Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Film Review: Lost and Delirious

Directed by Léa Poole

Cast: Mischa Barton, Jackie Burroughs, Jessica Paré, Piper Perabo

Peccadillo Pictures DVD

Reviewed by Sophie Mayer

When I first saw Lost and Delirious in 2001, I thought it was the most perfect lesbian film ever made. It outstripped my personal best of Salmonberries (what can I say, I like the girls of the frozen North?) because its hearts-on-sleeves tale of adolescent love seemed more universal, and its embrace of emotional honesty more ambitious. I loved its defiant heat, its refusal to go quiet.

I still feel that those qualities define the film: it has neither the icy disaffection of arthouse cinema, nor the hysterical sentimentality of Hollywood. Léa Poole draws spectacular performances from her young cast (OC fans should check out Mischa Barton when she still had flesh), whose quivering pouts convey the depths of passion and grief rather than a tantrum about the new iPhone. It was an unfashionable tone in the summer when Ghost World ruled, and it’s even more unfashionable in the Skins era. Mary B., Paulie and Tori may be sarcastic, flippant and rude, but they’re never apathetic. They care – mainly about each other, somewhat about Shakespeare, and a little bit about birds and trees.

It’s the “about each other” bit that makes this a Peccadillo release, of course. Mary (Mischa Barton), known as Mouse, arrives at boarding school after the death of her mother and finds herself rooming with Pauline (Piper Perabo), known as Paulie, and Victoria (Jessica Paré), known as Tori. Drawing the shy new girl into their friendship, Paulie and Tori re-christen Mouse “Mary B. for Brave” when she shares her grief with them in a round of confessions about the girls’ relationships with their mothers. Mary’s bravery lies in her ability to survive the confusing new world of the school, including rooming with two charismatic girls who are both crazy, and crazy in love. Cue hot love scenes with added cute, straight voyeure.

But the film is not (just) boarding-school porn: it’s adapted from Susan Swan’s The Wives of Bath, known as “Canada’s Lady Chatterley” because of the censorship it faced, not only for its depiction of lesbian sex in a school, but also its utterly shocking ending, in which Paulie castrates a male character and uses his penis (and some Superglue) to transition in order to “become” male and win back Tori’s love. Not so popular with the male broadsheet critics. The book’s stunning critique of sex, gender and class is tempered, rather than tamed, for the film, as Poole makes a number of interesting decisions: she updates the story from the 1950s to the twenty-first century; she dropped the plot concerning a merger with the nearby boys’ school (which was given ample, if uncredited, treatment in the Kirsten Dunst vehicle Strike!); and she changed the balance of the novel by giving the viewer some insight into Tori’s cruel behaviour towards Paulie.

What seems like a love story is in fact only the springboard for a thorough-going exploration of these young women’s relationships not with each other, but with their mothers. Mary, grieving for her loss, feels dead from the waist down and seems barely able to connect with either Paulie or Tori, who hates her mother but says she is “addicted to her, like chocolate.” It’s this addiction – which is both romantic/incestuous and about her family’s comfortable, bourgeois lifestyle – that causes her to pull away from Paulie. Deprived of Tori’s love, Paulie feels again the bereavement of being taken from her mother by Children’s Aid: she even tells Mary that Tori has the same fake brightness in her eyes as her adoptive mother.

Entwining the mother/daughter and lover relationship is as risky as anything in the book, and I think that’s what gives the film its depth and purchase beyond the obvious attractions of beautiful young women kissing passionately to the strains of Me’shell and, in my favourite scene, weeping to Ani Difranco’s “You Had Time” (which Poole and her composer discovered via Perabo, who had it on her Walkman). The intensity and ferocity of mother-abandonment underlying these demanding, world-blotting-out relationships between the girls raises these moments above cliché.

But it also introduces a worrying politics that I totally missed on my first viewing. 2001 was a more innocent time, both globally and for me politically. After six years in Canada, I was more aware of what it meant for Paulie to imagine her mother working the streets at Gerrard and Parliament, and why certain characters in Canadian art are paralleled with wild (and endangered) nature. Both suggest that she has First Nations heritage (Poole invents a First Nations character, a school gardener played by the wonderful Graham Greene, to – surprise – dispense wisdom to Mary and be identified with the natural world). Paralleling Paulie with Cleopatra (the dark Other) underlines the implication. Paulie’s crazy courage, her desperation to be loved, and her final act of merging with the wild world/dying are all tropes of the Noble Savage, the romantic Indian with no place in the contemporary world. So how are we to take her exhortation to “rage more”?

