Category Archives: GLBT poetry

“Have You Seen This Man?: The Castro Poems of Karl Tierney” edited by Jim Cory— Tierney’s Vocation

Cory, Jim, editor. “Have You Seen This Man?: The Castro Poems of Karl Tierney” , (Arkansas Queer Poet), Sibling Rivalry Press, 2019.

Tierney’s Vocation

Amos Lassen

I find it fascinating that Karl Tierney was born in Massachusetts, the state where I presently live and that he earned an MFA from the University of Arkansas, a place where I used to teach. Had he lived a bit longer, I feel sure that our paths would have crossed. Tierney published more that 50 poems in magazines and anthologies before his death. In December of 1994 he became sick with AIDS and took his own life in October of 1995 by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge. He was 39 years old. I believe that he would have loved seeing this book in print. The poems in “Have You Seen This Man?” are a tribute to the time that he lived and they are sharp and witty. For me, this is a reminder of how many lives were cut short by the terrible AIDS epidemic.

Jim Cory has done a wonderful job editing this collection and his introduction is brilliant. He brings us the range of Tierney’s talent and he takes us back to the 80s and 90s to San Francisco at the time when you could feel the pulse of sex everywhere even though we were being devastated by the epidemic. The poems that document the devastation impress me the most and I found myself weeping at times and grinning at other times. Tierney reminds us that even as we faced death and the disease, we did not stop dating and having fun.

Tierney and his poetry came into their own in the early 90s. He wrote with confidence and directness as he dealt with his own emotional conflicts. He really gets into it when he writes about love. He yearned for it and he searched for it relentlessly. I can only wonder if he would have found it before AIDS and suicide cut his life short.

I debated whether or not to share some lines from some of the poems and there are several that can stand alone but they mean so much more when read in their original form. However the real reason that I did not include them is because I want each of you to sit down with the book and relish every line. Don’t forget to think Jim Cory for his wonderful work here ad when you have a moment send a mental note to Karl Tierney. We all could use some of his wit right now.

“Queer Expectations: A Genealogy of Jewish Women’s Poetry” by Zohar Weiman-Kelman— Using Poetry

Weiman-Kelman, Zohar. “Queer Expectations: A Genealogy of Jewish Women’s Poetry”,  (SUNY Series in Contemporary Jewish Literature and Culture), SUNY Press, 2019.

Using Poetry

Amos Lassen

In “Queer Expectations, Zohar Weiman-Kelman looks at how Jewish women have used poetry to challenge their historical limitations while rewriting their potential futures. Jewish women have had a strange relationship with history as they struggle for inclusion while resisting their “limited role as (re)producers of the future.” Here we see  how Jewish women writers turned to poetry to write new histories by developing “queer expectancy” as “a conceptual tool for understanding how literary texts can both invoke and resist what came before.” The book  brings together Jewish women’s poetry from the late nineteenth century, the World War period and the 1970s and 1980s. We are taken on a boundary-crossing journey through works in English, Yiddish, and Hebrew, setting up encounters between writers of different generations, locations, and languages. 

Emphasis is on genealogical lines of continuity drawn by authors Emma Lazarus, Kadya Molodowsky, Leah Goldberg, Anna Margolin, Irena Klepfisz, and Adrienne Rich in all of their diversity. The poets push back against heteronormative imperatives of biological reproduction and inheritance, and instead opt for connections that are somewhere between traditional models of gender and history. Looking backward in queer ways allows new histories to emerge, intervenes in the present, and provides hope for unexpected futures.

By the construction of a cross-temporal and cross-linguistic genealogy of Jewish women’s poetry, Weiman-Kelman does away with the boundaries between theory and praxis in her own work and shows how scholarship can  bring about political change. She does so through the disciplines of literary analysis, historiography, biography, and queer theory. The originality here and the new methodology changes traditional ways of thinking about literary analysis, questions of influence, and what queer can mean.

“Rattlesnake Allegory” by Joe Jimenez— Solitary and Manhood

Jimenez, Joe. “Rattlesnake Allegory”, Red Hen , 2019.

