Review: Ganymede UnfinishedGanymede 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 http://www.gregorywoods.co.uk/