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ENDANGERED SPECIES

A SURLY BEAR IN THE BIBLE BELT

Intelligent, intimate analyses of a gay life in rural America.

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In a series of personal essays, Lambda Literary Award–winning writer and academic Mann (English/Virginia Tech; co-editor: LGBTQ Fiction and Poetry From Appalachia, 2019, etc.) explores the experience of being a gay man who appreciates conservative Appalachia.

“I own no Cher or Streisand CDs,” Mann proclaims early on, making it clear to readers who may be unfamiliar with his work that he doesn’t fit gay stereotypes. He doesn’t live in a large city, and he’s content with living with his “husbear” in the mountains of the Virginias, listening to Joni Mitchell, and reflecting on writers such as Wordsworth and Keats. Across 22 essays, Mann discusses religion, politics, and sex while addressing the seeming disconnect between his sexuality and the down-home world that he loves. Religion remains the thorniest aspect of Appalachian life for Mann, but in the essay “Surly Bear in the Bible Belt,” he smartly traces his sexual desires for stereotypically masculine men and bondage back to the rigid gender roles of fundamentalist Christianity. Politics, including the election of Donald Trump, are woven throughout these pieces, but they come to the forefront in “Confederate” and “Watch Out! That Queer’s Got a Gun,” in which Mann offers nuanced and surprising stances on hot-button issues. However, the author always wisely brings his arguments back to the personal, concentrating on emotions that Civil War pictures stir within him or how a gun can assuage his anxiety over potential homophobic attacks. His carnal desire for “burly men” comes up often, and it may be the one point that feels repetitive in this collection; however, he sharply analyzes it in the travelogues “Whoremonger” and “A Leather Bear in the Big Easy,” which call to mind the frank, revealing essays of Edmund White. Mann offers some of his best insights in shorter, more poetic pieces, such as “David” or “Country Boy,” in which he concisely relates that two aspects of his identity are intrinsically linked: “I’m country because of the men I’ve yearned for and the men I’ve loved.”

Intelligent, intimate analyses of a gay life in rural America.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-59021-701-6

Page Count: 334

Publisher: Lethe Press

Review Posted Online: July 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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ONCE UPON A GIRL

Therapeutic, moving verse from a promising new talent.

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Keridan’s poetry testifies to the pain of love and loss—and to the possibility of healing in the aftermath.

The literary critic Geoffrey Hartman once wrote that literature—and poetry, in particular—can help us “read the wound” of trauma. That is, it can allow one to express and explain one’s deepest hurts when everyday language fails. Keridan appears to have a similar understanding of poetry. She writes in “Foreword,” the opening work of her debut collection, that “pain frequently uses words as an escape route / (oh, how I know).” Many words—and a great deal of pain—escape in this volume, but the result is healing: “the ending is happy / the beginning was horrific / so let’s start there.” The book, then, tracks the process of recovery in the wake of suffering, and often, this suffering is brought on by romantic relationships gone wrong. An early untitled poem opens, “I die a little / taking pieces of me to feed the fire / that keeps him warm / you don’t notice that it’s a slow death / when you’re disappearing little by little.” The author’s imagery here—of the self fueling the dying fire of love—is simultaneously subtle and wrenching. But the poem’s message, amplified elsewhere in the book, is clear: We go wrong if we destructively give ourselves over to others, and healing comes only when we turn our energies back to our own good. Later poems, therefore, reveal that self-definition often equals strength. The process is painful but salutary; when “you’re left unprotected / surrounded by chaos with nothing you / can depend on / except yourself / and that’s when you gather the pieces / of the life you lost / and use them to build the life you want.” The “life you want” is an elusive goal, and the author knows that the path to self-definition is fraught with peril—but her collection may give strength to those who walk it.

Therapeutic, moving verse from a promising new talent.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-72770-538-6

Page Count: 196

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

Endings

POETRY AND PROSE

Downbeat but often engaging poems and stories.

A slim volume of largely gay-themed writings with pessimistic overtones.

Poe (Simple Simon, 2013, etc.) divides this collection of six short stories and 34 poems into five sections: “Art,” “Death,” “Relationship,” “Being,” and “Reflection.” Significantly, a figurative death at the age of 7 appears in two different poems, in which the author uses the phrase “a pretended life” to refer to the idea of hiding one’s true nature and performing socially enforced gender roles. This is a well-worn trope, but it will be powerful and resonant for many who have struggled with a stigmatized identity. In a similar vein, “Imaginary Tom” presents the remnants of a faded relationship: “Now we are imaginary friends, different in each other’s thoughts, / I the burden you seek to discard, / you the lover I created from the mist of longing.” Once in a while, short story passages practically leap off of the page, such as this evocative description of a seedy establishment in Lincoln, Nebraska: “It was a dimly lit bar that smelled of rodent piss, with barstools that danced on uneven legs and made the patrons wonder if they were drunker than they thought.” In “Valéry’s Ride,” Poe examines the familial duties that often fall to unmarried and childless people, keeping them from forming meaningful bonds with others. In this story, after the double whammy of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hits Louisiana, Valéry’s extended family needs him more than ever; readers will likely root for the gay protagonist as he makes the difficult decision to strike out on his own. Not all of Poe’s main characters are gay; the heterosexual title character in “Mrs. Calumet’s Workspace,” for instance, pursues employment in order to escape the confines of her home and a passionless marriage. Working as a bookkeeper, she attempts to carve out a space for herself, symbolized by changes in her work area. Still, this story echoes the recurring theme of lives unlived due to forces often beyond one’s control.

Downbeat but often engaging poems and stories.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5168-3693-2

Page Count: 120

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2016

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