Psalms of the Alien Buddha 2

 My hymn The Ninth Garden is included in the new anthology "Psalms of the Alien Buddha 2"! Available in b & w or color

Sins of the Amish


Don't miss a Plain Rainbows co-host in this! Must see TV!

Plain Rainbows 2 Sneak Peek!

 
πŸ“Έ: FB/CHRISBOGER4COMMISIONER 

First look at Plain Rainbows 2 podcast on FB!

What they Wore

 My Plain Rainbows podcast co-host Mary Byler speaking to the Associated Press. Season 2 of Plain Rainbows drops in June! 

A Sleepcast Poem

 

My monthly contribution to Fevers of the Mind is up today: A Sleepcast Poem!

Psalms of The Alien Buddha 2

 My hymn The Ninth Garden (9 vs. The Garden of Night) will be included in the music themed forthcoming anthology from Alien Buddha Press Psalms of The Alien Buddha 2

#LoveIsLove 🏳️‍🌈


Fevers of the Mind: Revolution & Rust

 Happy National Poetry Month! My new Bob Dylan inspired poem REVOLUTION & RUST is up at FEVERS OF THE MIND today! 

Books by James Schwartz



POETRY TITLES BY JAMES SCHWARTZ


THE LITERARY PARTY: GROWING UP GAY AND AMISH IN AMERICA (2011) *** 

ARRIVAL & DEPARTURE (2014) 

SECULAR, SATIRICAL & SACRED MEDITATIONS (2016) 

PUNATIC (2020) ** 

MOTOR CITY MIX (2022) **  



POETRY ANTHOLOGIES FEAT. JAMES SCHWARTZ 


ALL POETRY IS PRAYER (2010) 

AMONG THE LEAVES: QUEER MALE POETS ON THE MIDWESTERN EXPERIENCE (2012) 

MILK & HONEY SIREN (2013) ***

POETRY 4 FOOD 2 (2013) *

POETRY 4 FOOD 3 (2014) *

WRITING KNIGHTS PRESS POETRY ANTHOLOGY 2014 

PAGE-A-DAY POETRY ANTHOLOGY 2015 

QDA: A QUEER DISABILITY ANTHOLOGY (2015)

DANGEROUS SUBMISSIONS (2017) 

NOT MY PRESIDENT (2017) 

CHALLENGING SUBMISSIONS (2017) 

#R E S I S T (2017) ** 

GRAND SHOWCASE 2018 

LOVEJETS: QUEER MALE POETS ON 200 YEARS OF WALT WHITMAN (2019) 

POETRY IN THE TIME OF CORONAVIRUS (2020)

MARCH 2020 / JUNE 2020 PANDEMIC ANTHOLOGIES 

OVERGROUND UNDERGROUND MAGAZINE ISSUE 1 (2020) 

SWEETER VOICES STILL: AN LGBTQ ANTHOLOGY FROM MIDDLE AMERICA (2021) 

GOOD COP/BAD COP (2021) 

ALIEN BUDDHA ZINE #38 (2022) 

PSALMS OF THE ALIEN BUDDHA 2 (2022) 



POETRY CHAPBOOKS BY JAMES SCHWARTZ 


ALPINE SUITE (2013) *

MICHIGAN MEDITATIONS (2016) *



KINDLE E-BOOKS BY JAMES SCHWARTZ 


AMISH CHRISTMAS SUITE (2019) ***

VOLCANO SUITE (2019) ***

SELECTED POEMS (2019) ***

IN THE FAR DISTANCE SO MUCH IS BURNING (2021) ***

#MARTYRMIRRORS: A VISUAL POETRY SERIES (2021) *** 



NON-FICTION ANTHOLOGIES FEAT. JAMES SCHWARTZ 


BEST OF BOOKS BY THE BED 2 (2014) 

OUR HAPPY HOURS: LGBT VOICES FROM THE GAY BARS (2017) 



FICTION ANTHOLOGIES FEAT. JAMES SCHWARTZ  


JONATHAN: A JOURNAL OF QUEER MALE FICTION ISSUE 07 (2014) 



