Posted By Ron Suresha on April 8, 2014
Bear Bards and Poetry
Do you remember a time when men were either straight or gay? It was not that long ago. Now our community is made up of my subgroups within the larger LGBT community and one of those groups is made up of men who call themselves bears—they tend to be larger and hairier in build that say twinks or preppies or metrosexuals. And like the other subgroups bears have developed their own culture and even their own literature. For some of you the idea of a bear poet might seem incongruous—well, forget that because in this new anthology of bear poetry I found several gems.
Editor Ron Suresha says that this anthology was three years in the making and I am sure that is not because bears don’t write poetry but because he wanted the very best and it sure looks like he got it.
I fully believe that you can judge a people or a community but the literature it produces and while it may seem incongruous that bears who represent big burly men would write poetry, I feel that this book is very important for them and for the rest of us to be able to see what they can do. Suresha himself says that “… the bear community needs this book… a community of men like the Bears must produce art and literature that represent the inner desires of its men, and this collection of poems certainly fulfills that requirement”. We are almost past having to prove ourselves to others, now we must prove ourselves to our own community. If you look at the scope of gay literature you can find anything you might want but let me remind you that it was not always like this. I remember all too well the sad stories filled with suicides and lies and unhappy endings. By coming into our own and winning a bit acceptance by the larger community, we have seen the tide turn and now we have stories about everything you can imagine and the days of hiding are over. Yes, sure and without a doubt bears can and should write poetry and all of us—bears, non-bears, gays and straight should read it.
I sat down to write a review and instead I find myself musing over the state of our literature but it is important to understand that the state of our literature reflects the state of our community that is based on who we are. Now on to the book.
“Hibernation” features poetry by a who’s who of gay writers (some 40 in total). Among them are David Bergman and Albert Skip Brushaber who I understand are responsible for the title of the collection and they are joined by Alfred C. Corn, Jameson Currier, Gavin Geoffrey Dillard, Jack Fritscher, Daniel M. Jaffe, Raymond Luczak, Jeff Mann, Ron Mohring, Felice Picano, Jay Starre, Jim Stewart, Dan Stone, and Emanuel Xavier and many fine poems from other American and Canadian contributors. Of those listed here, there are only two whose work I have never reviewed so I feel right at home. (Several of these writers I have reviewed more than once and several more than twice).
The collection contains 100 poems most of which are written in free verse and every issue of life is contained here from the “changing standards of masculinity, male romance and lust, maturing men’s body issues, and what it means to live and love within the worldwide gay male bear community”. The tone of the poems varies—some are men looking at themselves while others are erotic and/or amusing. The beauty of poetry is that the author has complete freedom to write and in most cases it s the reader who does the interpretation. I am sure some of you remember poetry from high school or college classes in which we took a poem apart until that was left were like the bones of the turkey at Thanksgiving. I have often wondered how Lord Byron or John Milton or even e.e.cummings would react to what we did to his work. What the poems share in common is the bear experience. What I love is the fun I had reading it. I also loved that I got a new picture of some of the authors I already knew. The problem I have in reviewing something like this is that I am almost forced to concentrate on a few of the 100 poems but in that way I show bias. So I won’t and I will look at the anthology as a whole. I know too many of the writers so to pick some over others could cause ill feelings.
I notice that rather than use the word “contributors”, Suresha uses “cubtri[b]utors” so that we are reminded who and what we are reading. I can only imagine the selection process—a poem must catch the reader immediately; there is not as much time as a short story for it to make an impression so editor Suresha had his work cut out for him and I am sure he is very proud of this volume.
If you have ever wondered what a “bear poem” is, you will get your answer right here. If you have ever attended a bear function then you know that they bring sex, art, culture, and commerce together in a really fun way. This happens all over the world wherever bears meet…it seems natural and healthy that individuals group themselves together through ritual and language. There is a bear experience, which is shared among hundreds of thousands of bear-identified men. Most people see those deep connections in the community if they pay attention. The subculture has continued to flourish due to its position as a prominent, well-established worldwide gay and bisexual men’s community during a time of huge civil rights changes for GLBTQ people around the world. Therefore we can define “bear to mean a masculine, mature queer man is here to stay”. As Suresha says and I quote him totally (with a minor change). “If folks reading this believe in bear community and think that bear literature or a bear poetry anthology is something that our community should have, then get out and get yourself a copy and enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.
Thank you, Mr Lassen!