“Hibernation and Other Poems by Bear Bards” edited by Ron J. Suresha— Bear Bards and Poetry

hibernationSuresha, Ron J. (editor).  “Hibernation and Other Poems by Bear Bards”, Bear Bones Books, 2014.

Bear Bards and Poetry

Amos Lassen

Do you remember a time when men were either straight or gay? It was not that long ago. Now our community is made up of my subgroups within the larger LGBT community and one of those groups is made up of men who call themselves bears—they tend to be larger and hairier in build that say twinks or preppies or metrosexuals. And like the other subgroups bears have developed their own culture and even their own literature. For some of you the idea of a bear poet might seem incongruous—well, forget that because in this new anthology of bear poetry I found several gems.

Editor Ron Suresha says that this anthology was three years in the making and I am sure that is not because bears don’t write poetry but because he wanted the very best and it sure looks like he got it.

I fully believe that you can judge a people or a community but the literature it produces and while it may seem incongruous that bears who represent big burly men would write poetry, I feel that this book is very important for them and for the rest of us to be able to see what they can do. Suresha himself says that “… the bear community needs this book… a community of men like the Bears must produce art and literature that represent the inner desires of its men, and this collection of poems certainly fulfills that requirement”. We are almost past having to prove ourselves to others, now we must prove ourselves to our own community. If you look at the scope of gay literature you can find anything you might want but let me remind you that it was not always like this.  I remember all too well the sad stories filled with suicides and lies and unhappy endings. By coming into our own and winning a bit acceptance by the larger community, we have seen the tide turn and now we have stories about everything you can imagine and the days of hiding are over. Yes, sure and without a doubt bears can and should write poetry and all of us—bears, non-bears, gays and straight should read it.

I sat down to write a review and instead I find myself musing over the state of our literature but it is important to understand that the state of our literature reflects the state of our community that is based on who we are. Now on to the book.

“Hibernation” features poetry by a who’s who of gay writers (some 40 in total). Among them are David Bergman and Albert Skip Brushaber who I understand are responsible for the title of the collection and they are joined by Alfred C. Corn, Jameson Currier, Gavin Geoffrey Dillard, Jack Fritscher, Daniel M. Jaffe, Raymond Luczak, Jeff Mann, Ron Mohring, Felice Picano, Jay Starre, Jim Stewart, Dan Stone, and Emanuel Xavier and many fine poems from other American and Canadian contributors. Of those listed here, there are only two whose work I have never reviewed so I feel right at home. (Several of these writers I have reviewed more than once and several more than twice).

The collection contains 100 poems most of which are written in free verse and every issue of life is contained here from the “changing standards of masculinity, male romance and lust, maturing men’s body issues, and what it means to live and love within the worldwide gay male bear community”. The tone of the poems varies—some are men looking at themselves while others are erotic and/or amusing. The beauty of poetry is that the author has complete freedom to write and in most cases it s the reader who does the interpretation. I am sure some of you remember poetry from high school or college classes in which we took a poem apart until that was left were like the bones of the turkey at Thanksgiving. I have often wondered how Lord Byron or John Milton or even e.e.cummings would react to what we did to his work. What the poems share in common is the bear experience. What I love is the fun I had reading it. I also loved that I got a new picture of some of the authors I already knew. The problem I have in reviewing something like this is that I am almost forced to concentrate on a few of the 100 poems but in that way I show bias. So I won’t and I will look at the anthology as a whole. I know too many of the writers so to pick some over others could cause ill feelings.

I notice that rather than use the word “contributors”, Suresha uses “cubtributors” so that we are reminded who and what we are reading. I can only imagine the selection process—a poem must catch the reader immediately; there is not as much time as a short story for it to make an impression so editor Suresha had his work cut out for him and I am sure he is very proud of this  volume.

If you have ever wondered what a “bear poem” is, you will get your answer right here. If you have ever attended a bear function then you know that they bring sex, art, culture, and commerce together in a really fun way. This happens all over the world wherever bears meet…it seems natural and healthy that individuals group themselves together through ritual and language. There is a bear experience, which is shared among hundreds of thousands of bear-identified men. Most people see those deep connections in the community if they pay attention. The subculture has continued to flourish  due to its position as a prominent, well-established worldwide gay and bisexual men’s community during a time of huge civil rights changes for GLBTQ people around the world. Therefore we can define “bear to mean a masculine, mature queer man is here to stay”. As Suresha says and I quote him totally (with a minor change). “If folks reading this believe in bear community and think that bear literature or a bear poetry anthology is something that our community should have, then get out and get  yourself a copy and enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.

