I am not a poetry reader. I do not seek out sonnets, couplets or prose. I do not swoon at the mention of Shakespeare or Thomas-and the idea of attending a poetry reading makes me squirm. I am the seeker of long and tedious novels that take me weeks to slog through. But today-I am a poetry convert. James Schwartz has delivered a book so moving, so ‘dead on’ it’s hard to ignore. His poems unfurl before you like gorgeous flowers you itch to pick. Interjected three times throughout the book are strong short stories that give deeper insight to what it’s like to grow up gay and Amish. Yet they read like longer poems. James Schwartz takes you up the hill of measured language and then gives you a hard push to the bottom. His poems span a life unknown to most of us, born into a culture that has room for Rumspringa but not for homosexuality. We follow James as he encounters the usual passionate yens of youth; sneaking off with a cute boy, getting caught out in a club by other gay youth, to his adult life as an out gay man dabbling in cabaret and drag. We watch as he flexes the muscles of his identity with a sharp clarifying eye on those around him.
Scattered throughout the book are photos of a young James and his family. These photos lead the reader to believe that they are still close, exploding the myth that after an Amish gay youth comes out their family refuses contact with them. In the book are two moving elegys to his mother and father that are almost hard to get through.
The book is short and leaves you wanting more. Eighty-four pages (including a forward and afterward) read easily in a night or two on a Nook for $3.95. Well worth it, since you will return to it again to memorize the pieces that are so smart and pithy you feel compelled to quote them.
Here is a small part (smacking of Dorothy Parker) that has become one of my favorites from “Midnight”:
I loathe the hours after dawn.
Before he’s out the door,
Having put on again,
What he was before.
Other poems read like chants and raps- to be read at a slam (something the author does). But they all have one thing in common, a heat of brilliance that is not too bright to stare at, but way too hot to stand next to.