Browsing: It's the Poetry Issue

September – October, 2005

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THIS IS a gripping memoir by a man who spent his early life trying to be “the best little boy in the world.” It’s a quest that seems to be common for many gay boys growing up; it’s just that the path taken by Rich Merritt to be the best was a bit more extreme than the one that most boys, gay or straight, pursue. But so was his Christian fundamentalist education …

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… If poetry anthologies are any indication of what various segments of society are thinking about at a given moment in time, gay anthologies show not only the importance of rendering visible a love continually at risk. They also trace an arc of how our concept of gay love has changed over time. The first gay male poetry anthologies, which began appearing with the 1973 publication of The Male Muse followed by Angels of the Lyre (1975) and Orgasms of Light (1977), contain many poems that show gay men’s search for an identity. …

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… Although quite enjoyable, the books are a product of their time, and the reader is transported to the early 1970’s with references to hippies, love-ins, the fuzz (the police), phonograph records, bellbottom dungarees, young people whose motto was “never trust anybody over thirty,” and electric typewriters. …

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Three young poets who have published their first books of poetry in the last year participated in a “virtual panel,” moderated via e-mail, in early summer. In it, they tackled such slippery questions as whether there’s a “gay æsthetic” and the limits of sexual explicitness in contemporary poetry. The panelists included the following:

Jason Schneiderman … Richard Siken … [and] Aaron Smith.

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NEAR THE END of Gus Van Sant’s 1991 film My Own Private Idaho, Scott Favor, played by a young Keanu Reeves, looks out from a limousine window to see his friend Mike Waters, played by River Phoenix, asleep on a sidewalk. The scene represents a significant plot shift in the film: …

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THE MARTYRDOM of gay artists has become something of a cliché. Oscar Wilde, if not the first, is perhaps the most famous. But since then were Yukio Mishima, Reinaldo Arenas, and Pier Paolo Pasolini. To this list we could also add the name of the poet Jean Sénac, who’s widely believed to have been the victim of a 1973 Algerian government assassination.

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“Caution: Extremely gross and disgusting.” Are these words of warning or enticement? When that’s the disclaimer on sexually explicit gay-related material posted on right-wing websites, it’s hard to know for sure.

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“The West thinks of itself as masculine-big guns, big industry, big money-so the East is feminine-weak, delicate, poor … but good at art, and full of inscrutable wisdom-the feminine mystique … I am an Oriental. And being an Oriental, I could never be completely a man.”

– Song Linling in M Butterfly

IN THE CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED play M Butterfly, by David Henry Hwang, the main character, Song Linling, explains his ability to fool a French lieutenant into believing that he was a woman for nearly two decades, a feat based not on his mastery of deception but on the lieutenant’s inability to see him as anything other than a woman. …

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THIS THOROUGH and harrowing book gives us the information we need to assess Oscar Wilde’s place in the creation of modern Western culture and in the history of gay rights. …

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