“THE BALANCE” by Neal Wooten— Life Hanging in the Balance

the balance

Wooten, Neal. “The Balance”, Bold Strokes Books, 2014

Life Hanging in the Balance

Amos Lassen

It is so good to see so many young adult titles and those that are so different in plot and scope. In “The Balance”, we meet nineteen-year-old Piri who lives in a world of technology somewhere above the clouds. An accident caused him to be dropped from his city and (as in the first sentence of James Joyce’s “Eveline”), everything changes. He does not know how to deal with this different life and he is scared. He sees creatures that are gruesome looking and known as Scavs yet he is also very taken by the bonds they share with each other. He is then rescued by an other young man named Nico and he not only begins to have feelings for him but to understand those feelings as well. Even though he cannot find real comfort, he has found love and that trumps everything else. But then “he discovers just how far the city dwellers will go to maintain control, and the horrific truth behind an ancient and secret alliance, he will do everything he can to protect his new family—and disrupt the balance”.

Privileged people live in the city and everything they do is done in a controlled manner. They have been trained not to show emotion since they were children and family members do not exchange physical affection. The society is also programmed that everyone dies at 80 years old when they are too old for the workforce or have stopped helping raise their grandchildren.

The Children are the people on earth and they serve the city dwellers by providing them with crops and people to work for them after they have been chosen in a weekly ceremony. The children don’t have much but their lives are full with family. They get their rules for life from a book that they all read which is a paraphrase of our bible.

Genre-wise this is a young adult dystopian book that deals with two wrongs—evolution and religion and one right—love. In this new society, same-sex love is common and totally accepted but this is not a book about gay love, it is about society. After finding himelf in a world that he had never known, Piri has to find a way to live in this new environment. He was able to find family, to make friends and  to fall in love. In fact, Piri finds life where he never knew it could exist.  While things are good for him, he is fine but when he learns the truth about the balance, he has other ideas. He must decide between his new life or the life he once knew and between love or comfort. His decision could indeed affect the balance.

 Piri’s narration within himself changes as the story goes forward. He begins as an objective commentator, who simply watching the world and he spoke in short to-the–point sentences. He doesn’t even say a word to Nico his rescuer for quite a while. As the book begins to draw to a close, Piri becomes vocal as if he is filled with passion and desperation and I must credit author Neal Wooten for the skill he used in pulling this off.

 While the story is quite complex, it is told in simple English without much dialogue and this is because Piri has involved in introspection. The use of religion and religious symbolism is very effective although perhaps I should reword that to say anti-religion. The ending may catch you off-guard as it did me. There are some small problems in the text and I suppose that is because this is a new author to me. Given time that will all fall away.

Queer Passover Seder Helped Me Reclaim Judaism

Queer Passover Seder Helped Me Reclaim Judaism

By Stosh Cotler

An alternative Seder plate holds a coconut, representing closeted LGBTQ youth. / JQ International

At the time, it didn’t occur to me to be offended or concerned that I was being circled by the cheerleaders and other popular girls who held hands, bowed their heads and prayed for my soul. They were part of “Christian Life” at my high school in Olympia, Washington. I recall several instances when they earnestly attempted to save me from eternal damnation. I didn’t refuse their efforts or consider the implications of their actions. I just wanted to fit in.

I grew up Jewish in the Pacific Northwest. But not in a religiously observant family, or a proud intellectual family, or a family of labor organizers who taught me early and often never to cross a picket line. My family was on the fast track to assimilation, and by high school, being Jewish was simply a reminder that I was an outsider.

By the time I was in my late twenties, I was reeling from a spiritual crisis. A decade of organizing and social change work had left me feeling hopeless and burned out.

Randomly, I was invited to a Passover Seder hosted by an older lesbian couple that I recognized from our local gay bar. I hesitated — not because they were practically strangers, but because I could already feel the potential embarrassment of not remembering the holiday rituals correctly, not being able to read Hebrew, not feeling “Jewish enough.”

