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

smiled
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: 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.