PUBLICATIONS / JOURNALS 



MICHIANA'S RAINBOW GAZZETTE*, BABEL*, DIVERSITY RULES MAGAZINE, ERIS MAGAZINE*, POETRY24*, PIECE JOURNAL*, @7x20*, POLITIKU*, THE GOOD MEN PROJECT, THE NEW VERSE NEWS, EMPTY MIRROR, RFD MAGAZINE, WRITERS RESIST, SCIENCE OF MIND MAGAZINE, PUNA NEWS, SILVER BIRCH PRESS, RIC JOURNAL, HEADLINE POETRY AND PRESS, ACROSS THE SOCIAL DISTANCES*, TRAIN: A POETRY JOURNAL, ICEFLOE PRESS, FEVERS OF THE MIND 


* OUT OF PRINT / DEFUNCT 

** PHOTOGRAPHY  

*** E-BOOK 

From Pahoa with Lava 4 πŸŒ‹




3 years ago I was filming the documentary film FROM PAHOA WITH LAVA 4! Watch a snippet on the Films page or stream via NA LEO TV! In the film I read a poem, "Kalapana Meditation", via my Punatic poetry collection and discuss life during a volcanic eruption.

 

Happy National Poetry Month! πŸ–€πŸŒƒ


 Happy National Poetry Month from the poetic Motor City! This year I have a new poetry / photography collection, MOTOR CITY MIX, via Alien Buddha Press, have joined FEVERS OF THE MIND as a monthly contributor and recently contributed to Silver Birch Press' THOUGHTS ABOUT THE EARTH SERIES

On a personal note I have been reading poetry since I was a youth and my voice echoes those pioneers before me: Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, Arthur Rimbaud, Hart Crane, Allen Ginsberg, James Baldwin...

 

ICYMI: EAT THE STORMS: EPISODE 13 SEASON 4  

Wolfpack Contributor

 I am officially joining the wolfpack! Thank you for the opportunity to be a regular contributor Fevers of the Mind

"Dollar Store Blues"



'Dollar Store Blues: and other cheap words' the new chapbook by Richard LeDue is now available via Alien Buddha Press (featuring a blurb by yours truly)!  

Amish / Mennonite Ukraine Connection


Sadly, as the Ukraine war continues we all find ourselves to be living in a time of  global conflicts and war. I pray for peace! To address the Ukraine / Mennonite connection, answer several questions on this topic. 

No Amish live in Ukraine only Mennonites. You can find The Ukraine Mennonite Centre (with updates) here. A recent article can be read here

Recent articles on the Mennonites in Ukraine can be found herehere and here

Donations can be made here.

Various branches of the Mennonite Church have issued statements calling for peace however the Amish Church has not and will not as they're "separate from the world." Same as WW2. That is not to say they are not supporting our Mennonite "cousins" with donations, prayers. Still, a public statement would be appreciated as their silence is interpreted as apathetic. I hope to see ex-Amish with podcasts, public platforms speaking out for peace. 

Thank you Marginal Mennonite Society for doing so! 

I also recommend checking out the classic Anabaptist novel Peace Shall Destroy Many.

My co-host Mary Byler and I are recording episodes of our podcast Plain Rainbows: LGBTQ Amish and Anabaptist Stories season 2 and agree it is vital to address Ukraine and Anabaptist including LGBTQ Anabaptist in politically volatile places around the world. 

Please join me in prayers, meditations for peace

Writers for Democratic Action joint statement 

WDA: Statement



WDA: JOINT STATEMENT 

We condemn the decision by the President of Russia to invade Ukraine. Unarmed civilian populations in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odessa and other cities across Ukraine are currently under attack in what is the largest military operation in Europe since the end of World War II. We are shocked and appalled by this unprovoked war of aggression.

Since independence in 1991, Ukraine has declared it a state priority to integrate with the EU and the West. After the Orange Revolution of 2004, when Ukrainian citizens rejected the results of a rigged election, the Russian government has grown increasingly belligerent. In remarks intended to justify this invasion, President Vladimir Putin indicates that he considers Ukrainians to be part of the Russian nation and Ukrainian statehood to be illegitimate. To turn back the clock and destroy the Ukrainian state, he has compiled “kill lists” and made broader plans of repression to rein in what he calls “Nazism and extremism.” In reality, he is targeting the democratically elected Ukrainian government, the independent media, and various civil rights activists, including LGBTQ rights advocates. He also seeks to silence scholars who have researched Stalinist atrocities such as the Holodomor, the complexities of World War II, and other subjects that do not correspond with Putin’s affirmative view of Soviet history. His plans for repression in Ukraine reveal that Putin will use this military invasion to destroy groups and institutions that have fought hard for human rights, media freedom, and other democratic advances in Ukraine, just as he has done at home, where he has used violence against reformers and activists attempting to promote human rights and civil society in Russia.

