Robert Smith is creating a queer, communal, punk rock literary ruckus.
The New York based writer is both the creator and host of the popular downtown monthly performance/reading series called “Brother My Lover.” The series, a sort of stripped-down literary salon, is noteworthy for featuring assorted queer writers reading their oft times raw, personal and trangressive works
The series has featured such ‘downtown’ alum as Mike Albo, The World Famous “BOB”, Geraldine Winifred Visco, Max Steele and Glenn Marla.
The next Brother My Lover event will be held Thursday, December 3 at Envoy Enterprises, 131 Chrystie, New York, NY from 8pm to 10pm.
Recently Robert took a moment to chat with me over IM. We chatted about Brother My Lover, creating a community, queering the zoological chart, and the reason why the host must always close the show.
Me: Good afternoon sir!
Robert Smith: Hey there!
Me: Okay so why don’t you tell me a little about yourself? Were you born in NYC?
Robert Smith: I was born and raised in Detroit, till I was 15, then my family and I moved down to Alabama of all places, where I lived for 10 yrs – went to college there and every thing – until I moved here 5 yrs ago.
Me: Hmmm I was born in Detroit maybe we are related? Detroit! Alabama! New York! Talk about a change of scenery. What brought you to the city?
Robert Smith: The great queer migration. I always had fantasies about New York.
When I was in the 8th grade I sent off for an NYU college admissions packet!
Luckily I didn’t have to go to college to come here- I’d be in some pretty big debt.
Me: …And after five years the reality of the city has settled in. What do you think?
How did the fantasy pan out?
Robert Smith: I know a few things for certain:
1. It’s not at all how I imagined it would be – I should note I barely knew one person when I moved here and I had never visited before- but first thing I noticed was: it’s really really hard for an artist, with artistic sensibilities and sensitivities, or maybe half crazy, to survive here. It doesn’t seem like New York really breeds those types any more which is why I moved here. I thought, ‘Oh I’ll find my community of misfits who can’t survive anywhere else.’ Instead I found kids with their art school degrees that came from really great, supportive families, being really opportunistic and networking and managing blogs and shit and I was like WOW this sucks.
Me: Ha-Ha (Editors Note: I am laughing knowing full well in my little bourgeois heart that ‘Hey that sounds like me!’)
Robert Smith: So I left NYC after the 1st year, flew out to Portland was there for two days, freaked out cause it was so small, drove down to San Francisco on the fourth of July, hung out there for two days, freaked out again – flew back to NYC and refuse to ever leave again. No matter how much New York City might suck, every other place sucks a lot harder!
Me: Congratulations! Typing those words officially makes you a New Yorker! So I want to talk, chat, type, whatever, about your own personal writing.
Robert Smith: That is great! Whatsup?
Me: How would you describe it? In terms of style and themes?
Robert Smith: I’ve ALWAYS written about myself, just really kind of real time, a day in the life stuff, but lately I’ve been doing this kind of magical realism stuff, (I read Gabriel Marquez for the first time this past summer) so now my cute, misfit queer characters have wolf tails or deer antlers, or shed their skins literally like snakes… But also my dad died less than a year ago. He was hit by a train, so I’ve also been writing about that process. I actually read a piece at the last Brother My Lover that dealt with that and ended up crying like a baby. I had this bright red lipstick on, and in all the pictures I noticed it is smeared all over my chin. I was a disaster!
Me: Whoa did the loss of your father inspire the leap from straight up realism to examine queer stuff in a more fantastical context, or were you already heading there with your writing.
Robert Smith: I think his death may have inspired that leap, because I wasn’t headed there at all. I think it was partly that , because a part of my grief process is to kind of go back into myself – where your imagination can get really fantastical, and then another part of my process was to be just like, ‘you know what, you only live once’ – I’m just going go for it! But coincidentally I also picked up A 100 years of solitude, and read it in two days and all of the sudden I kind of realized the possibilities. Before that I was always super concerned about being truthful, just kind of really writing what happened!
Me: Fantasy can speak to certain truths (i.e. A 100 years of Solitude) in ways that simple straight forward realism can’t. Do you feel you discovered some things that you haven’t before with this new mode of writing?
Robert Smith: I discovered again how fun writing can be. It was sort of like a rebirth. It has been very freeing. Also, I realized I’m usually in my head all the time anyway dealing with fantastical imagery, so why not just let it all out – which is what writing is anyway. I was too caught up in this hyper-realism for a long time, so the change is nice.
