The New Year

First, this post owes a big debt of gratitude to Kelli Russell Agodon. A few months ago, Kelli tweeted about “the old days” when poets blogged widely and regularly. I, too, missed that spirit of community, and in the tweets that followed from others, a movement took back its shape, and many, many poets committed to returning to blogging in 2018.

So, here I am. Here we are.

My first post in this blog was published on August 31, 2004. I was going into the last semester of my MFA program. I was thinking about poetry community and where I might find it. I was thinking about my writing, and I was thinking about LGBTQ voices in poetry. I was reading widely, voraciously, and I wanted to talk about those books. I was constantly inspired.

Through blogging, I found….everything.

Now, with six chapbooks, a full length collection, and a forthcoming second collection, my writing career is a lot different, but my writing life is the same. I still crave community, to talk with poets and share ideas and discuss books. But having rested in my efforts to challenge myself the last few years (for a variety of personal reasons both publicly known and publicly unknown), I started to fall short. Reading less. Seeking community less. Hiding in my house. Working on poems–sometimes.

There’s something about this format I don’t get on social media, and I miss that thing. I can’t wait to read people’s deep dives into the books they’ve just read and the creative questions they’re asking themselves. I hope this blog ends up inspiring people the way blogs have been such an important resource for me.

Here is my 2018 Literary To Do List. I’m trying to get back into the habit of setting good habits.

  • read 1 book per week
  • write 1 book review per month
  • write at least 1 blog post per week
  • submit to 2 publishers per month
  • attend 1 literary event per month

Maybe it’s too small. Maybe it’s too ambitious.

But here we go.

Ed Madden on his new book Prodigal: Variations

When I was growing up in rural Arkansas, I remember being taught the story of Abraham and Isaac in Sunday school. The whole story is a real soap opera—the patriarch gets the servant pregnant, then his postmenopausal wife, who demands the servant and her kid be kicked out. There’s sex, jealousy, rejection and exile (and that odd subplot about strange men dropping in on their way to the big city, where they nearly get raped before the whole city goes up in flames.) But the central drama is a story about a father and son, a trip up the mountain where Abraham is going to kill his son Isaac because God told him to. Test of faith and all that. Over and over we were taught this story as an exemplum of great faith.

But it’s really pretty creepy, pretty horrifying. Your dad loves his god so much he’s willing to kill you. The poem that opens my second book of poetry, Prodigal: Variations (Lethe Press 2011), takes that story as its impulse, but reimagines it from the point of view of someone like Isaac. (“Sacrifice” also appeared in Best New Poets 2007.)

Sacrifice

When my father bound me, I submitted,

closed my eyes to the lifted knife in his fist.
Even now, the cords still hold my wrists,

rough ropes of love. My chest is bare,
my heart lies open. He loves his god more

than me. I open my eyes, watch my father
raise his fist against a bright and bitter

sky, no angel there to stay his hand.

In many ways, the book is a book about men—not just fathers and sons, but brothers,
friends, lovers. And for me it’s also a book about the stories I grew up with, especially stories from the Bible. In particular, the story of the prodigal son, with its promise of reconciliation, haunts the book. But if the book is haunted by what could have been, it finds its consolations in the here and now, in the rituals and relationships that sustain us.

One poem near the end is both tragic and hilarious. A friend of mine told me that his
mother, who has Alzheimer’s, has forgotten that she’d disowned him years ago for being
gay, and now the woman who rejected him is thrilled to see him.

Solace

Lily, Jack’s yellow lab, leans across the futon to look
at me, the casita’s latest visitor, new neighbor for the week,

then she sighs—the way that dogs resign themselves to something new—
thumps that thick semaphore of tail, and stretches, a back paw

against my leg as she sleeps—the way I fall asleep best,
my foot just touching Bert’s leg beneath the sheets. Meanwhile, the rest

of the world shudders on: sunlight spattering the shady lawn,
sirens pulsing on a nearby street, a cement rabbit pausing

at the back fence. If I speak of solace now, I don’t
mean comfort. At lunch today, Robert said his mother doesn’t

remember that she’d disowned him—the disease weeds the last few years
away. When he visits, she is almost loving, which she never

really was, he says. It’s not her, he says, or maybe it is.

This was a difficult book for me in some ways, grounded as it was in my alienation from
my own father and family and home. Ironically, when the book was launched in April at the Columbia Museum of Art, I was in the midst of a three-month stint at home, helping with my father’s hospice care. It was a big affair, a joint book launch with fellow poet and friend Ray McManus, and bluegrass gospel from a band called, of all things, Total Denial.

I know I retell stories obsessively. No version is the last one. Now the book is haunted by three months of something I could never have imagined, haunted by the possibility of all the book denies—-as in the title poem:

A man watches the road.
He will see me coming.

Even a great way off, he will see me coming.

Andrew Demcak on his new book Night Chant

My newest poetry collection, Night Chant (Lethe Press 2011), began with the leftover poems that didn’t fit in with the tone of my first collection, Catching Tigers in Red Weather (Three Candles Press, 2007). Around 2009, I became interested in the idea of “hidden,” which logically leads to the idea of “discovery.” I was still experimenting with poetic voice and narrative in my work, (e.g. who is the speaker, to whom is the poem addressed, etc.) and playing around with burying poetic forms within line breaks. The poems in Night Chant all have very formal metrical structures and/or rhyme schemes, but the forms are embedded in the line breaks to conceal them. Once the true line is discovered, the reader can see that these poems are in the tradition of French syllabic verse. For example, here is the poem “Announcement” with its “true” lines revealed:

A baby’s pink squeal for the tit, its hunger*
insolvent, obstinate country. Or
the snarl of sated fox, the expunger,
after its banquet of rabbit femur.
Mountains open upon their dependents
a volcanic outrage. Magma aglow
like the mind’s light, orange-red, resplendent.
Over lifeless men, the screech of sea birds,
the fins of mermaids the drowning have heard.

*my sloppy division of syllables (count 11, the next line 9 = 20 for the two lines.)

The end rhymes are more noticeable this way and the ten-syllable lines become apparent. So began Night Chant.

One of the memorable poem sections of Night Chant (besides all the raw sex poems) is what I’ve been calling the “Dead Baby” section. These poems came as a reaction to the state of Florida announcing that it was illegal now for LGBTQI2-S couples to adopt children there. My kneejerk response was “If we can’t have our own children, then neither can they,” and I began to imagine all the social permutations and complications of birth.

I wanted to include my two longest poems, both e-chapbooks, Pink Narcissus (GOSS 183/Casa Menendez Press, 2009) and 672 Hours (Gold Wake Press, 2008) here, the former from what is considered the first gay art film, and the latter about my 28-day stay in a drug and alcohol rehab. Both of these poems for me relate to the “hidden” in the gay experience.

And because this whole book was shaping up to be a literary catharsis for me, I decided to base the title on the nine-day, Navajo healing ceremony, the Night Chant. The title worked perfectly: it meant “the hidden expression.”