26 February 2009

Kalmansohn, David. Subscription Solicitation Letter. Men: The Monthly Magazine of Male Erotica. Homosexuopolis: Men Magazine, 2009

If you're gay you can subscribe to magazines about being gay. One's called The Advocate and it's kinda like our Newsweek and another's called Out and its kinda like our Cosmo. Or maybe Cosmo's like our Cosmo. At any rate, there are dangers in doing this. One is that these are often very terrible magazines. Sometimes they are smart and good and informative, but not often. Another danger is that they will sell your addresses to other people, like, say, Men: The Monthly Magazine of Male Erotica.

The assumption, I guess, is that if you're gay you like pornography. I, of course, never touch the stuff, but that doesn't mean I get all offended when solicitations like this one come in through the mail:
Dear Friend:

If you like MEN—and I mean nude, beautiful, erect men—you'll want to subscribe to MEN, the monthly magazine of male erotica.
What's unclear from the beginning is that the first all-caps MEN is in red text, whereas the second, i.e., the magazine's name, is in black. All other uses of MEN are in red and refer to the magazine itself
It's just that simple. Only MEN consistently delivers such incredible male photography and such stimulating erotic fiction issue after issue. It's the only magazine of its kind worth subscribing to.
Take that, Black Inches!

Quality comes first at MEN. Since 1984, MEN has set the standard for what you want from a magazine of male erotica. That's why it continues to outsell all other titles—bar none!
I don't get this usage. "Bar none" is maybe used as a filler meaning "absolutely!" but it really means "without any exceptions" right? So "all other titles without any exceptions".... But I'm being ridiculously nitpicky, when I should be working harder on figuring out how to be more consistently erotic.
The quality starts with our uncompromising production standards. In MEN, you get all the hot detail and true-to-life skin tones our great photography deserves. But expensive printing is just the beginning.
Here I'm reminded of a Bill Callahan lyric: "Skin mags in the brambles / for the first part of my life / I thought women had orange skin." So it's a relief MEN is committed to their models' skin tones being true-to-life. For the first part of my life, I thought that men while erect had wasted, vacuous expressions.
But best of all is our taste in men. MEN's men are extraordinary, simply the best and widest selection of men to be found in a gay man's magazine anywhere. Proud glorious hunks—blond and black, smooth and hairy, cut and uncut. Men whose eyes stare out from the page and say, "I'm here for you."
Well, I suppose that's one way to read them.
Along with our great photos, MEN publishes erotic fiction calculated to take your imagination to a fever pitch. Because we know words have an erotic power all their own, we print fiction that's a cut above the rest: literate, arousing, and drawing from a wide variety of settings and plots.

You'll also relish MEN's expert video reviews focusing on videos with the hyper-masculine casts you enjoy most—along with lots of show-all photos. Plus, you'll find plenty of erotic illustrations, letters from readers like you, and a whole range of advertisements for adult products. Every issue will bring you many satisfying hours. We guarantee it!
I looked throughout the letter and in the fold out pictorial of previous MEN models, all consistently skin-toned and erect, and didn't find any actual guarantee. So, like, if I find an issue that brings me only one satisfied hour, or even many frustrating hours, I don't think I have any means of reparation.
What other adult entertainment fits in your briefcase or under your bed ready for a private encounter at a moment's notice? MEN is one magazine you'll save, issue after issue, to share with friends or enjoy alone.
What I love here is the endearing expansion MEN tries to enact on the ways gay porno mags get, um, used. Your briefcase! Moments' notices! Friends!
How can you say no to such a temptation? Rush us your order today.
For the record, each issue of MEN costs $9.99. A 12-issue subscription is just twenty dollars. Oscar Wilde could resist anything but temptation, but I'm not Oscar Wilde.

24 February 2009

Rohrer, Matthew. They All Seemed Asleep. Brooklyn, N.Y./Portland, Ore.: Octopus Books, 2008.

I picked this up at AWP after selling a handful of copies to kind people. What happened was this: Mathias Svalina, one of the editors at Octopus Books, was talking to someone about Matthew Rohrer, and like I thought it was some other full-length book he'd published elsewhere (this one's a chapbook), and Mathias was all, "It's an action-adventure story about a homosexual uprising and some shadowy militant figure named The Cat." And I thought what a cool book that would be to read, but if it's a whole book of poems I don't know if I'd enjoy it. Not because I don't like poems but because I have really foolish simplistic needs when it comes to narrative, and sussing out a plot arc amid 50-60 poems would be maybe too taxing for me. Or if not taxing than at least I'd know throughout my process of reading the book that I'd be missing something, deliberately missing something, in the pursuit of something less central to the book's aims.