Wavering about the decision until the very last moment, I arrived at Devon and Pauline’s home. I approached the door and saw their beautiful mezuzah, alongside the rainbow flags and pink triangle sticker. I walked in the door and was greeted by a number of dogs (naturally), and then found myself sitting alongside several butch-femme couples and a few gay men.

We began the evening by reading from handmade haggadot. The ancient story of the exodus was augmented by quotes, pictures and examples of modern-day social justice struggles, ranging from the civil rights movement to ACT UP. These people sitting around the Passover table, some of whom had endured painful experiences with the Jewish community because of their gender and/or sexual orientation, had not only managed to stay connected to our tradition, but had placed their own struggles of oppression within this larger narrative of liberation.

I was in shock. It had never occurred to me that being Jewish could be revolutionary. That it could provide a spiritual and political path to personal and communal freedom. It was the first time I recognized the possibility that my Jewishness could be a relevant and compelling force in my life.

It was breathtaking to feel such a profound sense of integration.

I cried during the Seder itself. The tears just kept welling up and spilling down my cheeks. I cried for days and days afterward. I felt shattered — heartbroken for all that I had missed growing up, grateful to feel a oneness that I had been desperately yearning for, troubled when I learned more about stubborn intolerances within the Jewish community, and unsure of how this profound experience would ripple through my life.

When something so deep happens, there is no going back. That Seder marked my return to Judaism and the beginning of my conscious and proud identity as a Jew. And for that reason, I think about Passover as my own personal Jewish anniversary as well as the time when we sit together with our loved ones and recount the story of liberation.

But it’s not just our personal liberation, and our people’s liberation. Passover is a time for us to think about all people’s liberation. There are so many people, here in our country, who are still being held in bondage. Some of these bonds may be thankfully loosening, like those faced by LGBTQ people who are still denied our full rights as citizens. And some of these bonds are terribly — tragically — entrenched, as the thousands of people who have been imprisoned and forcibly deported from their homes and families can attest.

So let us mark the Seder as a time to celebrate the sweet possibility of freedom. But let us also use the time to acknowledge the responsibility toward the oppressed that freedom brings. Fighting these liberation stuggles, and others, has become my life’s work. And while that fact does not surprise me, it still amazes a part of me that I am fortunate enough to do so as a Jew.

Stosh Cotler is the CEO of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice.

Read more: http://blogs.forward.com/forward-thinking/195906/queer-passover-seder-helped-me-reclaim-judaism/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_term=Opinion&utm_campaign=Opinion%202014-04-07#ixzz2yEGi7mrt

“CLUB KING”— One Man—Great Parties

club king

“CLUB KING”

One Man—Great Parties

Amos Lassen

Mario Diaz is a promoter/actor/emcee/stylist/dancer/producer and for the last twenty years, the good-looking guy has been throwing the best parties on the LGBT scene from New York City to Los Angeles. He is affectionately known as the Club King. This movie goes behind the scene to try to find out what makes him tick and how he has managed to be so successful. He is able to balance his professional life and his personal life and is always “fabulous”.

club king2Jon Bush directed the film and we learn that Diaz seems to be everywhere where something is happening. Some say that with his moustache he resembles a 70s porn star and he has a wicked smile. He has become his own legend.

club king 2

Diaz was not always one of the kings of Los Angeles’s gay nightlife. It was in Seattle, as a high schooler, where he realized he could throw a party better than the rest. It was in New York where he became famous. And it was in Los Angeles where he found freedom and happiness.

“I’ve always had an intense drive and ambition, and right now my ambition is to appreciate what’s in front of me,” Diaz said “My life is so blessed”

Today, Diaz is above all the architect of the sexiest and most scandalous events on either side of the Silver Lake/WeHo divide. His events are well attended by both camps. So if you do not know him or of him, this film is the place to start.

“THE THIRD ONE”— Add a Man

the-third-one

“THE THIRD ONE” (“EL TERCERO”)

Add a Man

Amos Lassen

Many of us know someone who is one third of a relationship yet we really do not understand how this came to be or how it works. Director Rodrigo Guerrero shows us a situation like that in “The Third One”.

After meeting in a chat room, Fede arrives at a downtown building to have an intimate encounter with an older gay couple. As the night unfolds, everyone has an awesome experience. The next morning Fede seems changed, as if suddenly he had found a new possible way to love. Dripping with sexuality, sensuality, tenderness and lots of sex, The Third One provides a new take on the joys of love between more than two.

