Tag Archives: queer 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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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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