Solitary and Manhood

Amos Lassen

Human emotions seem to have no permanent form and they are varied among all of us. It would seem that we are familiar with joy but it also has its variations. Joe Jimenez looks at human emotions in “Rattlesnake Allegory” and thematically these poems are about “the moment inside the body / when joy is not born as much as it is made out of anything / the rest of the world doesn’t want.” 

We explore aloneness and manhood as articulations of want, desire and loss after transformative experiences. Jimenez writes personal poetry and how he got to know his body and “recognizing a queer brown body inextricably belonging to lineages of loss, and then realizing that some new body has emerged from where the old parts were lost or taken”.  “Lechuza Sketches” is a sequence of four poems that close the collection in which the poet speaker manifests the Tex-Mexican folkloric figure of a lechuza, the human-owl hybrid said to inhabit parts of South Texas and the Northern Mexican border. While this may not seem clear to you in this review, when you read the collection, everything will fall into place.

One summary review I read said that this is a collection of poems “about more deeply engaging with one’s queerness, one’s brownness, and understanding that there are parts inside us we never knew existed”. I would go a step further and say that these poems are about marginalization in a world that chooses not to see us as part of it. This can based upon skin color, sexuality, religion or anything that makes us feel different. “In the world, some part of us is often / unseen / & not glorious. / But what if we are? / Glorious. Seen.”

I have always felt that desire and loneliness go hand in hand and the longing that comes from these keeps us longing for love and acceptance. As I read here, my eyes often filled with tears and my skin itched as if to tell me that this is what wanting to be accepted is like. It should be no surprise that these is a sense of sensuosity here as well.

“The clock has whittled itself down to a minute,

& so it is time for this moment I am sharing

with you to end, which means you & I—

we are no longer alone.”

Jiménez’s poetic skill and use of repetition gives his poems a feeling of deep  intensity and sincerity., to the often-surprising and sparkling imagery. His imagery is powerful and his poems are brilliant and beautiful. Unfortunately, these poems may only be known to a select few who know him and his publisher. It is difficult to make people aware of new poets. I want people to read Jimenez so tell your friends about him. Jimenez writes what we feel.

“in a world, some part of us is often

unseen

& not glorious.

But what if we are?

          Glorious. Seen.

“Deciduous Qween” by Matty Layne Glasgow— Nature, Masculinity and Heartbreak

Glasgow, Matty Layne. “Deciduous Qween”, Red Hen, 2019.

Nature, Masculinity, and Heartbreak

Amos Lassen

I find beauty in personal poems probably because I wonder if I should even be reading them. But then again, if the poet put them out there, why not? Such is how I felt as I read Matty Layne Glasgow’s “Deciduous Qween”. Glasgow takes us on a walk through the queer world in which we live and how we adapt who we are to that world. I was reminded of a poem by the Israeli poet, Zelda who writes that we each have a name depending upon the situation we are in. We have the name we are given at birth by our parents and we have the name our elementary classmates called us. We have the name that our fellow teens used on us and the name we acquired with later study. We have the name our colleagues at work use and we have the name the way we dress implies, and so on. It is easy to substitute the word identity for name and how we, like our world, change identities when the need arises. We gain an identity based upon how we perform, whether as an actor, a doer or one who does not do.

Poet Glasgow looks at those moments in which our own truths and fears are not only present but when he confront our fears regarding death, loneliness, and failure. Like Glasgow I am from the south (New Orleans [but left it long ago]) and so I recognize his reflections on Southern Gothic mysticism that those who are not from the South have trouble understanding. He shares his thoughts on his childhood spent in Houston’s bayous, his adolescence that was filled with curiosity and shame, and losing his mother when he was a young adult.

After the opening poem, “Beaver As a Fairy Drag Mother”, Glasgow divides his book among five sections in which he looks at the simple things we lose in life (i.e. teeth, body shape and do on). What we do not lose are the scars of what we lost. But all is not loss for there is also gain.

Each of the five sections begin with a poem named “Deciduous Qween” as if to remind us that not only are we reading these poems; we are experiencing what they have to say. The “Deciduous Qween” poems connect the five sections  but you will have to feel that for yourselves. Each sections has its own special and unique feel.

