A HYBRID NOTEBOOK OF POETICS AND PORNOGRAPHIES

Pornography Disclaimer

This is a an imaginary diary of facts, confessions, or messages. This is a notebook of working but broken ideas, lines, images, notes on books I'm reading, writers I admire, and brief fantasies of language. Here unfiltered  all mannerings pseudo-private, publicized, ur-. Here I am art and unrevealed: poetic, political and pop. These are my moonlit rough beginnings and should not be taken literally, directly, truthfully, reliably, and none of it is legally binding. These lies are all choreographed, but only haphazardly. Beware.

30.3.08

MY GAYEST CONTRADICTION

Speaking of in-flowering contradictions, identity politics, and fun, this morning I read this post, relating Jay Leno's recent interview of actor Ryan Phillipe and an answer from the gay public. 

Ryan Phillipe's earliest role as an actor was as a gay teenager on the daytime soap opera, One Life To Live. Here's an excerpt from Leno's interview:

JAY: Can you give me your gayest look? Say that — say that camera is Billy Bob — Billy Bob has just ridden in shirtless from Wyoming.

(Your sycophantic audience hoots with laughter at the idea of a strapping lad like Phillippe giving a “gay look.”)

PHILLIPPE: Wow. That is so something I don’t want to do.


Leno's "joke" is "funny" because it asks us to insist on a stereotype we intuitively recognize as taboo.  That is, we must accept the idea that "a gay" is a strange and social abnormality, sideshow, the man-woman, the midget, the bearded lady. The genetic mistake, an aberration with a personality. Now, I'm a great lover of freaks, and in some dark way I love the sideshow, because it is home to my longing. 

But it's also true that this kind of humor reinforces a faulty stereotype. It's anachronistic to think that gays have a "look" that is defining. Caricatures are identity too, but by nature they are reductive, satirical, misleading, false. What's dangerous about the Leno interview is that he forces Phillipe--and in this way the audience as well--into a precarious moment of decision. What is the "gayest look" and how does one make it? There is a violence committed here, that Biblical Gideonse points out, quoting playwright Jeff Whitty's letter to Leno on his blogpost: "would you ask a  guest to make their 'blackest face'? Their 'jewiest face'?"

I like Leno. I've watched the show and probably will again. He makes me laugh, and I understand that comedy is based on the jester's ability to insult the king with the knowledge of himself. But in our reductivist political climate, considering the not too distant memory of the Don Imus incident, it seems inappropriate to incite the harmfulness of a stereotype and then relieve us of the responsibility of saying, this is wrong. At the same time, if you watch the clip, it seems to me that part of the point of Leno's jab is aimed at the nature of television, and the curious job of the actor to present a "gay face" without having to actually present a gay person, which--thankfully!--Ryan Phillipe acknowledges by his refusal.

I don't think we should picket Leno. I don't think his intent was to bash gays. But we can think about the nature of the language used. It's the nature of a joke to trick us, to make us uncomfortable by revealing what's underneath the mask of social etiquette. It's the shock of knowing ourselves as we are that is so funny. We are our best deceivers, psychic tricksters, psycho-comediennes. We should ask ourselves about this instance, What is being assumed for us, and What kind of trick does the language of Leno's "joke" play on us? As a nation, we should ask ourselves what joke television plays on us with its caricaturesque cast types. As gays, our ability to laugh at ourselves is important, but in this case, like Phillipe, we ought to remember that the stereotype amounts to an accusation of cruel inferiority.

A friend of mine who designs toys at Mattel recently told me that in a meeting one of his peers referred to a toy design by saying, "that's gay." Someone spoke back: "Gay as in creative, smart, well-designed?" No. Gay as in inferior, mis-shapen, deformed, and, with old misogyny, effeminate. We often forget the layer of sexism inherent to this trendy insult.

In response to Whitty's letter, this website was started to showcase the simple fact that we--gays, strangers, friends and family--acknowledge that stereotype is a caricature of the many-faced beast of us. It's wrong to assume your face doesn't belong here too. In the end, I'd say, this is fun!--I'm prancing! I'm butch! and mostly, I love Leno for this opportunity to post a picture of myself kissing my own middle finger to the sky.

