The Next Big Thing Interview: Charlie Vazquez

Here comes the third author I tagged: poet, author and literary man-about-town Charlie Vazquez…

Poet and author Charlie Vazque

What is the working title of your book?

Hustler Rave XXX: Poetry of the Eternal Survivor is the full title. David came up withHustler Rave, and I added the XXX and the rest of it as a kind of nod to sleazy old Times Square movie theaters and such. I miss places like that. Without realizing it this book wound up becoming things other than just a collection of erotic poems—in David’s case a riveting testimonial based on his days as a sex worker working to pay for college, and for me an exposé of the gay sex underground I discovered as a young man and continued to explore for another fifteen or so years.

Despite the fact that we now have institutions like “gay marriage” and greater “acceptance” in New York, honest and visceral discussions of gay sex and pornography still disturb lots of people in the mainstream, yet LGBT folks are bombarded daily, by the hour, by heterosexual sexual expression. People are still much more conservative than they want to admit. As a working-class New Yorker it was time to put something out there that captured the grit that once made New York so exciting and fertile for the arts. Our city has turned into a destination for rich zombies, and they are the least interested—or interesting.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I thought it would be fun to collaborate and David came up with the theme. This was last summer and much has happened since, so I hope I didn’t get this wrong. Regardless, David and I both write in English and Spanish, so the book started as a bilingual collection. But David decided that the English pieces had a better flow, so we dropped the few Spanish pieces we had at the time. As he used to actually hustle, I gave him a lot of freedom to sequence the pieces, etc.

As for me, I used to know lots of hustlers and junkies and had a knack for hanging out in sleazy places, gay bars, punk joints, strip clubs. I’ve always had a fondness for dubious places, because the people who generally inhabit them are honest about why they are there. I know that the concept for this book made some people shudder, but I’ve always admired honesty no matter how disturbing. Shoot me: I was raised in the Bronx in the 1970s/1980s. I like grit.

Hustler Rave XXX Cover

What genre does your book fall under?

Poetry. Noir. Hot. Sleazy poetry, pretty poetry—tragic, sordid, ecstatic. Erotic poetry.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Well, it would be a large cast as there are nearly 50 poems that take place all over the world and feature a myriad of characters from various nationalities, races, etc. Being that I’m almost 42, I’d want James Franco to play me when I was a bolder 25-year-old with a knack for being naked—a lot.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

An intimate and poetic investigation of the young men of night and the men who pay them for their beauty.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The wonderful Lethe Press published it. Back in 2011 the amazing Charles Rice-González brought me on board to co-edit the anthology From Macho to Mariposa: New Gay Latino Fiction, so this is, in many ways, a continuation of that relationship. David also had a story in that book…small world, eh?

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

David and I started piecing it together back in August of 2012, that is, while working around other projects. He was finishing his sex memoir (Diario de una puta humilde) and I was starting my first stage play and was studying and reading a lot. I decided to take a short break from fiction, to recharge after trying to resurrect my hopeless first novel, so this little detour was the perfect opportunity to invent new dramas. I would say we kept developing the poems for a solid six months or so. Adding, axing, cutting, disintegrating, rearranging.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I’m not sure. Though while I was working on the book it was hard not to think about people like Jean Genet, David Wojnarowicz, Reinaldo Arenas, John Rechy, etc. I make references in the author introductions to My Own Private Idaho and the bookQueer Latino Testimonio: Keith Haring and Juanito Xtravaganza by the Puerto Rican scholar Arnaldo Cruz-Malavé, which if you haven’t read is terrific. Some people might find parallels to Emanuel Xavier’s earlier work, which I’ve always loved. But something David and I strove for was to populate the pages with multiple voices. We even break from the hustlers on occasion to give a few of the “johns” voices. Some of the poems are written in lacy, worldly language, and others bark in street slang. We wanted to cover a range of colors and language.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

David and I had been proofing and translating one another’s work and it just seemed like a fun idea. Perhaps his mentioning the title of his sex memoir sparked a fire—for him I think it was to get certain memories off his chest and to focus on writing in English. For me it was about revisiting old ghosts and dressing them in new clothes, so to speak. I work for the dead.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Aside from the juicy subject matter—that is, as we revisit yet another Age of Conservatism—I would say the use of language and voice and locations. Hustler Rave XXX tells the stories of Latino rough trade Castro Street boys to struggling San Juan college students to runaway white boy junkies in Seattle. Even if we’ve fictionalized them, someone needs to give them a human voice. Hustlers often come from very troubled backgrounds to begin with. They’re people, too—no matter how we might feel about their ways of surviving. I can assure you that some of their worst critics might be guilty of much more heinous things.

