Bryan Borland is founder and publisher of Sibling Rivalry Press and founding editor of Assaracus: A Journal of Gay Poetry. He is the author of three collections of poems, Dig, forthcoming in 2016 from Stillhouse Press, and My Life as Adam and Less Fortunate Pirates, both from Sibling Rivalry Press. He is a Lambda Literary Fellow in Poetry and has been honored as both poet and editor by the American Library Association through multiple inclusions on its annual Over the Rainbow list of recommended LGBT reading. He lives in Arkansas.
Geosi Gyasi: How did you come to write My Life as Adam?
Bryan Borland: If my books were categorized in terms of eras of my life, My Life as Adam was my youth. I wrote the poems of Adam in my twenties and the last poems of the book were written when I turned thirty (but was still clinging to the ideals of my twenties; I didn’t know any different–yet). The themes of the book are self-discovery of spirituality and sexuality and coming to terms with the idea that the self isn’t what anyone else says it is. The self has to be defined and discovered alone. Of course, when we discover who we are doesn’t exactly mesh up with who we’re supposed to be, that causes all kinds of dissonance. It was that dissonance that pushed me to write Adam. I wrote it because I had to.
Geosi Gyasi: How long did it take you to write My Life as Adam?
Bryan Borland: I wrote the poems over a six-year span.
Geosi Gyasi: What do you regard as the best time to write?
Bryan Borland: Whenever I can. There’s no formula. Whenever a poem decides it’s ready to start to materialize. I have very little say in the matter.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a specific place where you sit down to write?
Bryan Borland: Anywhere there’s no television.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you write on a computer or notebook?
Bryan Borland: I’m most comfortable lately writing on my iPad. For my birthday, my husband gave me a keyboard that connects to it. The more I’ve done design work as a publisher, the more I like to see a poem typed on a screen. It helps me see how it will look in an eventual book. When I write by hand in notebooks, I never seem to get the line breaks right. A notebooks good for jotting down quick lines, but I need the screen to get the poem where I want it.
Geosi Gyasi: When did you first regard yourself as a writer?
Bryan Borland: In high school I wrote a terrible novel based on people in our school. My classmates loved it, probably because it was scandalous and I wrote about all the things that were happening that no one ever talked about. Of course I changed the names. I wrote myself into the book, a character of myself, and made myself friends with all the boys I thought were cute. They liked the attention and we became friends in real life. Some kids played football. Some kids sang in the choir. My superpower was writing. I wrote the world I wanted into existence. It was somewhat of a letdown when I realized my fictional characters were much more interesting than the real people.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have specific theme(s) you often write on?
Bryan Borland: The first book, My Life as Adam, focused on sex, religion, and family. My second book, Less Fortunate Pirates, was about my father’s death. My next book, Dig, out in 2016 from Stillhouse Press, is about the end of one long-term relationship and the beginning of another.
Geosi Gyasi: You’re the founding editor of Assaracus. Could you tell me how Assaracus came into being?
Bryan Borland: One of the earliest places my poetry was published was a journal called Ganymede: Gay Men’s Culture from New York. Its editor, John Stahle, designed my first book for me and convinced me to create Sibling Rivalry Press to publish the book. John died shortly after we finished my book, and Ganymede, because it was a one-man show, died with him. I created Assaracus as a tribute to John and to Ganymede. In Greek mythology, Ganymede was a boy swept away by Zeus’s eagle to serve the god. Assaracus was Ganymede’s brother who was left behind. Assaracus is the only print journal in the world exclusive to gay men’s poetry. It’s published quarterly.
Geosi Gyasi: Could you educate me on the relationship between editing and writing?
Bryan Borland: Writing builds the house, but editing paints it, furnishes it, and makes it ready to be lived in. If you don’t edit your work, you’ve got a foundation, but that’s all you got. You’ve got bones without the skin.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you edit your own works?
Bryan Borland: I constantly revise my work, but I depend on others for advice and suggestions as far as edits. I think it’s absolutely necessary to have other sets of eyes on your work. I am lucky to have some great editors in my life. My husband, Seth, for one. I sent my current manuscript to Virginia Bell, Christopher Hennessy, and D. Gilson for feedback before I sent it to potential publishers. Now that it’s been accepted by Stillhouse, the manuscript has been assigned an official editor and we’ll go through the process again. I have a rule that if two people independently identify the same problem in a poem or give you the same advice on a
poem, you’d be wise to listen.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the most difficult aspect of writing?
Bryan Borland: On Saturday you’ll read a poem you wrote and think it’s fantastic. On Sunday you’ll read it and think it’s garbage. The hardest aspect is being self-aware enough to know the value in your own work, or to know what doesn’t work.
Geosi Gyasi: Could you tell me something about Sibling Rivalry Press?