Friends and Strangers, here I am saying it. American Me. Again. Wearing Whitman:

Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself.
I am large. I contain multitudes.


29.3.08

YO SÍ SOY BANDIDO

Tonight I see that the new Latino Poetry Review is online, and I'm proud to be in it. Javier O. Huerta and I foamed at the mouth for a bit (well, I did, mostly. He's tremendously smarter than I am, so it was hard keeping up.) In any case, it proposes to be a great forum for literary criticism, essays and reviews concerning Latino Poetry. 

I have to say I have a natural skepticism toward group-think of most kinds. What can you expect from a Mexican Irish poet who mostly wants to see you undone. It brings out the fist-fighter in me, the revolutionary prisoner in me, stiletto bitch in me, the blood drunken heartbreak in me, the zapatista guerilla in me, IRA car-bomber in me, the limrick curseword in me, me da un chingo in me, the surrealist priest in me, the Sandra Cisneros like Walt Whitman in drag in me. 

I'd rather see someone fall and laugh out loud than pretend it isn't funny. I'd rather fall down drunk on the laughter of my own spilled blood. But

I'm unabashedly thrilled at this new website.  The promise of having interesting reviews, like Craig Santos Perez' on Alfred Arteaga's Frozen Accident, and more to my own liking, essays like Blas Falconer's in which he navigates what it means to be Nuyorican, even if you're living in Virginia and dreaming of a Caribbean Island. . . 

Friends and Strangers, I like to put on my cowboy boots and my mustache and dance a little banda too. Dos Mujeres un Camino, anyone? I'm old school. I guess what I like best about the site is that I can wear what I like with a little bit of home in it. A little bit my own animal. And what is home to any of us, except the variable of what we speak, to ourselves in the mirror like a bit of lost moonlight, or to each other when we're angry or in love and none of it comes out right? Or to the abyss, like an angry star? What else is home if not the style of a silver buckle lit by a ravenous godlike golden eagle? Well, that's what it is for me, no matter what the hell my poems are talking about. 

Identity is fun because it's fucked up. I mean, abstract. I mean, a carnival. Of unimaginable and astonishing versions of the self. I mean, a joke. A totem of galactic pranksters each with its own likeness to your haircut and your beard and your mischievous sexual smirk. I think the only danger on this site is taking our "selves" too seriously, and I'm hoping that we won't. That is, I'm hoping to see some daring, some risk, some hybrid thinking that's willing to get into a fistfight with itself. So far "we" are on the right track. Do we contradict ourselves? Very well then, we contradict ourselves. We too are large. We too contain multitudes. We shouldn't forget. This site, for me, is about just that: an active remembrance of our in-flowering otherness.  I, for one, am very glad for it. 

Friends and Strangers, you should check it out.


25.3.08

SPRING SPECIMEN

"The Hanged Man is one of the most mysterious cards in the tarot deck. It is simple, but complex. It attracts, but also disturbs. It contradicts itself in countless ways. The Hanged Man is unsettling because it symbolizes the action of paradox in our lives. A paradox is something that appears contradictory, and yet is true. The Hanged Man presents to us certain truths, but they are hidden in their opposites.

The main lesson of the Hanged Man is that we "control" by letting go - we "win" by surrendering. The figure on Card 12 has made the ultimate surrender - to die on the cross of his own travails - yet he shines with the glory of divine understanding. He has sacrificed himself, but he emerges the victor. The Hanged Man also tells us that we can "move forward" by standing still. By suspending time, we can have all the time in the world.

In readings, the Hanged Man reminds us that the best approach to a problem is not always the most obvious. When we most want to force our will on someone, that is when we should release. When we most want to have our own way, that is when we should sacrifice. When we most want to act, that is when we should wait. The irony is that by making these contradictory moves, we find what we are looking for."

Basic Card Symbols

A man hanging by one foot from a Tau cross - sometimes from a bar or tree. His free leg is always bent to form a "4," his face is always peaceful, never suffering. Sometimes his hands are bound, sometimes they dangle. Sometimes coins fall out of his pockets or hands.

