Category Archives: GLBT poetry

“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.

“Lovely: Poems by Leslea Newman”— A Self-Portrait Over Time

Newman, Leslea. “Lovely”, Headmistress Press, 2018.

A Self-Portrait Over Time

Amos Lassen

How does one start a review of a book by Leslea Newman? Every time she writes a new book, I face this problem. Let me explain why. Leslea Newman is one of the writers that introduced me to the beauty of LGBT literature but I have never shared that with her and when she reads this review it will be the first time she learns this. I was a gay man with a secret crush on a lesbian woman all because of Harvey Milk. If you are a Leslea Newman fan you know what I am talking about and if you are not, then you have some reading to do. Now she wrote about Harvey Milk years ago but I actually met Leslea in the flesh for the first time when I moved to Boston some six years ago and she was exactly as I had pictured her— a beautiful, feminine, extremely intelligent and immediately likeable person.

When I received my copy of “Lovely”, I did something I rarely do—I opened in the last page and the last poem and I have no idea why I did so. On that page I found the lovely little poem, “Why I Always Wear Mascara” and there was the Leslea Newman that we know and love. She tells us that the reason she always wears makeup is

“Because on the day I leave earth

and this face I call mine,

I want to remember them both

As divine.”

In this new poetry collection, Newman tells us about how she came to be who she is. We go back to what she remembers of her childhood in New York City when being queer made us outsiders. We immediately sense her vulnerability and the pains that were part of her and she tells us what we have to do so that we can all live in peace with each other. Through her poems we see the human experience, her own relationship with her mother, her own maturing and aging and, of course, sex. The pains of youth are here and so is how she coped with them. It is Newman’s self-awareness that makes her poems so raw and visceral yet tender and loving.

She guides us from childhood to adulthood and the pleasure and frailties therein. The poems are Newman’s self-portrait. As James Joyce says in his short story, “Eveline”, “everything changes” and so do we. “I love the rhythm of the poems and when added to humor, care, sensuality and love, we get beautiful poetry that does not hold back. She shares the pain of losing her mother, her own aging and the acceptance of a sexuality that society, for so long, did not consider to be the norm. I suppose I should have not been surprised to see that Newman shares the intimacy that existed between mother and daughter and I love that she did.

There are so many times that I want to illustrate something with a quote from one of the poems but I decided that when I began this review that I would only do so once and, in fact, I already have. I think it is so much better for readers to find the lines they want to choose as their own rather then me doing so and I challenge you to find a single verse that somewhat defines you. I am sure you will be able to do so.

As an aging gay male, I totally found myself in what Newman has to say about “the physical and emotional shame of aging, of sexual restrictions, of a finite lifespan.”

“Lovely” uses the themes of love, empathy, and the growing older— issues we all face. For this, the book is relevant but not all books need to be such. Sometimes it is enough that the language be beautiful. Yet when we put relevance and beauty together, we can very special literature. Newman also incorporates her Judaism into her writing and one of the key attributes of Judaism is empathy and we find this in many of the poems. Newman lets us know that it is important to be kind and kindness comes out of empathy.

Now that I have come to the end of my review, I am trying to find a sentence to tie it all together but am having no luck in doing so. Just go read the book and enjoy every word and be thankful that we have someone like Leslea Newman around.

“The Resilience Anthology”— A Journey

Heart, Amy, Sugi Pyrrophyta and Larissa Glasser, editors. “The Resilience Anthology”, Heartspark Press., 2017.

A Journey

Amos Lassen

I just received an announcement about “The Resilience Anthology” so I am passing it on to you.

“Take a journey through the worlds of over thirty (C)AMAB* trans writers in what is currently the largest collection of poetry and prose made for and by us. Featuring new work by Luna Merbruja, Magpie Leibowitz, Moss Angel, KOKUMO, Joss Barton, Ariel Howland, Casey Plett, Sascha Hamilton, A.K. Blue, Oti Onum, Rahne Alexander, Tobi Hill-Meyer, Lawrence Walker, Connifer Candlewood, Serafima Mintz, Talia Johnson, Tyler Vile, Lina Corvus, Bridget Liang, CHRYSALISAMIDST, Ana Valens, Larissa Glasser, Lilith Dawn, AR Rushet and more, including an introduction by Julia Serano!”

“Our writers featured in this book exist across the gender spectrum, but do not identify with their birth assignment. Many are trans women, but some are genderqueer, non-binary, agender, or all of the above.”

“We Still Leave a Legacy” by Philip Robinson— Hope, Determination and Rememberance

Robinson, Philip. “We Still Leave a Legacy”, We Still Leave a Legacy Press, 2017.

