My poem “Shamrock Shake” has been published in the latest edition of Trailer Park Quarterly. You can view the whole poem here.
October is LGBT History Month, and this year it is as important as ever to study our past. With all of our recently won civil rights and our dramatically increased visibility in society, the LGBT community sometimes assumes that the features of our culture and the values of our politics are recent inventions. Conversely, sometimes we make the opposite mistake and assume that LGBT people of the past (even before the terms gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender first came about) thought of themselves and the community exactly as we do today. These misconceptions are primarily due to the fact that American culture has closeted LGBT history for so long. We learned little to nothing about the history of the LGBT community in school and have thus been denied the benefit that comes with studying history or even being aware that we have a history. I remember, as a teenager, reading gay poet A E Housman in my English textbook, not knowing that his poems written about his male “friends” were actually addressed to the men he loved romantically. It was more important for those who created the curriculum and standards for our education to lead us into misunderstanding the material than to risk admitting to young people that men could love other men in the 19th century or today for that matter.
Having a history is an essential part of having a cultural identity. A history explains where we are in the present and allows us greater insight into the direction in which we are heading. It reminds us that ideas, values, and expressions do not materialize out of nothing; they are the product of the collective communal action of the people over time. This history is always evolving and our story is never finished being told because we are constantly discovering more about it. Finally, knowing our history cautions us against the uncritical belief in a progress narrative. It is easy to assume that we live in the most civilized and enlightened of times and that progress inevitably arcs toward justice. In reality, civil rights are often a cycle of advancement and blow back. Social action is usually greeted by an even greater and opposite repressive reaction. We cannot afford to presume that our current social standing is permanent or that it will naturally improve in the future. Continue reading “Different From the Others: LGBT History Month and the Almost Century-Old Legacy of an Early Gay Rights Film”
If you ask Daniel Crocker how to get to Sesame Street, he’d point you toward a twisting road of manic depression, frustrated desires, and existential malaise. In his latest book, Shit House Rat, Crocker’s poetry reimagines the furry childhood icons of Sesame Street embodying torments and foibles as adult and human as the people whose hands are lodged up their muppet behinds. Cookie Monster is an addict, Big Bird has mania, Snuffy is the haunting specter of depression, and Grover’s anxiety led to a hell of a divorce. But, Sesame Street is only the starting point. Shit House Rat takes the reader to Leadwood, Missouri, Crocker’s rural, predictably lead polluted hometown, where he engages themes from his childhood to his adulthood, including mental illness, queer sexuality, poverty, and small town conservativism. I got a chance to ask Crocker about the appeal of dark humor in poetry, the struggle of growing up bipolar and bisexual in rural America, and most importantly, what exactly a “shit house rat” is.
Chase Dimock: The first thing your readers will notice about your new book will obviously be the title, Shit House Rat. I know that as you were working on this collection, you had some trepidations about how the title might be perceived by your audience. Where did you get the idea for this title and why did you ultimately decide to use it?
Daniel Crocker: I have trepidation when it comes to just about anything, so I try not to let it worry me too much as a writer. I really put myself out there, especially in this new book, and there’s always a lot of anxiety that comes with that. I did have some specific concerns about the title though. I got the idea from the old saying, “Crazy as a shithouse rat.’ I don’t know if it’s a Midwestern or southern thing, but I’ve heard it a lot growing up and even now. It’s a nice turn of phrase, really. So, I just took the last half of the saying (kind of like I did with Like a Fish) and used it. My worry is that it’s a real putdown to people, like me, with a mental illness. I don’t want anyone with a mental illness to think I’m making fun of them at all. My hope is to take the phrase and subvert it. Own it.
(Full Interview Available on As It Ought To Be)
I am excited to announce that I will be serving as the Managing Editor of As It Ought To Be. My friend Okla Elliott co-founded this publication and managed it for years before his unexpected passing last spring. I want to keep Okla’s legacy alive by continuing to publish creative pieces and progressive works of social and political commentary. I hope that my friends and colleagues will help me in this endeavor by submitting their work for consideration (contact email@example.com)and spreading the word about As It Ought To Be’s relaunch.
The full formal announcement can be read at As It Ought To Be.
I’m excited to announce that my essay has been published in the book Approaches to Kurban Said’s Ali and Nino: Love, Identity and Cultural Conflict. I worked as an editorial assistant on this collection as well. Here’s a brief snippet of my article:
My review of George Hodgman’s memoir Bettyville has been published in the journal Western American Literature. Here is an excerpt:
In Bettyville, New York book editor George Hodgman returns to his native, rural northern Missouri home to care for his elderly mother. In the process, he crafts a Proustian remembrance of growing up gay in a small town amid the cultural revolutions of the sixties and seventies that at once seemed as distant as Fire Island in New York and as near as the campus of the University of Missouri.