For me, the most important aspect of this collection is that the marginalized speak here. We are seen and heard. Glasgow’s images are precise and sensual, the lines are musical, and his language is exciting.

This is a collection of free verse and prose poems that are haunting and give insight into experiences of the poet as a gay man in Houston’s bayous and there is universality here. I can promise you that you will see yourself more than once in the collection.
A word to remember; there is a lot of sexuality here especially in section four and it is graphic but then what is non-graphic sex?

I want to close this review with a short sample and for that here is “haiku for my first boyfriend on his twentieth-eighth birthday”:

queer, another year.

my how all those years (and queers)

have loosened your rear.

“Queer Voices: Poetry, Prose, and Pride” edited by John Medeiros, et al. — The Community Speaks

Medeiros, John, Andrea Jenkins and Lisa Marie Brimmer (editors). “Queer Voices: Poetry, Prose, and Pride”, Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2019.

The Community Speaks

Amos Lassen

Beginning in 1993, the Queer Voices reading series has featured both emerging and established Minnesota-based writers of the LGBTQIA+ community. Now after more than twenty years, the series has become a national model and one of Minnesota’s most important literary institutions. It is said  to be the longest-running curated queer reading series in the country. 

“In this volume, series curators John Medeiros and Andrea Jenkins and facilitator Lisa Marie Brimmer present the finest poetry, fiction, and nonfiction pieces by the presenters. Their work, generated and performed in a powerful space of understanding, explores the material of life without internal or external censorship. Living, loving, working, learning, playing, reflecting, knowing, inventing, and being—these magnificent queer voices affirm the importance of civil literacy and the power of vulnerability.”

Contributors include Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew, Cole Bauer, Ryan Berg, Stephani Maari Booker, Lisa Marie Brimmer, Kimberly J. Brown, Nate Cannon, Anthony Ceballos, Stephanie Chrismon, James Cihlar, Venus de Mars, Jay Owen Eisenberg, Kelly Frankenberg, Ben French, Julie Gard, Christina Glendenning, Rachel Gold, Molly Beth Griffin, CM Harris, Andrea Jenkins, Kristin Johnson, Bronson Lemer, Raymond Luczak, Catherine Lundoff, Josina Manu Maltzman, John Medeiros, Nasreen Mohamed, Michael Kiesow Moore, Ahmad Qais Munhazim, Gary Eldon Peter, Junauda Petrus, Trina Porte, William Reichard, katie robinson, Dua Saleh, Lucas Scheelk, Erin Sharkey, Christine Stark, Vanessa Taylor, Bradford Tice, Ann Tweedy, Morgan Grayce Willow, S. Yarberry, Ariel Zitny

Queer Voices radiates with the diverse truths, struggles, and ecstatic genius of Minnesota’s LGBTQIA+ community. The warmth cast from its pages will melt any preconception you might have had, leaving you with new and beautiful wisdom in its wake.” Stewart Van Cleveauthor of Land of 10,000 Loves: A History of Queer Minnesota

“This is a living document. A live place where love is recalled, the dead are remembered, and the varied vibrancy of the LGBTQIA+ writers of Minnesota comes to join your life and remind you of the texture, the tension, the trouble of being who we are and accepting whoever we are becoming. This work should be taught locally and nationally, used in groups and programs for people of many ages and with many missions.” Alexis Pauline Gumbs, author of M Archive: After the End of the World

“This beautiful and vivid collection of prose and poetry offers real insight into the complex realities of LGBTQIA+ life in Minnesota in the twenty-first century. Queer Voices also stands as a testament to the power of a creative community to foster talent and advocate for social change.”  Kevin P. Murphy, co-editor of Queer Twin Cities

“This splendid collection, by writers hailing from one of the nation’s most enduring queer reading series, is broadly diverse and soaringly intersectional, establishing the depth and excruciating beauty of the Minneapolis–St. Paul LGBTQIA+ community. Open these pages for the radically clear and queer-eyed words we all need to keep on reading.”
Barrie Jean Borich, author of Apocalypse, Darling

“A Rainbow Thread: Queer Jewish Texts from the First Century to 1969” by Noam Sienna— An Infinite Rainbow

Sienna, Noam. “A Rainbow Thread: Queer Jewish Texts from the First Century to 1969”, Print-O-Craft, 2019.

