spring… and all

spring and allI read William Carlos Williams’ Spring and All twice through, back to back. Due to my travel boredom, yes, but also because it’s a crazy little book, and requires another go asap. It did for me, at least. I was frazzled and travel weary, my focus wasn’t all there – a great mindset for a mindfuck. This delivers.

It’s a treatise on intellect, creativity, and the boundaries (if there are any) between poetry and prose. While he argues that there are indeed delineations, the book itself argues that there aren’t. WCW writes in deliberately imperfect prose, assigning random chapter numbers and using large breaks between paragraphs so it would seem that each must stand on its own. He leaves off mid sentence, and makes you finish thoughts. He forces you to think, goddamnit. I could picture him cackling with glee as he pushed out another sentence spoken with logical and intellectual assuredness, complete with typos that may or may not have been intentional. And I thought, ‘you’re an asshole, William Carlos Williams’ and laughed, too.

The poem that gets all the attention is XXII, known as The Red Wheelbarrow. But my favourite is XXI (illogically preceding in the right order) that goes,

one day in Paradise
a Gipsy

to see the blandness

of the leaves  —
so many

so lascivious
and still

I don’t know what scholars have said about this poem or this book, perhaps it should be obvious that it doesn’t matter. He’s set up a playground that will make some readers giggle as they wind and dart through the words, that will cause fierce playground spitfights, knock a few readers on their asses because they didn’t see the swing coming back at them, and make some violently ill with the spin.

I was always a playground bystander, unwilling to jump into the fray, so I think the Gipsy is Williams, the Paradise is a false one, and the amusing blandness of the leaves – sheathes and sheathes of tomes of leaves – are overwrought attempts at Great Prose or Great Poetry. And still….

Still, every once in awhile, someone manages to knock out something unique, in spite of themselves. Do I wish I was that someone? Oh yes. But I read stuff like this, and I know that I’m …still on the edge of the playground. I might stay here forever. At least the kids vomiting up their lunch are out there taking it on.

book recommendation: beverley nichols’ home & garden series

down the garden pathYou might be wondering why I would recommend a series of gentle home and garden books recounting an English gentleman’s town and country lifestyle. Beginning in the 1930s and moving onward at a slow pace, at first glance, Beverley Nichols’ books might not seem to have much to offer modern day readers.

The setting and pace of the books might be gentle, but the author is far from gentile when recounting his experiences with nosy neighbours, female gardeners, and lazy servants. And yet, he remains likeable. Much of that is due to his humour, and he also wins points for relating several useful tips, such as the best methods for transporting and arranging flowers, and how to find out if your neighbour has cheated and bought plants in pots rather than growing them from seed.

Nichols is one of those lovable aristocratic types. He often doesn’t even seem to realize when he’s being a dick, or is gleeful in his calculated dickish behaviour. He also has that talent of the clever and privileged for talking openly about his personal life while neither hiding nor revealing the details. It’s not difficult to figure out that he slept with more than one of his frequent male houseguests, for instance. From what I gather, Nichols was quite the wild one, with a penchant for rough trade; easily believable from what we see of his rakish personality.

I haven’t yet read his entire home and garden series (there are 11 in all), and I think I’ve lost the correct order, but I haven’t found that it matters a whole lot. The books stand well on their own. Nichols was prolific, authoring several other books, novels, and plays. He must’ve been fun to hang out with, and he had several well-known friends and enemies. Bratty, intelligent, and very human, his narrative books make for good bedtime reading – stuff that lulls you to sleep with a few laughs, and visions of thatched roof cottages and winter flowers dancing in your head.

sometimes a brick is just a brick: or, the incredible triteness of p33ning

Writing is my overriding passion, on which I spend most of my time and energy. But I also have a great interest in fine art, and I’ve spent years educating myself on different artistic periods and movements.

the lute henri matisse

the lute henri matisse

The Renaissance is overwhelming in the vast amount of sculptures and paintings produced, and I’ve just nicked its surface. I’ve spent a great deal of time enjoying the Impressionist period with its glut of bigtime artists, and the subsequent flow into modernism with Cézanne and Matisse leading the brigade. But I have danced around the perimeters of contemporary art, because for me, it’s a minefield.

