WHY I WRITE – Bryan Borland

Why I Write – Bryan Borland 


Though I always wrote, somewhere along the way, my studies turned more toward publishing than craft. This was out of necessity. When I founded Sibling Rivalry Press, I legally contracted myself to be a publisher. When the press became a reality, I had writers to represent other than myself. Instead of spending time understanding why Adrienne Rich often used spacing rather than punctuation or why Merwin used no punctuation at all and what these things did to the rhythm and voice of their poems, I had to learn the proper discount to give to independent bookstores versus college bookstores, to understand credit adjustments when books are returned, and to proofread until my vision was blurred. I went along with this happily. My poets broke through. I published the first chapbooks of Ocean Vuong and Saeed Jones. My journal of gay poetry, Assaracus, was recognized as a “Best New Magazine” from Library Journal. Stephen S. Mills won the Lambda Literary Award. Megan Volpert got us noticed by Andy Warhol’s people. Sibling Rivalry Press was established. And I was suddenly established as a publisher. Nagging at me, though, was the fact that, in my mind, though I had two books to my credit, two books of which I’m absolutely proud, I’d yet to establish myself, at least in my own mind, as a poet.

Then something unexpected happened. I fell in love with someone who loved poetry as much as I wanted to love poetry. For the first year of my relationship with my now-husband, he was in his final year of an undergraduate writing program at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Like any program, be it undergraduate or postgraduate, the quality of the program comes from the quality of the teachers within that program. My husband was fortunate enough to study under poet Nickole Brown, who, for her most advance students, ran her undergraduate program as if it were an MFA. The result was that I got a taste of the beauty and best of academia and of a real writing program, something I’d been hesitant or unable to explore. I did the writing exercises and studied the poets alongside my husband. I became a student.

The result is that as I fell deeper into love with the man I would marry (at AWP in Boston, no less), I feel deeper in love with poetry as an art and as a craft. This all began an intense study of poetry, one that I’ve now learned to balance with running the press. One that continues daily.

All this has culminated in a manuscript-in-progress that will become my third book of poetry. The working title is God In Reverse, which, of course makes everyone think of the word dog. I’m fine with that, as my husband came into my life fully-equipped with a blue-healer-mix rescue pup named Remy. But the title comes from a line in the second poem of the manuscript, “Poetry.” When I’m asked to speak to students about poetry (and often these aren’t writing students or English students or poetry students), I have a series of descriptions of what I think poetry is, the noun of it and the verb of it (because trust me, marry a poet and “poeming” becomes a verb). After giving the spiel and my definitions a few times, my standard explanation began sounding like a poem. I tell them, “Think about–not your first kiss, but your second. The heaven-faced anticipation because now you know what hunger tastes like in another mouth.” I tell them poetry is like a reverse prayer. It’s directing your energy, your thoughts to something specific that poetry, that the power of poetry, can create and hold up or make tangible. Think about that second kiss. Those lips. It’s a prayer to those lips. It’s a prayer to the torso. It’s god in reverse.

The poems are also about what I think of as the reverse of the god I was taught about as a child in my hellfire and brimstone Southern Baptist church. That god was so separate, so harsh, so other and unavailable. And yet so structured, I mean in a limiting sense. In a way, there is a parallel between that description and how it was taught to me in early schooling: poetry as separate, harsh, other, and unavailable. The reverse, then, is something that’s inclusive and inviting, that’s lovely, that’s all around us and available. It’s inward. It’s here. It’s the now.

So why do I write? Ten years ago I would have said I wrote because I had to. I had no other choice. It saved my life. Now, I write because I want to. Because I’m in love with poetry, what it is and what it can be. Because I see my gods in poetry. I write to go to my church.


“The name Sue underwhelms me.”

Get excited!  I’m sharing a poem from David Herrle‘s forthcoming collection of poetry, Sharon Tate and the Daughters of JoyI’ve pre-ordered my.  Be good to yourself; order a copy too.  Give “A Girl Named Sue” a read, and check back in a few weeks for an interview with David.

A Girl Named Sue

The name Sue underwhelms me. Put some lipstick on it
and make it Susan or even Suzanne, then I’m partly
wooed, for I find deep importance in a female’s name,
believe that it predestines her looks-wise, or at least
augurs a cute-proneness, shapes the coming woman
as perpetual water sculpts mountains and hews canyons.

Margarita Carmen Cansino shaped a Rita Hayworth,
a Cleopatra Thea Philopator seduced imperial Rome.
Plain Joan Lucille became platinum Mamie Van Doren,
Lulamae Barnes was dyed and reborn as Holly Golightly.

Charmed names beautify so-so physiques and faces while
fair faces redeem drab or marmish names after the fact,
veto their givens’ ominous sonorouslessness or tendency
toward plainness (“Sharon” and Mary” are a dime a dozen
but “Jane” is far from plain) and imprint them as mighty
beasts leave traces on soft land (pre-Marilyn Norma Jean,
singer Harriet Wheeler, painter Whistler’s Maud) — like Princess
Margaret and Ann-Margret, unlike poor Margaret Fuller.

Sue Lyon of Lolita fame triumphed against heinous Suellyn,
Quixote’s “Dulcinea del Toboso” turned a peasant into a queen.
Just one k added to “Ivana” birthed the fairer Ivanka Trump,
and cries of “La Esmeralda!” ring to drown Notre Dame’s bells.

Augustus, Augustine, Pythagoras, Archimedes, Elvis, David:
these sing to me, but names glow only when emasculated,
ovaryly sugared, Candy Darlinged and drag-queened by
Aubrey Beardsley — then there are females cross-dressed in
male names (painter Schiele’s Wally Neuzil) and abracadabras
that crack clouds when chanted in full bloom: Anais Nin becomes
Angela Anais Juana Antolina Rosa Edelmira Nin y Culmell.

Incant: Lola Falana, Leonor Fini, Zhang Ziyi, Dree Hemingway, Aaliyah!
Gina Lollobrigida, Artemisia Gentileshi, Rihanna Fenty, Sussudio!

Familial iterations of gender-neutral “Drew” forged Drew Barrymore.
My anthroponomastic case rests on Dakota Fanning and January Jones.