’t fit in here. These girls can smell the TV dinner/on me, the metro card/and the borrowed shoes. These girls smile/like checks ripped from the book…I have Target breath. I bought my fingers/at McDonalds. I sold my sex drive/for pot. I sold my cocaine/for laundry detergent./ You’re a poet? Do you get health insurance?/Last night, I ate a bowl/of late fees. They tasted like home.

I love those last few lines because they are not only about consumption as in eating, but also as consumer of goods, and it all relates back to how the narrator feels about her family. It encapsulates the majority of Hoffman’s work brilliantly. It’s one of the strongest pieces here as is the Dylanesque repetition of “Drunk Girl,” the surrender of “The Gift,” the adolescent angst of “High School Electives,” and the defiant “Pride”:

This is for every wedding I watched from/the sidelines; every fairy tale with stipulations;/every it’s a choice, it’s a phase, you’re disgusting;/every swollen choke of shame I learned to/coat my throat with; every gay kid who/believed nothing would ever make this better/because home meant break the parts of you that/don’t fit into the plaster of who you’re supposed to be./We already are exactly who/we are supposed to be.

But these are only a few facets of an extremely varied voice that resounds across many subjects and areas. Hoffman’s work is powerful and filled with meaning. Highly recommended.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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Summer Poetry Roundup

On the Midnight Stage/High Ground Valley Flashback – Walter Beck (Writing Knights Press)

Dialectic of the Flesh – Roz Kaveney (A Midsummer Night’s Press)

Deleted Names – Lawrence Schimel (A Midsummer Night’s Press)

Fortunate Light – David Bergman (A Midsummer Night’s Press)

What happened to the Spring Poetry Roundup, you ask? Time got away from me, I finished my novel, I started an editing business, we moved the blog — shit, as they say, happened. So, my apologies to Walter Beck and Lawrence Schimel who sent these pieces to me a long time ago. The length of time between when they came out and when this review appears, however, has nothing to do with their quality. And there is some quality here, indeed.

4009-MIDNIGHT-STAGE_zps59e50f58First up is a two-fer from Walter Beck, On the Midnight Stage and High Ground Valley Flashback. On the Midnight Stage contains one or two of Beck’s rare sojourns into love poetry as well as covering his well-traveled territory of late-night hipster road trips and overcaffeinated activism. The pieces in High Ground Valley Flashback are of older vintage and have appeared elsewhere. What I most admire about Beck’s work is its dogged determination to remain different, no matter how much pressure society puts him under–evidenced by his reaction to a letter sent to him by a university judiciary board calling him out for his behavior on an open mic night (“Letter ‘No Bad Publicity’ Mix”) or “Damn It All and Live,” which sees him damning a litany of societal tensions and ending with:

Let it all be damned./Let’s lay here in the early morning mood,/Still sweaty from the late night show,/tasting each other/tasting life/tasting it all/and wanting more.

Beck is young, with many more works in him, and he’ll be able to fulfill the promise he shows with each new chapbook. These are snippets, and his readers anxiously await something long form–a blanket from the bolt of genius cloth he has socked away in his closet. Buy from Writing Knights Press.

516knmqF1tL._SY300_On another end of the poetic spectrum, Roz Kaveney’s musing on queerness and the trans experience in Dialectic of the Flesh is a mixed bag of emotions. From the medicinal resentfulness of “Cunt” to the almost gleeful celebration of angst in “Annoyance” to the short yet powerful examination of empty compliments in “Privilege,” Kaveney cuts deep with some witty, well-observed truths. Her piece de resistance here, however, is “23,” which takes stock of her childhood from her young adulthood.

Your father worried over how you walked/and would not let you act in the school play/for fear that they would cast you as a girl/and make him speak aloud the thought he feared/and start to lose the boy he’d dreamed you were./And how you walked worried your father’s dreams.

Whether she is reviewing history (“Stonewall”) or musing on roles (“Drag”), Kaveney has a unique, original voice you’ll not tire of hearing. Buy from A Midsummer Night’s Press.

51UEoDi+KRL._SY300_As well as Kaveney represents the trans spectrum in Deleted Names, Lawrence Schimel rivals her in breadth and scope from the gay male perspective. From the short punchline of “The Frog Prince” to the smiling truths of “On Men’s Insecurities” to the frankness of “Call Boy,” Schimel not only poses some interesting questions but answers them. But for me, the two best pieces juxtapose form and subject to unexpected effect. Limericks are witty and fun and an extremely familiar part of the poetic landscape, even though many people don’t think of them as poetry. But when limericks turn to serious subjects such as AIDS, the effect causes you to rethink both form and function. Even though I dislike including complete pieces in reviews, I must do so with “AIDS Limerick I: Denying the End.”

These hospital visits portend/that death very soon will attend/this friend with bold face/and bear hug embrace/who begs that I please just pretend

I rarely come across a piece that fascinates me the way that does. It’s devastating. And if you pick up Deleted Names for no other reason, do so for the companion limerick. Buy from A Midsummer Night’s Press.

5123kv+Ni-L._SY300_David Bergman’s Fortunate Light does not take those kinds of chances, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less transcendent. His poems touch on universal themes of love, loss, and bittersweet remembrance. From the contented morning beauty of “Fortunate Light” to the regretful memory of “The Infinite Recession of the Object of Desire,” to the poem-within-a-painting of “John Koch, Cocktail Party, 1956,” Bergman draws you in with language devoid of obscure metaphor, its plainness reinforcing its truth. Lust is also a subject, both casual (“The Hitchhiker”) and more meaningful (“The Distractions of Beauty”). It’s the first poem, “In Nordstrom’s,” however,  that sets the tone for the collection. The simple act of communicating with a shoe salesman ends this way:

“They look good/on you,” he nods, smiling.  And for the first time/I notice all his clothes are wrong/that any clothing would be wrong on the fine/light structure of his bones that was built/only for wings. Just wings.

And Bergman’s words have wings, indeed. Buy from A Midsummer Night’s Press.

And there you have the Summer Poetry Roundup. I promise not to make you wait as long for the Fall installment, for which I have some wonderful stuff already.

Copyright 2013, Jerry L. Wheeler

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