Posted in Almost Dorothy, The Potty Mouth Interviews

Steve Fellner: An Interview With A Pansy

Steve Fellner

Steve Fellner is not Jesus Christ. He is a poet, memoirist, blogger, teacher, savior and Phil’s lover. He strongly believes “any gay male poet who desires to create timeless poems may automatically be, to a certain extend, a fraud.” What a son of a bitch! No offense to his mom who, by the way, is a cliché to be reckoned with. She was a trampoline star. W to the h, what? A mother never falls too far away from her son. And thank God, or Proust. For those who haven’t read Steve’s work, please do. It’ll screw you up. Plus, he needs a home to plant his seed, e.g. pumpkin, not apple. Warning: Steve doesn’t likes whips or magic ponies, but he shaves in the dark.

Almost Dorothy: As a straight man living inside a gay (male) poet’s body, what position suits you best?

Steve Fellner: Ruff fucking ruff. Meow.

AD: Did you catch the ‘The Gay’ or were you born with it?

SF: I caught it. How else does a gay man get anything since a good part of the world would abort us if it had a choice. Most people don’t know this, at least not yet: the swine flue originated with us.

AD: On your blog Pansy Poetics you wrote: “it’s important that queer poets take up as much space as possible.” What’s your obsession with fat poets?

SF: Before we begin, let’s make it clear that I have never met you. We are not friends. Some gay guy wrote me the other day and said that he was going to write a comment on my blog, but was too afraid, because he didn’t want people to think that he was associated with me. I don’t want to bring anyone down with me.

Fat poets like myself are the most wonderful things in the gay community. There’s too many gay men like you, Dorothy, who go up on Facebook and wear a tight polo shirt and puff out their chest and then ask some stupid ass thing like, “What do you think of my author photo? Tell me I’m beautiful.”

Fortunately, you’re poems aren’t like that. But a lot of gay male poetry is. You can tell everyone took their poems to the same gym: they’re tight and toned and not that all together interesting.

And even when some of the stuff is interesting, gay men recently flock to the same bodies of work: Mark Doty and James Allen Hall and Jericho Brown and Randall Mann. This isn’t to say they’re not great poets. But still. Whenever I’ve expressed any reservations about their work, poets –gay and straight–have freaked. It’s considered an act of blasphemy. Such reactions are most hurtful to the poets; they can’t get an honest appraisal of their work.

I was the first one to write a review, not entirely positive, of Mann’s “Breakfast with Thom Gunn.” I had reservations. Since then every single poet has eagerly genuflected in front of him for the wrong reasons. I enjoyed Miguel Murphy’s embarrassing hyperbolic praise of Mann in Rain Taxi. It was a farce. Murphy tamed his usually exuberant prose for a polished, slick journalistic style. It seemed he was trying to make his sentences more respectable (tighter, brawnier) to show greater deference to a poet who has received more than enough. My question: if Mann had a fat face author photo, like me, would people be talking about his stuff that much?

I was also disappointed with Jason Schneiderman’s review of Jericho Brown’s “Please” in the Lambda Book Report. I love Schneiderman’s critical work, but he seemed to offer gratuitous praise without much nuance. And I’m not just complaining about this, because Jericho Brown won’t befriend me on Facebook after I called his poems pious on my blog! And a shout out to his friend: I know you still read my blog even though you’ve made your identity a mystery for my sitemeter. We both know the truth: I’m fucking fascinating!

If I was a gay poet, who received more than one award for his book, I would be wondering, “What am I doing wrong?”

I like misshapen poems. Take Ronaldo V. Wilson’s “Narrative of the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Mea.” I’m sure a lot of critics didn’t know what to do with those chubby interconnected prose poems. It faded almost immediately. Or why hasn’t Ragan Fox’s “Exile in Gayville” been given more reviews than the one that I found which praised it, but claimed it was more or less sloppily edited. Sloppily edited? Translation: fat phobia. We need more sloppy. If we’re raunchy, why do we then also feel the need to put on the ultimate girdle: scanned meter and end rhymes and fine editing. I am dying to meet gay poet Tom Savage by the way. His “Brainlifts” is one of the greatest books I’ve read in the past two years. Period. But in most people’s eyes, I guess they’re big slabs of mostly one-lined sentences so he gets shut out.

AD: Are you a fraud and why are you All Screwed Up?

SF: You must have a small cock to ask me that question. What do you think? Of course, I’m the real fucking deal. I’m the most dangerous thing out there: a gay man with an opinion. I always get queer men sending me mean emails that I wasn’t positive enough about some guy’s book. Someone actually said to me: “Isn’t being gay hard enough? Why don’t you leave our poetry alone!”

Another truth: I want revenge. I want to avenge the poets who are unfairly ignored so that the same four people can pick up their prizes and reviews without ever thinking if they truly deserve it.

This isn’t to say I always disagree with the majority. I think that Mark Bibbins’ newest book is amazing. (I can’t tell if he’s a good editor yet. He’s the new Poetry Editor of The Awl and choose a horrible poem from Josh Bell, a cross stylistically between Susan Sontag’s short story “The Way We Live Now” and a James Tate prose poem even he would have thrown away and he doesn’t throw away much.) Bibbins deserves whatever money he receives from his poems. Same goes for C.A. Conrad and Richard Siken (though the most recent on-line poems have felt off, but hey! Harper Lee only wrote one book and look what that got her) and D.A. Powell, etc.

