At 21, you are the youngest PUSH author to
have his own book. How did the come to come
A: I was invited to have
a poem I wrote in high school included in
the PUSH anthology You Are Here, This Is
Now: The Best Young Writers and Artists in
America, a collection of winning pieces
from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.
It seems ridiculous now, but at first I was
concerned because I was no longer happy with
the poem that was going to be published. I
emailed the editor, David Levithan, and asked
if I could swap the poem for one of my newer
poems. He said no. But he did welcome me to
send him whatever I was working on anyway,
and eventually the exchange turned into more
than either of us had expected. At the time,
it all felt like it had fallen into my lap.
In retrospect, I'm glad I made that first
move. As high as my hopes were when I was
urged by a teacher to submit that first poem
into a national contest, the idea of it being
the spark that would eventually become my
first book still overwhelms me.
Q: What were your concerns about
writing a memoir at the age of twenty? Where
did you look for guidance in writing it?
A: If you had to tell the
story of your life, what would it be? It
sounds like it's an easy question until
it's you distilling twenty years into something
comprehensive and still easy to follow.
And of course at twenty I was quite conscious
of the fact that I was still at the beginning
of my life. What was my conflict? Who were
the main characters? What are the turning
points that shaped me? Life is beautiful
because of its complexities, its serendipities,
and its inconsistencies.
I found myself looking at Eireann Corrigan's
poems in You Remind Me of You and
felt even more overwhelmed. If you've read
her poetry you know that her life was active
and dramatic. I had also read and had huge
emotional responses to Firebird and
Heaven's Coast, a two prose memoirs
by a gay poet named Mark Doty. Like Corrigan,
Doty's life was dramatic. One is filled
with angst, climaxing with his own mother
attempting to kill him, and the other recounts
his lover's AIDS related death and his relationship
I didn't think I had anything worthy of
being read. Eventually I understood that
the parts of stories I reacted to weren't
these dramatic episodes. Instead, I was
touched by moments of discovery, of vulnerability,
of devastating truth. I don't believe the
strengths of a memoir are in its story,
necessarily. These honest and beautiful
moments are arguably more important, because
they have the gravity of everyday life.
Q: Your book presents being gay
in a way that books of previous generations
never could the conflicts are more
about living life than being oppressed or
victimized. What's your take on your book's
A: I'm gay, but fortunately
enough we have come to a time when people
can be less defined by sexuality. It's shocking
to some of my slightly older friends that
I was out in high schooland in turn their
shock is shocking to me. What I began writing
was not a story of a boy becoming okay with
his sexuality because, for me, there was
less conflict there. Instead, Talking in
the Dark is the story of how I learned to
love, and to believe in the love that was
already in my life.
That story didn't come all at once. In
fact, it's still coming. But the process
of writing it was so introspective, that
when I finally took a step back enough to
look at what I had produced, I was really
afraid it wasn't what teens would want to
read. What I saw being sold to teens were
more dramatic tragedy-based stories. I was
afraid my small introspective poems may
not be "gay enough" or edgy enough for teens.
I was very happy when my editor assured
me that its reluctance to be solely concerned
with trauma or sexuality was what made it
real and something that could really set
Not everyone wants to read about runaways,
disownment, fighting, and alienation. Not
everyone really goes through all of these
awful things. For an increasing number of
teens, being gay is less of a pressure than
their SAT scores. A few years ago, when
I was in high school, it would have been
wonderful to find a book that I felt spoke
Q: What are some of your literary influences?
A: There are
a number of poets and musicians that I've
experienced enough of that I find myself
aligning or conspiring with. My favorite
writer, and the one I probably invest the
most time in, is Mark Doty. My favorite
musician is Ani DiFranco. As far as this
book goes, I found myself coming back to
certain artists when what I was trying to
achieve something they seemed to exceed
in consistently. Marie Howe, Mary Oliver,
Peter Sirr, Richard Tayson, Li-Young Lee,
Dar Williams, Patty Griffin, Now It's Overheadthese
were some of the voices in my head when
I was struggling to bring certain sections
Most importantly, though, there are a number
poets who teach at the University of Florida
that shaped my aesthetics of poetry: William
Logan and Michael Hofmann specifically.
They stress formalism and structure in a
way that has helped my voice considerably,
and introduced me to great poets like Elizabeth
Bishop, Robert Lowell, and Louise Gl┘ck.
Q: As someone who is just out of your own teens, why do you think poetry
appeals so much to teens?
A: It's short. Prose can
be so exhausting. Poetry is emotional and
achieves what it wants to quickly and concisely.
There is also an exchange available with
poetry, being that it is, for many, a more
accessible form. You can read a novel and
enjoy it. But you can't respond to it as
you can with a poem. With poetry, if you
find something you love, you can write back
to ityou can take it with you, sometimes
without knowing it.
