THINGS WE’RE DYING TO KNOW…
Let’s start with the book’s title and your cover image. How did you choose each? And, if I asked you to describe or sum up your book, what three words immediately come to mind?
The title refers to a central poem about relationships and daily life of two working class artists trying to cope while keeping alive the extraordinary and rare love they have found together. The title also symbolizes an archetypal aspect of gay love, or queer “being and becoming” – that existential process we all go through – in what is also elevated , elegant, and paramount about same-sex love and relationships. The drawing on the cover is one of my artist/writing companion/partner/husband’s (37 years together, two years married) that he drew especially for this collection. Both the pumpkin and the prince/toad images used in the poem symbolize transformation and the mythic aspect of LGBTQ life also symbolized in the traditional, pagan meaning of Halloween/Samhain as the time of the year when the “veils between the worlds” of the living and the dead, between male and female, between order and disorder, collide and intertwine.
Three words: Share hidden stories/truths – this is actually a quote from RuPaul (the Black drag queen artist and performer), often shocking, but full of wisdom. He said that to become one’s most authentic self, one must “Take clues from the universe, but remain true to yourself.”
What were you trying to achieve with your book? Tell us about the world you were trying to create, and who lives in it.
Not ignoring the shadows, I wanted to acknowledge the joys achieved and suffering inflicted by those men and women who have experienced and condemned Queer identity and practices, such as the parenting of our daughter Mariah in the 1980s when that was not common or popular as now. By means of a revolutionary spirituality, I am determined to transform this oppression and suffering into liberation and enlightenment. So while the book describes a kind of intimacy in my life, using universal mythic symbols and images that relate especially to the LGBTQ community, it also tells a story of shared truths of anyone who has been rejected by or exiled from family, friends, and loves due to who they are or what they do. So while the immediate characters who live in these poems are myself, my family, and my community, I believe many will relate to the stories told, or will come to a greater understanding of Queer life.
The poems are organized into three sections. Those of the first section, "Prequel," are drawn from the pre-Stonewall, bohemian, struggling life of a married "hippie" that culminates in the birth of a magical child. The second section, "Personas," delves into the complexities of what I call "gay being and becoming" that includes the construction, dismantling, and reconstruction of the many masks and identities gay/Queer men have worn and inhabit: sissy, artist, monk, trickster, rebel. This theme continues in the third section, "Parables," but here I delve into language and images from deeper psychic levels in a profound spiritual exploration, mirroring Adrienne Rich's "Diving into the Wreck," that confronts and reinvents religious Queer-relevant symbols and myths in the forms of elegies, dirges, ritual dramas and chants.
Can you describe your writing practice or process for this collection? Do you have a favorite revision strategy?
I am also a composer and musician, so many poems start with a line that has both meaning and a rhythm that strikes me, or mystifies me, and the writing of the poem is my way of digging to find that meaning. Sometimes poems start as ideas I want to express, but these are harder to develop. As a musician I am also obsessed by the rhythm and length of lines (I hear them like melodic phrases). I usually go through dozens of revisions.
How did you order the poems in the collection? Do you have a specific method for arranging your poems or is it sort of haphazard, like you lay the pages out on the floor and see what order you pick them back up in?
The poems are ordered to be a spiritual journey of self awakening and discovery (a Jungian take on the “coming out” process and this effect on those around me (daughter, ex-wife, lovers, husband). In other words following the proverbial “yellow brick road” of my life. I also asked my “in-house” editor (husband) and other readers to see if this order worked for them.
What do you love to find in a poem you read, or love to craft into a poem you’re writing?
A perspective that surprises me, that gives me an inspired inner-notion about the poet and life, or that exposes a nerve, whether mine or the poets, that makes me a better, more aware person.
Can you share an excerpt from your book? And tell us why you chose this poem for us to read – did it galvanize the writing of the rest of the collection? Is it your book’s heart? Is it the first or last poem you wrote for the book?
I took this poem as the title as it embodies all those ideas and goals as a writer that I’ve been talking about: myth/archetypes, spirituality, socio-political analysis of working class art makers, and therefore drives, and is at the heart the writing of the others poems written over periods of time and numerous migrations. Halloween is also a huge holiday in the LGBT community. I also took a line out of this poem and used for a personal essay, “Hecklers and Christians,” that appeared in the Canadian anthology, First Person Queer: Who we are (so far) (Arsenal Pulp Press, Vancouver; Labonté and Schimel, eds., 2007), honest and revealing first-person accounts of queer experience in daily life. Mine includes stories of homophobic violence and familial rejection.
PRINCES & PUMPKINS
8 o'clock, Friday Morning, Halloween
You say, I feel like Cinderella turning into a pumpkin.
And I, your warted toad, companion of the hours of day
which are desert and death, sold to the highest bidder.
Stealing a kiss in public, I stiffen slightly
and check the four directions for hecklers and Christians.
For in the middle of this passage, saviors come
pandering guilt and hate in pamphlet form.
In this mean and trivial place, do old enemies sense
Prospero's art in our gestures, evil sister’s spell in our touch ?
