In the mail the other day I received a package. Inside the package was a splendid little book, a chapbook to be specific. A thin book hand bound with blue string, it donned the stamped words “The Swan’s Rag: issue one” on the cover. Skimming through on the first round I was greeted by a collection of black and white images of skinny naked boys; eyes patched, underwear sliding down, poised like a greedy kitty, mounting a bike, and playing cards on a tiled floor with matching tiled socks. These images were sexy, nostalgic, contemplative, smutty in a smart way, and served as accompaniments to a series of poems written by a group of poets as compiled by Dirty Swan Projects.
Dirty Swan Projects was created by my most dearest of them all, Evan Kennedy. He is the the most profound, delicate, wittily deranged, hysterically intellectual goofball friend I know. He is also the ONLY poet I know. Call me biased but his series of poems, especially the chapbook he created titled Us Them Poems are the most beautiful and imaginative poems I’ve ever read. Although I actually rarely read poems. I fear their autonomy and hybridity.
The Swan’s Rag is the first in a series of chapbooks that Evan is working on. It is comprised of Undressed Slavs and Gay Poets. I will let him describe:
For The Swan’s Rag I wanted to unite images of undressed guys and poems. I had a difficult time getting work from gay poets that I liked, so I asked my friends whose work I like to invent a gay persona and “translate” his poems into English. This experiment helped them generate a suitable poem easier. I think everyone enjoyed figuring out how it is to be a gay poet through doing this. I think after all this we understand each other a little better. I think everyone understands what it’s like to be me, a gay poet in the straight boys’ club of contemporary poetry.
The Swan’s Rag is published under the aegis of Dirty Swan Projects, which aims to make lofi art object poetry books incorporating elements of the handmade and machinemade. The books were printed at home in Oakland and handbound and stamped.
I call this Issue One of The Swan’s Rag because the name is too good, and I’d like to keep a door open for me. One plan is to
reenvision The Swan’s Rag with every issue but keep it gay and poetry-centric. The next issue may take the form of a DIY gay punk zine focusing on gossip and interviews. This is a bit of an absurd task because there are so few gay male poets I’m interested in. There are many of these zines on the west coast, and I’d like to adopt that language along with the tone of gossip blogs like dlisted.com (calling everyone hot messes, etc) as an experiment. I want to see if I can wear that hat. The article I’m working on now is the possible degrees of separation between gay boys today and sleeping with Walt Whitman. I think it’s possible to sleep within your generation and maintain seven degrees of separation between yourself and Walt.
All that said I think you should buy this chapbook. It’s nothing you will have ever faced or read before. I want to know what you think about it. Is it dirty? Is it smutty? Is it surreal and contemplative? Is it garbage and disposable? Is it enticing and intoxicating? Is it degrading and unhealthy? Is it addictive and coveted?
I want to know your thoughts. Meanwhile I really recommend you read Us Them Poems. I’ll feature one of them later. Til then, here’s a teaser from The Swan’s Rag below:
I. Turn up your mustache but leave your collar free
Nay, turn up your collar but leave your belt unlatched.
Then let me consume the thicket of streets,
dark and sloping, that lead to your door
and the nonsense of the whole before arrangement turns us back
into parts, cast by stolen light.
(The poem continues in this beautifully lyrical way for three more parts.)