An Infinite Rainbow

Amos Lassen

I first heard of “A Rainbow Thread” via a friend who told me he had just ordered a copy and while my friend gave me no details aside from this book Jewish and gay, I went ahead and wrote to the publisher to get a review copy. When the book arrived I was first astounded by the 425 page length and then by the tremendous amount of research that it must have taken to compile such a book. Writer Noam Sienna tells us that the book maintains a balancing act between “LGBTQ Jewish history as an infinite rainbow, with no beginning or end, and with no clear boundaries between its different facets” (great analogy and the fact that there is “a thread: a continuity that links our lives, our joys, and our struggles today to an ancestral heritage in the past and to our inheritors in the future.” Sienna does not see history as a march toward a universal goal. Rather he sees it as processes that are made up of  connections, interruptions, and innovations. While we cannot push who we are on those who came before us but we also cannot ignore their history that has become some of our behaviors and shared practices; traditions  that take stories to other places and times, and that are often relevant in our lives today.

I can imagine Sienna going through the history of the Jews looking for examples to back his thesis and to find so much (that many of us never thought about— my adult life has been consumed by my wanting to find a way to preserve the LGBT Jewish literary canon so that the wealth of information it holds can be shared by everyone. Yet with all the work that I have done in the past, I did not come across many of the selections in this anthology.

Sienna explains how to encounter primary historical documents as a way of imagining new futures. He uses classical midrashim as two texts and lets us reread them through queer eyes thus expanding our ideas on what Jewishness is today. We see that Jewish sexuality and gender in practice was not as restricted by boundaries of gender, sex, nationality, or religion as we might have thought. Sienna is not pushing any kind of gay agenda but rather pointing out that we must rethink Judaism. In doing so, we question assumptions about how Jews have understood sexuality and gender throughout our long history as a people during which Jewish identity is often imagined as existing in spite of, or in opposition to,—the world of Jewish tradition. We are encouraged to read and reread, reimagine and revise what today’s Judaism can mean. process of constantly rereading, reimagining, and revising our understanding of what Judaism has meant, and what it can mean for us today.

What is contained in the book spans two millennia, five continents and translations from fifteen different languages. “A Rainbow Thread” is, in effect, queer Jewish history that includes poetry, drama, commentary, law and memoir. Like so many others, I have doubted that there is a place for me in Judaism and I thought I was forging a new path when I remain determined to be an active practicing Jew. I have since learned differently and now have a way to prove it— with this book. I am overwhelmed by the amount of information in “A Rainbow Thread” and I find myself lingering over each text included here and wondering why I had never read it before. We are done sitting on Judaism’s margins and we can now pitch our tents where we want. It may not be easy to do so but remember that it was once impossible to do so. I am in awe of what I see here and can’t wait to use it as a teaching tool.

“LGBTQ Fiction and Poetry from Appalachia” edited by Jeff Mann and Julia Watts— A Nice Surprise

Mann, Jeff and Julia Watts, editors. “LGBTQ Fiction and Poetry from Appalachia”, West Virginia University Press, 2019.

A Nice Surprise

Amos Lassen

Those of us who live in urban centers really are not aware of the LGBTQ population in non-urban areas and here specifically, I mean Appalachia. Jeff Mann and Julia Watts have done a wonderful job collecting and editing this collection, the first of its kind of fiction and poetry from lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer authors from Appalachia. From what I understand, literature from Appalachia Like much Appalachian literature, is often filled with an attachment to family and the mountain landscape while balancing queer and Appalachian, a complicated undertaking and filled with conflict. The pieces we read here face these problems head on and deal with the intersections of place, family, sexuality, gender, and religion with which LGBTQ Appalachians often struggle.

