Cottman Gallery Reading

  • at 6:30pm
  • Mark Cottman Gallery, 1014 S. Charles St., Federal Hill, Baltimore, MD.
Reading sponsored by BrickHouse Books, Inc., with a lot of help from Poetry Editor Doritt Carroll

Join us for a reading by Dan Vera and Cort Bledsoe, two of the most admired poets in the Baltimore Washington area, on April 16th. Dan Vera’s writing offers sharp observations in a wry voice in his latest book Speaking Wiri Wiri. His comments about growing up Cuban-American and a member of the LGBT community have been described as “clear, smart, honest, and funny” by reviewer Martin Espada. Cort Bledsoe writes movingly in Riceland of his childhood on a rice and catfish farm in Arkansas. Jo McDougall has described the poems in Riceland as “startlingly revealing.” Both poets will read at the Mark Cottman Gallery, located at 1014 S. Charles St. Baltimore, MD 21230 on April 16th at 6:30 pm.

Discovering our authors, Alexander Motyl

Most of my novels deal with questions relating to my multifaceted identity.

I was born and raised in a tight-knit Ukrainian community in New York City. My Ukrainian father was born a subject of the Habsburg Empire in a tiny village north of Lviv (or Lemberg as it would have then been called): he lived through two world wars, Stalinist and Nazi occupations, and the hardship of displaced person status in West Germany before coming to this country in 1949. My half-Ukrainian, half-Polish mother was born in Fall River, Massachusetts, grew up in interwar Poland in a small town east of Lviv (or Lwów as it would have then been called), survived World War II, and then, after three years in Slovakia, came to New York in 1947. I have close relatives in Ukraine, Poland, and Slovakia. I also developed extremely close ties to Vienna through my former marriage and used to refer to myself as “half Viennese.”

Am I American? Ukrainian? I usually elide the question by saying I’m a New Yorker who speaks English, Ukrainian, German, Polish, and Russian with varying degrees of fluency.

Living at the interstices of several cultures and histories has its advantages. You develop different, usually complementary, perspectives on life. You can more easily step outside your native prejudices. You can feel at home everywhere, precisely because you’re never quite at home anywhere.

It also has its disadvantages. The perspectives on life you develop often clash. You can step outside your prejudices, or you can find yourself immersed in them. You’re always a foreigner, everywhere, even if you think you’re not.

In any case, I’ve found these clashes to be an especially fruitful source of creativity.

Last year, 2014, I also discovered that having so many roots in Ukraine can be traumatic. In November of 2013, Ukrainians launched what they call a Revolution of Dignity that culminated in the overthrow of their dictatorial president. I watched the events unfold on a daily basis—and pretty much lost touch with what was going on around me in the United States. Indeed, although physically in New York, I found that, over time, I was increasingly living their lives and living their emotions. I shared in their sorrows when scores were killed by regime snipers. I shared in their joy when the revolution triumphed.

When Putin invaded the Crimea in March 2014, I feared war between Russia and Ukraine would ensue. As Russian troops poured into eastern Ukraine and the fighting escalated, as thousands fled or died, as friends and relatives in Ukraine told me of their fears of aerial bombardment and a Russian land invasion of all of Ukraine, I came to understand—however superficially—just what my parents had lived through in World War II. For the first time in my life, I think I understand what real fear is, what the desire for revenge is, and, alas, what deep hatred is. This is knowledge that I would prefer not to have.

But I have it. And so I, too, have joined the struggle. I write a weekly blog on Ukraine; I write op-ed pieces and longer analytical articles. I give speeches.

My novels have also joined the fray. A just-finished manuscript pokes fun at the erstwhile Ukrainian dictator. A work in progress satirizes Russia’s dictator, Putin. Why satire? Because, as Jewish comedians know, laughter is the weapon of the hopeful.

In memory of Philip Levine.