“OPEN UP TO ME”— Living a Double Life

open up to me

“OPEN UP TO ME”

Living a Double Life

Amos Lassen


Marti, a beautiful, intelligent and sexy woman, used to be a man. She is separated from her the daughter she fathered during her previous life. When she falls in love with Sami, she finally feels like she can ‘fit in’.  The world considers Maarit to be a freak and Sami is now forced to confront his own deeply hidden prejudices. With or without Sami, Maarit has to step into a brave new world where only she can determine her sense of belonging.

Maarit’s male body has been  transformed into an attractive and intelligent woman. However, this new life has come at a considerable price, as many transgender individuals have come to discover., Maarit feels like a stranger in a cold but familiar world, that is, until the day she meets Sami. In the midst of a marital crisis, Sami has come to seek the help of Maarit’s employer, a therapist. In the therapist’s absence, Maarit feels compelled to help the man, even if it means impersonating the therapist to get through to Sami.

“TOM AT THE FARM”— Another Look

tom poster

“Tom At The Farm” (“Tom à la ferme”)

Another Look

This is Xavier Dolan’s fourth film as a director, and he’s still only 25. It’s difficult to know whether to be impressed or whether to dislike him on principle. Indeed that’s true of much about Dolan – he has a supreme confidence that is simultaneously exciting and a little exasperating, his grasp of plot and theme is both engrossing and frustratingly underdeveloped, and he manages to imbue his films with a hipster vibe that is too pleased with itself and yet gives his films an unexpected vibrancy.

tom1

All that’s true of Tom At The Farm, even if it is a bit of a sidestep from his earlier movies into the world of the psychosexual thriller. Dolan himself plays Tom, a young man who heads from the city into the middle of nowhere for the funeral of his boyfriend, Guillame. Arriving at Guillame’s mother Agathe’s (Lise Roy) farm, he discovers not only did his lover have a brother he’s never heard of, called Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal),but Agathe has no idea who he is. That night the explosive and controlling Francis makes it very clear that Tom will not reveal who he really is, and he’ll continue the fiction that Guillame had a girlfriend, Sara.

In his grief and also fearing Francis, Tom says nothing, hoping to get through the funeral and then leave. However with Francis not afraid to violently impose his will on others – which mainly revolves around him pleasing his mother in his own slightly unhinged way – Tom find it difficult to leave and soon finds himself being drawn into this family on the edge of insanity.

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Many people have called Tom At The Farm Hitchcockian, which is mainly because Dolan borrows more than a few tricks from the master – ranging from Psycho-esque music to a Vertigo-infused playing with identity – even if the results are rather different.

It’s a constantly intriguing and thought provoking film, which creates a great sense of tension as it tells its ever darker story.  However it’s always difficult to escape the sense that the entire thing is pretty preposterous. Some have used the word ‘absurdist’ to describe Tom At The Farm, but that’s essentially an attempt by critics to get around the fact it’s often silly and sometimes doesn’t make any sense. As with Dolan’s earlier films, it often feels like it’s deliberately leaving things out in a rather self-satisfied way, but which is actually an attempt cover up the fact there’s a lack of logic both in the plot and the way the characters act. It leaves things to the audience so that it can pretend it isn’t at a loss as to how to handle things fully itself.

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That’s particularly true at the end, when the films leaves it very late for a reveal that explains much of what we’ve been seeing. However it doesn’t actually illuminate many of the key questions, and while we’re presumably meant to be surprised, by this point it almost seems par for the course where Francis is concerned and therefore tells us far less than it initially seems to.

It’s not too much of a surprise to discover the film is actually based on a play – as many of the things that seem a little excessive on screen might work more fully in the more intimate, enclosed world of the theatre.

All this would make Tom At The Farm an unmitigated failure but for the fact that while Dolan is sometimes a little more impressed with himself than he ought to be – and his screenplays could do with more control – he is undoubtedly a talent. He is someone where there are constant hints that he could become a true master, from his ability to pull the viewer in to how many of the individual scenes are absolutely excellent. Indeed Tom At The Farm is filled with some brilliant and utterly captivating sequences.

tom poster

It’s just in pulling everything together that things hang on the edge between something extremely good and something that’s pretty daft. You certainly have  to admire how committed the film is – from the sense of unease it creates to the performances the actors gives – and it’s enough to ensure Tom At The Farm is worth watching, even if it’s not always that convincing.