Included are works by established writers whose names may surprise you— Dorothy Allison, Silas House, Ann Pancake, Fenton Johnson, and Nickole Brown and emerging writers like Savannah Sipple, Rahul Mehta, Mesha Maren, and Jonathan Corcoran. Some of what we have here is previously published while the rest is original and appearing in print for the first time. This collection is a celebration of a literary canon made up of writers who give voice to what it means to be Appalachian and LGBTQ.

The book also contains a wonderful selected bibliography of same-sex desire in Appalachian literature and this alone makes the book worthwhile but there is so much more. We have the wonderful diversity of multigenerational voices, styles, and attitudes along with the theme of loyalty to place alongside of queer identity as represented in poetry and fiction. Here is the queer ecology of Appalachia and the voices that exist in relation to the landscape and the cultural imagination of the place. We see the paradox of both belonging (being from and of a place) and nearly total alienation.

Here is the Table of Contents:

Contents

Introduction   

Editor’s Notes

Dorothy Allison          

            Roberts Gas & Dairy   

            Careful

            Butter 

            Domestic Life 

Lisa Alther      

            Swan Song     

Maggie Anderson       

            Anything You Want, You Got It         

            Biography       

            Cleaning the Guns     

            In Real Life     

            My Father and Ezra Pound     

Nickole Brown

            My Book, in Birds      

            To My Grandmother’s Ghost,

            An Invitation for My Grandmother   

            Ten Questions You’re Afraid to Ask, Answered        

Jonathan Corcoran     

            The Rope Swing         

doris diosa davenport           

            verb my noun: a poem cycle 

            After the Villagers Go Home: An Allegory     

            Halloween 2011         

            Halloween 2017         

            for Cheryl D my first lover, 41 years later     

            Three days after the 2017 Solar Eclipse        

            Sept. 1  Invocation     

            a conversation with an old friend     

            Upon realizing

            “The Black Atlantic”   

Victor Depta   

            The Desmodontidae  

Silas House    

            How To Be Beautiful  

Fenton Johnson          

            Bad Habits     

Charles Lloyd  

            Wonders        

Jeff Mann       

            Not for Long   

            Training the Enemy    

            Yellow-eye Beans      

            The Gay Redneck Devours Draper Mercantile          

            Three Crosses

            Homecoming 

Mesha Maren

            Among

Kelly McQuain

            Scrape the Velvet from Your Antlers 

            Brave  

            Vampirella     

            Monkey Orchid          

            Alien Boy        

            Mercy 

            Ritual 

Rahul Mehta  

            A Better Life               

Ann Pancake  

            Ricochet         

Carter Sickels 

            Saving

Savannah Sipple        

            WWJD / about love    

            WWJD / about letting go       

            Jesus and I Went to the Wal-Mart    

            Catfisting       

            Pork Belly       

            A List of Times I Thought I Was Gay  

            Jesus Signs Me Up For a Dating App  

Anita Skeen    

            Double Valentine       

            How Bodies Fit           

            Need  

            Something You Should Know

            The Clover Tree         

            The Quilt: 25 April 1993         

            While You Sleep         

Aaron Smith   

            Blanket           

            There’s still one story

            Twice 

Julia Watts     

            Handling Dynamite    

“How to Love a Country: Poems” by Richard Blanco— Issues of Our Times

Blanco, Richard. “How to Love a Country: Poems”, Beacon, 2019.

Issues of Our Times

Amos Lassen

“How to Love a Country: Poems” is a new collection from Obama inaugural poet Richard Blanco who here  explores immigration, gun violence, racism, LGBTQ issues and more.  Blanco is so much more than a poet— he is a memoirist, public speaker, educator, and advocate who cares about connecting to “the heart of human experience and our shared identity as a country.”  With this new book, he continues to invite a conversation with all Americans “through an oracular yet intimate and accessible voice”. He looks at the complexities and contradictions of our nationhood and the unresolved sociopolitical matters that affect us all.”