Philip Levine was the 18th U.S. Poet Laureate. He was born in Detroit in 1928, and educated at Wayne State, the University of Iowa, and Stanford University. He is the author of more than twenty collections of poetry, and his honors include the Pulitzer Prize, two National Book Awards, and two National Book Critic Circle Awards. Levine’s first book of poems, On the Edge (1963), won the Joseph Henry Jackson Award. Levine’s other prizes include the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Frank O’Hara Prize and the Levinson Prize from Poetrymagazine, the Harriet Monroe Poetry Award, an award of merit from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Elmer Holmes Bobst Award, and the Golden Rose from the New England Poetry Society. He was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1997, elected as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2000, and elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2002.  He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Levine taught Literature and Creative Writing at California State University, Fresno from 1958-1992. In 1970, Levine was chosen Outstanding Professor at the University, and the following year he was chosen Outstanding Professor for the California State University System. He also taught or served as a writer-in-residence at the University of California, Berkeley; Vassar College; Vanderbilt University; Princeton University; Tufts University; Columbia University; the University of Houston; New York University; and elsewhere. He divided his time between Fresno, California, and Brooklyn, New York.

Dan Vera and Cort Bledsoe reading!

Join us for a reading by Dan Vera and Cort Bledsoe, two of the most admired poets in the Baltimore Washington area, on April 16th.  Dan Vera’s writing offers sharp observations in a wry voice in his latest book Speaking Wiri Wiri.  His comments about growing up Cuban-American and a member of the LGBT community have been described as “clear, smart, honest, and funny” by reviewer Martin Espada.  Cort Bledsoe writes movingly in Riceland of his childhood on a rice and catfish farm in Arkansas.  Jo McDougall has described the poems in Riceland as “startlingly revealing.”  Both poets will read at the Mark Cottman Gallery, located at 1014 S. Charles St.  Baltimore, MD  21230 on April 16th at 6:30 pm.

Three cheers for the ‘Fashion Police’

Fellow lovers of glam, glitz and celeb couture faux pas, rejoice! E!’s weekly dish fest “Fashion Police” is back with a new host — comedian and LGBT rights supporter Kathy Griffin — and returning co-hosts Giuliana Rancic and Kelly Osbourne, along with newcomer Brad Goreski. Griffin took over as host after Joan Rivers died in September. Why do I, a poet and lesbian, unlikely to ever afford Versace, Tom Ford or any other haute couture, enjoy FP? Because, I’m my mother’s daughter. Growing up in southern New Jersey, I learned that fashion, celebs and gossip were entertaining. My Mom and I would leaf through Vogue, admiring the perfect dress or wonder why a star on a TV awards show was wearing that gown. After my time in the wilderness of dreary flannel shirts and drab jeans, I returned to the fold. In a world filled with poverty, war, bigotry and other horrors, “Fashion Police” is fun.

Kathi Wolfe, the latest winner of the Stonewall Chapbook Competition, is also a contributor at The Washington Blade. Check out the full article by her here.

Resignation of prose editor Ilse Munro

January 27, 2015

With great regret, BhB announces that, because of health problems,  Ilse Munro resigned this morning from her BhB position as prose editor.   I’m sure our readers and authors will join me and the rest of the staff in our gratitude for the formidable energy, imagination, and talent which Ilse brought to BhB during her brief time with us. We vow to take up where she left off.

Discovering Our Authors: Louie Crowder

Louie Crowder, playwright and novelist, completes this series. Here’s what he has to say:

Louie's 2013 BHB title

Louie’s 2013 BHB title

I quit the theatre again. After years of navigating the wonders of the self-producing playwright, I wrote a novel. The consistent nagging that fueled dialogue fueled the prose; I wasn’t convinced it would but apparently the Muse doesn’t care so much about the medium as she does the release of the information. I’ve found it’s easier to be experimental in prose than onstage. I’ve also found the process of a novel to be more rewarding than the stage. With the theatre, there are too many people involved in the development; in the end the playwright seems to be the least important. The novel is a lonelier process but the payoff is having more control and being an active participant in the final product (at least on the level where I currently reside). I’m not sure it’s always been that way. The film industry redefined the theatre. When theatre became a feeder for film, stage lights across America dimmed in requiem. Haha; it’s true.

Thematically, I’ve also found prose to be more accepting of the things I need to write about: gay equality in the contemporary South, the differences between the Boomers, X’ers, and the Millennials regarding sexuality and civil rights. There are two gay Americas. One is comprised of the coasts and enclaves; the other is made from the South and the Midwest. The coasts and enclaves are progressive and aggressively pro-equality, the South and Midwest are not. Two different sets of civil rights, two different sets of reasonable freedoms. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why the HIV infection rate remains high in the South. Actually, Louisiana has the cities with the #2 and #3 highest infections rates in the country (New Orleans and Baton Rouge).

