Some poets love the spotlight, while others prefer to work behind the scenes.
Gay poet Dustin Brookshire (dustinbrookshire.com) has an equal amount of both qualities. The author of two chapbooks, “Love Most Of You Too” (Harbor Editions, 2021) and “To The One Who Raped Me” (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2012), Brookshire was a finalist for the 2021 Scotti Merrill Award, as well as a Pushcart Prize nominee. His work has been published or is forthcoming in a variety of publications including “Assaracus,” “Whiskey Island,” “South Florida Poetry Journal,” “Mollyhouse,” “Oddball,” and “Gulf Stream Magazine,” in addition to the anthologies “Divining Divas: 100 Gay Men on their Muses” and “The Queer South: LGBTQ Writers on the American South.” Brookshire is also the founder/editor of the literary journal “Limp Wrist” and curator of the Wild & Precious Life Series, Zoom-based poetry reading series. He was kind enough to answer a few questions shortly after the publication of his latest book.
Gregg Shapiro: Dustin, I had the pleasure of doing poetry reading with you in Atlanta a few years ago. How would you rate that city in terms of gay life and how it treated its poets?
Dustin Brookshire: Atlanta has a large LGBT community and a vibrant poetry scene. The Atlanta gay scene has something for everyone, and there is a lot of fun to be had in Midtown. The poetry community thrives because Atlanta is home to so many talented poets and organizations/reading series like [email protected], Georgia Center for the Book, Poetry Atlanta, Java Monkey Speaks, and Outwrite. It was a huge loss to the community when Outwrite (bookstore) closed.
GS: You have been a resident of Wilton Manors since 2019. What was it that brought you here?
DB: I visited Wilton Manors with, at the time, my best friend, as he was exploring the city in preparation for a move. I helped him relocate and visited every month thereafter. I fell in love with Wilton Manors because it is so gay. The city is walkable and a few miles from the beach. Did I mention it is super gay (laughs)? What’s not to love?
GS: How does the South Florida poetry scene compare with that of Atlanta?
DB: The pandemic hit roughly five months after I relocated, so I haven’t had the pleasure to experience the in-person South Florida poetry scene. Thanks to Zoom, I’ve made numerous poetic connections. I’m glad to live in another community of talented poets. South Florida has you, Denise Duhamel, Caridad Moro-Gronlier, Brendan Walsh, Judy Ireland, Neil de la Flor, and so many more. I’m looking forward to attending an in-person O, Miami event and Performance Poets of the Palm Beaches reading once the world is a bit safer.
GS: There are some fascinating recurring themes in your new book “Love Most of You Too” (Small Harbor, 2021) beginning with family, including a brother (“Waiting to Come Out”), an aunt (“Aunt With A Mission,” “Bad Apple”), a mother (“Bypassing Peachford”), and a grandmother (“On Line Dancing Night at the Gay Bar I Think of Grandma,” “Losing At Cards”). Please say something about the experience of writing about family in a poetic format.
DB: I’ve been out since I was 19, and it hasn’t always been an easy road with my family. Hell, it’s been a hard and painful journey. I’ve captured a lot of my family in experiences in my poetry since I own the fact that I’m a confessional poet. It feels really damn good to write about my familial experiences, and it feels even better when the poem is on point.
GS: Do you know if any of these relatives are aware of their presence in your work?
DB: I hope not [laughs]. When I was 19 or 20, my mother called to demand that I rewrite a poem she read online because the details of the poem weren’t accurate in her opinion. I refused and let her know it’d be best if she didn’t Google my poems. I’m not sure if she’s adhered to that request. If she hasn’t, well, at least she hasn’t called to demand rewrites.
GS: Religion is another recurring theme, as found in the poems “Ode to Lilith,” “Addends,” and the aforementioned “Aunt With A Mission.” What role did religion play in your upbringing?
DB: I grew up Southern Baptist, and everything I recall hearing in church was hellfire and brimstone. Hellfire was used for motivation. I’d hear adults talk about a loving God, but everything I heard in church didn’t seem to support an always loving God. What was even worse was the practitioners. Too many people whose actions came nowhere close to matching their words.
I was an inquisitive child, and I’m still an inquisitive adult. Understanding the why and how behind things has always been important to me. I wasn’t allowed to ask how/why questions when it came to the Bible or what I heard in church. Everything had to be accepted as stated. That didn’t sit well with me even as a kid. It felt secretive and manipulative.
GS: What role does religion play in your present life?
DB: My religion is Dolly Parton. I have a Dolly Parton prayer candle, and I live my life with WWDD (WWDD = What would Dolly do?) in mind. Other than that, I like to draw on religion for poetic inspiration from time to time.
GS: Dolly also figures prominently in the book, in the poems “Signs” and “The List,” as well as in your life (as anyone who follows you on social media knows). Do you know if Dolly is aware of how important she is to you?
DB: In 2008, Dolly performed at Atlanta’s Fox Theater. Wearing my Dolly Queen t-shirt, I joined a number of fans waiting for Dolly to get off her tour bus. The door to her bus was roped off to create a walkway to the theater. All of the fans were on one side of the roped-off area, so I went to the side with no one. When Dolly exited her bus she didn’t even look my way given the number of people on the other side. I yelled, “Dolly, I love you!” Dolly stopped, turned my way, and replied: “I love you, too!” I also had the pleasure to participate in a phone interview with Dolly during her “Pure & Simple” tour thanks to my publisher Sibling Rivalry Press. Each interviewer was allowed to ask Dolly one question.