We call on all of you to join with Ukrainians in solidarity, rejecting the illegal efforts of the Russian government to destroy an independent sovereign state with a democratically elected government in Ukraine. 

Signed,

The American Association for Ukrainian Studies (AAUS)
The Shevchenko Scientific Society in the U.S. (NTSh-A) 
Writers for Democratic Action 

Gratitude



Thank you everyone your birthday greetings on social media. Gratitude for another trip around the sun - What a year it has been! Travel, adventures and a new chapter in my journey. I am in love with Detroit and so happy to be celebrating my birthday in my favorite city.

MOTOR CITY MIX is now available via Amazon! Read a preview here!

Reminder: I will be guesting on Eat the Storms podcast today... tune in! 

"Motor City Mix" Press Kit

 

MOTOR CITY MIX by James Schwartz (ALIEN BUDDHA PRESS) 2.18.22 

Now available - click here

Amazon 

Goodreads


REVIEWS: 


Like James Schwartz I too am a big fan of Detroit, though I only spent a few days there. These poems beautifully evoke the city and my memories of that visit.


- Poet Edward Field 


*


Is it the Blues he’s singing? For James, it’s like he’s been astral travelling across states for the last five years, having never really left home. And now, with a sense of homecoming flowing through his veins he bleeds us a picture of the land he’s laid his roots down in, melding images of natural landscape and iron architecture in simple zen-like lines of beat poetry that exhales the black smoke of Detroit factories to a kinesthesia of American history and modern pop culture.


James Schwartz is a modern day beat poet. I’ve been enjoying his work for a while now but with this little book he puts me in mind of Allen Ginsberg, d. a. levy and an old friend of mine, Tom Clark. We’re not merely consuming words here, we are left with a lingering perception inside us - a feeling and a thrill for a place we might never even have been. 

It’s intensely American writing - and a little beauty of a book.


- u.v.ray, author of Drug Story


*


James Schwartz and I have much in common: we are both queer poets who have wandered far and foreign from our origins in the United States. And I also lived in Detroit for a bit but never enjoyed it as much as I do through Schwartz’s eyes, ears, and words. Schwartz wants his city to “Sing me Motown love songs.” His own Motown tape of love songs, photographs, and poetry in Motor City Mix makes me smile. I think I should have found more joy during my time in Detroit. Finally, with James Schwartz’s poems, I do. This book is, as Schwartz writes, a “homecoming.".


 - James Penha, @NewVerseNews  


*


The special connection of poetry and place are explored in Motor City Mix on his journey from Amish farmland to morning bus rides down Woodward Avenue and meeting Dante’s bust on Belle Isle.  The Detroit of James Schwartz has the weather of Paris, “Tough in the winters, sizzling in summers,” although, it is much grittier.  

This poetic walk through Highland Park’s industrial artifacts lets you hear silence of Roman ruins, not the booming din of assembly on a factory floor.  The past of a place is always silent, and it takes a poem to make it speak. Motor City Mix is the voice of this city speaking through the poetry of James Schwartz.


- Doug Tanoury, author of Detroit Poems  

"Motor City Mix"

 Surprise! My new poetry chapbook "Motor City Mix" will be out soon via Alien Buddha Press! Happy πŸ–€ Day Detroit! 





Amish Abuse Victims Need Advocates



It is important, even if you are not an abuse victim, to be an ally and speak out for positive change where it is due. It has been many, many years since I was in the Amish community but I can still remember the oppression. 

Numerous Amish, Mennonite and other Plain people have been coming forward on social media to tell their stories of abuse and warning of how widespread and common it has become. There is also a multi-million dollar tourism industry on the line - many ex-Amish face the loss of their livelihood for speaking out on the abuse epidemic as they are employed by a business that caters to the community or hold manufacturing jobs working alongside the Amish. Speaking out against the Old Order Amish Church is seen as rocking the boat. Let the Bishops handle abuse allegations and stay silent. 