Basic Tarot Story

The Fool settles beneath a tree, intent on finding his spiritual self. There he stays for nine days, without eating, barely moving. People pass by him, animals, clouds, the wind, the rain, the stars, sun and moon. On the ninth day, with no conscious thought of why, he climbs a branch and dangles upside down like a child, giving up for a moment, all that he is, wants, knows or cares about. Coins fall from his pockets and as he gazes down on them - seeing them not as money but only as round bits of metal - everything suddenly changes perspective. It is as if he's hanging between the mundane world and the spiritual world, able to see both. It is a dazzling moment, dreamlike yet crystal clear. Connections he never understood before are made, mysteries are revealed.

But timeless as this moment of clarity seems, he realizes that it will not last. Very soon, he must right himself, and when he does, things will be different. He will have to act on what he's learned. For now, however, he just hangs, weightless as if underwater, observing, absorbing, seeing.

Basic Tarot Meaning

With Neptune (or Water) as its planet, the Hanged Man is perhaps the most fascinating card in the deck. It reflects the story of Odin who offered himself as a sacrifice in order to gain knowledge. Hanging from the world tree, wounded by a spear, given no bread or mead, he hung for nine days. On the last day, he saw on the ground runes that had fallen from the tree, understood their meaning, and, coming down, scooped them up for his own. All knowledge is to be found in these runes.

The Hanged Man, in similar fashion, is a card about suspension, not life or death. This is a time of trial or meditation, selflessness, sacrifice, prophecy. The Querent stops resisting; instead he makes himself vulnerable, sacrifices his position or opposition, and in doing so, gains illumination. Answers that eluded him come clear, solutions to problems are found. He sees the world differently, has almost mystical insights. This card can also imply a time when everything just stands still, a time of rest and reflection before moving on. Things will continue on in a moment, but for now, they float, timeless.

Thirteen's Observations

Neptune is spirituality, dreams, psychic abilities, and the Hanged Man is afloat in these. He is also 12, the opposite of the World card, 21. With the World card you go infinitely out. With the Hanged Man, you go infinitely in.

This card signifies a time of insight so deep that, for a moment, nothing but that insight exists. All Tarot readers have such moments when we see, with absolute clarity, the whole picture, the entire message offered by a spread. The Hanged Man symbolizes such moments of suspension between physical and mystical worlds. Such moments don't last, and they usually require some kind of sacrifice. Sacrifice of a belief or perspective, a wish, dream, hope, money, time or even selfhood. In order to gain, you must give. Sometimes you need to sacrifice cherished positions, open yourself to other truths, other perspectives in order to find solutions, in order to bring about change. One thing is certain, whether the insight is great or small, spiritual or mundane, once you have been the Hanged Man you never see things quite the same.

. . . . . . . 

Walking my dog tonight I found this card. Am I this version of myself? Is this Spring a version of my death? Last week I had a dream that an X lover and I were at a guest house for the weekend. He suddenly began having stomach cramps, convulsions--he was naked and vomiting and I had to carry him to his bed. It had a lining in the darkness that was soft. Sleep's hard angle repeated me but

I haven't been able to repeat the dream. I haven't been able to understand a single bleeding sunset. Nor confess--

. . . . . . .

Read this week Susan Howe's essay about Emily Dickinson's poem "My Life had stood--a Loaded Gun", My Emily Dickinson (New Directions, 1985). This is a 140 page close reading of the poem that examines the artistry of a poetess who has long been neglected critically, or read more as a strange eccentric than a true scholar and disciplined author. Howe does Her a superb compliment, fascinating her famous letters to Higginsworth in relation to history: biographical, literary, religious, political and militaristic. Howe examines Dickinson's contemporaries as well as works Dickinson read, authors she admired (Shakespeare, George Eliot), including Robert Browning's "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came", Shakespeare's Lear, Mary Rowlandson's captivity narrative, and early novels of western expansion like James Fenimore Cooper's The Deerslayer in which the hunt becomes symbolic of conquests spiritual and sexual.  I am reductive, but my love is not. She traces Dickinson's vision to the banished minister Jonathan Edwards, whose "negativity, his disciplined journey through conscious despair, humiliation, and the joy of submission to an arbitrary and absent ordering of the Universe, presaged hers":

"Emily Dickinson's religion was Poetry. As she went on through veils of connection to the secret alchemy of Deity, she was less and less interested in temporal blessing. The decision not to publish her poems in her lifetime, to close up an extraordinary amount of work, is astonishing. Far from being the misguided modesty of an oppressed female ego, it is a consummate Calvinist gesture of self-assertion by a poet with faith to fling election loose across the incandescent shadows of futurity." (p. 49)

. . . . . . .