I co-edited a Dolly tribute issue of “Limp Wrist” in honor of Dolly’s 75th birthday with poet Julie E. Bloemeke. The issue launched on her 75th birthday (1/19/21). We also had a special celebration via the Wild & Precious Life Series celebrating the issue. Julie and I hired Orchid, an Atlanta-based drag queen, to perform two numbers during the Zoom celebration. It’s been my hope and is still my hope that she’ll see that issue and the recording of our online celebration. Allegedly, Julie and I may have another Dolly poetry project brewing, but we can’t announce any details until 1/19/22. Stay tuned!
GS: There are also pop culture references in the book, including Janet Jackson’s pierced nipple in “This Poem Wants To Be Censored” and actor Teri Hatcher in “To Teri Hatcher With Love.” How important is it to you to incorporate popular culture into your work?
DB: I was actually nervous about including pop culture references in my work when I first started writing. As a baby poet, I had a ridiculous notion that people wouldn’t take my work seriously. I got over that thanks to my mentor Beth Gylys and by reading poets like Denise Duhamel and David Trinidad. It feels natural to incorporate pop culture in my work and often helps me emphasize a point.
GS: The influence of three writers with South Florida connections 一 the aforementioned Denise Duhamel, as well as Maureen Seaton and Judy Blume 一 can be felt in the book. Briefly say something about what each of them means to you.
DB: I could build a shrine to Denise’s poetry. She’s a fierce prolific poet and an unbelievably kind and sweet person. Denise is one of the poets whose work I visit when I have writer’s block or need inspiration. Everyone needs to read Denise’s latest book, “Second Story!” I first heard Maureen read from “Furious Cooking” at Java Monkey Speaks in Atlanta when I was 19. Every poem felt like she was speaking fire, and I wanted to write poems like Maureen. Maybe one day I will. I can’t say that Judy Blume’s work has been influential to me, but her personality sure was. A three-minute interaction with Judy at a writer’s conference inspired a poem and eventually that poem gave me the title for my latest chapbook.
GS: You recently revived your previously mentioned online literary journal “Limp Wrist.” What was involved in the decision to do that and how is the journal thriving?
DB: “Limp Wrist” had a brief but successful run from 2008 to 2009. I’ll always be proud that “Limp Wrist” partnered with Factory Hollow Press to establish the Limp Wrist Scholarship that sent an LGBT identifying high school senior, at no cost, to the 2009 Juniper Institute for Young Writers. That being said, I was young and didn’t have the financial resources or website design knowledge to keep the magazine going. Flash forward to 2020 — with all the time on my hands due to the pandemic restricting life, I realized how much I missed “Limp Wrist” and the fun I had in publishing poets/poems that I enjoy. Since I had the financial resources and thanks to so many programs — shoutout to Wix — it’s easy to publish and maintain a website, I decided to resurrect “Limp Wrist.” I’ve published three issues to date, and I’m currently working on co-editing an issue dedicated to villanelles with my mentor and friend, Beth Gylys. The “Limp Wrist” Glitter Bomb Award was also established, which comes with a cash prize of $500. Pulitzer Prize finalist Dorianne Laux served as the inaugural judge, and Denise Duhamel will serve as the judge in 2022. I hope people will visit “Limp Wrist” online at www.limpwristmagazine.com.
GS: In addition to publishing and editing “Limp Wrist,” you have also been curating the Wild & Precious Life Series of online readings for about a year. What is the genesis of the series and how has it been going?
DB: I had a couple of friends, Julie Bloemeke (author of “Slide To Unlock”) and Beth Gylys (author of “Body Braille”), with books coming out in the pandemic. Through social media I started learning about other poets in the same situation. I launched the Wild & Precious Life Series (WPLS) in April 2020 in response to the pandemic to give poets and poetry lovers a virtual space to come together. For the first year of the series, the poetry readings were weekly, and I did my best to spotlight poets with new collections. In the vaccinated pandemic world, there are 1-2 readings a month.
Also, the WPLS partners with Miami-based Reading Queer to produce Zoom-based craft talks and workshops that are financially accessible to everyone. There is an upcoming workshop with Michael Montlack in September and one with Gustavo Hernandez in November. Visit the WPLS online at https://wildandpreciouslifeseries.com.
GS: Finally, have you started working on or thinking about your next book project?
DB: I have two chapbooks that I’m trying to finish. One is a collection of villanelles. The villanelle is my absolute favorite form. The other is a tribute to Denise Duhamel’s book “Kinky.” “Kinky” turns 25 in 2022, so I’m writing Barbie poems 一 “Lesbian Barbie,” “MAGA Barbie,” “Homophobic Barbie,” “Colonoscopy Barbie,” “Susan Collins Barbie,” and more. I’m having a blast writing Barbie poems!
Gregg Shapiro is an entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in regional LGBT and mainstream media outlets. Shapiro is the author of seven books including the 2019 chapbooks, Sunshine State and More Poems About Buildings and Food. Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.