My Life as Adam ISBN: 978-0-9832931-4-9 Release Date: 3/1/10 Retail Price: $14.95; 122 Pages Purchase from Sibling Rivalry Press
Poems touching on religion, sexuality, Southern life, and self-acceptance reveal the poet’s growing up, coming out, and becoming an adult in all its joys and sorrows. My Life as Adam is Bryan Borland’s full-length debut and was included as one of only five collections of poetry on the American Library Association’s inaugural “Over the Rainbow” list of best LGBT books of 2010.
My Life as Adam was originally designed by John Stahle (Ganymede) and includes cover art by artist Seth Ruggles Hiler. It also features an introduction by Philip F. Clark. It is Bryan Borland’s first full-length collection of poetry.
Reaction to Adam:
Raymond Luczak, author of Mute (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2010):
I lay out in the shade on my towel in Lowry Park while my dog nibbled at clovers. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but whoa. This is one of the very best debut collections I’ve seen in a long, long time. I mean this seriously. It isn’t just another collection in which poems are shoehorned to fit a certain theme; they flow together organically. As a recovering Catholic, I appreciate your mixing spirituality with sexuality. It’s always a potent mix, and it works beautifully here. You have every right to be proud of the book.
Poet Michael Klein, author of then, we were still living (GenPop Books, 2010):
Your book arrived yesterday and I’ve been reading it all day. It’s just terrific, Bryan, and I’m so happy to know it. I found the simplicity of the language incredibly moving and the shape and direction of these poems is really hard won and always surprising. It’s a wonderful achievement and I hope everyone around you — and, of course, you yourself — are proud of you. And what a great introduction from Mr. Clark! It’s so smart and so beautifully written. In some ways, your poems actually reminded me of the early poems of Mark Doty in how they approach not only sexual beauty and sexual loss but how closely they speak from the heart. These are poems that are so loving and so clear about their subjects that I had to read it in one sitting. And that, believe me, is rare.
Poet Tony Leuzzi, author of Radiant Losses, (New Sins Press, 2010):
I am delightfully surprised that you are clearly writing independently of an MFA environment. Your poems sound like you–earthy, homespun, and yet sophisticated. You speak directly and clearly, and yet you’ve mastered irony and juxtaposition, too. The best poems for me are the ones that recreate a moment in time, where the “action” or tension of that moment is simply but effectively reporting. “Altar Boys,” “Shoulder,” “The Book of Cody,” “Mugshot,” “The Book of David,” and “Wearing the Mask of Cain” are such poems (and there are others). I was also impressed with the ways in which you weave personal narratives into religious allegories, “The Crusades” being to my way of thinking, the best of these.
Poet Joseph Harker wrote:
If there are three things I drew from this collection, it’s probably these: first, Bryan Borland is a Whitman for the 21st century, who exercises such a subtle control over the reader’s heartstrings that it’s impossible not to love his work. He speaks with a voice that is raw and honest and ultimately unable to be contained. Second, he is totally without affect, just as comfortable with discussing details of his private life that would have me scarlet to the tips of my toes as he is delivering invective against the ignorant and spiteful. I appreciate that. And third, his work is another checkmark on my list of proofs that religion is not something that is dictated and delivered, obeyed and unquestioned. We build it out of ourselves and our lives, we give significance to what has shaped us; this is infinitely more important than allowing us to be shaped by what we’re told is significant. My Life As Adam doesn’t echo holy books by accident, I believe: if some nervous teenager struggling to cope with who he is, to have someone understand his identity crisis, reads this collection and feels just a little more secure, that is a small miracle all its own, drawn from and given to a person. I’ll take that over fire and brimstone any day.
From Grady Harp, in a Poets and Artists review:
`You have to have been there…’ No, this insensitive statement regarding whether or not the reader can or would understand the depth of feeling of a journeyman is shattered in Bryan Borland’s intensely honest and painfully lovely book of poems, MY LIFE AS ADAM. Bryan Borland is a gay poet, writing from experiences and developmental thought patterns that have defied the at times Sisyphusian steps to becoming a sexually liberated male. He enters his world as a nascent, ambiguous ADAM and returns at the end a fully developed MAN.