In its politics and emotions, Lost and Delirious feels like a film from another time, when bisexuality was the new black, riot grrrl had morphed into girl power, and a daughter’s grief didn’t have to stand parallel for larger national ones. In telling its story of innocence and experience, the film takes a bold stand on the side of adolescent passion in all its colours – and the transfer preserves the hallucinatory colours of the Ontario landscape – but its final cut is crueller even than that imagined in the novel.

Sophie Mayer is a writer, editor and educator. Find out more at


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Review: Club Life

Club Life
By David Cantero

Published by Bruno Gmunder

Reviewed by Paul Kane

Are you looking for a book to stave off suicide, or at least a bad bout of the blues? Well, look no further. Club Life collects together umpteen stylish and sexy illustrations that have previously appeared on flyers, leaflets, invitation cards and posters for nightclubs all the way from Melbourne to Milan. Taken as a whole, one sees that they conjure a sunlit world, happy and hedonistic, which is perfect, though perhaps a little too much so, on reflection. You wouldn’t want to live in this world 24/7, but it would certainly make for an exciting weekend once in a while.

The beautiful young men in Cantero’s graceful compositions are always striking a pose or swooning with abandon, no matter whether the situation seems to warrant it. Or perhaps because the situation always warrants it. They are like startled fawns that are nonetheless pleased to be the centre of attention. Why, one wants to enquire, are they startled so? Don’t they know that a frown, no matter how slight, can give one wrinkles in later life? Perhaps they are wondering why it never rains.

Cantero’s artwork is bright and vivid and certainly distinctive. Were this book an animal it would be a strutting peacock, named Patrice or perhaps Reif. Patrice would have a penchant for sweet multicoloured cocktails, smooth disco anthems and fun, fun, fun. His favourite bedside reading would be The Artificial Princess and his favourite colour (and flower) would be fuchsia, a word which he’d sometimes mispronounce for comic effect... You get the picture.

Club Life is a fun book and the goodly number of highly accomplished illustrations collected herein is a celebration of contemporary gay nightlife. Though, naturally, there are elements of wish fulfilment too. What the book lacks is a slight yet distinct hint of cinnamon that is somehow vaguely life-enhancing. But you can’t have everything.

Paul Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. He welcomes responses to his reviews and you can reach him at


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Review: Life As We Show It and We Saw the Light

Life As We Show It: Writing On Film
eds. Brian Pera and Masha Tupitsyn
Published by City Lights

We Saw the Light: Conversations Between the New American Cinema and Poetry
by Daniel Kane
Published by University of Iowa Press

Reviewed by Sophie Mayer

Two books about the connections between cinema and writing in the US, published within a month of each other. Both lay claim to a community of “we” based in experimental art, predominantly as practised by queer artists. And there’s absolutely zero connections or cross-over between them. I find that strange.

One of the most fascinating aspects of these two books is discerning the meaning of we as used in each title, given that their imputed community is so divergent. Maybe it’s a generational thing: Life As We Show It collects contemporary writers, while We Saw the Light tells a critical anecdotal history of the crazy years (1950s-70s) of the American avant-garde through conversations discovered between the work of filmmakers like Stan Brakhage, Kenneth Anger, Jack Smith and Andy Warhol, and poets such as Frank O’Hara, Jack Spicer and Allen Ginsburg. Kane notes the boycentric universe he’s caught up in, in his introduction, and also notes that it’s not ‘corrected,’ but certainly broadened by a wonderful conversation between filmmaker Jennifer Reeves and poet Lisa Jarnot about Reeves’ 2004 film The Time We Killed, in which Jarnot plays an agoraphobic bisexual writer. Anyone considering a collaboration across genres will be inspired by this fascinating piece – as will anyone wondering about the (ongoing) place of women in the avant-garde.

Despite the plethora of queer artists included, Kane never fully divines or discerns the cultural function of homosociality in the avant-garde. Did poets and filmmakers meet because they were marginalised by their sexuality as well as their aesthetic interests? Is avant-gardism in America essentially queer? No answers, but Kane does offer some wonderful descriptions of little-known (and hard-to-see) films and a fantastic map to the sexually, as well as artistically, interconnected scenes (angels giving head to hipsters?) of the East Coast.