It’s true that nearly every movement suffered through a period of adjustment, wherein art and artists were mocked before they were appreciated. New things are difficult to take in, and it does require dedication to receptiveness, and the trust that you will find the keys to opening those doors. I’m missing some keys.

le gerbe henri matisse

le gerbe henri matisse

I plunged in with Matisse, who showed us collage as fine art. There are certain shapes that repeat throughout his work, whether paint or paper, that make his evolution as an artist easy to follow. I have a great love for Picasso, which led me to his contemporary Duchamp, whose evolution was made in leaps rather than steps. He was a cubist painter who moved on to what he called Readymade art – he’s the one who signed a urinal and called it good.

Now, that was quite a jolt to the public. People hate to be jerked around, and that’s what it felt like to some – a twisted joke, making fun of their sensibilities. It was one of those Emperor’s New Clothes situations in the art community, where you were either going to join in the praise or fear for your head. Or miss out altogether.

fountain marcel duchamp

fountain marcel duchamp

The thing about Duchamp’s urinal was that it was legitimate, in that it was a new definition art. He saw it as engaging the viewer by providing an opportunity to view and define art from a different approach. He said he felt unmoved by these objects, and therefore instead of forcing us to praise the Emperor’s complete lack of clothing, we were allowed to stand back and make an assessment based on our own aesthetics.

I really am building to a point, here. Bear with me.

There have been standout artists in the time since Duchamp busted open those doors. Andy Warhol took everyday objects and arranged them in ways that we couldn’t help but notice, and therefore see in a different light. Jean-Michel Basquiat took graffiti and moved it into artistic statement. The thing is, there are a handful of standouts in a glut of artists. I know when I’m looking at a Basquiat, because there is unmistakeable skill in what he gave us. Put his work beside an admirer’s, and there absolutely is a detectible difference in the use of paint and form and space. We can’t all be geniuses.

untitled (skull) jean-michel basquiat

untitled (skull) jean-michel basquiat

So it is with much difficulty that I approach the majority of contemporary art. A signed commode does not speak of greatness to me, it speaks of a lack of originality. A dirty mattress shoved into a corner, a brick on the floor – to me, they read as jaded attempts to mimic a greater man’s work. However, I can’t believe that we’ve wrung all creativity out of ourselves, even as presentations such as these have me asking, “is that all there is?” Have we said everything, done everything? No. And there will be many more innovators who come along and pull us into something completely new. So far, with my present day view of what is and isn’t significant, I have largely been unmoved.

Sometimes, a brick is just a brick.

Which brings me to the second part of this diatribe: Are the plain bricks essential? Are they basic structures upon which the innovators can build their masterpieces? Or are they merely obstacles in the path.

david michelangelo di lodovico buonarroti simoni

david michelangelo di lodovico buonarroti simoni

I’m drawing a parallel between fine art and the written word, because I think the same factors apply. You have innovators and you have mimics, and in between there are perfectly acceptable, if not remarkable, stories to tell.

But there’s a new medium that is influencing our output and our standards, and I’m afraid it’s not all for the better. Epublishing is like Duchamp’s urinal. There is the initial innovation and the ability to engage the public in a way that has never before been explored, and then there is the ensuing onslaught of those who would sign their name to anything and call it good, not out of creativity, but because they can.

olympia edouard manet

olympia edouard manet

Finding your way as an artist is essential. There are a few prodigies, and there are a much greater number of those who work their way toward success. That’s true in any art form, including writing. But is it right to pull something half baked from the oven and serve it up to the public? Isn’t that detrimental not only to the artist, but to the audience? Standards will either drop to invisible clothing levels, or leave the public cold.

It’s freezing out there.

