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Saeed Jones’s ‘Prelude To Bruise’: Book Review

BY GARTH GREENWELL

Saeed Jones begins this electrifying book—one of the most exciting debut collections I’ve read in years—with a quotation from Kafka’s notebooks: “The man in ecstasy and the man drowning—both throw up their arms.”

Prelude to BruiseIt’s a powerful opening for these searing poems, in which pleasure and pain are often indistinguishable, and in which desire is almost always inextricable from violence. “I’ve got more hunger than my body can hold,” Jones writes in “Last Call,” and hunger often drives the speakers of these poems to danger. “Night presses the gunmetal O of its mouth / against my own,” he writes in the same poem; “I can’t help how I answer.”

How to tell apart joy and pain in a book where dancing is “a way / of mapping out hell with my feet,” as Jones writes in “In Nashville,” and looks like “Guernica on all fours” (“Katamine and Company”), where “Even a peacock feather comes to a point” (“Thallium”)?

In “Pretending to Drown,” even one of the book’s most tender scenes—two boys go skinny dipping together—holds out the promise of a threat. The speaker sinks under the water to see the other boy “as the lake saw you: cut in half / by the surface, taut legs kicking / the rest of you sky.” It’s a game, but also an invitation, and when he comes back up it’s accepted: “slick grin, / knowing glance; you pushed me / back under. // I pretended to drown, / then swallowed you whole.”

In Prelude to Bruise, Jones takes on at once the most intimate and the most public of themes: desire, family, race, art, America and its romance with violence. But the book’s real ambition is to force us to see that any division between public and private is arbitrary, if not fraudulent. It’s often said that the personal is political; few books have made me feel it as viscerally as this one.

These poems bear witness to the fact that to be black and gay in America—and especially in the American South—is to be confronted with violence from every side: on the street and in the home; from strangers and friends alike; most painfully, from within the self.

Many of the poems take place in cities—Birmingham, Jasper, New Orleans—that are sites of particular trauma in the history of race in America. In “Lower Ninth,” the speaker observes the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, still devastated long after Katrina. In “Jasper, 1998,” a haunting poem, Jones takes on the voice of James Byrd, who was dragged to death in Texas by three white supremacists. In the poem’s devastating final section, Jones uses the particularly American rhythm of the chain gang to make us feel Byrd’s torture: 

                        Chain gang, work song, back road,
                        my body.
                        Chain gang, work song, back road,
                        my body.

The book’s protagonist is known only as “Boy,” a name that condenses to a single word many of this collection’s difficult themes. It’s at once a term of tenderness (“he’s still your boy,” the poem “Insomniac” says to a worried mother) and desire (in internet chatrooms every second screen name is a variant of “boy”); it’s also a term of race hatred. In the collection’s title poem, it’s spoken in both desire and hatred at once, when during sex a man tells the speaker, “I like my black boys broke, or broken. / I like to break my black boys in.”

Saeed-Jones-author-photoIn “History, According to Boy,” the powerful prose narrative that closes the volume, we follow Boy through a childhood landscape scarred by violence, if not quite literally made of it: in a country at constant war, in a city where gay men are murdered behind bars, he lives in a “house made of guns.” Eyes are “narrow as knife wounds”; “a bare lightbulb shines…like a lynched moon.”

Boy is an alien both in and out of his home, increasingly as both he and those around him become more aware of what he desires. The violence around him intensifies, until in the final scene he finds himself nearly engulfed by it, on the point of becoming not just a victim but a perpetrator of terrible acts.

Like the great poets his lines recall—Whitman, Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, James Baldwin, to name just a few of the voices that inform this book—Jones makes a music that feels adequate to rage and grief on both a personal and a national scale. Prelude to Bruise is more than a promising debut; it’s the rare book of poetry that urgently speaks—and will continue to speak, I suspect, for a long time—to the intractable griefs of our present moment.