The topics of the poems vary from the Pulse Nightclub massacre; an unexpected encounter on a visit to Cuba; the forced exile of 8,500 Navajos in 1868; a lynching in Alabama; the arrival of a young Chinese woman at Angel Island in 1938; the incarceration of a gifted writer; and Blanco’s love for his partner, who he is finally allowed to marry as a gay man. Even with each poem’s topic they are all struggling with the question of how to love this country.

As he looks for answers, Blanco probes the history and sensibility of the United States and interrogates our past and present, grieve our injustices, and pay heed to the  flaws. He but also remembers to celebrate our ideals and hold on to our hopes. Blanco reveals himself to readers in a disarming and kinetic sequence of stanzas of the poem that is the centerpiece of his collection and in which he tries to find his place in the physical and emotional landscapes of our country.

Blanco’s poems fray the fabric of the American narrative and pursues a resolution to this country’s” inherent contradiction of our nation’s psyche and mandate: e pluribus unum (out of many, one).” The poems “assert that America could and ought someday to be a country where all narratives converge into one, a country we can all be proud to love and where we can all truly thrive.”

Today we are a country at odds with itself and with its history and Richard Blanco’s is one of indignation and insurrection. By writing about the  stories that nurture us and the stories we’d rather forget, we learn anew the ways to love our country and our people.  The poems are
“vibrant, tragic, exhilarating, deeply in love with people and their stories and heartbreakingly engaged with our struggling nation.” Blanco sees America as a work in progress.

Richard Blanco’s new collection is a  hymn of love to those who make America their home and give her their loyalty.

“Spectral Pegasus / Dark Movements” by Jeffrey Beam and Clive Hicks-Jenkins— A Very Special Book

Beam Jeffery. “Spectral Pegasus / Dark Movements”, Clive Hicks-Jenkins, artist, Kin Press, 2019.

A Very Special Book

Amos Lassen

There is an unwritten rule somewhere that reviewers are not to have favorites and I am a supreme breaker of that rule. I have my favorites but I do not usually say who they are even though some of my readers will say that it is obvious. Speaking of poetry, Jeffery Beam holds a special place in my heart and I make no secrets about loving his poetry. However it has been quite a few years since I had something new by him to read. Even better than that is a CD that comes with Beam’s new collection which is intense and knocked me over. I had almost forgotten how much I love the language we speak and write with.

”Spectral Pegasus / Dark Movements” is, quite simply, glorious and it could not have arrived at a better time. I have always been the kind of a guy who turns to poetry when things are not so good (that does not mean that I don’t read poetry when times are good). Not only are these poems special, they come with wonderful illustrations thanks to Welsh painter Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Beam and Hicks-Jenkins take us  on a wonderful journey— a hero’s journey that goes through “death, resurrection, psychological and spiritual trials, and revelations into redemptive vision.” The places where we stop form a microcosm of our own society. We begin with the  death of the painter’s father,  we have two narrations going on at the same time—the poetic narrative and the visual narrative and these come together in myth and dreams. There is something feral about the poems which is probably the result of confronting with dark forces and bringing back knowledge that had fallen away over time. To know is to heat and to heal is to look within oneself remembering that pain is there to remind us that something is not right. Pain, be it mental or physical comes to guide us to where it can be alleviated.

“The dead have died a thousand times

for they have died in me

I climb the signal tower each time I bend my knee…”

This collection has twenty-one full color illustrations, sixteen poems, and illuminating essays by Sarah Parvin, Mary-Ann Constantine, and Claire Pickard.  From what we read we are able to get a vision of hope. William Rossetti reminds us that we will not be waylaid by those who came before us. We must look to our alienation and face it head on if we are to heal. We can renew ourselves and our world. We see that in the poetry and its illustrations here and we are reminded that the early drawings on the walls of caves was communication back then and it is the lack of communication that forces us into isolation. I could feel a sense of renewal as I read.