PG: "COVERINGS" 

THE PLAIN PEOPLE'S PODCAST 

THE MISFIT AMISH: PRINTABLE RESOURCES 


In response to the media coverage (Cosmo, The Morning Call, The Daily Mail, Penn Live, WCIA, Metro, Toledo Blade) of the Amish #MeToo movement the Old Order Amish Church take a page from the Catholic church playbook and hold 'Amish Abuse Awareness Conferences' that have had little effect and the stories continue to come out. 

Ex-Amish care deeply about their former communities and families and want to help those still in the community whether it is education on LGBTQ issues like myself or advocating overturning WI vs. Yoder

I can recall searching for a "gay Amish" book that reflected my identity to no avail. A book about gay Amish by a gay Amish writer. Today there are several: 

The Literary Party: Growing Up Gay and Amish in America 

Sweeter Voices Still: An LGBTQ Anthology from Middle America 

Aaron: Amish and Gay 

We care. Change is coming! 



Coffee with Friends: Deconversion

Winter Poetry

By James Schwartz 



"Winter Beds" (sonnet) 


Give him my heart and he would place it back.

Sear him my soul and he would merely sneer.

Laughing at me over bottles of Jack.

Crying to me over buckets of beer.

I may gay his stay and never return.

I muse, as I await his with the ice.

In the chill of the kill I feel his burn.

Blithely majestic and not very nice.

No longer our lingering in the sun.

The cold contempt of morn reveals his scorn.

I conquered his body and yet we run.

To loneliness as our lust is born.

Alone today and alone to my bed.

Our iced winter silence could wake the dead. 




"Northern Skies"

(a villanelle) 


Under northern skies standing still.

The dawn in shades of rose,

Painting prose upon the hill.


My father’s strength in my will.

In January’s close,

Under northern skies, standing still.


Frozen conifer forests, cut cornfields fill.

Silent iced glades where crows,

Paint prose against the hill,


My father’s strength in my quill.

My hands close in repose,

Under northern skies standing still.


No heart could ever fill,

Or concluding chapter compose,

Painting prose upon the hill.


My father, gone with dawn, ever will.

Warm my journey until close;

Under northern skies standing still.

Painting prose upon the hill. 


"A Dream for Winter" (by Arthur Rimbaud)


* Photos: Detroit, MI. Jan. 21, 2022 

* "Winter Beds", "Northern Skies" via "The Literary Party" (2011) & "Arrival & Departure" (2014), respectively.

* "A Dream for Winter" by Arthur Rimbaud 

The Liberty Ridge Lawsuit

For more information about the Liberty Ridge lawsuit including legal documents see THE PLAIN PEOPLE'S PODCAST

Plain Rainbows: LGBTQ Amish & Anabaptist Stories 2



* Now casting guests for Plain Rainbows 2 podcast which we will be pre-recording for Pride Month 2022! We have been assembling a roster of LGBTQ Amish, Mennonites and Anabaptist voices for a sequel season but also wanted to post an open call for guests. 

If you are interested in joining the LGBTQ Amish and Anabaptist conversations contact themisfitamish.com or Plain Rainbows FB page

SEASON 1: 



Listen to the first season of Plain Rainbows podcast via YouTube, FB and Podbean and support the podcast with some merch

"The Literary Party: Growing Up Gay and Amish in America" Book Reviews + Media Highlights





BOOK REVIEWS:  



As a country boy in Kentucky, I’m acquainted with the Amish. Not well acquainted, but acquainted. I remember going with my grandfather to visit Amish farms and purchase produce during the summer months. I remember stopping by the stores to buy foodstuffs and other goods when passing through western Kentucky. Once, while en route to New York City, my parents decided it would be “fun” to take a detour through Pennsylvanian Amish country. 

The people were nice and provided tours, but I was young and, to this day, am not sure whether or not they were really Amish. I’ve often thought they were isolationists when it came to tourism but not commerce. Then, of course, there was the movie “Witness” that came out in the 80s, shedding a little more insight, albeit with questionable accuracy, into the Amish life.

 Perhaps one of my most vivid, but horrific memories with the Amish, was when my parents decided to venture into Indiana and purchase Amish furniture or woodwork or something. They drove around from town to town complaining that the stores were closed. Finally, my dad spotted an Amish family walking down the road and pulled up next to them. He rolled the window down and asked, “What in the hell is going on here? Why isn’t anything open?” One of them look horrified — and I was absolutely mortified as a teen experiencing father-induced embarrassment in the backseat. That’s when the lady said, “Today’s the Sabbath, sir.”
Of course. How could any of us forget?