Hope, Determination and Remembrance

Amos Lassen

It was not that long ago when members of the LGBT community came face-to-face with death over and over again. HIV/AIDS claimed the lives and the loves of our friends and leaders and we had to learn how to deal with this. I had already left this country when AIDS struck so brutally and on a trip back home in 1989, I learned that mostly everyone in the community I had once known was gone. I have yet to be to reconcile that. Philip Robinson in “his

chapbook of verses written and dedicated in part to the many friends and family members that have transitioned either by way of HIV/AIDS, cancer and other life-troubling issues” has reopened the wounds of that time but as he does, he also captures his sense of hope, determination and memory of those who are no longer here. He tells of the legacy they left and that legacy can be as simple as having once lived among us. In this way, they live on in our hearts and minds. I, for one, have never forgotten that we live today because others came before us and we now live on their shoulders. Not everyone can be a hero or an earth-shaker but everyone has the ability to influence who we are and how we live.

There is a great deal of emotion in the poems that we have here and there are many stories. I was immediately struck by “Standing Among My Heroes”. Set at the funeral of Thomas, we become one with those who have come to say their final goodbyes and see just how difficult that is. But we see something else and that is that “Yet, I know I stand on the shoulders and beside others. My heroes never leave me”.

What we see in most of the poems is that Robinson felt the need to be involved in the lives of his family and of those that he knew. While this is certainly a positive trait, it can also be heartbreaking and that tragedy and happiness can come at the same time.

I am not a poet and can never pretend to be one but one of my favorite hobbies is translating poetry from Hebrew to English. There is something about emotions that makes them very difficult to catch in another language. Just last year I finished the translation of a poem by one of my favorite Hebrew poets, Alexander Penn. I worked on that poem, off and on during twelve years and the reason I knew I had finished with it was that I was able to both laugh and cry as I read my translation. I felt the same as I read Robinson’s poem and these were about people I did not know anything about.

“We Still Leave a Legacy”, the title poem, tells us that with each we lose something of ourselves and we become more aware of our own mortality. If we bury our dreams, we let go of life but we also realize that with every death we gain more purpose in life and what we do is not just for us but for those who came before us. From death of others, we gain a purpose and it becomes our job to be the voices of those whose voices have been quieted. While death is permanent, life is not and we only have a short time to do what we want to do. I could go on and give the main idea of every poem here but that could make the read less effective for others. It is enough to say that I was affected by every poem in this collection and if there is one thing I have learned here and also by living my own life is that love does not die, people do. I urge you to read this book and think about what is here. I just want to add that it is every difficult to review this because it touches me so directly and I firmly believe that is why Robinson has brought us this collection.

 

“The Complete Works of Pat Parker” edited by Julie Enszer— Being Black, Queer, a Poet and a Feminist

Parker, Pat. “The Complete Works of Pat Parker”, (Sapphic Classics), edited by Julie R. Enszer, Sinister Wisdom and A Midsummer Night’s Press , 2016.

Being Black, Queer, a Poet and a Feminist

Amos Lassen

I must confess that although I consider myself to be a well-read person, I had never heard of Pat Parker before this book won the Lambda Literary Award, Best Lesbian Poetry. Even more surprising is that it was edited by Julie Enszer whose work I have followed since her first book an whose poetry has always been an inspiration for me. I am very happy to have plugged that hole in my education. However, it was not enough just to read this book, I also wanted to learn about Parker, the person and quite frankly, I was surprised that her name never came up in any of Women’s Studies courses as a graduate student or in Black Literature classes that I enrolled in. I can’t help wondering if that is because I went to school in the South or if I just missed those classes.

Pat Parker was very aware of black suffering, of violence against black people (especially women) and of the suffering brought on by unending oppression. “The Complete Works of Pat Parker” give us a window into her life and we quickly see her importance regarding black women’s literary traditions, lesbian erotica, black queer struggles, and global social justice movements. As I was writing that sentence, I thought how much better it would be if we could leave the word “black” out of it and just talk about Parker as a person. We can hope that day will come when people are not judged by color.

None of us can deny that Black people in this country have faced hard times as people and even harder times as literary people. Unlike the white majority, black writers and artists have had to find a way to bring together the personal and the political in their artistic output. Pat Parker, however, was able to do so. Her poetry affects the consciences of thinking people everywhere. Unlike others she dared….

Since this is the first and only complete collection of all of her poems, it is very special and a blessing for the reader. As I read I found it difficult to hold back tears as I thought about the atmosphere in which many of these poems were written.

The collection includes many new and previously unpublished poems, essays, and stories but it is stunning to think how long it took for some of what she wrote to be available to the public.

