October 11, 2010 § Leave a comment
Angelo Nikolopoulos is a retired high school teacher currently pursuing an MA at NYU’s creative writing program, where he also serves as the managing editor of the Washington Square Review. He also works as a writing fellow at Goldwater Hospital on Roosevelt Island and is the founder of The White Swallow reading series. He answers 29 Cornelia via email:
How did the White Swallow Series come to be?
To be quite honest, the reading series came to be because as a queer poet–though I have problems with identity-based writing and terminology–I often felt uncomfortable reading my own work at events whose audience members were primarily (I’m assuming) heterosexual. Not that I feared they’d assemble into a mob and oust me from the reading or anything, but as a gay man who’s dealt with hefty slices of homophobia before, there’s always a residual fear or apprehension that comes with sharing my work with the public.
There’s something inevitably unnerving about reading a poem about my childhood attraction to other boys (or fisting, for that matter) to a room of straight people, even though they might all be allies (it’s hard to imagine staunch homophobes at a poetry reading!). So, and this is going to sound very Northern Californian, I wanted to create a “safe space” for queer writers to share their work.
Although you don’t have to be a self-identifying queer person to read at The White Swallow. It’s sort of like in high school where certain teachers placed rainbow triangles on their classroom doors. I understood that one needn’t be queer to enter the room but that the space was consciously and deliberately inclusive. That’s very reassuring when you’re socially marked as an “other.”
Do you think about where White Swallow fits in terms of a Queer Poetry Scene in New York? Is there (or do you think about it in terms of) a cohesive scene? Is there a mainstream and an underground?
In terms of a queer writing scene in NY, I’m often reminded of The Violet Quill, a small circle of gay male writers (which included Edmund White and David Bergman) who met in the early 1980’s. What I admired about this group was that its purpose was not to champion a particular School or “aesthetic camp.” Rather, they shared the desire to write works that reflected their own experiences and the desire to write for gay readers. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that all (or even most) queer writers living in NY share these sentiments, but there does seem to be a current hunger for community, or the idea of the tribe. I think it’s important for queer writers to gather, get to know each other, gossip, etc. etc.
Alex Dimitrov, for example, is the founder of the Wilde Boys, a queer poetry salon here in Manhattan, and it’s incredibly inspiring to sit in a room with great writers like Mark Doty and John Ashbery, where we question what it means to be queer and a writer. What makes a poem queer? Or are there no queer poems, just queer poets? In this sense, what unifies the queer writing scene in NY is that each of us are confronted with the beautiful burden of being queer and writers. So, in this sense, the series does not represent a single “voice” of queer poets or fiction writers in New York City; rather, it represents–I hope–a multiplicity of voices and approaches to being a queer writer.
What are you working on right now?
It’s my hope to feature more queer female writers in the series. I don’t want the series to become an all-male queer space, which could very well happen considering most of my friends are gay male writers! Also, I’m interested in broadening the scope of what it means to be “queer”, and how that identity might be enacted through text. For example, I think “hybrid” texts are very “queer”, in that they transgress conventional modes of writing and evade easy classification. It’s my hope to continually be on the look out for writers who challenge my own ideas of what makes a text (or people, for that matter) queer.
Angelo hosts the White Swallow Reading Series at The Cornelia Street Cafe this Monday, October 10th at 6pm. Wayne Koestenbaum, Paul Legault, Donna Masini and Zachary Pace will appear with him. Call 212/989-9319 for reservations.