That’s the other divide right there: Life as We Show It is everything that being published by City Lights suggest it will be: a diverse range of voices from New Queer (mainly West Coast) writing, including fan favourites Dodie Bellamy, Kevin Killian, Rebecca Brown, Lynne Tillman, Robert Glück, David Trinidad and Abdekkah Taïa. Not one of the writers in the book mentions a single film or author in Kane’s book. Pera and Tupitsyn have missed potential bridging contributors such as filmmaker and poet Abigail Child (who has worked on both coasts), late filmmaker and poet Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, poet LeAnn Howe, Jarnot herself – all part of the same Naropa circuit.

It’s an exemplum of how swiftly the avant-garde is forgotten because it doesn’t circulate in the same way as mainstream cinema, and – on the showing of Life – because Americans rarely have access to anything outside their own pop culture at an impressionable age. This is the post-avant garde generation, whose voices are largely ironic and mainly autobiographical, “viewing life through screen-tinted glasses,” to quote the blurb. Slanted through the prismatic lens of (for the most part) popular American cinema, the book suggests a febrile (perhaps fatal) postmodernity where reality is framed by, and processed through, its simulacral representations in pop culture.

The finest pieces in the book – by Bellamy, Killian, Brown, Taïa and poet Fanny Howe – step beyond that Gen X campness, practised to the highest order in a sonata pathetique on Elizabeth Taylor by Wayne Koestenbaum. Killian takes up, in a surprisingly critical manner, the hints of masturbation in “screen-tinted glasses” and castigates the production and spectatorship of violent and abusive pornography through his clever and well-reasoned take on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Tale of Goodman Brown (one of the few literary references in this work of literature). Taïa and Howe both address films from beyond the (anti-) canon of popular American cinema: Taïa writes movingly, and erotically, about encountered gay desire through an obscure French film broadcast on late-night Moroccan TV while his mother sleeps right behind him, while Howe encounters Stalinist Russia at its bleakest in “After Watching Klimov’s Agoniya.” These pieces have a socio-political context, clearly but never didactically established, in which cinema figures both freedom of representation and the hope or desire for change.

Bellamy and Brown show that’s not an impossible effect to achieve when writing about American cinema, and Richard Grayson’s touching “The Forgotten Movie Screens of Broward County” queers the multiplex in a charming, if slightly sentimentalised, way. Bellamy, writing about her mother’s last weeks and death, revivifies E.T. by pouring her heart into it to find the heart of it. “Phone Home” is almost unbearably moving as it replays and replays scenes from the film and from life, without allowing the former to become a distancing frame for the latter. The emphasis here is on life. Brown’s tribute to her father takes a different approach, through an in-depth account of the paradigmatic Western Shane – a film that perhaps doesn’t mean much to British viewers, but which is part of the deep mythology of the American West. Figuring out patriarchs and Manifest Destiny, Brown’s cool style cumulatively builds its rhetorical and affective rhythms.

Like many of the authors, Brown is obsessively concerned with star power, investigating the effect of actors reappearing across genres and film. She intimates that such performativity suggests each of us contains a “we” of different modes of being that appear at different times and places, and that this is how and why cinema has such a hold on our imagination, especially as video and DVD enable us to watch and re-watch films at different moments in our life. As in Bellamy’s essay, Brown observes brilliantly the effect of the observer on the observed. Not so much Life as We Show It as Cinema as It Shows Us. There’s no reason to follow E.T.’s pointing finger, or Elizabeth Taylor’s earrings, otherwise.

Sophie Mayer is a writer, editor and educator. Find out more at


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Review: Second Person Queer

Second Person Queer: Who you are (so far)
Edited by Richard Labonte and Lawrence Schimel

Published by Arsenal Pulp Press

Reviewed by Eric Karl Anderson

Telling a story in the second person necessarily focuses the narrative voice as if the author were speaking to a particular person. Following on from the successful award-winning anthology First Person Queer, this collection gathers forty writers from wildly different perspectives writing essays directly to “you.” Many of the authors have chosen a specific type of individual who they are addressing ranging from macho bears, women throwing play parties, young bisexuals, Asian men in a predominantly white gay community or people who have recently come out. This direct approach makes the concerns which these multifarious voices are speaking of feel immediately relevant, even when you know that the “you” the author is addressing isn’t you specifically. These essays/letters/stories express a wide range of sometimes conflicting opinions. But each of the accounts in this lively, fascinating and provocative anthology speak strongly about how our ever-evolving identities are never stable. As the subtitle states, this anthology speaks about “who you are (so far).”