We are also reminded that art began in the caves of the Paleolithic world and in those caves ritual, religion, painting and song were born. By its very nature this is a provocative book and we need to remember that the purpose of literature was to provoke. Ever since I read ‘Frankenstein:, Mary Shelley has provoked me to understand that we all read differently. I found a sense of rebirth with this book and the way it sees  modern suffering.”  Of course it helps that Beam is a wordsmith and writes beautifully and that Hinks-Jenkins draws from his inner being. I always find poetry difficult to review because it appeals to the emotions and it forms a bond between writer and reader. What I see is just that; my perception of the magical verses that Beam writes and the stunning artwork of Hicks-Jenkins becomes mine and I am not sure that I want to share what came to me from what I read and experienced here. I totally fell in love with “The Big Bang: River Jordan” and was amazed at the research done to try to find out what this poem is  all about. I lived on a kibbutz in Israel in the Jordan Valley and I thought my knowledge of the area was good if not perfect. I was surprised to see how much I did not before.

“I am the Bastard Angel and the Virgin Devil

I am  Again and Then and Was and Ever”.

In closing, let me just say that I am overwhelmed as often happens when reading something new. Here I read of old ideas clad in semi-modern or modern  finery and they are very different now but then so are we. I urge you to read and savor what is here.  Think of this book like wine— it gets better as it ages.                                                                                 

“Valley Blues” by Cher Guevara— An Epic Poem

Guevara, Cher. “Valley Blues”, Writing Knights Press, 2018.

An Epic Poem

Amos Lassen

One of the things I love best about reviewing is watching writers mature both in content and in style. A young poet named Walter Beck approached me in 2012 and asked if I would be interested in reviewing his work and of course I agreed as I always do with new writer. Between 2012 and 2015, I wrote thirteen posts about young Beck and then quiet. I just assumed that the well was dry and besides I had so much to do, I didn’t really think about it. Then one day, I noticed a familiar face on Facebook and I realized that Walter Beck had become Cher Guevara.

“A cold voice,

what are you doing here, Beck?

My spirit replies,

I’m hearing the beautiful music

From the dry hills

And my name is Cher”.

I must say that I was not really surprised by the physical transformation. I had always thought of Beck as someone quite radical and I felt that there would always be surprises. His poetry was always radical but I must admit that I had not thought about the poet (I am trying to be careful with pronouns) and gender but that was my problem and not Beck’s.

“Valley Blues” is an ambitious undertaking just as changing from Walter Beck to Cher Guevara is ambitious and they both succeed. I love that Cher, the person, stands up for what is right and I certainly saw that in Beck’s early poems which now seem to me to be more angry that what I read in “Valley Blues”. Do not misunderstand me, there is anger but it more like being discontent than really boiling.

I understand that Cher wrote “Valley Blues” while in the western desert and I cannot think of a better place to find one’s stream of consciousness. I remember when I was a young (and good-looking) graduate student having gone to spend some time in Arizona for a Proust weekend. With great people and a little help from some substance, I appreciated Proust more than I had before or since. I have often wondered if when becoming someone else. One has to destroy the former being. If I understand Cher correctly, the new being came about as a result of destruction and self-discovery. Cher uses images that hit close to home:

“Dressing in fishnets and make up

in the July moonlight…

An old friend calls

tells me home is burning

The land of my rebirth

Is collapsing in chaos.”

This is the saga of the search for a road out of an exile that has lasted nearly a decade. Cher Guevara is from Avon, Indiana , not place where I imagine there are many gender queer people living so I can’t help but see him as a marked person and I can only imagine what life must be like for the poet. Nonetheless, Cher has made a name as a poet of the Indiana underground. Believe it or not this is his tenth book and in my opinion, the most mature of them.

There is a great deal that I can say about what the poetry brings us but I do not want to ruin the reading experience for anyone else. This is not just a read but a full and total experience. Cher mentions that they have become selfish over the years and would like some credit for the many changes that have come about. This, for me, was the only place I saw indulgence. What I do see more than anything else is a cry for acceptance. While we may not all be the same, there is humanity that unites us and we want to revel in that freely and liberated.

“Forget ‘em”.

Don’t let the bastards

Get you down.”

The poetry comes with wonderful pictures of Cher. He see him on his voyage and we are with him when “he keeps his blues songs alive”. Don’t miss this chance to meet a dynamic voice about the way we live.