Such is it when two cultures collide.  In hindsight, it seems like such a blatant faux pas. On the other hand, when I look back on all this, my whole Amish experience just seems wrong. It seems like a series of being on the outside looking in, as if a trip to Marion, Kentucky, was nothing more than a field trip to the zoo.
So, when James Schwartz sent me his collection of poetry about growing up gay and Amish, I had a feeling of angst and trepidation because of my own experiences. My fears were nearly solidified with the first poem, Answer to the Amish by John Updike:
Selling their wares to the tourist pack
Who gaze wonderingly upon the sect
As I moved forward, though, I found myself being put at ease with the other themes of faith, community, and exile, like in The Beginning:
I am but a child yet I know
What today I am to miss
And how far I have to go,
To find redemption at the border
Maybe it’s because of the Amish theme in the book, but reading lines like this struck up images of Christ entering the wilderness and self-exploration through exile.  Samuel, of course, is a blatant reference to Biblical Old Testament, complete with referenced scripture.  In Book of James, we’re told that “In life the lover begs only for bread. / His contentment found in relief and rhyme. / The role of the Muse is a role for the stage. / An epic arc of pathos and pure lust.”  There’s a hint here of desiring the basics, like “our daily bread,” that, in this case, feels unattainable.  Desire in itself should not be problematic since we are made in God’s image, at least the presumed take with the beautiful line “Human existence is not sacrilege.”

Perhaps its the connotation of reading poetry from a former Amish man (or is it once Amish always Amish, whether the community acknowledges you or not?) that conjures up these images and stirs the spiritual imagination, in which case my interpretations and impressions might be off base.  However, there’s also a sincere universality in the shared experience that shines through Schwartz’s poetry-in-exile.  True, homosexuality in and of itself can become a barrier between the communities and people we love.  Think of the gay Jamaicans, Russians, and Ugandans who are now “in exile.”  Of course, American readers of this blog needn’t travel that far.  There have been so many recent studies released lately that talk about the epidemic of homeless youth who have have been kicked out of their homes because of their sexual orientation.  However, Schwartz’s work is not just about being LGBT.  Some of his poems actually reminded me of post-colonial and ethnic lit I read way back in undergrad.

Take Something Forgotten (For Haiti).  When I read the lines “Inspiring a quaking folklore. / Something was forgotten” I felt the displacement Edwidge Danticat discusses in Breath, Eyes, Memory through Haitian-American storytelling.  Being Amish and being gay is unto itself a displacement, so there’s no wonder that, like in the previous poem, the narrator would consider entering the wilderness “to find redemption at the border,” outside an otherwise suffocating, to say the least, community, at least as it is tragically portrayed in the short story, “Gaymish.”  As with most survivors of “colonialism,” there’s the sense of being pulled in two different directions, although in Schwartz’ case it is a different experience since there’s a religious overtone, as in PUZZLES (PRIDE 2009 REMIX):
Through our carnage and through our calm,
I hear one voice in storm and Psalm.
At times cryptic and at others flamboyantly on-point, The Literary Party is a journey into what it means to attempt to assimilate in a new world.  “Today,” Schwartz writes in OUT & AMISH: an essay, “an Amish teen coming out within his community faces the complete loss of family and friends.  He also faces the loss of his faith community, which is literally their entire world [emphasis mine].”