And I’m not happy about it, because it’s not the self published would-be artists—who have every right to hone their craft in whatever way they see fit—who are the problem. It is the proponents who are eschewing standards in favour of cheap and cheerful profit. It’s easy to do with a virtual product that requires little more than a push out the door.

les demoiselles d'avignon pablo picasso

les demoiselles d’avignon pablo picasso

And it’s definitely, definitely exacerbating the already existing obstacles in the path of certain genres. Genres that have a sexual focus. Genres that have gender centred focus. I don’t believe this is commode art, I never did. I believe there are innovators, and I absolutely believe there are great strides to be taken in introducing the public to new art forms, new thought processes, and a new way of engaging with the world.

It has happened before. The human body has long been revered as an artwork in itself. Prostitutes have become a revelation, their depiction a thing of beauty; urinals have become Fountains of forward thinking. Ugliness has been ground breaking and glorious. Defacing has offered statements of importance. In fine art, sex, along with several other plain and simple facts of life that have routinely been kept hidden, have become masterpieces of artistic expression. Why should the art form of words be any different?

nude descending a staircase marcel duchamp

nude descending a staircase marcel duchamp

But we have to respect it in order to elevate it. We have to revere it, and embrace the beauty in order to share it. We have to give the world something that will break through the barriers and allow others to see and experience in a different way. We have to believe in our art and respect ourselves as artists, and our venues and avenues must support that as well. We’ve got to step up and take control of what has become an increasingly precarious situation.

We’ve been used and abused as much as our subject matter, and the exploitation is becoming more and more mainstream. The more visibly prevalent it is, the more widely acceptable it becomes to marginalize. Those who have never before ventured beyond the black curtains are being introduced to a view that is the exact representation of their worst expectations, which greatly influences every subsequent encounter.

We don’t have to call it good, because I know we have something better to show for ourselves. We have prodigies and skilled artists and innovators who can lead the charge, if we as artists and champions of the art of words make it a priority to support them. Are we ready for a revolution? A Salon des Refusés for writers of debauchery, who are poised at the entry to a key shift in culture.

I think it’s time.

rainbow book reviews blog hop topic: what does writing glbtq literature mean to me

Time to hop to it with Rainbow Book Reviews Blog Hop, August 24-26! I’m looking forward to meeting so many talented people.

From reading everyone else’s blogs, looks like I did the prize thing wrong – typical of me. So include in your comment the name of the first fictional character you fell in love with and I will give away a copy of my ebook short, Revolving Door at random.

Also, I’m having a love/hate relationship with Blogger – mostly hate, because it doesn’t want to take all of my comments. Frustrating, since I’m reading and enjoying all of your blogs. When I get back to a decent connection on Tuesday, I’ll revisit some of the blogs I’ve been having trouble with.

What does writing GLBTQ literature mean to me?

There are many reasons why I’ve chosen to write literature featuring gay characters, from the prurient to the purposeful. Intellectually or aesthetically, what’s not to like about two (or more) beautiful men being beautiful together?

Everything I do is an opportunity to play, and invite others to play along. I first began writing stories involving gay characters to entertain my friends. They weren’t finding the scenarios they wanted to read, so I took their requests and wrote what I call “one offs” – short stories around those themes. I found that I liked it, and was rather good at it. From there I took off on my own, creating characters who are gay, bisexual, and who transcend gender, and providing worlds within worlds to give them the freedom to tell me their stories. Often it does seem like that – my characters guide me and I follow along, capturing their words and actions.

I’ve been fortunate to be part of several communities in which people are open and encouraged to be themselves in whatever respect. I am in great favor of breaking barriers and coloring outside of the lines, and I love people who never hesitate to be who they are and do exactly as they want and need for themselves. I find it inspirational and energizing. The personal freedom in turn opens creative freedom. I am unlimited in what I choose to explore in my writing, and how I choose to express myself.

I write stories with the purpose of entertaining, of course, but also to support and cheer people on to reveal those wonderful, inspirational sides of themselves that I so admire. Hardship and pain involving sexual identity is not my subject. I cannot assume to imagine, much less write about, those very visceral stories and so I leave that to those who can rightfully and artfully express them. For me, it’s about taking subjects and inspirations I respond to, and creating stories around those. My pieces are odes to authors, to literature and art and music I admire, to commonly held metaphors and belief systems – things that I love, things that fascinate me, and that we as a culture experience collectively and as individuals.

