Friday, May 30, 2008

20th Annual Lambda Literary Awards Announced

Last night in Los Angeles the 20th Annual Lambda Literary Awards were announced. Wish I had been there! I’m most excited about Michael Sherry and Jane Marcus’ extraordinary books, both of which I’ve read and adore. I’m also thrilled for Richard Labonte and Lawrence Schimel who work so tirelessly on behalf of gay and lesbian literary cultures as both writers and editors. I’ve not read Henri Cole’s award-winning book, but will order it immediately and drink it up.

Congratulations to all of the winners and thanks to the Lambda Literary Foundation and the organization’s extraordinary leader, Charles Flowers for all that they do to enhance our literary lives.

May 29, 2008, 11:00 PM--Winners for the 20th annual Lambda Literary Awards were announced tonight by the Lambda Literary Foundation at a gala celebration attended by 300 people.

Awards were presented in 21 categories. Winners were chosen by a jury of judges who come from all walks of literary life: journalists, authors, booksellers, librarians, playwrights, illustrators. In all, 85 judges participated in the selection of winners from the pool of 463 books that were nominated by 190 publishers.

In addition, Ann Bannon, Malcolm Boyd, and Mark Thompson were recognized for their lifetime achievements by receiving the Pioneer Award from Lambda Literary Foundation.


* First Person Queer, Richard Labonte and Lawrence Schimel (Arsenal Pulp Press)


* The View From Here, Matthew Hays (Arsenal Pulp Press)


* Hero, Perry Moore (Hyperion)


* Return to the Caffe Cino, edited by Steve Susoyev and
George Birimisa (Moving Finger Press)


* Homosex: 60 Years of Gay Erotica, Simon Sheppard (Running Press)


* Gay Artists in Modern American Culture, Michael S. Sherry (University of North Carolina Press)


* Blackbird and Wolf, Henri Cole (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)


* The Dust of Wonderland, Lee Thomas (Alyson Books)


* Between Women, Sharon Marcus (Princeton University Press)


* Split Screen, Brent Hartinger (Harper Collins Children's Books)


* Transparent, Cris Beam (Harcourt)


* Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking, Aoibheann Sweeney (The Penguin Press)


* A Push and a Shove, Christopher Kelly (Alyson Books)


* The IHOP Papers, Ali Liebegott (Carroll & Graf)


* Out of Love, K. G. MacGregor (Bella Books)


* Wall of Silence, Gabrielle Goldsby (Bold Strokes Books)


* And Now We Are Going to Have a Party, Nicola Griffith (Payseur & Schmidt)


* Call Me By Your Name, Andre Aciman (Farrar Straus Giroux)


* Changing Tides, Michael Thomas Ford (Kensington)


* Murder in the Rue Chartres, Greg Herren (Alyson Books)


* Mississippi Sissy, Kevin Sessums (St. Martin's Press)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

My Graduation from the University of Maryland with the MFA

Last week I attended three graduation ceremonies to be fully awarded my MFA in Creative Writing. It was great fun. The full photo gallery is available here.

To tantalize you, here are a few photos from the festivities.

The University of Maryland Stole

With Kim after all of the ceremonies

Delicious veggies from our party. Kim barbecued for over four hours!

I started the program just after Kim's mother died. In death, she provided the tuition money for the first semester. Her totem was the turtle, so turtles sat with us all night. She would have loved the party and been very proud.

A good time was had by all!

See the rest of the photos here!

Summer Goals and Changing Contexts

If you know me, you know that all of my activities emanate from my personal mission statement, which is grounded in seven areas of focus in my life. Each area of focus, or context, has 1 year, 5 year, and 10 year goals associated with it. I review each of the goals, the contexts, and the mission statement every year around Rosh Hashana. My planning and living method is a hybrid of my first love, Stephen Covey, and now David Allen. I am, in short, one of those people who takes living productively seriously.

So while I have a whole series of goals and activities that I will be working on during the summer break from school, two that are uppermost on my mind are: reading all of Judith Butler and running 25 miles in a week.