Some essays take the satirical stance of a pseudo-advice column advising you ‘why you should have sex on a first date’ or ‘how to date a married man.’ The tone of the latter by Lewis DeSimone gradually moves from an impersonal advice column to hinting at a moving personal story about falling for a man in a committed relationship when first coming out. Some essays are straightforwardly comical like Paul Bellini’s advice in ‘How to Survive Gay Celebrity: A Pocket Guide.’ Others are honestly heartfelt. Greg Herren gives sage advice about the importance of believing in yourself as an individual rather than letting “the negative eclipse the positive.” Alisa Lemberg and Jeff Mann give very practical advice about entering the BDSM scene and leather communities in ‘Leather Queer: Learning the Ropes’ and ‘How to Be a Country Leather Bear.’

Other entries present arguments about how “we” as queer people stand in relation to heterosexual society. Jay Starre defiantly states, “You are gay, for God’s sake, and don’t need to fit your love life into some pre-conceived cultural idea of what is right and what is wrong.” Lloyd Meeker elaborates in his essay how “you happen to love men because you are wired so differently than heterosexuals” and that as such we have a special spiritual mission. In some entries like Meeker’s, as with so many cultural discussions about being gay, these arguments are only really including male North American homosexuals. It’s fair enough to discuss only one part of the queer community as many of the entries do considering that each part has its own specific issues. However, in cases like this where political arguments are being made they might be more usefully opened out to discuss other sections of the population. Rest assured, the editors have been careful to include in the anthology a wide-ranging and balanced collection of voices from many different races, age-ranges, locations and genders.

Essays like Jane Van Ingen’s practical ‘How to Archive Our History’ and Victor J. Banis’ meaningful ‘How to Write and Live to Tell about It’ give a much more straightforward call to action, entreating us to document and preserve our experience for current and future generations of queer people to use as touchstones.

A few of the essays moved me so powerfully with the intensity of their voices that I felt struck to the core and it’s made me read them over and over:

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore writes a heartfelt letter and tribute to David Wojnarowicz and how his book mattered when Sycamore was literally trying to survive and “learning and living and giving the potential of embracing outsider status in order to create safety, love, community, desire, home on my own terms.” This is a testimony which recalls the sobering fact that so many in our queer community aren’t privileged enough to make it to the stage where they can deliberate all these issues about how to live queer lives.

Achy Obejas lists fifty ways to continue after a break-up. Each point suggests a multitude of stories which give you a sense of the many failed queer relationships which have occurred over the years. Funny, sad and true, this list encompasses a range of ways to end things and begin them again.

And Blair Mastbaum, immediately in the opening pages, questions whether being out necessarily means we should be proud in his startling essay ‘You Know You Know.’ When it’s become the queer orthodoxy that “gay is good” Mastbaum controversially questions whether this is so and, if we are not good individuals, are we merely celebrating a “genetic condition?”

Almost all of the essays contained in Second Person Queer are very short, many only two or three pages long. This makes it a fast-paced read, leaving the reader with an almost dizzying sense of the sheer diversity of what being queer is and how many different points of view there are about how we should live with the fact of our queerness. But this is the point. Like the editors state in their introduction, “SPQ collects a plurality of voices about a range of queer-interest topics, not always on the same page, but always with the same intention: to help you define (or, perhaps, decide) who you are.” This collection certainly achieved its goal in helping me to define and redefine myself. Perhaps Sean Michael Law puts it best in his letter ‘To My Thirteen-Year-Old Daughter Who Just Told Me She’s Bi,’ “being queer isn’t about being just one thing. It’s about understanding the harmony of all things, the necessity of difference and the careful ways that human lives integrate with one another.” Importantly, this is when all the profiling and queer labels break down and you understand finally that you are and always have been an individual.

Eric Karl Anderson is author of the novel Enough and has published work in various publications such as The Ontario Review, Harrington Gay Men’s Fiction Quarterly, Blithe House Quarterly and the anthologies From Boys to Men and Between Men 2.