Well, it turns out Mathias wasn't talking about another book, but this one, and that this book isn't a collection of poems, but one long one. So I grabbed a copy and read it on the plane home and it's awesome. There's a great physical landscape of coasts and cities where the action is set, and though the book is written in loose verse the reader's engaged in exactly the same way she would be were it something Hollywood might option. It's kind of weird how this works. Here's a random sample, from page 3:

in torchlight, so I headed
up the street and joined the crowd
they cheered as a man was raised
awkward, impaled on a pole
which swayed as they tried to hold
it up, so his arms were flung
like a puppet's, and shadows
made his face seem to flicker
everyone around me cheered
and spilled their drinks     I backed out

People talk a lot about fiction for poets. Ben Marcus is sort of all poets' favorite fiction writer, isn't he? And here I can argue we have poetry for novelists. It's not just the fact of its being narrative poetry. I think something that's also awesome in the act of reading Rohrer's book is the continuous tension between the poetic line and the prosaic sentence. This isn't a revolutionary idea. Like probably all poets play with this tension. But look above and check out how the lack of punctuation and capitalization isn't just "being experimental" but actually works to control (and sometimes especially disallow such control over) your reading pace.

I won't ruin the end for you, but that even a poetry book has a ruinable end is awesome, I think. Who, experts, are the other good poets for fiction writers? Who are the Marcus converses?

Go buy it.

23 February 2009

Hollinghurst, Alan. The Spell. New York: Penguin, 1998.

I haven't read anything in ages! And I've written even less. How my time's been spent is of no interest to you, surely. My stats on this blog have dropped to where even a sixty-eight-year-old retiree's assisted-living-center contract-bridge blog enjoys more hits than I do. Thank god for wayward Googlers. Welcome credo-seeking carnivores!

What I've been doing here is skimming through introductions of critical texts and traveling to Chicago and reading up on collecting and taking naps. I've been guilt-tripping my own self, thanks. And I've been reading this, which isn't even on my comps list. More guilt. I only wish it'd had been a better book.

I think I've spelled myself out here* as a pretty big Hollinghurst fan, and I am. His The Line of Beauty, which won the 2004 Booker, may be one of the best novels I've read, among those novels in the Forsterian/Jamesian tradition, if such a tradition can exist. You know what I'm talking about. Novels about the lives of interesting people just a shade more fascinating and a shade better looking than average, whose lives fall in the midst of some greater sociopolitical moment. &c &c. What's surprising is how that incredible novel came out of the writer who produced this small one.

It's not a bad book by any stretch. It tells the story of Alex, who is invited up (out? down? westward?) to Dorset by his ex-boyfriend Justin, to spend the weekend at his (Justin's) and his boyfriend, Robin's, cabin. While there he meets Robin's son Danny, who—because this is an early Hollinghurst novel and, thus, every man held within its chapters must be if not gay in full than at least game for some gay sex—is also gay and eventually falls for Alex. So you've got a nicely complex love quadrangle here, and what makes this novel work is that Hollinghurst moves among each man's close-third POV, so that as the novel progresses all four of them become more complicated and interesting.

But that's all they are is complicated and interesting. It's a perfectly competent novel, but I think just a little too small in scope for my tastes. And for Hollinghurst's; he's always better when he's got something larger to anchor his narrative to. In The Swimming Pool Library you can constantly read Hollinghurst trying to get a handle on Ronald Firbank, and in doing so he does a great job of connecting the newer, post-lib gay scene with the older pre-war closeted one. Line of Beauty would be nothing without the specter (and eventual manifestation) of Margaret Thatcher haunting its pages. Like take a look at this passage from that book:
[Thatcher] came in [to the house of one of the central characters, a conservative MP who's been courting her as a guest for the whole novel] at her gracious scuttle, with its hint of a long-suppressed embarrassment, of clumsiness transmuted into power. She looked ahead, into the unknown house, and everything she saw was a confirmation. The high hall mirror welcomed her, and in it the faces of the welcomers, some of whom, grand though they were, had a look beyond pride, a kind of rapture, that was bold and shy at once. She seemed pleased by the attention, and countered it cheerfully and practically, like modern royalty. She gave no sign of noting the colour of the front door. (328)
Maybe the like majesty of it is lost in excerpting, but my grand point here is that if Hollinghurst were a major league batter I'd accuse him of discovering steroids between 1998 and whenever Line of Beauty was written. It's just on a whole other scale, and seeing as how that latest novel owes as much of itself to Henry James as it does M. Thatcher, I may imagine Hollinghurst's "juice" was the master himself.

Why don't I read more James? Other than the obvious?
* Minutes after writing this I can't figure out what I was thinking. Is this an idiom: to spell oneself out as something? Am I trying to pun of this book's title? Typographical error?