The actual geographical location of Bettyville is Paris, Missouri, a town that like thousands of other small American towns finds itself slowly disappearing from the map as it struggles to transition into the twenty-first century. What separates Hodgman’s account from many other queer coming-of-age narratives of small-town life is his genuine affection for Paris despite the decades-old wounds he still nurses. Hodgman offers both a personal and sociological elegy for his hometown. Mourning Paris’s vanishing main street, he writes, “Wal-Mart, the store that wiped out the merchants, shuttered everything, has never offered a lonely widow a turkey dinner, a day of fellowship among friends, or hope” (217). He feels most at home where he never fit in and shows true affection and empathy for townspeople who were taught by their religion and their government to hate him.
(Full Article Available in Western American Literature via Project Muse)
This past weekend, I was a guest on Daniel Crocker’s podcast Sanesplaining, a show dedicated to exploring topics related to mental health in current events and culture. I was invited to discuss the classic Sci Fi show The Twilight Zone and how it commented on cultural understandings of mental health in its era. My section begins around the 26 minute mark.
Mayday Magazine’s special LGBTQ edition is now available, featuring poetry, fiction, and commentary selected by myself and poet Amy King. The following is an excerpt from our co-authored introduction, “LGBT Writing and the 21st century along with a link to the entire article and issue:
On Sunday, June 12th, 2016, the most fatal mass shooting in American history took the lives of 49 LGBT people and allies. Up to this point, there had been a culturally pervasive sense that the upward trajectory in the cause of LGBT rights meant that LGBT people were becoming less susceptible to bigotry and violence as signaled by the passing of legislation on marriage equality. This sense of tolerance led many to believe that LGBT culture was becoming obsolete. The thought was that becoming accepted into the mainstream meant that an alternative culture of LGBT outcasts was no longer necessary. This viewpoint sees LGBT culture as an ersatz imitation of a community pieced together out of the remnants of society. Now welcomed into society, it was time for LGBT people to cast aside the juvenalia of the queer world: the sexual exploration, the gender ambiguity, and the political dissidence, and embrace the politics of respectability. We’re here, We’re queer had its moment when we had to burst from the closet and fight for our lives during the AIDS epidemic and the rise of the Moral Majority, but just like the feminists and people of color have been told earlier, the passing of a few laws and the corporate adoption of some diversity initiatives meant that the goal of acceptance has been accomplished and it was time to pack up and step down.
What the viewpoint above does not understand is that while fighting for civil rights has always been a priority of LGBT culture, it has never been its end point. LGBT cultures have always been about living and thinking queerly. A queer culture is a non-normative culture; it resists and challenges assumptions and fixedness. Queer culture is in a constant state of flux; it evolves without a predetermined destination. Historically, queer writers have used their marginalized positions in society as an opportunity to critique normative culture from the outside and to investigate and cherish the repressed and devalued parts of human existence. As long as there is a norm, there will be a queer, and thus there will always be a space in the margins in which a universe of experience will be discovered. (full article available at Mayday Magazine)
(Poet, Frank O’Hara)
……..Christopher Hennessy’s Homosexuality is a Poem, is a part-theoretical, part-historical examination of the relationship between post-war poetry and gay identity. Focusing on the work of poets such as Frank O’Hara, Jack Spicer, John Wieners, and the poets of the early Gay Liberation Movement, Hennessy contends that the lyrical form allowed gay writers the ability to theorize and imagine gay identity and desire in innovative ways. As they invented new forms of poetic expression that challenged lyrical conventions, they in turn used poetry to object to society’s marginalization and persecution of homosexuality in the 50s and 60s. This poetry, in turn, helped to imagine queer community and politicize gay desire in ways that inspired and vocalized gay politics in the pre- and post-Stonewall eras.
………In his first chapter, Hennessy lays out the structure of his investigation into how post-war gay poets reinvented the lyrical form to fit the queer experience of same-sex desire, the politics of sexual liberation, and gay identity. He identifies these as the principal aims of his study: “making sexuality central instead of peripheral” to the study of a gay poet’s corpus, understanding “postwar lyric as a form still influenced by the long shadow of The New Criticism” via its impact on minoritized gay poets, showing “how the lyric functions differently for the gay poet,” and beginning “new critical conversations” about gay poets in ways that “include taking seriously these eroto-poetics” and conceiving of their creators “as lyric theorists.” (pp.8-9) Hennessy’s approach toward analyzing the work of these pioneering poets is as much a historical project as it is a work of literary criticism. His readings of Frank O’Hara, Jack Spicer, and John Wieners stress the oppressive environment of the post-war social climate before the modern gay rights movement as a contributing factor to how they used poetry to theorize and narrate gay experience. Hennessy contends that “the experience of gay male desire, before it had emerged fully as a political and social identity, was a textual experience, a discursive identity rather than a set of acts. But perhaps more importantly it was a question, not an answer, the way in which the best of poems function.” (p.17) Poetry did not merely describe gay male desire; it helped men who felt such desire invent and define themselves.
(Full Article Available via Dissertation Reviews)