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Review: Sanctified – An Anthology of Poetry by LGBT Christians

ed. by Justin Cannon

Published by CreateSpace

Reviewed by Radcliff Gregory

Homosexuality and religion have never sat comfortably at the same table, as this book beautifully illustrates. The ramifications of divine wrath are not, however, exclusive to those who go to church – in fact, they have probably been felt more by the people who don’t feel welcome. From an early age, children are conditioned to believe that God loves everyone, even murderers and rapists… but not us folk of the queer persuasion.

In fact, those who have read the Bible in context, rather than picking out convenient soundbites in an effort to justify their prejudice will know that although St Paul preached hatred of gay and transgender people, and murdered countless numbers of them, there is no record of Jesus Christ ever uttering a homophobic word. In fact, He stood up against the pre-Christian church and demanded that it opened its doors to women and all the minorities it policed and excluded.

This historical context is important, because it is so universally censored, and it is the very reason why Sanctified is so needed, whether people formally identify themselves as Christians, a different faith, or none, because the power of this erasure of fact has permeated every culture. This book reaches out to the LGBT community on a trans-spiritual level.

The majority of the poems aren’t ‘religious’, and many are not blatantly queer either, but they all speak from the psyche of real people who have felt either excluded or eventually included by their religious community, and/or their individual experience and perception of who and what God is to them. Potential readers should not fear that Sanctified is only populated by different versions of the same poem – the subject matter and poetic styles are as numerous as the poems.

Christoper Alan Gaskins plays on the notion of religious snobbery in ‘The Company I Keep’, describing his Sundays as a very special, but also very isolated, communion with God, his only confidante, mentor and psychical doctor in a world that has stigmatised and pathologised him for his “gay libido”. Nathan Brisby speculates about the last thoughts of a victim of homophobic murder, and asks whether “the sun hit your face the day they killed you/ …so you couldn’t see their evil.” Brisby makes a parallel with Christ, who was also killed for speaking out in a way proscribed by the religious and political culture of His time, and whose brutal experience touched more after death than in life. (Of course this is poetic metaphor, not a literal comparison!)

Some of the poems are stunning, such as Gregory Loselle’s ‘Magdalene Penitent, After De La Tour,” which beautifully draws out the poetic spirituality of discrete, and simple moments: a sigh by candlelight, the mute, ecstatic shock of the Resurrection.

Henry Juhala’s account of how his life as a gay man changed over the course of his life is fascinating as he writes a verse noting the status quo at four-yearly intervals of his life. In spite of growing up “in the Bible Belt where everything was straight”, he finds positive revelation in every milestone.

Thankfully, the editor of Sanctified has not constrained the contributors with any form of censorship, allowing them a greater freedom of honesty and expression. Although the authors are included in strictly alphabetical order, it is perhaps fitting that the anthology closes with the searing beauty of Fred Turpin’s poems. ‘May The Shrine Catch Fire’ draws genuine eroticism from “holy passion”, and entreats us to “Trust the power of love to heal”.

Sanctified transcends the traditionally confined spaces in which Christianity’s queer brethren are permitted to exist, and sets the authors and readers free in and beyond their faith. It is not a prerequisite to be of any particular faith or sexuality to benefit from the sense of being reached out to. For too long LGBT Christians have been forced to live with the dilemma of feeling both judged and excluded by their faith, and many of them have been made to feel isolated freaks of nature, when, in all probability, they weren’t the only gay Christian in the village.

Radcliff Gregory is the author of Everywhere, Except…, and the sold-out Fragile Art, and Figaro’s Cabin (under a pseudondym), and also anthologised in Chroma, Poemata, Coffee House and Poets International literary publications, and a dozen books by publishers including Crystal Clear, Forward Press and Poetry Now. Outright winner of six UK poetry competitions. Also writes non-fiction articles and essays on literary criticism, literature, disability and gender issues. Currently organising Polyverse Poetry Festival, which he founded. He also tries to find time to complete his first full-length prose work.


Saturday, July 04, 2009

Review: Between Men 2: Original Fiction by Today’s Best Gay Writers

Between Men 2
Edited with an Afterword by Richard Canning

Published by Alyson Books

Review by Jonathan Statham

It has often struck me as somehow significant that the gay section in a mainstream bookshop (if it exists) often contains a high proportion of books which anthologise short stories. Many of these are of course erotica but there is besides this a healthy supply of collections like the one currently under review: anthologies of contemporary authors using fiction to engage with and be literate about gay life (contemporary and historical). Furthermore, in the current publishing climate, it is these books which seem most happy to label themselves ‘gay’ and to take homosexuality as their explicit subject matter. Why this is the case is perhaps more problematic. What does short prose have to offer that it should be such a staple for gay readers today?