Me: Do these elements , say a ‘queer with antlers’ or ‘queers shedding their snake skins,’ represent anything about the wider queer community, or am I being lazy by looking for the easy metaphor?
Robert Smith: No, they do. There is definite class structure to this community and I kind of represent that using these odd characteristics. For example, the boys with antlers represent the fey bottoms of the community. Wolf tails are for the total tops. Do you have a wolf tail or antlers!? You seem like you have a tail?
Robert Smith: A huge tail?
Me: Lol…Well I’m more of a grazing hippo. Who are they?
Robert Smith: A grazing hippo? I don’t know. You should write that.
Me: So what is a bossy aggressive bottom I wonder? You should do a whole avatar chart.
Robert Smith: Ooooh that would be fun! A porcupine: a porcupine would be a bossy bottom.
Me: Hahaha. I guess that makes sense. So I wanted to also talk about the about the Brother My Lover series. I just interviewed the writer/poet/editor David Groff recently and he said to really have a cultural impact you have to do more now than just write that “one damn book.” That you have to be a “cultural worker. “ He said you have to write across multiple platforms, curate, build a community around your writing, which is exactly what you are doing with Brother My Lover. How did the project come about? You are really building a community.
Robert Smith: Man, it is so crazy. That is all I want . Ever. A community. And after I realized that, even in New York, I didn’t really have one, or feel like I fit into one, for whatever reasons, I decided I would start my own. I’ve always had a punk sensibility or like a do it yourself attitude, but after trying to find my family and it not working, I was like, I’m going to start my own family which is how I approach everything
but also, not to take anything too seriously. I also wanted to have a cool little reading series where I could read my work and feel comfortable, and because I’m such a tragic mess , and I need so much finessing I know how to give that to others.
So I was hoping I could coax some of the more sensitive creatures to come out and share, so we don’t have to be saturated by the same 4 or 5 queer voices and blogs
Me: So you have been become the crazy tragic inspiring pied piper papa bear in a sense?
Robert Smith: That would be nice.
Me: How did you pick writers to read at Brother My lover? Do you have a certain sensibility you look for?
Robert Smith: Mostly I’m looking for people who WANT to do it. Who feel like they have something to say, and they feel like this is there venue, but I always stress that I’m looking for some thing intimate, or revealing, or dangerous. But I like the idea of it feeling cobbled together which is how I picture it having been in New York maybe a couple decades ago
Robert Smith: Exactly.
Me: What inspires you about the punk aesthetic?
Robert Smith: Just kind of realizing if you let any body else speak for you it’s going to get fucked up. There’s also camaraderie there.
Me: How did you find writers at first? Word of mouth?
Robert Smith: All of them were friends of mine to varying degrees. I think Mike Albo was the one reader who I had only met once, briefly. He is a Dazzle Dancer and when I first moved to New York I remember going to see the Dazzle Dancers. It was one of the first things I did but, yea friends and now, after getting the ball rolling, I’ve had a few blind submissions and people recommending people. John Stahle over at Ganymede has sent me a couple winners
Me: How do you feel about the series right now? It has built up a strong word of mouth.
Robert Smith: As long as I always feel safe to read at it and I always go last, which I think is the respectable host thing to do hahahaha.
Me: That is such a Diva move…lol…Do you feel like you have found/created that community you were looking for when you 1st came to New York?
Robert Smith: I’ve met some lovely people. Let’s just say I haven’t gotten too comfortable yet. Wait now I’m paranoid about reading last….LOL… If I introduced everybody then I starting reading in the middle and then kept coming back up to introduce people that might look weird.
Me: Listen this is your baby. You run the show, and at every show there must be a finale!
Robert Smith: Haha
Me: Okay one last question. How did you come up with the name for BROTHER MY LOVER because I love it?
Robert Smith: Um, it’s just really about loving your queer community.
Me: An eloquently simple, but beautiful idea.
Robert Smith: Well thanks! xxx
Me: Thank you sir. See you on Thursday!
Robert Smith: Can’t wait
Brother My Lover event will be held Thursday, December 3 at Envoy Enterprises , 131 Chrystie, New York, NY from 8pm to 10pm.
Support the Arts! Support Sodomy! Come on out!
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