Beautifully constructed poetry and poignant essays...
Do yourself a favor and get your hands on a copy. It gives you a unique insight into a person breaking free from a suffocating and restrictive environment to discover who he is and provides a sense of optimism that maybe one day the Amish community will become more enlightened and accepting of LGBT people in their community.
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.
James Schwartz captures readers with his honest emotions and raw poetic truths. From heartbreak to comedy, with actual photos throughout the book, this touching collection portrays the struggles of ‘coming out’ in a close-minded environment. I especially enjoyed the humor AND thought it to be touching that Schwartz dedicated the book in memory of Matthew Shepard.
EDGE REVIEW BY PAUL LANDERMAN
With apologies to Max Weber and Margaret Mead, any armchair anthropologist or sociologist in North America worthy of cocktail party chatter will be able to explain the propensity of sub-groups and clans and tribes to gather into ever-tighter circles as the onslaught of cultural evolution broaches their sacred world-view. The Mormons did it in their westward trek in the 1840’s, the Quakers, the Mennonites and the Jim Jones Temple folks and of course the Amish as well, all have their stories of hiding from the realities of the then-perceived world and its evils. The difficulty lays in the troubling fringe of each of these groups, how to control, guide, indoctrinate, and sublimate their individual members into compliance with group norms and expectations; Ross Douthat of the New York Times calls it the paranoia of the six-degrees of separation game.
"The Literary Party: Growing up Gay and Amish in America" helps us to see into one of these uniquely American groups and the ways in which it builds tight walls of protection around their world-view by destroying the internally unacceptable. James Schwartz shares with us a view point that is at the same time unique, fascinating, real, and also horrifying, as a young gay man growing up in a traditional Amish farm family. His voice, and his story, which we are allowed to glimpse through his poetry, helps us to understand what it may be like for such a cloistered view of the world from the inside out.
Certainly every such group in American history has similarities, familiar trajectories, and expected time sequences: a coming-of-age story in any other setting, East Los Angeles, for example, or Bedford-Stuyvesant, or Salt Lake City, may stand on similar ground. What helps us appreciate the struggle of Schwartz’ "Literary Party" is the rare insight that is current, fresh, and authentic. I am still upset at Tim Allen and Kirstie Allie for that horrible "For Richer or Poorer" (1997), and I also have to suggest that all of hip-hop and rap combined may not be as authentic as we wish it to be, at least in an anthropological sense. I am still waiting for the Langston Hughes of the twenty-first century, and I am not at all sure that even Martha Beck, with her brilliance, is an authentic Mormon voice either.
Conversely, Schwartz seems to have made the transition to the mainstream American cultural highway fairly easily: "In this time and at this rate/ the world prefers its assassins str8./ Heros for heteros to relate/ comfort for their grieving mate." Poetry is elastic, no matter which culture upon which it focuses nor from which it may be derived, and as a reader, my experience, world view, politics, religion, sexuality, age, and ethnicity all come to bear upon the machinations of my interpretation of any poetry, and in Schwartz’ work I can reflect on not simply what he meant to say, but what the poetry is saying to me right now and right here. The inferred message is, an Amish gay man can speak to me and we can share some universality of human emotion and cross-cultural meaning, and succeed in making the world a little easier to deal with and a little easier to negotiate.
I am eager to see the maturation of this poet; in "The Pale City" ("From the pale city/ beside the sea/ I traveled once more home/ to the fields in hues of tea") helps us see the future of James Schwartz, an authentic American voice, and that uniquely individual voice as well.
Young poet and slam performer James Schwartz combines smart, passionate, refreshingly unpretentious poetry and short stories in this staggering illustration of his family problems, love, heartbreak, gay nightlife, gay politics, and the lasting effects of his famously intolerant religion and culture. - Brandon Voss
James Schwartz’s collection of poetry and short stories
about being “gaymish” is emotional, compelling, sometime devastating but always
accessible even to those who don’t care for poetry (read: most Americans). The
ultimate upshot: Growing Up Gay and Amish in America (InGroup Press, $12.95) is probably the only book in
America that’ll tell you what it’s like to take a horse and buggy to a gay
nightclub. — Diane Anderson-Minshall
An extraordinary collection of poetry. The poems are about love, rejection and awareness. Although these are topics long written about, the poems crafted by Schwartz are very different. They are raw, honest and unpretentious with an underlying struggle to be Amish or understand his childhood faith as an LGBTQ child of God. Each poem is a gem demonstrating spiritual depth and awareness.
THE LITERARY PARTY: GROWING UP GAY AND AMISH IN AMERICA