Right now I’m working on a five book series that I’ve fashioned as a metaphysical adventure. Vampires and werewolves and things of that nature are fun and have their place, but I wanted to develop a series around the metaphysics of the natural world – things that seem fantastical, but are in fact knowable and relatable and subject to mastery in the hands of those who are attuned to their nature. It’s meant to be empowering and inspirational as well as just a fucking good time, playing around with the unexplored and uncovering unique secrets and powers. A metaphor, if you will, for the powerful nature and unique experiences of gay men. They’re very sensual stories, I’m looking forward to sharing them.

I also have the loftier personal mission of blurring the lines between genres. I don’t like labels. Gay lit, romance, fantasy, classic lit – I know I’ve been put off by some of these labels, and I also know I’ve missed out on some really wonderful stories because of it. These are unintentional limitations to the power of the written word to reach across boundaries and invite people to discover new spheres, different ways of thinking, and to gain new passions. I don’t consider what I write to be exclusionary to anyone, and I want to encourage people who haven’t explored so-called gay lit titles to delve in and experience life through my characters.

book recommendation: the world of jeeves

Everyone has a blue day once in awhile. When nothing goes right, when your boss or boyfriend or barista was a shit to you FOR NO GOOD REASON (or maybe with slight reason, but even if you deserved it, you were probably cranky to begin with) or when you have a cold and your head feels like it’s stuffed with cotton – you need cheering up. On days like that, it’s best to retreat to your bedroom or couch with a blanket, something warming to drink whether it’s tea, hot chocolate or a glass of wine, and this book.

The World of Jeeves is filled with wonderful short stories featuring P.G. Wodehouse’s characters of Bertie Wooster – a wealthy bubbleheaded and cheery good soul who constantly finds himself in a spot or two of trouble, and Jeeves, his impeccable manservant who always gets Bertie out of those same spots. The setting is 1930ish London and outlying country houses, and the world is one in which the worst problems of life involve extracting one’s self from an unfortunate engagement – something Bertie often finds himself whiplashed into.

Wodehouse’s writing is fun to read. Not only is he hilarious, he’s also damn clever and plays with the English language like few can:

“Lady Malvern was a hearty, happy, healthy, overpowering sort of dashed female, not so very tall but making up for it by measuring about six feet from the O.P. to the Prompt Side. She fitted into my biggest arm-chair as if it had been built around her by someone who knew they were wearing arm-chairs tight about the hips that season.”

“I mean to say, for years, right back to the time when I first went to school, this bulging relative has been one of the recognised eyesores of London. He was fat then, and day by day in every way has been getting fatter ever since, till now tailors measure him just for the sake of the exercise. He is what they call a prominent London clubman – one of those birds in tight morning-coats and grey toppers whom you see toddling along St. James’s Street on fine afternoons, puffing a bit as they make the grade. Slip a ferret into any good club between Piccadilly and Pall Mall, and you would start half a dozen Uncle Georges.”

You can’t help but smile when reading things like that. This is a perfectly gentle introduction to

hugh laurie and stephen fry

Wodehouse, especially for those in need of pampering. Read just one story, or as many as it takes to pull out of the doldrums. Stephen Fry, who portrayed Jeeves in the series, “Jeeves and Wooster” along with old friend and comedy partner Hugh Laurie as Bertie Wooster, named Wodehouse’s stories as those he turns to when in need of a quick buck-u-uppo, as Wodehouse would say.

Oh and by-the-by, if you can lay your hands on it, watch Stephen Fry’s Planet Word. It’s a five part series on language – how it developed, how we learn to speak and how language evolves, and the wonderful – and sometimes sinister – ways in which it is used. Those in the U.S. might have trouble finding it in playable form as it’s a BBC series, but it’s well worth the hunt. If you are linguistically inclined, or even if you couldn’t give a rat’s ass but enjoy a well-told story and a laugh or two, give it a go.

book recommendation: death in venice

It takes few words to achieve greatness. There are two novella-length books that are so grand in content, the resulting response consists of volumes and volumes of discussion and contemplation. Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground is one; Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice is the other.