Think about that.  The average (whatever that is) American teen comes out and is disowned by his family.  Perhaps they live in homelessness, are taken in by another family member, or pick up with a supportive network that was already in place.  Assume this teen is Catholic, Pentecostal, or Baptist.  I don’t know a lot about every religion, but I know enough about some religions to know an individual could still, for all intents and purposes, attend a church of their choosing and, if it was important enough for them, “fly under the radar” or “blend in the with the crowd” while dealing with whatever guilt their faith might be peddling — or not.  Heck, they could be completely reconciled with it all and not care what other people say.  Religion, I’ve found, is a great deal of interpretation when you’re taking your cues from of religious text.  What choice, though, does an Amish teen have in such a cloistered community after being excommunicated?  It’s a total loss of “their entire world” that results in being “very tortured.”  Schwartz declares in Colors in Cabaret that “Hate is a serpent spawned by men, / Only slain by the poet’s pen.”  He does his slaying by putting his experiences in verse and giving voice to other LGBT Amish folks.  There is encouragement and new found liberation and sense of community outside the community that shines through in Last Night a Drag Queen Saved My Life and Formidable.  Perhaps none say it best as these vivid lines from Colors in Cabaret:
I danced a decade away,
With the queens of the cabaret,
Because they painted it,
Beautiful colors.
It seems fitting that through self journey the poet revisits his roots and dares to reinterpret what he has learned through “remixed” poems, such as one of my favorites, Samuel (Remix).  Through the shadow of the poem, the poet applies a different interpretation to 2 Samuel 1:26.  There’s also a hint of retelling Leviticus in the lines from Labor of Beast:  A Sonnet:
To sodomize, sonnetize foe or friend.
Breeding and brooding we take to our den.
In the final sections of the poem, entitled “Love” and “Home,” I feel like we see Schwartz’ homecoming through an acknowledgment of what, here, ultimately keeps us anchored:  Our roots. 

 It’s here that I found some of the most in depth writing.  The poems are clearly personal, but do not feel of stale, regurgitated biography.  The Ninth Garden is a sorrowful calling out for a deceased mother.  I do not know the personal story of strife, other than from what is alluded to in the poems, of what it meant for him to leave his community, but the are clear that it was not easy.  There is little insight as to what it meant to his mother (who may have already been deceased at this time).  The poem, though, serves as a beautiful elegy to her and a tribute to the struggling and strife of missing someone, yet another acknowledgment of that shadowy displacement each of us must someday face.  Grief is personal, but its story is relevant to all of us, and one that is woefully visited in The Pale City:

  ”I left behind abandoned lovers, / They did not see me go, / I keep my silence still, / I have nothing left to show.”  

The theme shows up again in Winter Hawk, which pays homage to winter while also serving as an elegy for Schwartz’s father:

Far from elegy,
speckled hawk soars the sea.
The winter sun as blinding,
As a father’s love is binding.

Here, there is no outside looking in because Schwartz is “one of us.  We know, or will someday know, what it means to lose something or someone close to us.  With The Literary Party, Schwartz us how common we all are and how we are all a part of this party called life.

  I thank him for sharing his life experience and reminding me of our universality through his beautiful, dizzying, blinding, laughing, and grieving poetry.


(GOODREADS REVIEW BY T.M)


  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 elegies 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.


  (TABOO JIVE BOOK REVIEW) 


  I grew up in suburban Pennsylvania, and throughout my youth my parents would sometimes take me into Lancaster County for shopping. On long, windy roads next to farms and cornfields we’d pass horses and buggies. I’d ask my parents about the people who drove them. Why weren’t they in cars? Why did they dress so funny? What do you mean they don’t use electricity?

The beautiful thing about The Literary Party: Growing Up Gay and Amish in America is that it sheds light on the Amish experience in a way that is both deep and touching. The author, James Schwartz, was born gay in an Amish community, and struggled with his faith and sexuality. Most of his book is a compilation of poetry, but he also weaves some short stories throughout. Every passage—poetry or prose—tells a story about love, family, religion, or his unique life.

Back during my many trips to Lancaster, I never thought about how complex the Amish life could be, but Schwartz’s experience is eye-opening. He recounts his experimental gay childhood, and getting caught messing around with another Amish boy. He writes about going to nightclubs in his horse and buggy, and the feelings of rejection by his family and kin.

For someone who doesn’t normally read poetry books, I was touched by Schwartz’s collection. Not only is the poetry absorbing, but the content is unique and fascinating. If not for this book, how would I ever know about the experiences of the gay Amish? Schwartz has done a service to all the boys who are growing up in the same shoes as he, and I hope that he continues to write more about his unique life.

(LIVING OUT MAGAZINE)


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.



PHOTO: NYT 

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"The Literary Party: Growing Up Gay and Amish in America" Book Reviews + Media Highlights

THE LITERARY PARTY: GROWING UP GAY AND AMISH IN AMERICA  (EBOOK)   BOOK REVIEWS:   As a country boy in Kentucky, I’m acquainted with the Ami...