Category Archives: GLBT poetry

“bury it” by sam sax— Looking at Death and Desire

sax, sam. “bury it”, Wesleyan Press, 2018.

Looking At Death and Desire

Amos Lassen

sam sax’s “bury it” opens with poems written responding to several highly publicized young gay suicides in the summer of 2010. sax gives us visceral meditations on death, rites of passage, the Diaspora translation, personhood and desire. We, with the poet look at the choices and the mistakes we make and we question them. These are poems of discovery and just in case we have forgotten, sax reminds us that the heterosexual world has ruled over us, dismissed us and tried to erase us totally. Many have been driven to take our own lives and sax will not let us forget those who did. In the poems, we read the silent desires of those who were unable to vocalize them because of shame and fear. We question the society that has allowed this to happen and we say Kaddish for them remembering that it is a prayer that does not mourn but rather praises where no praise is due. Personally, I find Kaddish the most difficult prayer to recite for someone I have loved and I have done so many, many times. It is the finality of those words that maker death so real.

I love that sax also resurrects those beautiful men we have lost as he writes about death and desire. Regardless of cause of death (disease, cancer, suicide, AIDS), they return to us through remembering them and their lives, their eroticism and their humanity. They were part of us but are gone and gone with them are their worlds. We did not have to know them; they existed and they were part of us just as we were part of them.

Drawing on his queer and Jewish identities, sax morns the physical and what it might have been. He challenges gender with “i never wanted to grow up to be anything horrible as a man […] i prayed for a different kind of puberty […]”: “it’s not that we’re all born” “genderless, though we are.” Art is a commentary on society and these poems offer an alternative to what have becomes traditional perspectives on gender and suggest that identity itself is not fixed.

The poems look at mourning from many different perspectives and from many different aspects, “maybe i can’t see you now without also seeing you dead.” Mourning can also come before death like when an illness is discovered. We are all impermanent and we all will die. We must accept this while at the same time keeping a loved one alive in our mind.

Rejecting the notion of death as permanent just as he rejects fixed gender reminds us just how nuanced death is and what it means to bury not just the body but everything else as well.

“Of Kings and Things: Strange Tales and Decadent Poems by Count Eric Stanislaus Stenbock” by Eric Stanislaus Stenbock— A Decadent Writer

Stenbock, Eric Stanislaus. “Of Kings and Things: Strange Tales and Decadent Poems by Count Eric Stanislaus Stenbock”, MIT Press, 2018.

A Decadent Writer

Amos Lassen

“Of Kings and Things” is an introduction to the decadent writer Stanislaus Eric Stenbock for the general reader. It is made up of morbid stories, suicidal poems, and an autobiographical essay. W. B. Yeats, the poet, called Stencock a “scholar, connoisseur, drunkard, poet, pervert, most charming of men,” Count Stanislaus Eric Stenbock (1860–1895) is the greatest exemplar of the Decadent movement of the late nineteenth century.

He was a friend of Aubrey Beardsley, patron of the extraordinary pre-Raphaelite artist Simeon Solomon, and contemporary of Oscar Wilde. Stenbock died at the age of thirty-six as a result of his addiction to opium and his alcoholism, having only published three slim volumes of suicidal poetry and one collection of morbid short stories. He was a gay man and a convert to Roman Catholicism who owned a serpent, a toad, and a dachshund called Trixie. It was said that toward the end of his life he was accompanied everywhere by a life-size wooden doll that he believed to be his son. His poems and stories are filled with queer, supernatural, mystical, and Satanic themes and original editions of his books are highly sought by collectors.

“Of Kings and Things” is actually the first introduction to Stenbock’s writing for the general reader, offering fifteen stories, eight poems and one autobiographical essay.

Lilith’s Legacy: Prose Poems and Short Stories” by Renee Vivien— First English Translations

Vivien, Renee. “Lilith’s Legacy: Prose Poems and Short Stories”, Snuggly Books, 2018.

