The Wilde Boys of Poetry

11.7.2011

By Justin Jannise

Could Alex Dimitrov be making poetry cool again?

Alex Dimitrov wants to bring mischief back to poetry, and by the looks of things, he’s succeeding.

Dimitrov’s the brains behind Wilde Boys, a “queer poetry salon” that hops and skips across Manhattan once a month to discuss the work of a gay poet. Depending on the night—or as Dimitrov says, “depending on how drunk people get”—these discussions range from Frank O’Hara to James Franco, from MFAs to STDs.

But Wilde Boys is not merely a post-grad soiree for New York’s literary-ambitious, though it may seem like it. Poets as luminous as John Ashbery, Frank Bidart and Mark Doty have all been featured as honored guests, as well as writers Michael Cunningham and Edmund White, who aren’t poets, exactly, but give off hints that they could be.

Since Wilde Boys depends on the kindness of friends to host meetings in their private homes, a strict RSVP policy is necessary. Opening it up to larger public venues, Dimitrov says, would be too much of a departure from the salon’s original aims. “I wanted it to be this space where people had few inhibitions—inviting to all these things. I don't want to use the word exclusive, because that sounds bad, but why not? I wanted to it to be private and exclusive, because that's the way people get comfortable with one another, when they feel like they're in a space with people they can trust.”

Despite the impenetrable specificity (to some) of its identity markers (“queer poetry” bites a slim chunk off an already meager public interest in poetry in general), the overall feel of Wilde Boys is one of open-armed, cocktail-induced merriment, with just a touch of anti-patriarchal resentment to be expected from young writers thwarted by the high demands of making their art and the world’s low demand for buying it.

Last month’s guest was Eileen Myles, a lesbian New York émigré from Boston who came of age as a poet in the late '70s. Dimitrov lead the armchair discussion with Myles, whose book Inferno: A Poet’s Novel documents her tumultuous life as a queer artist. Emphatically not a reading series, Wilde Boys did get one reading out of Myles: “American Poem," arguably her most accessible.

Dimitrov says accessibility in poetry is definitely something he’s down with. “I really liked the poetry in the subways. Let's do more things like that—bring poetry into spaces where we don't expect poetry to be,” he said, before adding, “Maybe poetry needs a little more of soft-core porn, more drugs, more deviance.”

Now that’s more like it.

Interested in attending Wilde Boys for yourself? Follow them on Twitter.

Alex Dimitrov's first book of poems, Begging For It, is forthcoming from Four Way Books. He is the founder of Wilde Boys, a queer poetry salon. His poems have appeared in the American Poetry Review, Kenyon Review, Yale Review, Tin House, and Boston Review. He works at the Academy of American Poets and frequently writes for Poets & Writers magazine.

Editor's Note: an earlier version of this story had a quote which appeared to be attributed to Alex Dimitrov, but was not said by him and has been removed.

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