Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Review: Ganymede Unfinished

Ganymede Unfinished
Bryan Borland (ed)

Published by Sibling Rivalry Press

Reviewed by Gregory Woods

The gay literary and cultural journal Ganymede had only been going since 2008, and had only appeared in seven issues, at a rate of three a year, when its founder and editor, John Stahle, died at the age of sixty. Contributors used to be sent an electronic copy. I do not know how many of the relatively expensive hard copies were printed, but they will soon be collectors’ items.

Ganymede Unfinished is a final, tribute issue, put together by Bryan Borland with some of the materials that might have made up the eighth issue. It is an apt tribute to Stahle, serious and stylish; even if it is, perhaps, less selective than he might have been with some of its weaker material. The creative content gets off to a reassuringly solid start, with fine poems by Jee Leong Koh and Matthew Hittinger. Most of the poets are young, but there are a few names I recognise from a while back: Walter Holland, for instance, whose A Journal of the Plague Years I first read back in 1992.

Stahle was interested in promoting new work—and did so very generously—but he was concerned, also, to connected it with gay literature from the past. This volume continues that tradition, with a brief selection of work by the Victorian poet Digby Mackworth Dolben and a really useful essay by Perry Brass on the gay poetry magazine from the 1970s, Mouth of the Dragon. Brass is highly critical of that magazine’s editor, Andrew Bifrost, in ways that shed a contrastingly felicitous light on Stahle.

There are some negligible items in prose: a hyperbolic and platitudinous review of Larry Kramer’s 1978 novel Faggots, for instance; and a simplistic and narrow essay on the figure of the gay hustler in movies. There is a short story whose dramatic pacing is stalled by cliché and redundancy. (I gave up quantifying the redundancies in these two short clauses: ‘I was puzzled by his perplexing behavior; his reverence and concentration were profound and focused’.) And there is a blithely uncritical interview with Garrett Graham, the founding spirit behind the Free Independent Gay State (FIGS) Party, which aims to purchase a piece of land somewhere and construct a gay nation on it. It is hard to decide which aspect of Graham’s world-view is more delusional, his vision of the past or that of the future. For anyone with a healthily sceptical attitude to the late twentieth century’s crude constructions of sexual identity, his dream of a gay state can only be a laughable nightmare; and yet this interview does nothing to subject it to even the faintest expression of doubt.

A third of the whole, just about a hundred pages, is taken up by a novella, ‘Diary of a Sex Addict, by Scott Hess. I have long been on record as being no great admirer of sex-addiction fiction: it seems to me as boring as the people it concerns. So I shall never subject myself to the experience of re-reading John Rechy’s novel Numbers (1967) or Renaud Camus’ Tricks (1981). By contrast, Hess’s story has the virtue of relative brevity, but, even so, it could do with being trimmed by a third. I did eventually get into the rhythm of it, and one of its characters, whom the narrator calls Swan, is enough of a curiosity to be compelling; but the narrator himself is, like all sex addicts, too much of a cipher to be of much interest, except, perhaps, to his own kind (but even this is moot). To that extent, he is portrayed with some skill.

I do have doubts about some details of Hess’s technique. Do diarists really use the historic present in this way? (‘We have sex that night and I am afraid I stink of the restroom.’) And do they explain their lives like this? (‘Rudy and I met in a sex club in a two level bar way downtown. My friend Joe, who traffics with trannies and porn actors and poets, runs the place...’) But, notwithstanding my broader objections to the single-mindedness of the story’s narrator, there is enough here to suggest that Hess is a writer worth watching.

I was pleased to be a contributor to Ganymede number seven, and was hoping to send more poems to John Stahle. His journal had all the advantages, by way of efficiency, that come from being more or less a one-man band. (My poems were accepted within two days, and I received proofs two days later; whereas I am no longer surprised to have to wait a whole year for the editors some British poetry magazines to make up their minds. I told John he must be the fastest editor in the West, but it may just be that my poems caught him in the right mood just before a deadline.) Sad to say, Ganymede now suffers the main disadvantage of such an outfit, in that it will follow its editor into gay literary history.

Gregory Woods is Professor of Gay and Lesbian Studies at Nottingham Trent University. His critical books include Articulate Flesh: Male Homo-eroticism and Modern Poetry (1987) and A History of Gay Literature: The Male Tradition (1998), both from Yale University Press. His poetry books are published by Carcanet Press. His website is

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Saturday, October 09, 2010

Announcing GFEST 2010: London's gay arts festival

GFEST – Gaywise FESTival, 'London's LGBT and queer cross - art festival for all', has announced an exciting and ambitious 2010 programme. The festival will take place across London in prestigious venues such as V&A and The National Gallery.