Recently in a letter:  "Guns are my gun." J.C.

"Destruction was my Beatrice." Mallarme

. . . . . . .

What is it we're after if not the unconscious part of what is felt, then said. Crush before reason--a sense before the light carves out the mountain, the window, the tree.

Tonight I walked my dog through the neighborhoods and back to the beach. At the last stoplight a sign: LOST! cute stubbly man. Then a sketch of a man in a baseball cap, a light beard, smirk on his lips. . . and hand-written descriptions: dark hair, stubble, gray t-shirt, mischievous look, "saw you on Abbott-Kinney March 17th. I'm the blond (Aussie) lad, always running late for the No. 1 Big Blue Bus. IF FOUND: I want to have coffee with you."

almost all
dream now--how 
to answer you--Breath
Deep Brother

on the shore 
that is 
your name to me--the sea 
between us--temporary--asleep 
the sunsets all

flutter & repeat--
caught between knowing destruction
or your heart
hot want--retreat,

I retreat! All destructions
--what is human 
the wanting and the not 

knowing what we want--strangers and sleep 
to one another we
leave our signs on the streets--we speak
to one another 

how all
heat speaks to heat--here tonight the sky's 
flirt & hurt--destructions
delights--
torn pink--unspeakable--in Darkness

. . . . . . .

My own relationship to Dickinson is peripheral, or has been. She haunts me with her strange boxes. Phantom fathoms, meaning. I've felt so much more at ease with Whitman, but barbed darkly by her thorny passages. I like her brother, Simic. She seems to haunt us there, in those other boxes, given with such bleak sensuality,--or: with humor and sensuality despite the bleak world,--or: those little caskets filled with beauty's brief intensity, temporal, shadow-licked, gleaming.  

One of my last memories of my grandfather was a discussion of "that last Onset--when the king / Be witnessed--in the Room". I think he had her intensity. "No one can make me believe it," he said, "they've all tried, but I think myself for myself. I don't think God is true." Bold, eternity thinker. Like my Emily, who is also herself most and true. In spite of everyone, including me.

. . . . . .

Who is the Hanged Man? 

"Already worrying about the metaphysical puzzle of time, she knew by instinct what most of us take years to learn, that time lived forward is only understood backward, that social existence merely negates spiritual progress. . . . Splendor is subversive to the Collective will." (54)

I'd like to know Him, but the Dream repeats itself to my bones.

Friends and Strangers, Love Stalkers,

Tonight I have a crush on my own namelessness.

#1214:

We introduce ourselves
To Planets and to Flowers
But with ourselves
Have etiquettes 
Embarrassments
And awes

(1872)
. . . . . .

7.3.08

MY GUN IS HOT PINK

















Friends and Strangers,

The new edition of PISTOLA is online NOW!  

Featuring artwork by CANDE, 

poetry by Molly Bendall/Jason Stumpf/William Stobb/
Todd Fredson/Peter Pereira/Sarah Vap  

and an essay by Rochelle Tobias
considering Gottfried Benn and Stefan George's use 
of a metaphorical star. 


Please visit us, forward us, link us if you can.

. . . . . .  
My photo
I've got one foot in the grave and the other's in my mouth.

Poetry Disclaimer

My work has been awarded the Katherine C. Turner Prize from the Academy of American Poets, a Swarthout Award, and has twice been nominated and shortlisted for the Pushcart Prize. My first book, A Book Called Rats, was selected for the Blue Lynx Prize for Poetry (Eastern Washington University Press 2007). I'm curating editor for the online journal of poetry: PISTOLA and my poems and reviews most recently appear in Massachusetts Review, Beloit, Ploughshares and RAIN TAXI. I currently teach writing and literature at Santa Monica College in southern California.