From one point of view, there seems to be a general sense that to make homosexuality the explicit subject of a novel would be gratuitous – as the editor of the current volume, Richard Canning, put it in his Afterword: “some of us live in a world where being gay may prove no big deal”. Certainly, many of these stories do take as their starting point the notion that being gay is but a part of their characters’ lives. Yet it is the strength of these stories to betray that starting point, to demonstrate instead the pervasiveness of their characters’ (homo)sexualities, the ways in which their being gay affects every relationship they have, sexual and non-sexual.

Indeed, I think the most interesting stories here are those in which the ‘couple’ is not the strict focus, because it is then that the socially pervasive character of homosexuality gets brought out, the reasons why even if it is only one part of a life it is still always a big deal (not least because it is quite frankly a big deal to have a sexuality at all). To give a few examples: John Weir acutely assesses male friendships that, as it were, cross the orientation divide. Aaron Hamburger looks at a mother emigrating to be with her gay son in America and shows how sexuality and nationality and the creation of community are complexly interwoven and not always harmoniously. Then there is Eric Karl Anderson’s (he who is also the editor of this blog) intricate story of a father and son in which the son’s relationship with his own homosexuality and that of those around him impacts upon his relationship with his father. Wayne Koestenbaum’s piece is perhaps an even more extreme example, being a posthumous dialogue between Sylvia Plath and Rainer Werner Fassbinder who both, being dead, now reside in New Jersey – their conversation revolves around Fassbinder’s erection and is many ways a debate on the emotional nuances of sexuality and sexual acts. An exploration shared, as it were inversely, by David McConnell’s story in which the sexual nature of the relationship is precisely what is in question, specifically with regard to the prescribed sexual roles, top and bottom (“mindless concepts […] which eliminated all subtlety and all fine distinctions”). In each of these stories, and others in this volume, it is a question not of making homosexuality an issue but of examining what homosexuality puts in issue, how it changes the social dynamics, creates alternative possibilities in its departure from the normative. And this is one thing the short story can do best: show how an aspect, a significant detail, a part, transforms the whole.

Patrick Gale, Richard Canning, Eric Karl Anderson

If that already sounds like the dynamic of gay liberation, its search by means of homosexuality for new socio-sexual formations, relations and communities that might free homosexuals, heterosexuals, bisexuals and the whole queer lot of us, then I think that is no accident. Furthermore, we might take the digression or departure from a focus on the conventional couple (that core model of heterocentric life and culture) negotiated by these stories as some kind of answer to a question posed to us recently by Peter Tatchell, writing in The Guardian on the eve of Stonewall’s fortieth anniversary: “are queers the new conservatives, the 21st-century suburbanites?” Well, almost we are, almost but not quite as this volume seems to bear testament. For while many of these stories take up domesticated life, they do so in order to unravel it, to reveal how it is striated not only by sexual orientations but also by race, gender, age, nationality and death and the intertwining of these things.

In addition to the stories themselves, Richard Canning has included an Afterword in which he gives us brief literary critical ‘readings’ of every story included in the volume (with the exception of one of the most striking stories, Koestenbaum’s dialogue already noted, which he mentions only in passing, possibly because his literary critical approach does not lend itself to a reading of a piece so unusual in form). However, these readings, insightful as they are, seem to do a disservice to both the stories and the reader neither of which in fact require an explanation or an interpretation (though the sense Canning sometimes provides of how the tale fits into the author’s corpus of work is certainly enlightening). The Afterword becomes interesting only as he concludes by beginning to question the collection itself, specifically “the diversity of voices and experiences collected here – and possible lack of it”. This leaves me immensely curious as to why Canning wanted to create this series of books in the first place and what he thinks the anthologisation of these writers might accomplish or work towards.