First English Translations

Amos Lassen

“Lilith’s Legacy” is made up of four entire collections of the prose poems and short stories of the lesbian Symbolist “Renée Vivien” that have never before appeared in English. These are “Fjord Mists”, “From Green to Violet”, “The She-Wolf Lady”, and “Christ, Aphrodite and Monsieur Pépin”.

This is the first of a projected three volumes of Vivien’s work in translation., collects all the short work published under that name. Vivien is the pen name of Pauline Mary Tarn (1877–1909), a London-born woman who settled in Paris in the late 1890s and became part of the famous lesbian literary and social circle surrounding Natalie Barney; all of her published work was written in French. Her poetry and prose unite symbolist and decadent language and influences with the realities of her life as a lesbian. Some of the work collected here is minor, such as the early snippets and prose poems that begin the book. Vivien’s reworkings of folk tales and Bible stories (such as “The Veil of Vashti,” in which Vashti refuses her husband’s summons to emulate Lilith are original and beautiful). Her series of horror stories in which male narrators fail to understand or work well with the competent and spectacular women around them reflect society of the time and are quite dark. Some of Vivien’s writing has been translated before, but these new translations are comprehensive and readable and give the English speaking world a chance to read her.

Embracing her sexuality as a lesbian in Paris in and her introduction to Natalie Clifford Barney, an American lesbian heiress in Paris greatly influence her work. Vivien’s poetry was influenced by Keats, Swinburne, Baudlaire and Hellenic culture. After bouts of sexual indulgence, drugs and anorexia, Renee died from pneumonia in 1909.

During her lifetime, she published fourteen books of poetry, two novels and three books of short stories. she is credited with bringing Sappho’s sexuality out of the shadows and spent time translating the known works of Sappho into French, illuminating the Greek poetess’ lesboerotic passions. It is through Renee’s works that Sappho has attained the level of muse, goddess of lesbian passion and love.

 Vivien was a woman ahead of her times. She wrote stories and poetry on strong-willed heroic women facing seemingly insurmountable problems in a time when women were encouraged to embrace the domesticity of a drab housewife. Although Renee was a very prolific writer, it is her relationship with Natalie Clifford Barney that interests readers the most.

30th Annual Lambda Literary Award Winners (2018)

30th Annual Lambda Literary Award Winners (2018)

Lesbian Fiction

Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado, Graywolf Press

Gay Fiction

After the Blue Hour, John Rechy, Grove Press

Bisexual Fiction

The Gift, Barbara Browning, Coffee House Press

Bisexual Nonfiction

Hunger, Roxane Gay, HarperCollins

Transgender Fiction

Transcendent 2: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction, Bogi Takács (ed), Lethe Press

LGBTQ Nonfiction

How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Haymarket Books

Transgender Nonfiction

Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity, C. Riley Snorton, University of Minnesota Press

Lesbian Poetry

Rock | Salt | Stone, Rosamond S. King, Nightboat Books

Gay Poetry

While Standing in Line for Death, CA Conrad, Wave Books

Transgender Poetry

recombinant, Ching-In Chen, Kelsey Street Press

Lesbian Mystery

Huntress, A.E. Radley, Heartsome Publishing

Gay Mystery

Night Drop, Marshall Thornton, Kenmore Books

Lesbian Memoir/Biography

The Fact of a Body, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich, Flatiron Books

Gay Memoir/Biography

Lives of Great Men: Living and Loving as an African Gay Man, Chike Frankie Edozien, Team Angelica Publishing

Lesbian Romance

Tailor-Made, Yolanda Wallace, Bold Strokes Books

Gay Romance

Love and Other Hot Beverages, Laurie Loft, Riptide Publishing

LGBTQ Erotica

His Seed, Steve Berman, Unzipped Books

LGBTQ Anthology

¡Cuéntamelo! Oral Histories by LGBT Latino Immigrants, Juliana Delgado Lopera, Aunt Lute Books