Judith Butler should be no surprise. I’m going on to get my PhD in Women’s Studies and she is one of the preeminent theorists in women’s studies. During each of the seminar papers that I wrote for my MFA at some point I had a crisis of wondering how to position my work in relationship to Judith Butler. So part of reading all of her work and really understanding it is to avoid that crisis in the future.

The second goal is odder. I am no athlete. I have been exercising a minimum of thirty minutes each day though and recently I’ve discovered the efficiency of running to satisfy the exercise commitment. Right now, I’m running about three miles in forty minutes. I want to ramp that up so that I can run five miles in an hour and do that five days of a week. We’ll see how it goes.

Meanwhile, I am realizing that my contexts are changing. I think of contexts more with people as the orientation to them than other definitions. Contexts to me are a combination of roles that I play in life and environments in which I do my work. mine are changing because being back in school, I am organizing my thinking and my work to a new profession. So one of my tasks over the next week or so is to review my contexts, my areas of focus, and reorganize them. This will result in a variety of changes into my personal management system for living. I’ll change my email box organization, my calendar coding, my overall master task list and workplans. That will be the easy computer work though. First I have to do the thinking work that gives me a foundation with a vision for my new life and ensures the time and attention to accomplishing things in my current life.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep running in the mornings and reading Judith Butler. Changing contexts are important, but so is marking everything off of today’s task list!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Stan Plumly's Posthumous Keats: The Type of Book I'd Like to Write Someday

I’ve been reading Stan Plumly’s new book Posthumous Keats. Subtitled, A Personal Biography, the book is a gorgeous exploration of Keats in the last year of his life and the creation of his reputation after his death. First, after having studied with Stan at the University of Maryland it is incredibly powerful to read this book. I hear his voice mulling through the great poet which has been a source of profound inspiration for him. There is something quite intimate about reading a book in that way.

My admiration for this book is more than knowing Stan, however. This is a beautiful meditation on a major poet. There are oodles of books on Keats and that is one of the challenges in writing a new book about Keats. I think about that in relationship to my own work and writing about and thinking about Elizabeth Bishop. I have always felt and in some ways continue to feel that I never want to publish anything about Bishop. I love her too much, first of all, and second of all, everything seems to have already been said, in most cases more delicately or beautifully than I could ever say it. Yet, Posthumous Keats takes this challenge and runs with it. It brings together many things that have already been written about, but writes them anew, in a profound and ruminative way.

Another thing that I admire about this book is its structure. It sits you in the middle of things and spirals you as the reader out from there. Stan talked about organizing the book as one organizes a book of poems. I like that idea. There are seven chapters; each has seven parts. (Oh, the prime numbers bring me bliss, too!) Each of the parts is an extended meditation on an object, an incident, a relationship. It is extraordinary in its structure and in how it choses to cast the narrative eye.

I”ve not yet finished the book, choosing instead to read slowly and savor it. I read a section. Set it down. Read another book or embroider (this is the joy of summer!) On each page, I think to myself, this is the type of book I’d like to write someday. Read it. You’ll see what I mean.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Mariela Castro continues to speak on behalf of Gay and Lesbian Equality

Beyond Masculinity

Two things interest me about this website/book. First, Beyond Masculinity seems to be filled with good thinking about the intersections of queerness and gender and I always appreciate a good read on that intersection. Second, I am interested in the publishing and distribution of it. The website is very well designed. It offers a huge variety of ways to access the information and the book. It seems easy and intuitive. I wonder if this is a future vision of book publishing. What do you think?

More on Elizabeth McFarland

There has been a very thoughtful and substantive response by Kathleen Rooney and others on the McFarland review at the Contemporary Poetry Review over on Joan Houlihan’s blog. It is well worth the read.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Final Paper of my MFA Degree

Today I turned in my final paper in completion of my MFA at the University of Maryland. What a feeling! (With all of the self-consciuos reference to the great Irene Cara.)

The paper is titled:

Lesbian Identity as a Conversation with the Imagined Sappho:
Apostrophe and Dramatic Monologue
in the Construction and Imagination of Lesbian Identity

and as has become my practice, I’ve linked it as a PDF here at the blog.