While other authors have occultly coped with homosexuality – writers such as Thomas Mann, Henry James, EM Forster, and Herman Melville – Borland emerges, not from a retrospective speculation or latter day unveiling of truths that were always there, quietly shrouded in correctness, but from an immediate stance, his home in Little Rock, Arkansas, a place where the dimensions of religion, family, and sexuality are more rigidly drawn, perhaps, than on the coastal bifurcations of a country still at war with individual rights and freedoms. Borland deals gently, if with some pain, with the process heretofore known as `coming out’ – a phrase science and intellect have quashed with the examination of DNA positions on our genetic helices that mark our characteristics as we move from infancy toward adulthood. He writes of awakening feelings and early experiences, at times believed to be one-sided on the surface, a lost moment forgotten, but in retrospect lightening the dark room of being alone, incapable of feeling or defining or expressing love.
And while other poets may flail at the `ties that bind’, Borland instead explores them with the gentlest sense of understanding and belonging that family and religion have defined as normalcy. He paints the atmosphere in which he grew, the cloudy homophobia making dark his possibility of self-recognition and esteem. Lust – more easily explored, recalled, fantasized – too often, he opines, replaced love/embrace/touch/need. For instance, read ‘Watching Brokeback Mountain in Little Rock’ and the window to understanding will open. Borland is one of the few poets who is able to so deftly define the thin line between straight and gay, especially addressing the totems and rituals that are designed to introduce the afterwards. But he is equally able to present the joy of finding a life partner/husband as in ‘Shopaholic’.
When he sings of found loves he celebrates his hard won treasure, and when he has lost that love, as in `Holden’, `The Book of David’, or `The Book of Joshua, Epilogue’, he has learned more about commitment and perception than most will acknowledge. Borland’s verse is free, shaped meaningfully on the page as though he were opening windows for fellow travelers to gain hold on a future that can be positive. Bryan Borland’s first book of his poems, MY LIFE AS ADAM, is his life and he owns it, a life of sensing, noticing, yearning for the bite of the forbidden apple where the fruit has been distorted by religions and codices of human behavior in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent him from acceptance of what he intuited would be beautiful. It is this journey to date he sensitively shares – like that little beggar along the path who smiles at our sheckles and says thank you in a way that changes us – permanently. – Grady Harp, September 2010 (extracted from the complete review published in POETS AND ARTISTS October 2010).
From Poet Stephen S. Mills, Lambda Literary Award Winner in Gay Poetry:
The title poem of the book, “My Life as Adam,” truly sets the tone and is a great kick-off to the book. It ends with these wonderfully crafted lines: “it is not good for man / to be alone // when he discovers his soul / is between his legs.” We know from the beginning that we are in for a sexy ride, but also a thought-provoking and, dare I say, spiritual ride.
My absolute favorite poem in the collection is called “The Levite.” It comes late in the manuscript, and has such a striking honesty to it that it has stayed with me from the first time I read it. The poem speaks of the unspeakable acts many people go through when someone close to them has died. The speaker’s brother is dead, and now comes the guilt of taking his television and opening his Christmas presents. These are simple acts that become heartbreaking in the context. The end of the poem is what really gets me. Bryan writes, “I am not / the wounded sibling but // the grave robber who builds poetry / with his brother’s bones.” Wow. While I have not lost a sibling or a parent, I can connect with the act of writing poetry from the pieces of a tragedy and the guilt that can come from that.
Annmarie Lockhart, Editor of vox poetica, said:
Had the original Adam been this elegant, honest, and charming, I suspect Eden would still be our home. Bryan Borland’s distinctive voice is open and inviting. He invites us into his life, draws us in with his words, makes us feel as if we’re in the room with him holding his hand through the sad parts and giggling with him at the GOOD parts. He challenges us with sophisticated craft and a straightforward message: This is me and you know me. Read his words for they are beautiful and funny and sad and warm and moving and deeply personal. I guarantee you will want to read them over and over again, giggling and crying all the while.