LGBTQ Children’s/Young Adult

Like Water, Rebecca Podos, Balzer + Bray

LGBTQ Drama

The Gulf, Audrey Cefaly, Samuel French

LGBTQ Graphic Novels

My Favorite Thing is Monsters, Emil Ferris, Fantagraphics Books

LGBTQ SF/F/Horror

Autonomous, Annalee Newitz, Tor Books

LGBTQ Studies

Punishing Disease: HIV and the Criminalization of Sickness, Trevor Hoppe, University of California Press

“all of it is you.: poetry” by Nico Tortorella— Exploring “All of It”

 

Tortorella, Nico. “all of it is you.: poetry”, Crown Archetype, 2018

Exploring “All of It”

Amos Lassen

In all fairness, I must admit that until I heard about this book, I had no idea who Nico Tortorella but after reading the poem that he wrote about his penis, I knew he has to be an OK guy. However, I am not sure that a career as a “penis poet” will give him a comfortable style of living.

This is Tortorella’s debut poetry collection and in it we hear his voice that is filled with curiosity, awe and love. Nico is an actor, an advocate and a podcaster who lives with no boundaries. He takes us on a sensuous journey into who we are and how we deal with the world around us. He lets us know that the connections that we make in life are important to the understanding of who we are. His poems are provocative and filled with emotion and they hit us hard. While this is a debut collection, I cannot believe that Tortorella is a debut poet. Every word, every verse is important and he knows what he is doing here and his poems are both raw and real.

In his poetry, Tortorella looks at his own identity, gender, addiction and sex. Yes, he writes about his penis but he also writes about menstruation. It seems that to him, nothing is out-of-bounds. His interest in human sexuality is well felt here.

“Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016” by Frank Bidart— Winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize

Bidart, Frank. “Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016”, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017.

WINNER OF THE 2018 PULITZER PRIZE IN POETRY AND THE 2017 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR POETRY

Amos Lassen

The collected works of one of contemporary poetry’s most original voices, Frank Bidart has the ability to turn the body into language and dares to go into the dark places of the human psyche. This new Pulitzer Prize winning volume, “Half-Light” contains a all of Bidart’s previous books, and a new collection, “Thirst”. On “Thirst”, Bidart examines his life before he moves on to do something new. It is here that he sees himself as one who is still searching for who he is and on of the “queers of the universe.” Throughout the entire collection, Bidart is a visionary with revelations and both unguarded and intimate. He is an unresolved conflict that is constantly renewed who is eternally restless.

Here is a collection of fifty years of poetry that gives voice to what goes on inside of both real and imagined people. It some senses it is autobiographical.

Bidart has the ability to transform a poem into “a vocalized (albeit anguished) performance of consciousness and moral interrogation, an occasion for metaphysical speculation that is oracular and sublime.” Then there are Bidart’s thoughts on

homophobia, doubt, and a parent’s confusing love can shape a gay child. Bidart gives us an invocation of love even where that love no longer exists and thoughts on friendship and mortality.

Bidart is intense and this comes out of need, desire and his own art as a poet. He shows us what it means to be human.

“Same-Sexy Marriage” by Julie Marie Wade— Fragile “Straightness”

Wade, Julie Marie. “Same-Sexy Marriage”, AMidsummer Night’s Press, 2018.

Fragile “Straightness”

Amos Lassen

Have you ever thought of marriage at the same time as thinking of taboos? I bet none of us have with the exception, perhaps of Julie Marie Wade who has not only thought about but has written a poem cycle about “same sexy marriage”.

“Speculation turns to circumstance and back again” as we read about unspoken truths, final understandings and/or misunderstandings with exes. We see that finality just does not really exist or like my mother used to say, “When God closes the door, a window is opened.” exes. For Wade’s characters, finality is in flux.

I wish someone had been around to record my facial expressions as I read these poems. There are tricks and surprises all along the way. Wade sees the world clearly and shares her perspective with us. She also shares her mother who lives in her own world but every so often visits the world of her daughter… to stir things up a bit.

“she is quick to explain…”

“My mother would like the idea of Maine,

like Main Street and mainstream American values…”

“She will have packed a dinner for them—“

We have hear a world that lacks compassion and that assumes the worst of any situation.