Previous reviews...
Michael Carroll’s ‘Little Reef and Other Stories’
Francine Prose’s ‘Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932’
Mark Gevisser’s ‘Lost and Found in Johannesburg: A Memoir’
Emma Donoghue’s ‘Frog Music’

Garth Greenwell is the author of Mitko, which won the 2010 Miami University Press Novella Prize and was a finalist for both the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award and a Lambda Award. His new novel, What Belongs to You, is forthcoming from Faber/FSG in 2015. He lives in Iowa City, where he is an Arts Fellow at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. Connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.


Pakistani Author Gets Hate Mail for Beautiful Children's Book About a Boy's Gay Uncle

Chacha

Eiynah Nice Mangos, a Toronto-based blogger and illustrator recently created a post called "My Chacha Is Gay," a story about a little boy in Pakistan and his gay uncle. The post received a great deal of attention and Eiynah began a crowdfunding campaign to turn it into a published book; she met her goal and Pakistan's first pro-gay children's book was born. "My Chacha Is Gay" has now been translated into seven different languages, though it is still unavailable in Pakistan.

Buzzfeed reports:

“The treatment of LGBTQ people in Pakistan is incredibly unjust, as is the treatment of most minorities, or anyone that doesn’t fit the expected mould,” Eiynah told BuzzFeed in an email. “The concept of LGBTQ rights does not exist in any large-scale mainstream way. People are isolated from family, friends and loved ones over things like this. It’s no way to live… Admittedly we are not as extreme as countries like Iran in our homophobia, but that doesn’t mean the situation is not horrendous..."

“I feel there are very few resources for children in our country that are not painted with a religious brush. When I see the state Pakistan’s in, I feel like perhaps we need to start on teaching social acceptance and tolerance at a younger age. I don’t think majority of us see the urgency of doing that. If we did, things might be different,” she said.

Eiynah did not expect the book to go over smoothly in her home country, but she was shocked by the amount of vehement hatred directed at her and the fictional characters she created.

“Of course I knew that Pakistani culture/society was homophobic but since this project the extent of that homophobia has shocked me. The kinds of hate mail I get – calling for the death of Chacha, equating my book with Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses”. People have literally told me I am worthy of death because I am an enemy of “god” because of this book.”

Read the simple and beautiful book at Buzzfeed, and order a copy of your own at the book's website.

Photo via nicemangos.blogspot.ca.


Brigham Young University Pulls Hallmark Same-Sex Wedding Cards

CardSame-sex wedding greeting cards have been removed from the Brigham Young University (BYU) bookstore in Provo, Utah, reports the Salt Lake Tribune.

BYU is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which believes that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.

The Hallmark cards reading "Mr. and Mr." and "Mrs. and Mrs." were removed when bookstore staff discovered them after photos surfaced online. According to BYU spokesperson Carri Jenkins, Hallmark stocked the shelves without realizing the school wouldn’t want to sell the cards celebrating same-sex marriages.

Explaining why the cards were removed, Jenkins cited BYU’s honor code which states "homosexual behavior includes not only sexual relations between members of the same sex but all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings.”

Although the university does not intend to end its contract with Hallmark, staff have asked the company to not leave similar cards in the bookshop in the future.

Last month we reported that John Dehlin, a Mormon advocate of LGBT rights, was facing excommunication from the church.


Delaware School Board Cancels Summer Reading List Rather Than Include LGBT Novel

The Miseducation of Cameron Post coverThe Miseducation of Cameron Post is a coming-of-age novel about a young lesbian  sent to live with her conservative aunt after her parents die in a car crash. She is subsequently sent to a "de-gaying" camp where she develops a relationship with another girl who becomes her best friend.

The Cape Henlopen School Board in Delaware removed the book from its summer reading list after complaints from parents, allegedly about profanity within the book, but the book's author emily m. danforth (who spells her name in lowercase) and others believe it was due to the subject matter of homosexuality.