Julie Enszer has done an incredible job of bringing all this together in one volume and I have no doubt that this was simply a labor of love and respect for a great voice. Not only do we have the poems (which are grouped topically, i.e. “Married”, “Liberation Fronts”, “Being Gay”, “Love Poems” and “Uncollected Poems” 1970s” for example but we also have a wonderful introduction by another great voice in the field, Judy Grahn and an introduction to “Movement in Black” by Audre Lord. We have a note from editor Enszer, End Notes, Acknowledgments, a bibliography, appendix, photographs and drawings. As is customary, I knew that the question of which poem is my favorite and my answer would have to be, all of them. Who can possibly pick a favorite when they all are so good. However, I do have a great love for “For the Straight Folks Who Don’t Mind Gays But Wish They Weren’t So BLATANT”. At first reading I thought to myself that the beauty of this poem is its “cheekiness” but on the second reading I found it to be so very honest. Let me share two stanzas with you:

“Have you met the woman

who’s shocked by 2 women kissing

& in the same breath,

tells you that she’s pregnant?

BUT GAYS SHOULDN’T BE SO BLATANT.

 

You go in a public bathroom

and all over the walls

there’s John loves Mary,

Janice digs Richard

Pepe loves Delores, etc. etc.

BUT GAYS SHOULDN’T BE SO BLATANT”.

There is a lot to read and take in (almost 500 pages” but you will feel that Parker’s poetry is more than just a read, it is a total experience— one you do not want to miss. I personally am so sorry that I only discovered this in late life so I do not have many years left to contemplate it but I have made myself the promise to read a poem a day from it and when I finish it, I will start over in much the same way that the Jews read the Torah. I am sending a special thank you to Julie Enszer for having edited this— it has made a huge difference in my life, I can tell that already.

29th Annual Lambda Literary Award Winners Announced

29th Annual Lambda Literary Award Winners Announced

Those with an asterisk have been reviewed here at reviewsbyamolslassen.com

 

Lesbian Fiction

  • Here Comes the Sun, Nicole Dennis-Benn, Liveright Publishing Corporation

Gay Fiction

  • *The Angel of History, Rabih Alameddine, Atlantic Monthly Press

Bisexual Fiction  

  • Marrow Island, Alexis M. Smith, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Bisexual Nonfiction 

  • Black Dove: Mama, Mi’jo, and Me,Ana Castillo, The Feminist Press

Bisexual Poetry 

  • Mouth to Mouth,Abigail Child, EOAGH

Transgender Fiction

  • Small Beauty, jia qing wilson-yang, Metonymy Press

LGBT Nonfiction

  • *How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS, David France, Knopf

Transgender Nonfiction

  • Life Beyond My Body: A Transgender Journey to Manhood in China, Lei Ming, Transgress Press

Lesbian Poetry (TIE)

  • play dead, francine j. harris, Alice James Books
  • The Complete Works of Pat Parker, Julie R. Enszer, Sinister Wisdom/A Midsummer Night’s Press

Gay Poetry

  • Thief in the Interior, Phillip B. Williams, Alice James Books

Transgender Poetry

  • Reacquainted with Life,KOKUMO, Topside Press

Lesbian Mystery

  • Pathogen, Jessica L. Webb, Bold Strokes Books

Gay Mystery

  • Speakers of the Dead: A Walt Whitman Mystery, J. Aaron Sanders, Plume

Lesbian Memoir/Biography

  • The Wind is Spirit: The Life, Love and Legacy of Audre Lorde, Dr. Gloria Joseph, Villarosa Media

Gay Memoir/Biography

  • *When We Rise, Cleve Jones, Hachette Books

Lesbian Romance

  • The Scorpion’s Empress, Yoshiyuki Ly, Solstice Publishing

Gay Romance

  • *Into the Blue, Pene Henson, Interlude Press

LGBT Erotica

  • Soul to Keep, Rebekah Weatherspoon, Bold Strokes Books

LGBT Anthology

  • The Remedy: Queer and Trans Voices on Health and Health Care,Zena Sharman, Arsenal Pulp Press

LGBT Children’s/Young Adult

  • Girl Mans Up, M.E. Girard, Harper Teen

LGBT Drama

  • Barbecue/Bootycandy, Robert O’Hara, Theatre Communications Group

LGBT Graphic Novels

  • Wuvable Oaf: Blood & Metal, Ed Luce, Wuvable Oaf: Blood & Metal, Fantagraphics Books

LGBT SF/F/Horror

  • The Devourers, Indra Das, Del Rey

LGBT Studies

  • *Sex Museums: The Politics and Performance of Display,Jennifer Tyburczy, University of Chicago Press