For, what I do not get, neither from Canning’s Afterword nor indeed from his selection of these specific stories, his bringing together of these particular pieces, is a sense of why this book is being made. The volume as whole, and this is no criticism of any of the individual stories, lacks a sense of purpose, a sense that it is trying to accomplish something. Of course, Canning is right when he asks “why have a set of requirements for fiction? Why “must” fiction do, or be, anything?” – except that neither ought it do or be nothing. In a particular instance it must indeed be something or we are left with a blandness, which in this case is grossly unfair to some exquisite short stories. This is not a question of establishing ‘requirements for fiction’ – certainly there is no single thing that fiction must always do – but an anthology (or any publication for that matter) is a situation for fiction in which an idea of fiction takes shape (and does so whether one intends this or not). But what Canning suggests in his Afterword is that this volume merely collects what he considers to be good writing by authors who only happen to be gay (among other things). Yet if this volume illustrates his idea of good writing then it obscures its own project as a gay collection and betrays the stories it collects. Having said that, it is noticeable that the authors are almost all novelists and it is clear to me that the short form is here neither explored for all its possibilities nor pushed to its limits to create new possibilities. Sometimes we are even given a chapter from a forthcoming novel. This seems a missed opportunity to me, as if the volume were willing its own ephemerality rather than seeking to make a genuine contribution to the ongoing process of gay culture and art through the development of form. Nevertheless, the stories here can be appreciated individually as accomplished works redolent of twenty-first century homosexuality’s search for its place and its meaning in a world ever more diverse, ever more complex and ever more changeable.

Jonathan Statham lives and writes in Manchester.

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Ganymede: a literary/art print journal - Issue #4 Out Now!

Ganymede Issue #4
Published by Lulu

Review by Eric Karl Anderson

Ganymede is growing and fast. This New York City journal written by and for gay men offers a rich look at the current gay cultural climate featuring photographs, essays, reviews, poetry and short stories.

What’s so refreshing about this relatively new gay journal is the informed understanding of our queer past it brings when offering a survey of the arts. This makes for a rich portrait of how the gay community has evolved over the years while offering ground-breaking new creative work that hints at where we’re going. For instance, the first issue features an astute account by John Stahle of what New York City meant for a gay man in 1968 while also elaborating how it has transformed forty years on. Later issues have featured sympathetic new translations of Cavafy’s poetry alongside the emotional and sensual photographs by Simon Pais-Thomas and the refreshing new fiction of NYC writer Sam J Miller. The page numbers of Ganymede are increasing with each issue that’s published showcasing a fascinating cross section of references from an examination of Muscle Ramon, the first online male pinup brought to fame by gay bloggers, to an account by Richard Canning of an enormous auction of Yves Saint Laurent’s art collection raising funds for AIDS research.

In the new issue #4, Christopher Roland offers a snapshot account into the daily life of gay porn and bodybuilding star Matthew Rush. The atmosphere behind the camera is nothing like the horny sex being filmed. With squabbles between the porn stars’ boyfriends and the tedious wait for Viagra to kick in, a porn set is anything but erotic. Roland examines how the scattering of films these porn stars make act more as publicity for their oftentimes more lucrative escorting services.

Fabio Panichi

Fabio Panichi’s photographs create a dialogue between the mediums of painting and photography. They primarily feature instances of self-portraiture where the artist treads the line between these two in search of illumination that sometimes takes the form of a burst of light. The effect is oftentimes startling causing you to do a double-take given their surrealist Magritte-like slant. There is also a tension between literature and the visual arts evident in many photographs, depicting an oftentimes naked man grappling through an imaginative landscape seeking inspiration and knowledge where he can find it. These are very strong pictures by a skilled young photographer.

Jee Leong Koh

This issue also features a poetry slam section which showcases the debut publications of seven talented gay poets. It’s fitting that Jee Leong Koh’s poetry follows after Panichi’s photographs as Koh is in a dialogue with the visual arts as well. Simmering with violence and bodily harm, Koh’s poetry hints at a dangerous past that makes itself felt in the movements of everyday life. Some of this poetry also seeks to create a self portrait while referring to specific artists, filtering their style into the poet’s unique form of self expression. Within his poems the body is annihilated to declare an individual is not simply defined by his physical form alone. Koh skilfully uses his artistic ancestors as a touchstone to understand himself.