Death in Venice is written in beautiful prose – I wish I could read it in the original German to fully appreciate the subtleties, but from what I’ve heard, the English translation by Clayton Koelb most closely follows the style and intentions of Mann. It’s the edition I have, and I’m very happy with it. There are also lots of useful footnotes that help to clarify the significance of the setting, the time period, etc.

Now, before I potentially scare anyone off with words like ‘footnotes’, I want to reiterate that this is a shorty – 63 pages, is all. The rest of the book contains discussions, and explanatory texts and maps. They aren’t necessary to the story, but if your interest is piqued – and I’m willing to bet it on it – they offer some interesting insights.

This is the story of Gustav von Aschenbach, a writer who has strained his literary muscles and is in need of a break. He goes to Venice to stay at a “resort” hotel for a period of time. The date we’re given is 19__, but the book was published in 1912 and contains some historical facts from 1911, so it’s no big secret as to when it takes place. Gustav is 50ish, and feeling unwell. He spends a lot of time sitting in the hotel common rooms and on the beach, people watching. He becomes fascinated with a 13-14 year old boy, who is staying at the hotel with his family.

Tadizo is a beautiful boy, so perfect that Gustav likens him to Narcissus. He seems to live for his next glimpse of Tadizo, and even admits to himself that he’s in love with him. Many critics and readers have labeled this as pedophilia. Gustav never acts on his adoration, but some find his attraction unsettling. I say: not so fast.

I am giving my interpretation here, it may not match with some critics and scholars, but I think to slap Gustav with the Scarlet P is too quick a reaction. There’s much more intricacy to his attraction. The comparison with Narcissus is just one of the references to Greek myth and gods made throughout the book. In my opinion, what he’s experiencing is mythological in its remote and beautiful, unattainable nature. He’s not truly expecting to possess Tadizo, nor do I think he wants to.

There are some things so beautiful, so revered, that they’re impossible to possess without ruination. We’re a tactile lot, we see something pretty or interesting and our immediate impulse is to put our hands all over it. But what we’re driven to do and what we’d really act on, given the chance, are two different things.

When I saw my first Van Gogh up close and personal, after I (nearly) pissed myself, I wanted to get as close as I possibly could to study it. The knife slaps of thick paint are evident even in photographs; in person, they stand out in relief, very nearly like all those beautiful marble and stone Greek gods chiseled into temple walls. Tactile. Now, I did set off the alarm, but that’s because I leaned too far over the acceptable barrier. Yes, I went too far; but never, never would I touch it. I couldn’t live with the guilt and shame of putting my stain on even one little peak, and ruining an imperceptible and nearly unmeasurable speck of paint. But it would be there, a blot on his work, and if everyone succumbed to this impulse, soon it would be ruined.

People are like that as well. Say the wrong thing to a child, intentional or not, and we mark them for the rest of their lives. Force them into certain directions and mindsets, touch them in ways no living creature should be touched, and we could break them irreparably. I think Gustav is aware of this. Tadizo is a work of art, something to be admired, worshiped, dreamed about, but never touched.

There’s also the conditions Gustav finds himself in. He’s an older man – physically and mentally much older than a man of 50 is now – and unwell. There’s a cholera epidemic in Venice, people are dying. He feels his mortality. Tadizo is youth and beauty and fresh potential – everything Gustav has lost and is gradually losing permanently, even as memories. Tadizo is a god, a mythological creature. Gustav’s love for him is a brief escape from reality, his lifeline.

Death in Venice is beautiful in every sense of the word. There’s nothing shameful here, nothing unsavory happening. It’s primal nature and survival and mythos and the drive to attain the unattainable. Take it into your hands and enjoy the experience.

my bohemian fantasy

I’ve been trying to write a review of Graham Robb’s biography of Arthur Rimbaud for my Goodreads page, and all I can come up with is “When I regress, I want to be Rimbaud.”