I consistently hear, “Things are better,” “No one cares about sexuality anymore,” “Gay equality is a non-issue,” “AIDS is the new diabetes.” The Millennials like to say things like that; they are, apparently, the enlightened generation. The greatest tragedy of the Millennial generation is their joyful erasure of gay history, including the ongoing struggles of the Boomers and the X’ers. My generation grew-up in fear of who they were. I can’t imagine a generation of kids not being raised in fear and self-hatred. Recently, after reading In Irons, a friend told me she finally understood what I was trying to achieve with my work, “I get it now, Louie. It’s suffrage you’re talking about: gay suffrage. Because nobody cares if anybody’s a fag or not anymore. Documenting suffrage is important, too.” It’s not suffrage, it’s shining a light on the still darkened places. But at least she’s making an effort to see beyond her straight perspective. My lofty goal in this body of work is to elevate the American gay community; to create a dialogue and better understanding. I suppose that means I’ve become an activist for gay equality, and that suits me just fine.

The play BrickHouse published (A Better House for Ritchie), the novel Gallatin & Toulouse published (In Irons), as well as the new novel that comes out in the spring (Henry Gereighty) directly take on issues of the contemporary Southern gay experience, the group of gay men who still exist in hiding. I ask my students if they think gay equality can ever happen in the US, because I don’t believe it can. They consistently tell me, “Yes, of course, but it’ll be another couple of generations.”

Discovering Our Authors: J. Tarwood

One of the pleasures of being the new prose editor at BrickHouse Books is discovering the people who have published with us, including the poets. After all, I have said that what I look for in prose submissions—among other things—is “a distinctive voice . . . and an obvious love of language.” Meaning a touch of poetry.

And as someone who has traveled more in the first years of her life than many have in a lifetime, I was delighted to hear from poet J. Tarwood, who happened to be in Laos at the moment. Here is what he sent me a few weeks later from who knows where:

J. Tarwood's BHB title

J. Tarwood’s BHB title

As an adult, I’ve worked in Kenya, Turkey, Yemen, Oman, Colombia, and Dubai; I’ve trekked by all sorts of dubious means through most of Africa, Europe, and South America, even darting a few times into Asia. I’ve lived out globalization from aerograms to emails; that’s given me a vision quite different from many contemporary American poets. I like what Rimbaud said: “I is another.”

In high school, I wanted girls. All I had for wooing were words. The right ones, though, said at the right time, in the right way, could work magic: the wow of sex, the blessed chance—

You could go to another world;
You could talk to a pretty girl.

Mother knew words. Born in the Blue Ridge, mired in the Midwest, she yearned for the lost home like a Palestinian. Silence a growing hole in and out, she battled back with savage stories of invisible kin, entrancing me along. Up North was a hungry hell. Only Back Yonder got to be real.

Father hated words. In the kitchen, alone with the light, he would read big borrowed books. “All talk,” he’d curse. Up North was fate. Swallow and shut up.

Up North certainly had no place for me: deindustrialization’s cannon fodder, “No Future” stamped on the forehead at birth. Leave or rot, honeychild.

I left and just didn’t stop. “Grin like a dog, wander aimlessly,” a drunken Tamil quoted to me in Istanbul. I followed adventure or dollars, my life a travelogue of hard to say places. At interviews, I pretended I had a career. Practical people understood it really had been one foot after another.

Yet like the superheroes I had so intensely scrutinized as a boy, I had a calling I held close—as if I were to spy for a goddess, and all this gadabout were both education and mission.

A calling makes sense with divinity. Otherwise—scour the bio for the prof who loaned the book, the gal who wrecked the heart, puzzling out a life obsessed.

Land of luck, that. I prefer a life possessed.

Words alone conjuring worlds? In high school, I drifted through the Upstairs Bookstore, where I bought a paperback of The Waste Land, lightly yellowing, thin as a broke wallet. Eliot never had me in mind as a reader: I had been streamed into Jolly Books of English courses to prepare me for a life of stupor. Nevertheless, his words dazzled me the way my mother’s had and the way I wished mine to dazzle the girls who dazzled me.

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
—But who is that on the other side of you?

Poetry must be magic, a secret kept by being shared.

Note: The first lines quoted are from The Tubes song “She’s a Beauty.” The last lines quoted are from the first section (“The Burial of the Dead”) of TS Eliot’s The Waste Land.