Zhuang Yisa

James Newborg’s poetry imbues coded meaning into everyday objects highlighting the emotional rifts between the presence of memories in our day to day interactions. Matthew Stradling is a well known visual artist, often depicting male nudes. His first published poetry in this issue explores the destructive urges of desire and the irrepressible longing for what cannot be obtained. Jon Rentler’s poetic voice is urgent and full of a lacerating tenderness, longing for a reconnection through a messy landscape of affairs and spurned lovers. Dug McDowell’s poetry explores adult themes using humorous nursery-rhyme-like rhythms. The sensuality of encounters in the outside elements is infused into the poetry of Zhuang Yisa. Matt Cogswell’s poem follows a typical afternoon which I’m sure many web-savvy men who are reading this will be able to identify. Online connections are made, lost and misfired using multiple usernames across a series of websites with the result often only being disappointment and shame.

Following these rich poems are a series of photographs by Andrea Francesco Berni. Like his sometimes collaborator and fellow countryman Panichi, Berni’s photographs include a lot of self portraiture, but contain a much more playful and relaxed feel. The pervading mood is a sense of duality and weightlessness. Apart from his work included here, Berni’s series of modern Alice in Wonderland photographs featured on Flickr are definitely worth a look.

Ryan Doyle May’s daring short story “Almost No Memory” recounts the prolonged death of the narrator’s mother. This is followed by memories of previous occasions when his father entered his bed and the sensation of their sexual exploration. When his mother died, the covert encounters between the man and boy during the night ended as well. May brilliantly writes about his protagonist slipping into his mother’s wedding dress in a desperate effort to reclaim the connection he’s lost with his father and take his mother’s place.

Daniel Rodrigob Schultz could be the Brazilian equivalent of German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans. His pictures feature action shots of young attractive friends in various states of undress rollicking through the night and day, basking in the sun or caught in a moment of contemplation in the shadows.

B.R. Lyon’s evocative story “As is, I” describes what might be an imagined sensual evening in a rented apartment in Cairo. The lover is absent, but he is there in the narrator’s mind. The projected encounter feels entirely real as the narrator gropes his own body imagining that it is that of another man. A repeating image of a headless body gives a dark overcast to this night of intimate escapism.

There are three more series of self portraits which explore the male nude and a sense of splintered identity. Rene Becker’s photography offers double shots of the author “alone with himself” in a domestic setting. Many of these pictures feature Becker fighting, arguing with himself, contemplating self destruction or simply looking bored. It’s a meditation on isolation and loneliness that is easy to sympathize with.

Pablo Moran Jr

Pablo Moran, Jr’s photos also show some double takes of the author either seeking a sensual union with himself or inextricably tied to himself by a strip of fabric or barbed wire. The images where the photographer is presented alone suggest mystical experience, especially when interacting with technology.
Davide Poggi photos hint at a violent or self destructive personality, sometimes torn apart by light or crouching naked in a crumbling or desolate landscape.

Bruce Nugent

The three chapters from Bruce Nugent’s novel Gentleman Jigger provide a fascinating insight into the Harlem Renaissance black artistic movement of the 20s and 30s. Here some of the leading figures of the time from this circle are fictionalized in a group known as the Niggeratti. However, these extracts are more than just a time capsule depicting the vibrant personalities and social issues that this important group were grappling with. Nugent’s writing is direct, powerful and his descriptions of the large cast of characters are full of wonderful insights hinting at deeper psychological complexities. Nugent also was the only members of this black artistic movement that dared to openly deal with homosexuality in his prose. It’s surprising that this valuable piece of writing was only published last year by Da Capo Press and Tom Worth should be praised for resurrecting his writing.

Another historical treat included in this issue is Oscar Wilde’s story “Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime.” At a dazzling social affair Lord Arthur has his palm read and is told that he is to become a murderer. He desires to marry, but decides he must fulfil his destiny and murder someone before he can be wed. The story is filled with Wilde’s typical paradoxical witticisms: “nothing looks so like innocence as an indiscretion” or “If a woman can’t make her mistakes charming, she is only a female.” It is a fine example of how the great author succeeded in turning “the conventional wisdom of the Victorians on its head” while exposing the queer nature of all humankind.

As you can see, Issue #4 offers an enormous amount of stimulating prose and photography to enjoy. The rich diversity and craft exhibited in this issue has left me with a deeper understanding about where we’ve been and where we’re going as a gay community. Ganymede is gaining momentum and is definitely a journal to watch.

Eric Karl Anderson is author of the novel Enough and has published work in various publications such as The Ontario Review, Harrington Gay Men’s Fiction Quarterly, Blithe House Quarterly and the anthologies From Boys to Men and Between Men 2.