Since the publication of my second collection of interviews, Our Deep Gossip: Conversations With Gay Writers on Poetry and Desire, I have been thinking of my very first interview with a writer. When I was in graduate school, the first interview I ever did was with an eminent novelist and nonfiction writer who was known to pick up young men after readings. I had also heard a rumor -- I can't remember from whom -- that this superstar novelist felt that interviewers were fair game too. (I should say from the start that I've never told this story in print, and I am omitting names for obvious reasons.)
So as I walked up to the writer's apartment in New York, I was shaking, both from the nerves of interviewing for the first time, and someone so famous, and from my uncertainty regarding how I would decline if an offer to sleep with him arose. His then-boyfriend met me at the building door and said, "Oh, you're a cute one." I laughed nervously, took the compliment, and followed him.
Up a few flights, hands are shaken, small talk takes place, my tape recorder comes out, the "talk" begins, and two hours later... a phenomenal interview. But nothing sexual or even sexy happened. Not even an offer.
I was too excited about the interview to even think about this until weeks later. But I have always wondered: Did the possibility of sex affect the interview? Did it embolden me to ask questions I might not have asked otherwise? Did the transaction of the interview have anything to do with the currency of desire?
Perhaps most pertinently, what kinds of discoveries are made possible when two gay men confront each other, the acknowledgment of a shared sexual desire lurking there? (None of these questions that I pose alters the seriousness and rigor I bring to the interview process, nor are they meant to imply that all gay men are sexual predators who seize every opportunity to pursue sex, or that sexual secrets are the only discoveries made possible by a shared sexuality, but I would not be a good queer poet if I did not allow playfulness and indeterminacy to enter into the process!)
So why do I retell this story now? I do so as a way to begin talking about my experience of interviewing writers with whom I share a sexual identity, and in particular to celebrate and highlight the particular experiences of interviewing the eight writers who make up this second book of interviews.
Interviewing and Cruising
The experiences were also suggestive, in many ways, of the idea that we interpret literature through the muscle called "eros." As Hart Crane wrote, "Thou cans't read nothing but through appetite."
Or in a more purposefully provocative image, I see a comparison between the act of interviewing and that of cruising, hearing Whitman's call, "Stranger! if you, passing, meet me, and desire to speak to me, / Why should you not speak to me? / And why should I not speak to you?"
Before I more fully explain what I mean, let me cite a moment from my interview with Koestenbaum, which sheds light on what it can mean for two gay men to engage over the topic of art.
That interview can read, at least in some moments, like flirting, or even cruising. There's double entendre; there's performance; there's even a moment in which we cozy up over one of his books, tracing fingers over line after sexual line of poetry. Koestenbaum at one point offers to give me porn star Max Grand's phone number -- for a massage. (To be clear, we are both happily partnered. I'm sketching a metaphor of desire for my own purposes.)
But as much of a tease as this may seem, what the interview dynamic reveals about the poet and his work is much more interesting. Take the moment, for example, in which he explains what he means by his statement that "poetry is pornography." He says, "I am demonstrating to you how tasty I think words are. I'm having sex with words in front of you. I'm playing around with them. I'm getting off. I'm trying to titillate you. There's this magical substance, language, that I'm laying out for you. Then you're going to fondle it."
Suddenly, the relationship between us is made clear, visible, and sexualized. It is all a metaphor, and the "you" is also "the reader," but the interview's conditions -- the shared time and space of two gay men -- create this kind of paradigmatic performative moment.
The urgencies, the needs, the sheer desire for collaboration, all engaged and heightened by intercourse of a different kind, become a provocative lens on Koestenbaum's hypersexual and fetishistic poems of Steinian strangeness.
To be continued...
A longer version of this essay was originally published on glbtq.com.