As Wade looks at the world, she remarks that to live in it is “how it feels to be living in a typo”. She brings us the vulnerability of what she calls straight America and American values along with her mother’s absolute and determined unwillingness to accept her daughter’s lesbian relationship by making up a story for herself and everyone else.

If I married him, Reader–this surgeon/this Jeffrey Hamilton–I must have loved him./And my mother says, to anyone who will listen,/that I married him.

Her mother selects not only the husband, but also his occupation, and where they live and if they will have children.

Granted this is totally audacious and for more than shocking. There are no scared cows here and Boston gets its fair share as does the concept of Boston marriage. “Even if we were too women older and otherwise occupied…”. I had no idea what to expect before I sat down to read this collection but I soon realized that the poems carried me away and I was both entertained and inspired. The inspiration comes from the fact that the poet does not hold back and says things as they are. I realized that I was reading something different by this strangest event. As I sat down to write this review and would finish a paragraph, it would delete itself letter by letter as I sat and watched. Twice my review disappeared before my very eyes and I have no idea how or why that happened.

I do not usually pick favorites but I do have to quote a few lines from (and this is the third time I am typing this) “Mary Cheney You Know What They Say About Women Like Us”:

“That we’re dykes because we have daddy issues”.

“That we’re bitter because nobody asked us to the Prom”.

“This whole homosexuality business started in the 1960s. Your mother and I got married, then watched the world around us fall to the fornicators and the bigamist and the sodomites”.

In less than 70 pages, I found so much to like here and cannot find the words to show how much. Get a copy and enjoy. And yes, this review did disappear twice.

“The Sexy Storm” by Edward Van de Vendel— Adolescent Love

Van de Vendel, Edward. “The Sexy Storm”, translated by David Colmer, A Midsummer’s Night Press, 2018.

Adolescent Love

Amos Lassen

I bet we can all remember that adolescent crush that occupied our minds endlessly and in fact, we still think about it. Let’s face it teen love is very special with its “thrills and chills” and its tender passion. After all, what do adolescents know of love? Edward Van de Vendel looks at that very same emotion in his collection of poems about young love and each and every entry is a treat. The poems run the gamut of emotions from the joys and pleasure of meeting for the first time to he pain and sorrow of love ending. Age has no influence on the enjoyment of these poems simply because we have all been there. One does not have to be young to enjoy reading about youth just as one does not have to be gay to write a gay love story (Andre Aciman has surely proven that).

I love that Van de Vendel writes with such detail yet his poems remain informal. In “Hallelujah, I was knocked out by “love’s trunk grows strong with annual rings and sends new shoots up in the spring”. There is nothing new here except for the way it is said and the way it is placed in the context of the poem. Not only are we taken back in time, we are made aware that we are reading the past with all of its youthful allusions to sex and feeling, “I feel your goosebumps too”. The poems capture those special moments that we do not let go of and makes sure that we feel them again.

“I’m standing here

With kisses tipped,

So:

If you’re still keen,

I’ll slide in between.”

We certainly sense Van de Vendel’s confidence in what he says and his writing is both sensual and dark ;

“How can I not be more aware

that this body in the bed

makes sleep deeper and more beautiful

makes dreams more childlike?

I was reminded of Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” that he referred to as a memory play. These are memory poems that take us back while at the same time keeping us here.

It’s in the past and none of it is now and every day I think:

Will I see you again? I look up. It might not happen

Soon, but the world is open at the top.

Sometimes we all just need to get away and I found “The Sexy Storm” to be a great retreat. With only 40 pages, a poem a day is fine and then it is easy enough to start all over again. The poems never go stale.

30th Annual Lambda Literary Award Finalists Announced

30th Annual Lambda Literary Award Finalists Announced

Awards Ceremony: Monday, June 4, 2018 in New York City

Lambda Literary, the nation’s oldest and largest literary arts organization advancing LGBTQ literature, announced the finalists of the 30th Annual Lambda Literary Awards – or the “Lammys,” as they are affectionately known.