It also upsets me that straight liberals always follow our lead. They always claim to love the same gay poets who gays do. They seem too insecure, like they’ll be accused of homophobia if they praise/criticize a gay poet that we feel differently about. This is my dream: to see a straight poet clump a whole bunch of gay poets together in a review and authentically assess them. That would be fucking gutsy.

I was so happy that straight poet John Gallaher mentioned gay poet Boyer Rickel on his blog. I thought here is a name I’d like to hear more of: Boyer Rickel. Leave it to a breeder to show us the way. As gay men, we should be ashamed.

Or take someone like Rebecca Livingston. A heterosexual poet and an editor I admire. Her poems are more queer than most gay men’s work I know. I want to set her poems up on a date with gay poet Christopher Schmidt’s and see what the fuck happens. She’s also an editor who doesn’t tokenize in any way. Which is rare when it comes to heterosexuals who are gay-positive. They usually perfunctorily sprinkle a little queerness in an issue. I think her on-line journal is more than inclusive. It realizes one of the most important facts of editing: aesthetic diversity is as important as cultural diversity. When I grow up and become an adult, I want to be her.

Why should people speak up in the poetry world? There’s a lot at stake here. That’s the number one lie poets tell themselves: they don’t get paid for their work. That’s bullshit. If I didn’t publish poems, I wouldn’t have lucked out and gotten my current job which I love. And the health insurance. I made a shit load of money off my poems and don’t think I’m ignorant of that fact.

Why am I saying what I think? I started my blog as a way of trying to find my way out of a very serious psychic depression that almost destroyed me. Ending up who knows where is a lot worse than not getting a grant. I realized that I need to reach out in an authentic way to help myself. I don’t have a single gay friend. I thought why don’t I try to make myself a home with all these other gay blog pioneers: C. Dale Young, Charles Jensen, Eduardo C. Corrall, Collin Kelley, Dustin Brookshire, and at the time there was Rick Barot and Aaron Smith. I miss those last two. I hope they pop back up.

I can honestly say that none of the gay poets I have mentioned on my blog I’ve ever sat down and had a conversation with in real life. I don’t have anything personal at stake in talking about their work.

It’s weird I didn’t expect anyone to read my blog. This is the truth: no doubt it will be more well-read than anything I will ever publish. At least a dozen people come to my blog a day.

On my blog, there are many poets I constantly applaud. Here’s two: Eduardo C. Corrall and Matthew Hittinger. I don’t know them and I don’t care if I ever do. On my blog, I can’t wait to write about their books when they come out. They should already have ones. I have my reasons as to why I think they are ignored. Corrall’s poems aren’t friendly. There’s an uncommon palpable reserve, a calculated, sometimes necessary withholding. People like to be hugged by a gay man. His lines don’t do that. As for Hittinger, I think his poems are underappreciated because his gets lumped into that discursive group of heterosexual poets (ie Clay Matthews, Josh Bell, Jason Bredle, etc.)

Bottom line: I love poetry, I love this business, and I do mean business, and I haven’t read any gay poetry books that make me feel like there’s a bad person looming within the white space. If people get angry with me, they don’t have a sense of humor and their poems are probably all the worse for it.

AD: How would you define your art—trampoline or tightrope?

SF: Broken ass waterbed.

AD: Ever been close to a quantum singularity, i.e. a black hole. In other words, the worst book of poetry you’ve ever read (or written)?

SF: The LDS Scriptures.

AD: What’s wrong with a one trick pony?

SF: Nothing. Poets should do the same thing over and over and over again. Redemption and transformation can be cheap, useless ideas. I am so excited to teach Russell Edson’s new book from University of Pittsburgh Press, and he’s always an intriguing one-trick pony. Also: Russell Edson gives the best interview. Check one out in the newest issue of Rain Taxi.

AD: Make a sentence using your favorite pick up line, idea for a cheapest date, and the best last word of any poem ever written:

SF: Pity fuck me under the stars eating Lean Cuisine Chicken Parmesan.

AD: Final question, what makes a home catch fire?

SF: The problem with a lot of openly gay poets is that they’ve never really come out of the closet. They think that just because they write a poem about a circle jerk or a doomed love affair or Mother or having sex in a public park that they’re liberated, that their poems mean something, that they’re safe at last. Gay men are never safe. Even if we’re at home and there’s a dozen fucking fire hydrants nearby.

Steve Fellner’s first book of poems Blind Date with Cavafy won the Thom Gunn Gay Male Poetry Award. His memoir, All Screwed Up, focuses on his relationship with his ex-trampoline champion mother.


I'm not real, but I'm a writer.

4 thoughts on “Steve Fellner: An Interview With A Pansy

  1. This are my favorite lines: Sloppily edited? Translation: fat phobia. We need more sloppy. If we’re raunchy, why do we then also feel the need to put on the ultimate girdle: scanned meter and end rhymes and fine editing

  2. Love this interview 🙂
    And I’ll be brave enough to admit that I like DA Powell’s work individually but when I read one of his books I wasn’t as blown away as everyone else was. Sorry!

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