Assaracus, a journal dedicated to providing a stage for gay poets and poetry, is a part of Sibling Rivalry Press, which also prints Lady Business: A Celebration of Lesbian Poetry. Rather than including a slew of writers in each issue, Assaracus introduces about a dozen writers, each with a short biography, and then dives into a several page spread of their work. This really allows the reader to get to know each individual writer in depth, rather than just giving us a quick taste.
A couple of years ago, there was a series of suicides by university and high school students as a result of being bullied for their sexual orientation. In September 2010, Rutgers University Tyler Clementi jumped off the George Washington bridge after his roommate secretly filmed him kissing another boy and posted it on the internet. Former Rutger’s student Anthony Lioi writes a poem to Clementi in this issue called “A Spell for Tyler Clementi”:
Sweet ghost, dear Tyler, it’s time to gather
up the bits of you spread out across the Web:
the pose of Clementi-playing-violin, the grief
of your parents, the roommate’s mug shots . . .
That same month of his suicide, four other teenagers took their lives, and celebrities and media brought a lot of attention to this epidemic, calling it a wake-up call. For many, myself included, poetry was our means of response.
In his poem “Opposites of Straight,” Jonathan Bracker takes the time to describe what being gay is, and what it is not:
Not: queer, crooked, wayward, out-of-joint,
Gnarled, wizened, bandy, bowed,
Crippled, snaking, knock-kneed, askew,
Maimed, deviating, knurled—
Many people don’t realize how hurtful labels can be, and I have never thought of the words “curving” and “bending” as being so beautiful. Bracker turns a list into a flowing, liquid, breathing animal that lures you in with its mesmerizing language.
But Assaracus isn’t just a magazine about being gay and the ridicule and pain that many have experienced; it is a magazine about passion. Patrick Stevens contemplates music and music composition in his poem “Heroes and Villains”:
Those who claim that music
should be simple should be
hunted and their pianos
smashed for lack of knowledge
lyrics are lesser things boys and girls and charms and love but a melodious
craft is not for
the two-chord proletariat
it is to be slaved over
composed of feathered angels
yellow poppy opiates
the sudden wings of doves
tucked inside the scientific structure of a parabolic curve and if you are lost
assume that music composition is not for you
Music has developed into a digital production, and some forms have lost the raw realness that used to be an essential component. Stevens challenges music composers to reflect on the music they are producing and to consider whether or not is up to par.
To introduce his poem “Amadou Diallo’s Ghost Reminisces,” Dean Kostos quotes The New York Times: “An unarmed West African immigrant with no criminal record was killed on February 4, 1999 by four New York City police officers who fired 41 shots at him in the doorway of his Bronx apartment building.”
“Police—hold it. Stay there”
But they wore jackets & jeans. I fumbled
with keys, couldn’t—
“Turn around. Keep your hands
where we can see them,” they snarled.
Shouts from every angle—
a hive of vices.
I couldn’t think, couldn’t act
my keys, the ice cream.
This defenseless man was shot 41 times. It is an incredible thing to give someone a voice who does not have the ability to speak. After bullets have drilled into his body over and over, the narrator slips away from us saying: “My forty-one eyes gleaming.”
From the first page to the very last of this issue, I was mesmerized. The writing not only entranced and entertained me, it taught me about life, about love, and about the human condition.