This is a foreword I just wrote for Storm and Other Poems, a book coming out soon from Dusty Owl. Thought I'd share. The author (Steve Curtis: I covered his launch last fall in Peterborough) will be in town for a reading at Mother Tongue Books on August 19th: stay tuned for more details or ask at Mother Tongue about the QueerAction reading!
Wordplay and foreplay and a foreword
When I first met S. James Curtis, I thought he wrote gay erotica. Good erotica, where there are personalities, realities, and where the end goal really is, even in this day and age, True Love. But I thought, that's this guy's niche, that's what he does. It didn't take me long to figure out that boy, was I wrong. He's way more than a one trick pony . . . although if you're looking for erotic, don't worry; even the political stuff in this book has its whiff of sweat.
Curtis has a tendency to surprise you right out of your preconceptions. His porn is tender, his autobiography is psychology, his erudition is foulmouthed, he's looking for a basic hot fuck and a white picket fence at the same time and he knows it, and he's some kind of cyberphilosopher capable of seeing the deeper significance of Super Mario. It's not just that the personal is political here, it's that the personal is public, and in this world everything public becomes political. He's walking firmly in the footsteps of the confessional poets and the Beats, but he's doing it on Myspace with a high-speed connection, a home recording studio and the online sphere of instamatic art.
He's also a writer who can and does write anywhere, anytime, on the bus, in bars, on scratch pads at work and in the middle of the night. I once watched him paintstakingly scrawling out, letter by letter, the first few paragraphs of a short story on a Palm Pilot in the middle of a karaoke show, because he had an idea. I watched ‘Assembly' get written over bacon and eggs and eight cups of bad coffee in a flyspeck diner.
There's a show he's putting on - a show where the bars are sordid and he's drunk and horny or drunk and depressed or drunk and sick, where all the decent men are straight or closeted and you get the idea that in his head, hell, they're all closeted, bastards, and the goddamn cabs never stop when you're staggering and just want to get to the poutine stand before you go home.
But then he turns around and rips right through all that - and straight to your raw guts just when you weren't expecting it - with something like ‘Madeline' or ‘Personal' or ‘Vanilla' or ‘Lower the Flag.' And if you do nothing else, read his stuff out loud, listen to the changes he rings with sound and ideas, something that isn't done enough these days. "I want to make love / I want to build it up from its component parts / Hormones, pheromones / his moans, feral moans / that fill whatever room is / convenient at the time."
Or check this out: "Keep me planted on all fours / You plowing me / and we grow / and grow / and grow / we are human agriculture / animal husbandry / so maybe I am thinking of a kind of marriage..." Not only is this very hot, it's got a half-dozen nifty little wordplays tucked into it.
And then there's ‘Storm,' the title poem - a grand shout that bows graciously in the direction of its ancestor ‘Howl' and then heads off into the street where the rain becomes a metaphor for connection and inevitability, where the ideas of building storms and power and pressure and release get run through all their connotations - a street that's both messier and more hopeful, in the long run, than Ginsberg's.
And I think that's one of the things I love about this poetry; it's human, it's hopeful; even at its most despairing, it's exuberant, and it's cold-eyed clear on the complications of wanting love and sex to be the same thing, wanting the world and yourself to wake up and figure out what's important, wanting to be able to change things and yet still wanting the world to leave you alone. "Guess I'm greedy that way," he says in ‘Personal.'
That, and it's funny and erotic and moving and angry and sonorous and prosaic and poetic, and in this book, it's combined with Curtis's scribbly black-and-white illustrations, which range from doodle-like additions to the page to full-on graphic expressions of the poems (and check out the frowning taxi.) The drawings interact with the poems, helping to convey the rawness that's at the heart of this collection. They work together to bring you an honest book written in barrooms and buses, in diners and lunchrooms, and that's guaranteed to move you, in a lot of different ways, and many times over.