Poet Ray Sharp wrote:
My Life As Adam, Arkansas poet Bryan Borland’s first book-length work, is nothing less than a tour de force debut. Borland plumbs the deep well of life experience, crafting dozens of exquisitely phrased poems about family, religion, myth and Southern life, all reflected in tales of his coming of age as a gay man. But to say that Bryan is a gay poet is like calling Walt Whitman a gay poet or Shakespeare an English poet. Borland is a distinctive and highly skilled poet, period, and this debut work is full of poems mature beyond his 30-something years.
From Top-Ranked Amazon.com Reviewer Amos Lassen:
Here is a memoir (a very early memoir) of Bryan’s life (so far) and it is achingly beautiful. There are seventy poems that introduce us to the poet and all of his joys and sorrows. Bryan is a young man who writes with style and elegance, with sadness and with humor and his poems tend to remind you of what it was like growing up, coming out and becoming an adult. They are filled with the boyish charm of a young writer who, I feel, at least, is destined for a big, big future in literature. I found myself pulled into his life, laughing with him and yes, crying with him. He doesn’t just invite you in, he pulls you in and it is difficult to move until you have tasted every morsel of what he has to say.
In a world where so many try to break into literary circles, we are all aware of how difficult it is to do so. Mark my words, Bryan Borland has taken the leap into the pool and comes up a winner who I am sure we will hear a great deal from. He manages to touch on so much–religion, sexuality, Southern life, self-acceptance, and although Bryan is a gay poet he is so much more than that.
David Koon, writing in the Arkansas Times (link included):
From Rob Jacques, in an Amazon.com Review:
In his poem, “A Real Poet,” iconoclast poet Ross Runfola writes:
if I was a real poet I would have a poem in The New Yorker
but that would mean I had compromised my literary soul
by sacrificing unadorned language for the obtuse lines
that are the hallmark of the college professor’s safe and uneventful existence.
great lines are written at home after a twelve hour shift
despite the screaming pain of hands as raw as life itself
after waking up in a seedy motel with flickering neon lights
and your wallet lifted by a girl named Candy.
Great lines are also written by gay youth who know a thing or two themselves about screaming pain and raw life. There’s no misunderstanding this fact when reading a Bryan Borland poem. His imagery is original and clear, his encounters with straight and other gay boys are fraught simultaneously with menace and joy, and the wisdom achieved through his experiences is poignantly understated. And for a little erotic drama with a spice of danger, here’s his poem, “The Lion’s Den”:
The first time I walked into a gay bar
I felt like a piece of meat,
not raw, dripping red, but
a prime cut cooked
to a juicy medium rare
and every man in sight was doomed,
watching the clock,
waiting for their last meal,
a blue-eyed boy perfectly seasoned,
aged twenty-two years.
Or take the tenderness and resignation flowing through his poem, “The Book of Joshua, Epilogue”:
I browse the wedding registry and see
nothing of him in lists of
soft linens, stainless steel,
I see his new life framed in
matching patterns and
things he’d never want,
an inequitable trade,
for a wife
and a toaster.
Oh go ahead and do yourself a favor: introduce yourself to quality poetry that celebrates a youth’s gay experience as the eager, very dangerous, life-altering joy that it is. And then join me in looking forward to Borland’s next collection.
Reaction from a friend who perhaps gave the best description of all:
Love, love, LOVE your book. Read it in one sitting. Could put “your name here” and fill in my name in many spots… could have made your perspective mine and left in all the boys. It was a conversation over a glass of wine, a midnight pillow talk… Perfection is making something hard look easy. This was easy. To read it was to know you, but then, I know you. I say it was easy but I do not mean it was easy to read, but rather, it was an easy read. Some of it was hard to read – hard memories for me, hard things for you to share, things you share that I could still not share because I am chicken shit! Love it!