As always, I have lots of new ideas about how to revise this paper and what to do with it next. This one in particular is part of a much broader argument I am putting together about lesbians and poetry. There will be more over the next three and four years on this as I write toward my PhD dissertation.

Stay tuned for photos from graduation this week as well as some insight into the summer plans and goals and objectives.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Elizabeth McFarland and the Work of Writing Reviews

There has recently been a wonderful and spirited conversation over at the Wom-po list serv about a review in the Contemporary Poetry Review about a new book of poems by Elizabeth McFarland. Below is my response to the discussion. Joan Houlihan has also written about it with great thought at her blog.

I'm the person who used the word "catty" and so I feel I need to try and respond in some sort of way, with the caveat that I wrote my original email hastily while traveling. Still, here are my thoughts and why I felt initial peevishness about the CPR review. Rooney actually begins the review with an important question, and perhaps the question of all reviews:

Why should we bother reading this poem or care who wrote it?

I approach all reviews with that question in mind (though I tend to think of it as a first person I and not a plural we, but that my just be stylistic). In fact, as Claire's comment indicates, I don't think that the review really answers that question fully.

One of my first reactions to the review is exactly that, why review this book at all if indeed it is as the reviewer presents it to be. I think one of the first and important questions for a reviewer is why spend this time and energy writing about a book. When I invest time and energy in writing about a book, I do it because there is some exigent reason to read the book or at least know about it. I felt like some of that was missing from Rooney's review - and I think there is an editorial responsibility to answer that question about reviews run.

Also when I encountered the review, the language that Rooney used to describe McFarland's poems was language embedded in gender roles and sexism. I challenge you to find a review of a book by a man in which the words "prim" "quaint" "winsome" and "romantic" are used, particularly all piled atop one another. In addition, the entire paragraph about McFarland's attire while on it's face I take issue with (again when is the last review of a book of poetry by a man talked about his attire) but in addition if the attire is going to be discussed at such length, it seems to me it deserves to be contextualized in a particular time and place for which it may be, actually, quite appropriate! That simply wasn't done.

To add insult to injury (at least to this reader) there is a substantial paragraph about McFarland's marriage. Again, why isn't her work taken as autonomous? Why is it important to contextualize her (for what there is of that) in light of her husband ? Again, I think about this as a question of parity. When you read reviews of male poets, is there a paragraph or two discussing their husbands? Some perhaps, but I would argue those are anomalous.

Those were the things that I found peevish and lead me to say that the review was "catty." And by that I mean, the easy "fight" or tousle was picked. I take the point made on Wompo that "catty" is a word with sexist connotations, but I do think that the tone is "catty" and not say "combative" or "negative".

As I have reread the review and have been mulling it in the back of my mind, the other things that bothers me most about it is the complete failure to contextualize McFarland's poetry either with peers at the time or to consider it in relation to other poetry in other historical contexts.

Rooney mentions McFarland in comparison to Sexton, Plath, and Lowell. It's an easy statement, but I just don't think that it takes McFarland's work on her own terms. From what I know of her poetry, I think that the comparatives to consider are more along the lines of Stevie Smith, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edith Sitwell or Letitia E. Landon. Reading the poetry and biography of McFarland against any of those would, I think, make a much more interesting and illuminating review and put McFarland's work into relief to answer the question that Rooney poses at the beginning of it.

Ultimately, I think that CPR, from what I have read of it, is invested in judging "excellence" as though it were a term not bound by time and changing standards of reading and understanding poetry, and I think that underlies Rooney's review. Though I haven't read the new book, I don't think McFarland is a poet who I will love and who will change my life, but I do think that she deserves a fair appraisal and one that contextualizes her work on her own terms and in conversation with others who would be sympathetic with her project.

Happy Birthday, Adrienne Rich

From The Writer’s Almanac:
It's the birthday of poet Adrienne Rich, (books by this author) born in Baltimore, Maryland (1929). Her first collection of poetry, A Change of World (1951), came out when she was only twenty-one years old. She has gone on to write many books of poetry, including Diving into the Wreck (1973) and The Dream of a Common Language (1978).