I am fascinated with the artistic mind. There’s an ongoing debate about whether insanity breeds genius or vice versa, but it’s clear that minds which produce remarkable art don’t fire on the same synapses as most. I think one has to see the world at a slight tilt to uncover the potential of what could be in what is. It’s what causes the “artistic temperament”  – the moods, the inclination to enjoy things that even further skew perception, the disregard for anything that interrupts focus, including practical matters of paying bills and observing social niceties.

A certain dedicated motivation is required to create on that level. We assume they’re being difficult or are just plain crazy, when I think the truth is not so simply measured. Rimbaud is known as the enfant terrible of the decadents, and he became the go-to icon of those who only dream of such ballsy indifference (backed by the credibility of incredible gifts, of course). It all seems very romantic and attractive. It is very romantic and attractive, looking at it from this side, but I have no idea of what it was like to be in his head. Seems to me he lived a relentless life from beginning to end, a sort of hard-won freedom.

I guess the question is whether the legend is worth the difficulty in getting there. He certainly knew nothing of his upcoming immortality when he was slumming it around the streets of Paris, and ultimately dying in pain and delirium. I really doubt he would’ve cared. But if he had to trade in his brief fling with poetic genius for an easier road? No fucking way. He did what he did not as pretense or precursor to fame, but because he could. Experience is what he was after, in his writing and in the way he lived his life.

So maybe I should change that first line to “When I truly want to be Rimbaud, I will progress.”

Ma Bohème (Fantaisie)

I ran away, hands stuck in pockets that seemed
All holes; my jacket was a holey ghost as well.
I followed you, Muse! Beneath your spell,
Oh, la, la, what glorious loves I dreamed!

I tore my shirt; I threw away my tie.
Dreamy Hop o’ my Thumb, I made rhymes
As I ran. I slept out most of the time.
The stars above me rustled through the sky.

I heard them on the roadsides where I stopped
Those fine September nights, when the dew dropped
On my face and I licked it to get drunk.

I made up rhymes in dark and scary places,
And like a lyre I plucked the tired laces
Of my worn-out shoes, one foot beneath my heart.

too bad so sad

There was a time when it was virtually impossible to find a story featuring gay characters that didn’t end tragically. Like there was no other option – loss and unhappiness was the inevitable outcome in fiction, as in life. Well of course, that’s bullshit; has always been bullshit. Life is not an endless stream of placidity, but that’s true for everyone. Nature, left to her own devices, shows no discrimination in doling out good fortune and tragedy.

brokeback mountain

proulx’s sad story

No matter what the time period, location or common condition, there have been happy, fulfilled, well supported gay people. Perhaps high on the fortunate scale, some might say – yes, very true, there’s no question that overwhelmingly, circumstances have been difficult, even dangerous. But it’s also dangerous to have the scales so constantly tipped on the side of tragedy. Think about it: if every story of the girl’s handsome prince was like that of The Little Mermaid (I’m talking about the original Hans Christian Andersen story wherein the little mermaid lives in excruciating mute pain in order to win her prince, and when she fails, dies alone in sadness, transformed into sea foam – not the sanitized Disney version) do you think for one moment that little girls would have the happily ever after princess fantasy?

the mudge boy

just kill me now

That’s changing, of course. Gay boys and girls of all ages deserve and need their happy stories. There are more positive stories available, more celebrations and triumphs, and more situations presented in which characters go through the everyday trials and tribulations we all face, their sexuality in no way a cause or effect, or even significant to the story. Still, there seems to linger that propensity to err on the side of misfortune. Perhaps it’s a matter of following the well traveled route laid out before us; perhaps it’s laziness or pessimism or a love of tragic romance.
a single man

tragic or beautiful?

And yes, there are still unfortunate stories to be told – will always be, due to the human condition. We can’t just sweep that under the rug and hope for the best. Reminders of this serve an important function in keeping society on the forward move, and we do need constant prodding. We take an awfully long time to learn lessons, and even so, there will always remain pockets of the uninformed, or holdouts who refuse to accept what should be common knowledge: the Earth is round, disease is caused by bacteria not demons, sexuality is naturally varied.

brideshead revisited

tragic story. gay story?