“THE SAMURAI”—Confronting Impulses

der samurai poster

“THE SAMURAI” (“DER SAMURAI”)

Confronting Impulses

Amos Lassen

There are stories of a wolf wandering through the woods near an isolated German town. Jakob, the young police officer is following him but with a sense that there is something else out there in the darkness of the backwaters of rural East Germany. He then finds a man who seems to be wild; a thin man wearing a dress and carrying a Katana, a Samurai sword. The strange man invites Jakob to join him on his crusade toward the village and Jakob now takes it upon himself to pursue this person and end the destruction he has been causing by decapitating villagers.

der samurai

As heads roll with each stroke of his sword, dutiful, straight-laced cop Jakob becomes increasingly powerless to resist the draw of the Samurai’s feral otherness. The two enter into a bizarre folie-a-deux as Jakob is forced to confront his own carnal impulses that he has long sought to repress. By the time the night is over, Jakob has experienced way too much and is no longer who he once was. Something hidden has been unleashed to meet the first rays of daylight.

“IGLOO”— New Challenges

igloo poster

“IGLOO” (“IGLU”)

New Challenges

Amos Lassen

Daniel is a storyboard artist for an advertising agent. He is depressed because of what happened to his relationship with his college professor who is older than he is. He meets Paula, an agoraphobic therapist, with whom Daniel begins an intense relationship. “Igloo” explores a young man’s complex relationships with sexuality, intimacy and addiction, and how his memories and present day relationships help him embrace a new life.  The film is the directorial debut of Chilean actor Diego Ruiz and it explores identity and self-acceptance.

igloo

At work he meets Camila and a friendship develops between them, Daniel uses the comics he draws to deal with his relationship that he once had with Paula, who really helped him deal with his drug dependence and the end of his relationship with Marco. Now Camila helps him face his present and his sexuality and his relationship with his family.

“TWINK”— A Second Look— “Retired. Expired. No Longer Desired

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“Twink”

A Second Look— “Retired. Expired. No Longer Desired”

Amos Lassen

Kaden Daydreams realizes that his days making gay porn are coming to an end. The end is one that he has brought upon himself through drugs and drink and now his mental health is catching up with him and he seems headed for suicide. But when he gets a visit from a documentary film festival, he thinks that maybe things will not be so bad after all.

“Twink” is a collaborative film project from British infant terrible Jason Impey and Wade Radford, his resident star. The typical no-budget raw production reinforces both men’s place in the film industry. Radford plays the porn actor whose life has spiraled downward who tells about his days as a popular actor in gay XXX film. We never see the director to whom he tells his story but we are always aware of his presence. It is almost as if we are spying on him as he relates explicitly about the gay porn industry and what it is like to work in it. We sense Kaden’s frustration at being one of the now undesired but we also see what Kaden might not—that he, himself, is responsible for the way his life has gone. He had been exploited to excess and through what he says; we see how something like this could happen to anyone. Kaden has been abused by the very same world that he once made money for but he also allowed that to happen.

The film has a lot to say and it does so with just the most basic production values available—the cast consists only of Radford and I understand making the film took only one day and it was made direct to camera but that does not detract from the power of Kaden’s words. As he discusses the hold that fame had on him and the pleasures he got from being known and adored, we feel his hurt as he is being replaced by new young stars who are not afraid to “strut their stuff” on camera. Kaden does not hold back on how he feels about the industry that he once worked in even though he is now an addict with smashed dreams. He acknowledges that the industry stole his youth but he also acknowledges that he is also the blame for that. His work has scarred him and he seems, at times, to have lost control of the way he now speaks. Radford is totally convincing as he relates stories from his past and his contemplation of his future. Yet, we see him seesawing between having a future and ending it all.

The set reminds us of the nature of Kaden’s mind. It is shabby and it adds to the aura of the film and its star. Radford actually recites one of his own poems; a poem that is in our face just as the person who is reciting it is.

I see the film as a slap against exploitation and we see soon realize that we are heading toward an uncompassionate ending. A lot has been said and somehow we have to end the monologue and we also realize that a lot of truth has been spoken here and in a relatively short amount of time. In the not so distant past, I have reviewed four of Radford’s books and all of his movies and I find myself saying, as I have for his other work, to keep your eyes on Radford; I have a feeling we are going to be hearing a lot more from and about him.