Brought before their preachers and judges will they cast us out like hallelujahs,
like scarlet women refusing conversion? Pastured in suburbia, we become
skittish, dull-witted, but never comforted by their troubled theologies
Now we are released, after eight hour’s labor
to begin our wyrd-like ways, be there moonlight or not,
dark princes of the night, uninvited guests,
giggling with kisses and curses, tossing blessings and sequins,
fertile seeds sown to fallow fields,
wreaking havoc on sobriety and convention.
We tramp littered streets searching
for omens to decipher this carnal parade.
Anticipating fairy godmothers, finding only nihilists
we discover charmed messages, encoded
in our deliberate, magnetic, yet threatening embrace.
No longer stallions in the heat of pursuit, we squabble
like mice over moldy cheese, desperate commoners hoping
the glass slippers might fit, wondering who is prince, who princess,
questioning what happily-ever-afters were promised and by whom?
It is eight o'clock Monday morning
you have tried three times to get me out of bed.
The birds are singing certain, but I'm confused.
Is this our rainbow’s end, or waking unto death?
For this night I have turned old and hairy,
I stink of sweat and semen.
A mild panic rises in my breast.
My soul grows prickly as a toad.
If you had to convince someone walking by you in the park to read your book right then and there, what would you say?
Challenge yourself to see what’s hidden behind Door #3! (an image borrowed from my husband drawn from an old T.V. game show).
For you, what is it to be a poet? What scares you most about being a writer? Gives you the most pleasure?
Going with your intuition to understand this existence, exposing what’s hidden, but needs the open air to heal. That’s scary too, of course, if done right. Like when a poem is truly “finished” as in a musical cadence, all the harmonies and rhythms fall into proper place and express the song behind what I’m trying to say. If it sings to me, then I know it’s done.
Are there other types of writing (dictionaries, romance novels, comics, science textbooks, etc.) that help you to write poetry?
Dictionaries and thesauruses, for sure. A lot of materials, images and idea have come from the research on gay/queer spirituality and world religions that my husband, Randy Conner, and I have done over the course of thirty years. The results have been several books and essays including The Encyclopedia of Queer Myth, Symbol, and Spirit (Cassell, 1997) and Queering Creole Spiritual Traditions (Hayworth/Routledge, 2004). The latter is about Afro-Caribbean religious traditions that really interested us since these traditions, like that of the ancient Greeks, include deities that express same-sex love.
What are you working on now?
A chapbook, tentatively entitled Archways about return and the entrances/exits we take in life. A major theme is family and land from which we spring and to which we must reclaim as queer exiles. The prodigal son’s escape in 1976 and return in 2014 – here to the Midwest where I was raised in east central Indiana. I’m currently living in Chicago due to work-related possibilities and the city’s vital LGBTQ community.
What book are you reading that we should also be reading?
I’m currently reading two books (one of poetry and one of very poetic short stories) by award winning Texas Chicana writer, Ire’ne Lara Silva. Her new book of poems, Blood Sugar Canto, (Saddle Road Press, Hawai’i, 2015) is a tour de force about her battles, traumas, and triumphs in her struggle with diabetes and daily life as a working class Chicana artist/writer/teacher. In this, and especially in her book of short stories, Flesh to Bone (Aunt Lute, S.F., 2013), she uses indigenous images and folktales to lead us into another world to face the truths of her/our contemporary lives on the “borderlands” – be they on the Rio Grande, South Chicago, dreams, or the gay ghetto.
Without stopping to think, write a list of five poets whose work you would tattoo on your body, or at least write in permanent marker on your clothing, to take with you at all times.
Adrienne Rich, Walt Whitman, Judy Grahn, H.D., Robert Duncan
What’s a question you wish I asked? (And how would you answer it?)
Great questions, but want to say also a great blog. I find that poets and poetry is not a big part of the national conversation about American culture and every public venue like this helps bring attention to the many, many writers and poets who have so much to say!
Purchase Princes and Pumpkins here.
Learn more about David Hatfield Sparks and read reviews of his book.
David Hatfield Sparks is a writer, musician, and gay father who has written and performed from the Midwest and Manhattan to Austin, Texas and San Francisco, where he has been active in queer artists and writers communities. His work focuses on music/performance/research/politics of gender, religion, the arts, and myth in LGBTQI multicultural contexts. His poetry collection, Princes and Pumpkins, won 1st Prize in the 2016 Writer’s Digest Poetry eBook Contest. His poem “The Birth of Xochiquetzal” appeared the anthology She Is Everywhere (2012). His personal essay, “Parallel Lives,” devoted to the Chicana writer Gloria Anzaldúa, will be published in the upcoming anthology, El Mundo Surdo V. His poem, “Blood Lillies in Summer,” was published in the 2015 Fall issue of Witches and Pagans magazine, and his prose poem “Un Grito for GEA,” will be published in the anthology, IMANIMAN: Poets Reflect on Transformative & Transgressive Borders Through Gloria Anzaldúa’s Work, co-edited by Ire’ne Silva and Dan Vera, Aunt Lute Books in 2017.
Nicole Rollender is a poet, editor and seeker.