I’ve not written to you in a while. The PhD has been busy. In December, I passed my ‘RDCom3’. This was the half-way mark of the project, at which I submitted an ‘example chapter’ of the final thesis, and undertook a mock viva: basically a very nice conversation about my writing with two thoughtful academics. They gave me a thumbs up, and told the university that I was allowed to keep going.
I’ve not really kept up with my letter-writing practice. And I don’t think it’ll return; or at least not in the way I was doing it in the first half of the PhD. My final thesis will be a small collection of open letters – each addressed to a different collaborator, peer or discursive partner of this project (“all the friends I made along the way!”) – but I want to wait until they are all finished before sharing them publicly.
I really appreciate how this Substack has allowed me to find and refine this form of the open letter. I appreciate the dialogues I’ve had in response to what I have written here. And not just the dialogues; I have been very moved by the silent readership: the feeling that my work is being witnessed by my peers. Thank you for your distant company.
So, no more open letters for a little while. However, I’d like to use this platform to occasionally sharing PhD materials as they arise. These might be fragments of artworks, or links to writing that’s hosted elsewhere. These messages will be a bit shorter than they have been in the past, as I will need to focus my efforts on putting together the final thesis over the next 18 months.
And so! The first thing I would like to share with you is a small chapbook of poems I had writing over the past year, Love to all lovers, which I’ve been assembling in my studio and posting to friends.
These poems are written from experiences of sex. They use sex as a setting and practice to think about lots of things, like: touch, attention, clumsy translation, reparative dialogue, the history of Nottingham, the pleasures and perils of inviting someone in to your home. I think these poems might be doing many things: insisting on the richness of a form of gay male sociality that is otherwise, at best, ‘tolerated’; chronicling what could be referred to as the Second Golden Age of Homosexuality; thinking about hosting, invitation, penetrability and boundaries at the level of the body; and continuing to develop a writing practice that can attend to the visceral and complex sensations that can take place in many kinds of encounter.
You can find a digital copy of the first five poems of the collection here, and listen to a recording of me reciting those same poems here. If you’d like a copy of the zine, please get in touch (email@example.com) and I can send you one in the post. I’ve been asking people to send me ~£2-3 by Paypal to help cover materials and postage.
Below is an image of one of the chapbooks, and a photo taken of me by Hamish MacPherson, from a morning we recently spent together in a secluded corner of Tooting Bec; in which I learned a lot in my early twenties.
Sending my best, and hoping your days are full of curiosity, texture, and thought,
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I’m thinking of Samuel Delany’s Times Square Red Times Square Blue here, or Tim Dean’s Unlimited Intimacy; but also James Greig’s semi-recent essay ‘The Future of Gay Sex’: “When gay sex is discussed today, it’s almost always in negative terms. ‘Hook-up culture’ is pathologised as a consequence of childhood trauma and low self-esteem; the prevalence of non-monogamy points to our outsize libido and inability to commit […]. It’s undeniable that casual sex causes problems for some gay men, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that it is just as often a source of intimacy, community and pleasure. If we want to build a safer and more inclusive sexual culture, we have to acknowledge that sexual freedom is a worthwhile cause in its own right, and one which is bound up with economic and social justice. “
If the arrival of HIV/AIDS in the 80s interrupted a gay world that had started to arise and articulate itself in the West in the 70s, then what world might be arising since PrEP has become available?