The finalists were chosen from nearly 1,000 submissions and over 300 publishers. Submissions came from major mainstream publishers and from independent presses, from both long-established and new LGBTQ publishers, as well as from emerging publish-on-demand technologies. Visionary and Trustee Award honorees, the master of ceremonies, and celebrity presenters will be announced in April. The winners will be announced at a gala ceremony on Monday, June 4th in New York City.

“Celebrating our 30th year of Lambda Literary Award finalists is to recognize that this organization has been at the center of contemporary queer literature for decades,” said Lambda Literary Executive Director Tony Valenzuela. “This year is no different with another stellar list of authors demonstrating through their work that LGBTQ books tell richly textured stories about who we are in all our incredible diversity.”

Now in their thirtieth year, the Lambda Literary Awards celebrate achievement in LGBTQ writing for books published in 2017. The awards ceremony on June 4, 2018, will be held at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts (566 LaGuardia Pl, New York, NY 10012). The red carpet and specially ticketed VIP cocktail reception will be held before the ceremony. The after-party, open to all with a general admission ticket, will follow at Le Poisson Rouge (158 Bleecker St, New York, NY 10012). For more information and to buy tickets, please visit Lambda’s website.

67 literary professionals, including booksellers, book reviewers, librarians, authors, academics and previous Lammy winners and finalists volunteered countless hours of reading, critical thinking, and invigorating discussion to select the finalists in 23 categories.

Those marked with an asterisk have been reviewed here t reviewsbyamoslassen.com. This is the first time I find myself amazed at how few of these books I have read and reviewed. But there is no turning back as I have 97 books waiting for reviews.

Lesbian Fiction

 

Gay Fiction

 

Bisexual Fiction

 

Transgender Fiction 

 

LGBTQ Nonfiction

  

Bisexual Nonfiction

 

Transgender Nonfiction

 

Lesbian Poetry

 

Gay Poetry 

  

Transgender Poetry

  

Lesbian Mystery

 

Gay Mystery

 

Lesbian Memoir/Biography

 

Gay Memoir/Biography

 

Lesbian Romance

 

Gay Romance 

 

LGBTQ Anthology 

 

LGBTQ Children’s/Young Adult 

 

LGBTQ Drama

 

LGBTQ Erotica 

 

LGBTQ Graphic Novels

 

LGBTQ SF/F/Horror

 

LGBTQ Studies 

 

“Fireworks in the Graveyard” by Joy Ladin— Identity

Ladin, Joy. “Fireworks in the Graveyard”, Headmistress Press, 2017.

Identity

Amos Lassen

As we search to learn who we really are, we explore the concept of identity and realize that this is the most difficult riddle we will ever face in life. Joy Ladin faces the relentlessness of our most vexing riddles with it was style, lyricism and humor. grace, musicality, and wry humor. She looks at love in all of its mutations and meditates on love and faith and we feel her fear and acceptance that death is always impending.” Death in all of its grammatical forms is a major theme of the book, it is an inescapable fact of life. Memories and re-memories are another theme here.

Much like the Torah, Ladin uses repetition for emphasis. The poem “Sabbath” took me back to my youth when after the traditional meal we would sing for hours around the table. I love that she went to the Psalms to find songs and we learn that there are really no new songs to sing to God. By singing old songs we might find new meanings and a new way to understand.

In “While You Were Away,” we get the idea that a change has taken place and we see that this change was prolonged and contains frightening details. She shares that her “physical and mental state—breathless and broken.”

Ladin has structured her book in three parts, each named for a poem within it. These sections are the speaker, a lover, and often a mother or young boy. For those of you who do not know, Ladin is a trans woman.

Because poetry is so personal, I am having a difficult time writing this review. I know and love Joy and am a huge fan so anything she writes is a work of beauty for me. I feel as I am rambling here and I am about to do something I have never done before and that is end this review in the middle so that I can spend more time with the poems.