Part of the introspection in Talking
in the Dark meant reading my old journals
from high school, something I've never had
enough of a reason or curiosity to do, really.
I was shocked by what I found. Poem after
poem was passionately inspired, angry, or
depressedin ways I don't think I knew I
was at the time.
When I first started writing poetry, around
eighth grade, it was because I could. I
had a stronger grasp of rhyme and meter
than many of the kids in my English class
and my teacher gave me poetry assignments
instead of other, less expressive work.
I loved the attention and continued with
it. It wasn't until my sophomore year that
I really started to write what I was feeling,
but when I did it was such a freeing outlet.
Reading my journals, I found myself wishing
I had read them much earlier. I would have
understood myself and so many other people
so much earlier.
Today, there's even more to love about
poetry. Poets of all ages have outlets for
readings and workshops. There's an audience
for it now. More and more people seem to
be writing and reading, performing and listening
to poetry, and the affect is an exchange
that was less a part of the experience not
too long ago.
Q: What advice do you have for
other young poets?
A: Man, there are a lot
of things I've discovered that I wish I
had been told about when I was in high schoolor
whenever, I guess.
First is the book The Triggering Town
by Richard Hugo. Read it! Sleep with it
under your pillow!no matter what you
want to write, (poetry, prose, or the backs
of cereal boxes). I remember reading it
for the first time and being in awe of how
simply he put things I feel I had to figure
out on my own.
Another thing is to read anthologies. I
find that a number of young poets, if asked,
admit they don't like reading poetry. But
when they do find a poem that speaks to
them, it's often in a literary magazine
or anthology. And when you find a poem that
you relate to, you can always go check out
a book of that person's. It's a good way
to come across writers you may not have,
and to discover someone worth following
before it feels like following a crowd of
their other admirers.
I don't know if this is the case with everyone,
but my parents would have been happy to
buy me books when I was a teenager. Ask
for them now while you still can!
One last thing would be to look up words
you don't know. Who am I kidding? Look up
words you do know too. I love Dictionary.com
because I'm not overly adept with the alphabet,
but there's something incredibly cool about
picking up a seven pound book and riffling
through it for the right word. I want to
say I know someone who puts a mark by every
word's definition as they look it up, just
to see which ones they stumble across again
and again. Maybe I saw it in a movie or
something, but that sounds like fun. I admit
it, at the heart of it all, I'm a huge nerd.
Words, and our languages, are just cool.
Q: Tell us about the way your bedroom
and living room are designed.
A: At the moment I am a
poor college kid living in a little apartment
in Gainesville, Florida. I don't have much
furniture, and what I do have isn't worthy
of becoming the center of the room's attention,
so I had to improvise.
My living room is a particular shade of
light blue, skylike almost, bright. On the
largest wall is a mural I did with some
friends: it's a pixilated portrait of Audrey
Hepburna favorite pose from Breakfast
at Tiffany'sforged from four variations
of the wall's blue. The window has makeshift
curtains made out of some faux-fabric paper
I bought in SoHo while in NY this last summer,
and there are a number of photographs that
I love that have been blown up and mounted
behind squares of Plexiglass my Mom found
and didn't want. My entertainment center
is pretty exciting too, when it's not buried
under CD cases and whatnotthe summer
after my freshman year I painted it all
a bright blue that most likely clashes with
the walls now, but collaged the top with
bits of blue images from magazines like
National Geographic and GQ.
It's busy, but something keeps it all together.
My room is a mess as well, even when it's
clean. Around sophomore year of high school
I started having too many photos to know
what to do with, so I started putting up
pictures on my wall. My parents wouldn't
let me paint, so I covered any white space
I could as I developed rolls of film. When
my brother moved out that next summer I
changed rooms and had to transfer roughly
a hundred pictures in the move. My dad bought
me a huge supply of poster board and I started
mounting them on there and putting up poster
boards instead of one picture at a time.
So now, years later, I have three walls
of my room in college covered with photos
of people: those I love, those I've lost
touch with, and a few I'd love to know (Ani
DiFranco and others make cameos). But they're
all of people. This tends to freak out people
who can't take a thousand sets of eyes pointed
at them, but it's not so bad. Usually I
don't know it's there. Sometimes, though,
I can look up at all the people that make
up my life, and it's perfectly calming.
Q: What's next?
A: I still have a year
left at the University of Florida before
I'll have my B.A. in English. I'm hoping
to go to grad school in the fall of 2004,
but I won't know for some time now. For
now, I have a number of projects up my sleeve,
but am most excited about seeing what happens
with Talking in the Dark, and where
the next year takes me.
Q: And now for our musical question:
Can you feel the love tonight?
A: Yes. Always. If there
is one thing I'm never without, that's it.