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A literary way to celebrate GLBT Pride Month

Beltway Poetry Quarterly and Split This Rock present: "GLBT Poets of Washington," a guided walking tour of the Dupont Circle neighborhood, June 21, 10:30 am to Noon. Led by Dan Vera, the tour costs $5 and advance reservations are required. 
Celebrate Gay Pride Month and learn how gay literary culture has flourished from the 1970s to the present in the Dupont Circle neighborhood, with the influence of such writers as Essex Hemphill, Ed Cox, Tim Dlugos, Michael Lally, Lee Lally, Richard McCann, Andrew Holleran, and many others.  Stops include Dupont Park, Lambda Rising Bookstore, the site of the Community Bookshop, and writer's homes.  This is an expanded version of the tour first developed for the Split This Rock Poetry Festival in March 2008.
The tour takes approximately 1.5 hours and will run rain or shine.  Limited to 25 participants.  Please wear comfortable walking shoes and carry water.  The tour starts outside the Starbucks Coffee where Connecticut Avenue and New Hampshire Avenue intersect with the northern part of Dupont Circle.
Dan Vera is Managing Editor of White Crane, a gay men's quarterly magazine, and co-publisher of Vrzhu Press, which publishes books of fine poetry.  He co-curates two monthly public reading series, the Brookland Reading Series, and the OutWrite Series. His blog, "Wondermachine":
To register, please send your name, email, and phone to

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

From May 3rd: Poem by May Sarton and her Birthday

Below is the information from the Writer’s Almanac of May 3rd. I recently read Margo Peters’ biography of May Sarton which was delightful though I don’t think that I wrote about it in a substantive way. Peters does a thoughtful assessment of Sarton’s work and a well-researched biography. I consider it now a model for some things that I want to do.
"Fruit of Loneliness" by May Sarton, from Encounter in April. © Houghton Mifflin, 1937. (buy now) 

Fruit of Loneliness 

Now for a little I have fed on loneliness
As on some strange fruit from a frost-touched vine—
Persimmon in its yellow comeliness,
Of pomegranate-juice color of wine,
The pucker-mouth crab apple, or late plum—
On fruit of loneliness have I been fed.
But now after short absence I am come
Back from felicity to the wine and bread.
For, being mortal, this luxurious heart
Would starve for you, my dear, I must admit,
If it were held another hour apart
From that food which alone can comfort it—
I am come home to you, for at the end
I find I cannot live without you, friend.


It's the birthday of poet and novelist May Sarton, (books by this author) born in Wondelgem, Belgium (1912), the daughter of science historian George Sarton and artist Mabel Elwes Sarton. When she was four, her family fled Belgium to escape invading Germans and eventually settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Sarton attended the progressive Shady Hill School and learned poetry from Agnes Hocking.
She graduated from high school, declined a scholarship offer to Vassar, and moved to New York City to be an apprentice at Eva Le Galienne's Civic Repertory Theatre. She moved to Paris when she was 19, then returned to the States and wrote poetry, supporting herself by teaching in Boston, writing film scripts for the Office of War Information, and lecturing on poetry at various college campuses.
Her first book of poems, Encounter in April, came out in 1937 and included a series of sonnets that had been published in Poetry magazine when she was just 17. Over the course of 60 years, she had an incredibly prolific career, publishing about 50 books, including 19 novels, more than a dozen poetry collections, several volumes of journals, and two children's books.
One of her most influential works was Journal of a Solitude (1973), which became important reading for feminists and a primary text in woman's studies courses. Critic Carolyn Heilbrun said, "I would name 1972 as the turning point for modern women's autobiography … the publication of Journal of a Solitude in 1973 may be acknowledged as the watershed in women's autobiography."
Even after a stroke in her mid-70s, she continued to compose and publish; she recorded onto a tape cassette Endgame: A Journal of the Seventy-Ninth Year (1992) and dictated Encore: A Journal of the Eightieth Year (1993). In her final book, At Eighty-Two: A Journal (1995), which was published the year she died, she said she felt like a "stranger in the land of old age."
She said, "One must think like a hero to behave like a merely decent human being."