We need these stories to remind us, motivate us, share solace and support. There are many people to tell these stories much better and more deservedly than I.

I also can’t tell fairytales – neither Grimm nor jolly (though I think jollity in fairytales is a rarity). I must leave that to others more qualified as well. My focus is more on the everyday aspects of life. They’re not always positive, but that’s most often due to circumstance, not sexuality. Ultimately, I want to tell stories of human experience. Our tenacity, our successes and failures, the things we contemplate, the things we encounter as we go along our singular ways. To be human is divine, and that’s something we all share in.

to be or not to be

How do we feel about author information? Authors are like painters and sculptors and filmmakers – they are not inseparably joined to the art, not physically. Not knowing who the artist is doesn’t detract from the significance of the piece. And I argue that at times, it’s preferable not to know. The freedom to be completely absorbed in the experience without intrusion. Yes, sometimes the artists are the intruders.

Does it matter that Caravaggio was an asshole or Truman Capote a sly little drunkard? Perhaps. Perhaps not. At least not at this point. Were Caravaggio alive today, we might have another view of his destructive, murderous temper. Distance can seal the gap.

And then there are the instances of a work being enhanced by the physical presence of the creator. Music is like this: people are interested in the performance, not just the music. Popularity of singers and bands often are not judged on the quality of work, but the allure of the presentation. If paintings and books were judged on the attraction of the artist, how many works would be rejected?

Truman Capote’s sensual author picture on the back cover of Other Voices, Other Rooms is what threw that genius of a writer into the spotlight. His work was worthy of attention, but the come hither look of the young author is in part what made the public, well, go hither and read his words. Would his popularity have been affected had it not been for that debut photograph? I’d like to think not. But soon his work was overshadowed by the troubled man beyond the pages.

Henry Miller, who was unmistakably a complete ass, became more charming once I saw an interview with him as a much older gentleman, that took place in his bathroom, of all places. Is he still an asshole? Yes. But now he is a forgivable asshole.

I had both condemned him and forgiven him long ago when I read his words. Words that made me want to slap the piss out of him, and also drew me in to worship. I wanted to lick those words right off the pages, no matter how tainted they were.

So does it matter? Are there forgivable and unforgivable sins? Is there a line to be crossed, a curtain which should be kept drawn? Pay no attention to the artist behind the art. The magic is in the meaning.

book recommendation: homosex: 60 years of gay erotica

I really love this book – it was my first foray into reading gay erotica, specifically chosen because I wanted a general overview of erotic writing throughout a period of time. Edited by Simon Sheppard, This anthology gives the perfect taste, beginning with a wartime conquest so exciting, exclamation points are employed with abandon!

It provides a little slice of the history of gay erotica, with commentary at the beginning of each story that notes what was happing in society and gay culture at that time, and many pieces reflect important strides in gay themed literature, the beginnings of sub cultures such as leather, and confrontation of the era of the AIDS epidemic.

There are interesting revelations about the restrictions put on publishing gay themed literature and how these were circumnavigated. The first story, Navy Daze, was published in 1945 in Tijuana in mimeograph form. Erotic stories were later published under the guise of pseudoscientific analyses of “deviant behavior.” The Anal Compulsion in Homosexuality, published in 1968 – interestingly enough after those constraints were lifted, is a great example of a writing style featuring clinical descriptions of acts followed by “case studies” – personalized accounts of engaging in these acts. Way to put it out there, you clever boys!

My favorite story, Winter Count written in 2005 by Trebor Healey, features body art as communication of painful things, beautiful things, personal struggles and victories, and deep love. Not so much an erotic tale, it’s more a story of overstepping the labels we put on ourselves and each other, and getting to the heart of the matter: compassion, devotion, and the ability to rise to the most difficult challenges in life with subtle grace.

In all, there are 24 stories that not only stimulate the senses, but also the mind. It’s wonderful to read these works and marvel at the tenacity and ingenuity of the writers who brought these stories to an audience far too long deprived of stories reflecting their lives, their dreams and desires, their struggles and triumphs. Makes me proud to carry on the tradition.