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Stop! Look! Listen! Misha Solomon’s Reading Recommendation

Ian Stephens’s lone book-length publication, Diary of a Trademark, feels like something of a lost classic, a rough (in all senses of the word) snapshot of early-nineties Montreal through the eyes of a gay man who died soon after the book was published. In Diary, Stephens knows he is succumbing to HIV/AIDS and, in the essay that opens the collection, “Weary State of Grace,” discusses a recent hospital stay in visceral detail. The entire collection of poetry and prose is intense and unyielding: the sex is graphic and the rage burns hot. The collection is endlessly compelling, and Stephens’s candour is admirable — I have rarely encountered a writer so willing to expose every part of himself, to be so generous with his mind and body and suffering and pleasure. 

Diary of a Trademark is an incredible achievement of lusty, violent, and lively language, a sustained scream over 89 pages. It’s also of its time in all the best and worst ways: best for its capacity to transport the reader to the era in which it was written and published; worst for some outdated language and positionality issues. The collection ends with a series of poems with dates as titles, as if diary entries. The final one is “24/12/93” — I wish I could be eagerly waiting for his “24/12/23.” 

(A bonus recommendation and a shoutout: Before reading his collection, I encountered Stephens’s work in two places. First, in John Barton & Billeh Nickerson’s Seminal: The Anthology of Canada’s Gay Male Poets, in which Stephens’s “Wounds: Valentine’s Day” is anthologized. Seminal lives up to its title and is an essential resource for anyone interested in Canadian poetry, gay male poetry, or poetry broadly. Second, through my archival research work with Mathieu Aubin’s “Listening Queerly Across Generational Divides” project, where recordings of Stephens’s performances at the 1985 Montreal reading series “Ultimatum” show a different side of the artist.)

— Misha Solomon is a homosexual poet in and of Tiohtià:ke/Montréal. He is the author of two chapbooks, FLORALS (above/ground press, 2020) and Full Sentences (Turret House Press, 2022). His work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Best Canadian Poetry 2024, The Antigonish Review, Plenitude Magazine, and Vallum.


You can find Misha Solomon’s poetry in Issue 298 Winter 2024. Order the issue now:

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