Bryan Borland: I created Sibling Rivalry Press in 2010 as a place to publish my own book. Five years later, SRP has won two Lambda Literary Awards in both Gay Poetry and Lambda Poetry, published finalists in several other categories, been recognized by Library Journal as having a “Best New Magazine,” been honored by the American Library Association 15 times through representation on its “Over the Rainbow” list of recommended LGBT reading, and just this year, our entire collection was placed into the rare book and special collections vault at the Library of Congress. Anything we ever publish will be housed there. It’s an incredible honor and very humbling. I’m not sure how all this has happened. I think it has a lot to do with our mission statement and the quote from Adrienne Rich where it originated. We publish work that is “intellectual and moral and political and sexual and sensual… It can speak to people who have themselves felt like monsters and say: you are not alone, this is not monstrous. It can disturb and enrapture.”
Geosi Gyasi: What inspired your poem, “Lonoke”?
Bryan Borland: “Lonoke” has gone through several drafts. The draft that’s on my website, the one that you’ve read, has been expanded. It comes early in the new manuscript. It was inspired by a moment with my husband early in our relationship when we parked in his hometown and kissed in the vehicle (like we were teenagers).I wanted to write a poem about finding someone you love and how it makes everything new. How you see everyday things you’ve seen a thousand times with new eyes and from a new angle. I also wanted to create a poem about life when the first two books were so death-focused. Here’s the current version of the poem. Lonoke, by the way, is my husband’s hometown.
We both come to this having lived
here all our lives. Only now do we see how breathing
things drop from trees. Mid-afternoon the insects
have white wings, our backyard full of moons. Last week
a ballet of sunset moved into night. Everything a show.
Even your shape is foreign to your eyes. The V
of your abdomen. The rise of your shoulders.
Your muscles reach for me like begonias
reach for light. Listen. I know this is not our parents’
marriage, not the museum or the measuring stick of it.
My mother married my father out of
necessity. Your mother married your father
out of guilt. Yet I don’t doubt either loved
the other any less than I love you.
We’ve found one another grown in
half-mowed cemetery grass.
Across the highway are adolescent fields,
bodies on the cusp of gin.
I am the son of a farmer.
You are the son of a mortician.
We grieve like we eat like we kiss
these lantern ways of our American south.
Small towns have their limits. Cars filled
with families pass. Seeing us they think they
understand why I cling to you.
Something has died. Yes.
We buried our dead today.
Now we celebrate our living.
Geosi Gyasi: How do you arrive at choosing titles for your poems?
Bryan Borland: It has to feel right. I have to be at peace with it. And I know it when I see it. In the new manuscript, several poems are named after lines from poems by other poets I love. For example, “The Body Is a Damn Hard Thing to Kill” is from Anne Sexton’s poem, “The Break.” Her original poem was part of the conversation that sparked my own poem. It’s a way to pay homage.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you regard writing as a way of life?
Bryan Borland: Writing is an action. Poetry is my religion. I practice my religion by reading and writing.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you know why you write?
Bryan Borland: It’s what I’m here to do.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any writer(s) you look up to?
Bryan Borland: There are so many. Most influential to me in the last three years were Adrienne Rich, Anne Sexton, W.S. Merwin, Allen Ginsberg, Audre Lorde, Frank Stanford, and Jack Gilbert. More contemporary poets include Michael Klein, who we publish through SRP, our friends Nickole Brown and Jessica Jacobs, and Danez Smith, who I really think is a genius. We also just published work by Denise Duhamel and Maureen Seaton, who were dreams to work with. Early in my life, Maya Angelou was my guide.
Geosi Gyasi: Have you ever been rejected by publishers or editors for your works?
Bryan Borland: All the time. Weekly. It’s part of writing and submitting work. The work has to be the right fit, and the publication has to be right for the work. It’s a mutual thing. As an editor and publisher I have to say no more than I say yes. As I writer I see no more than I see yes.
Geosi Gyasi: Has the purpose for which Sibling Rivalry Press established been fulfilled?
Bryan Borland: Have you ever heard the saying, “Just when you find the answers, the questions change”? Just when I thought the purpose was satisfied, the purpose changed. My goal now, I understand, is to be a bridge. I’m a writer but I’m also a publisher. I can’t separate the two, and I wouldn’t want to. My role is to help provide a stage for voices that need to be heard, for voices that can save lives, for voices that can make other people feel less monstrous. Someone asked me the other day if I want to do this – be a publisher – for the rest of my life. I answered yes without hesitation.
Geosi Gyasi: Tell me about how you met Seth Pennington to set up Sibling Rivalry Press.
Bryan Borland: Seth was my intern at Sibling Rivalry Press. I hired him. I fired him. And then I married him.