My intention in starting the Wilde Boys salons was to create a space where queer poets could have conversations about poetry, identity, and in general, our lives. Another intention was to start conversations between younger poets and more established poets, hence inviting poets like Frank Bidart, Brenda Shaughnessy, Mark Doty, and the many others who have come to the salon. I think those intentions have been realized, and I continue to try and further realize them.
The discussions that occur at the salons, like the writers I invite, are serious. They are, among other things, about aesthetics, identity, and of course, desire. I understand how people, who have never attended the salons but instead read articles about them, and specifically The New York Times article, may have an entirely different perception of what Wilde Boys is, and what goes on there. We live in a world where perception seems to be reality. But—it isn’t. Most of you reading this are poets, or writers, or artists, so—look closer.
Perhaps, naively, I assumed that people who read The New York Times Style section article on Wilde Boys would be aware that the Style section is written with a specific tone, and has a specific audience in mind. It didn’t surprise me that the article focused on the social, rather than the intellectual aspect of my salon, or the way desire between attendees finds its way into a serious conversation about desire as subject matter for art. And is there anything wrong with that focus? I don’t think there is. It’s one way that mainstream culture finds an interest in poetry. It doesn’t have to be the only way. But let’s get to the word that many of you are perhaps thinking about—exclusivity.
I started the salon by sending an email to a handful of poets, among them Saeed Jones, Angelo Nikolopoulos, Jerome Murphy, and Zachary Pace. From May 2009 to April 2010 there were no special guests, or rather, no established poets at the salon who came to specifically talk about their own work with us, younger poets. It was just us. Just us grew from eight people to twenty people to thirty people. If a queer artist (and I am using the word artist because I do mean any artist, and not just a poet or a writer) came up to me or emailed me and said, "I’d like to come, I’m interested in discussing poetry and queerness and the various aesthetic, social, and political implications which are involved in that discussion"—I let them come. As the salon grew from thirty to forty to fifty people, of course I had to be selective. New York City is a big place (thank god), and it seemed that many people were interested in coming. To maintain the feeling of an intimate space, a safe space, I had to keep the number of attendees in check—even fifty or forty people, at times, seemed like too many to me—because the goal was intimacy and openness, and in order to achieve that people need to talk to one another and look at one another, and keep seeing each other month after month, on a regular basis. I didn’t want Wilde Boys to be a reading series. I wanted it to be an intimate conversation between queer artists, the majority of which were poets. I wanted people to bond and to become friends through poetry.
In the first year of the salons, only queer men came. Most of the discussions were about queer men and queer male writers—like Frank O’Hara, Reginald Shepherd, Hart Crane. I wanted queer women and trans people to come. I wanted them to enlarge the conversation about queerness and I wanted them to challenge us. So I invited them. And many of those I invited came. And I’m glad they did. I also wanted to invite established queer poets who would talk to us about their work in an effort to try and help us think about our own work, and our lives as artists and queer individuals. It’s terrifying being a queer poet in this culture. It just is. And I wanted these writers to serve as mentors. I think it’s very important to have mentors, and friends—especially during a time like ours, when our internet lives are becoming our real lives, and the way we communicate is changing, and in some ways becoming less intimate yet somehow more connected.
And so I did invite established queer writers. And they came. And then I wanted to have a fall season (comprised of three salons) entirely dedicated to female writers. And since then, I’ve seen no reason why I can’t invite female writers whenever I want to. I don’t want my salons to only address issues having to do with a queer male identity because those aren’t the only people who come, and more importantly, I’m more interested in discussing queerness than male queerness, specifically. We all know that queer women and trans people are underrepresented and marginalized in ways that we, queer men, are not—and we need to be aware of that, and understand that, and talk about that. I wanted that conversation to happen at Wilde Boys.
I’m incredibly grateful to the writers who have come. I named some earlier and I’ll name some more now—Michael Cunningham, Marie Howe, Edmund White (and typing Michael and Ed’s names now reminds me I had a season dedicated to queer fiction writers). And there are many who I’ve wanted to host—Carl Phillips, Jericho Brown, and Richard Siken, among them—who I’ve been in touch with, multiple times, in an effort to try and schedule a salon, but various conflicts have come up. That doesn’t mean I’ll stop trying. I’m mentioning them here partially because I want them to see this and I want them to come. All of the gentlemen I just listed live outside of New York, to name one conflict (another is schedules), and believe it or not, I have no budget for the salon. Writers aren’t paid to come. They are generous enough to come and talk to us for free.
I want to get back to exclusivity, because I know many of you are still thinking about it as you read this. “But he made those comments about inviting cute gay poets in The New York Times, why isn’t he talking about that,” is one of the things you may be thinking. Sure, I’ve invited cute gay poets (obviously cute is subjective), and some of them because I’ve wanted to meet them, because I’m interested in their poems and ideas, because I may be interested in sleeping with them, starting a correspondence with them—yes. But cute, or skinny, or cosmopolitan—or pick any of the other words floating around in the various attacks, online, about the salon—are never real considerations for who is invited. They just aren’t. A serious interest in talking about poetry and queerness and the various issues that intersect with those two things—that’s the real consideration. Many different kinds of people have attended the salons, and perhaps, in the future, they’ll talk about that experience (one that is unlike the experience of being someone from the press and writing about the salon), whether online, in an essay or article, or in conversation.
Another consideration that influences how many people can come (new people who want to attend and people who want to return for another salon) is a practical one—having enough space. There’s simply been more interest than I’ve been able to accommodate, and I wish that weren’t the case. I’m not trying to fill a room with beautiful people who have nothing to say. I can go to plenty of bars and parties where I can find that. I want people who come to Wilde Boys to walk away feeling like they’ve made a genuine and real connection with someone through art, through poetry. And I want the established writers who come to feel like they were engaged, for an hour, or two, in a serious, complex, enjoyable conversation about poetry and identity, with us, younger poets and writers and artists. I think many of them do feel that way, and I say that based on what they’ve said to me. But don’t take my word for it. Ask them, if you’d like, when you see them at readings or when you write to them, etc.
And having just mentioned parties and beautiful people, I want to address something else that is often in the conversation about me—image. It seems that some of the same people who read the articles about Wilde Boys and me, who don’t know me personally, who’ve never been to the salons, and who have negative things to say online and elsewhere (and that’s putting it mildly, as some of the attacks are incredibly vicious and personal and have nothing to do with my poems) have a hard time accepting the notion that yes, I write poems and yes, I’m also interested in fashion, and performance too—and tennis and classical music and popular culture and the way someone’s eyes look after asking a question, any question. Should that matter? Of course I have many interests. We all do. The fact that I find ways for those interests to intersect with poetry, on the page, off the page, in the work that I do related to poetry, in the status updates I make on Facebook, in the photos I post, in the way I walk down the street—yes, that happens, and what’s wrong with that? Some people have implied that it somehow detracts from the poems themselves, from what I write. I don’t think it does. I couldn't live any other way.
People will always make judgments—of course. It’s human nature. But I do wish the people so quick to make judgments about me would take a serious look at the poems I write, and not just how I look or how I’m portrayed in articles. It’s about the poems. It’s always been about the poems. The life I live and who I am and who I’m not—it may be somewhere in the poems. And then there’s everything else. And I love the everything else. It, too, is poetry.
May 2012, New York City
May 2012, New York City