GFEST – Gaywise FESTival is the premier LGBT annual cross-arts festival in London - a platform for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and queer artists. It is produced and organised by arts charity Wise Thoughts.

GFEST 2010 runs for two weeks from Monday 8 November 2010 to Sunday 21 November 2010.

The full festival programme can be found on GFEST website:

The festival focuses on three categories covering Short Films, Visual Arts and Performances. Complimenting the programme are a series of talks, debates and parties. The festival is a hugely successful art event where thousands of Londoners enjoy and benefit from the showcase of emerging and established gay talent.

NIRANJAN KAMATKAR, the artistic director of GFEST said, "We are proud to present the LGBT and queer artistic talent including the International artists, filmmakers and performers." He added, "I am confident that GFEST 2010 programme is a thrilling mix of diversity with the widest possible range of life-changing artistic expressions from the LGBT community."

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Saturday, October 02, 2010

Review: Stranger in Town by Cedar Sigo

Stranger in Town
Cedar Sigo

Published by City Lights Press

Reviewed by Colin Herd

‘I have tried above all to bring an allure to poetry.’

The phrase ‘Stranger in Town’ always makes me think of the 1965 record by Del Shannon, a stomping strum-along with an intoxicatingly high-fluting falsetto chorus: I’m not afraid of what he’ll do to MEEE! Until now, that is. From this day forth, ‘Stranger in Town’ will be indelibly associated in my mind with Cedar Sigo’s new book of poems, from City Lights, just as captivating as the Del record, and a lot more rock and roll.

Sigo’s collection is the fourth to be published under the City Lights Spotlights imprint, a series that has been so choice thus far, publishing superb volumes by Norma Cole, Anselm Berrigan and Andrew Joron, that it promises to be as inspired, exciting and innovative as the famous Pocket Poets series was fifty years ago from the same press. Incidentally, the fourth Pocket Poet was ‘Howl’. But it’s not the Beats that Stranger in Town recalls, so much as the great poets of the San Francisco Renaissance, John Wieners in particular, but Jack Spicer, Stephen Jonas and George Stanley too. The connection makes itself felt in a number of ways: the investment in and thoughtful commitment to fresh and thrillingly inventive lyric poetry, the engagement with visual art, the strong sense of community, and, of course, San Francisco itself, its veiled, hilly cityscape a perfect analogy for the soft, lyric textual mist, a mist that only ever allows partial clarity, through which, in the title poem, Sigo’s lyric makes its downhill track:

‘I enjoy reading signs
through the fog-


Then that evening
and all of
Fox Plaza was the same white
A permanent
on my blue bike

I raise my hood
I think there are other lost men
in surrounding blocks
alike in their thinking’

I love this poem’s balance between edgy, piecemeal, collaged line-breaks- that ‘HOTEL HUNTINGTON’, literally like a stuck-on sign- and the sense of a continuously unfolding and emergent narrative. Continuously emergent because always glimpsed arriving, never quite arrived, something’s always hidden and held back, a quality dramatized in the poem ‘Showboat’:

‘I thought you were coming toward me
a few blocks earlier
down Hyde St. It was a man weak
and crushed beneath this gray wig
for women. I can’t believe that
it’s really you.’

And later in the same poem: ‘None of this/concerns the poem as pure entrance’, where the double meaning of ‘entrance’, as in ‘spell-bound’ calls to mind the Berkeley workshops Spicer ran in 1957, entitled ‘Poetry as Magic’. As does another wonderful poem, ‘$$$Expensive Magic$$$’:

‘the questions fall
around allure. Poems floated
from the hearth
out the mouth. I am wound up, bored
we are only strangers on our way’

Cedar Sigo

In the short poem-essay ‘The Sun’, he sets out, frankly, charmingly, and extremely thoughtfully, his poetics:

‘Poetry can be a difficult field to enter into, as I find people sometimes think of it as old fashioned. It is this assumption that drives me to try & keep current. I do not just want to interest academics. Skaters are more dear to my heart.’

But every poem in the book articulates this poetics of magic. Sigo’s poetry is magical, glamorous and exciting. It has a great deal of, to use his word, ‘allure’. The prose poem ‘My Drawings’ describes obsessively drawing genies in ballpoint pen: ‘There was never a man or woman holding the lamp. It was more being able to get the smoke turning into the genie’. That’s what Cedar Sigo does in these poems, again, again and, gloriously, again.

Colin Herd is a poet based in Edinburgh whose work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in 3:AM, Dogmatika, Gutter, Shampoo, Velvet Mafia and Mirage #4/Period(ical).

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