When danforth and an AfterEllen campaign protested the school board's decision - a decision they reached by violating their own rules and deciding without proper investigation - the school board took the logical and completely not-crazy next step by canceling the reading list program altogether.

danforth responded with an open letter to the school board, stating in part:

The Miseducation of Cameron Post was included on a librarian-developed list that was part of a summer reading program for incoming freshman. You took the drastic action of removing the book from that list, thereby eliminating it as one of the books students participating in that program might choose to complete their assignment. Yes, my book is (apparently) still available in the school library--which is wonderful--but it is no longer a part of this important summer reading program because of a direct action taken by this school board. Period. That's the very definition of censorship, Mr. Brittingham. But surely you know this. (It does seem that this board rather likes to hide behind its rhetoric.)

The book, as she mentions above, is still available in the school libraries.

[via New Civil Rights Movement]


'Gay Men Draw Vaginas' Could Make a Lovely Addition to Your Coffee Table Book Collection: VIDEO

Screen Shot 2014-08-10 at 8.47.38 AM

Oh Kickstarter, how you never cease to amuse us

A Kickstarter campaign is currently underway for 'Gay Men Draw Vaginas' - a proposed coffee table book chocked full of full-color drawings of vaginas as conceptualized by gay men. 

For the past three years, Keith Wilson and Shannon O'Malley have been collecting vag drawings - scary ones, humorous ones, abstract ones. The drawings were then arranged into thematic chapters for the book, such as "Monsters," "80s Vag," and "Mysteries."

Check out the (NSFW-ish) video for the campaign, AFTER THE JUMP...

The duo recently spoke with The Huffington Post to share where the inspiration for the project came from:

Screen Shot 2014-08-10 at 9.00.53 AMKeith Wilson: Three years ago, we were at a restaurant with a bunch of other homos and the topic of vaginas came up. After a few unenlightened comments came out of the mouths of the gay men, Shannon asked me to draw a vagina on the table with a crayon. After I did, everyone at our table gawked at it, critiqued it. It started a totally vaginal conversation in a restaurant full of children and families -- fun stuff. Shannon asked my boyfriend, who was also at the table, to draw one. When he did, everyone wanted to scrutinize it and compare it to the other shitty vagina I'd made. The night was filled with vag chat.

The campaign has already raised over $43,000 of its initial goal of $37,000 and still has 18 days to go. Check it out HERE.

What's your concept of what a vagina looks like?

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Continue reading "'Gay Men Draw Vaginas' Could Make a Lovely Addition to Your Coffee Table Book Collection: VIDEO" »


Jenny McCarthy Apologizes For Calling Hillary Clinton A Lesbian: VIDEO

Jenny mccarthy

Jenny McCarthy has apologized for suggesting on The View that Hillary Clinton might be a lesbian, reports Huffington Post.

As McCarthy and her co-hosts discussed Ronald Kessler's new book, The First Family Detail: Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Lives of Presidents, she suggested Hillary Clinton might be a lesbian and said the Clintons could have some sort of marital "arrangement."

However, in a later blog post, McCarthy claimed she uses jokes while on The View because she is out of her comfort zone:

“[Following the Clinton segment], we talked about a female CEO not helping other women in her workplace and my spiritual side felt excited to get out my personal mission statement about “girl code.” I stated that we women need to look out for one another. That we need to stop ripping on each other and empower one another. This is something that is very important to me and I hold so close to my heart.

"That night, as I lay in bed and reflected on my day, I realized I was a hypocrite. How could I make a joke like that and then five minutes later preach about female empowerment? It makes me sad when I see women ripping on other women, and there I was making a joke about our possible first female president!

"I hope you will be patient with me as I continue to figure myself out and grow to be the example of female empowerment I always intend to be."

Watch the Huffington Post report, AFTER THE JUMP... 

Continue reading "Jenny McCarthy Apologizes For Calling Hillary Clinton A Lesbian: VIDEO" »


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