Hustler Rave XXX is available at the following Barnes and Noble URL:

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National Poetry Month

It’s National Poetry Month again, so time for me to do my part, and subject the public to my middling poesy.

I chose to write an Anaphora, which uses repetition of words or phrases, often in the style of a chorus or an anthem.

(Actually, I got the idea from this cool site called The Journal, which has tons of prompts for writers).

This is a refrain that goes through my head some mornings. Though—when I fleshed it out on paper—it took a turn for the absurd and the dramatic.  It is in no way a reflection of how I feel about my job.  It’s more about the loss of leisure time and pleasurable things, like sleep.

Here We Go to Work Again

Here we go to work again,

Dethroned from slumber’s diadem,

Throw on some clothes I chose last night,

A hurried meal, a staggered flight.


Here we go to work again,

But first the local coffee den,

To get a dose of rocket fuel,

And slake the day’s commuting gruel.


Here we go to work again,

As routine as it’s always been,

A quick smoke before the train pulls up,

Then all aboard with coffee cups.


Here we go to work again,

We lonely soldiers, countrymen,

A train car filled with silent screams,

Of life’s injustice, stolen dreams.


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Groundhog Day!!

A Fat Groundhog

A post on the groundhog, in honor of our most under-celebrated holiday.

(I didn’t get the day off from work.)

This curious little holiday inspired a search for trivia.    Such as, did you know that Groundhog Day derives from the celebration of Imbolc, the traditional Gaelic Irish nameday for the first day of Spring?    I didn’t even know that a groundhog is the same thing as a woodchuck, and I certainly didn’t know that woodchuck comes from the Algonquin name for the animal ‘wuchak,’ and not from the fact that it likes to gnaw on wood.    (It doesn’t.  That’s a beaver.)

I could go on, and I will go on.

Famous Groundhogs

We all know about Punxsutawney Phil, who was immortalized in the Bill Murray film “Groundhog Day.”    But there’s also Wiarton Willie, an albino groundhog that lived to age 22 (d. 1999), and was immortalized as a beloved statue in his hometown:  Wiarton, Ontario.    There’s General Beauregard Lee, a southern gentleman groundhog, who has received honorary doctorate degrees from the University of Georgia AND Georgia State University.

There’s also a famous groundhog from Staten Island with the (lame) name Staten Island Chuck.    He just predicted an early spring while New York City is reeling from a record-breaking winter snowfall.    Uh-huh.

Groundhog Poetry

Groundhogs have been inspiring poets for centuries.    Here’s a strangely gory, but moving, and, somehow, epic ode by American poet Richard Ghormley Eberhardt.



In June, amid the golden fields,

I saw a groundhog lying dead.

Dead lay he; my senses shook,

And mind outshot  our naked frailty.


There lowly in the vigorous summer

His form began its senseless change,

And made my senses waver dim

Seeing nature ferocious in him.


Inspecting close maggots’ might

And seething cauldron of his being,

Half with loathing, half with a strange love,

I poked him with an angry stick.


The fever arose, became a flame

And Vigour circumscribed the skies,

Immense energy in the sun,

And through my frame a sunless trembling.


My stick had done nor good nor harm.

Then stood I silent in the day

Watching the object, as before;

And kept my reverence for knowledge


Trying for control, to be still,

To quell the passion of the blood;

Until I had bent down on my knees

Praying for joy in the sight of decay.


And so I left; and I returned

In Autumn strict of eye, to see

The sap gone out of the groundhog,

But the bony sodden hulk remained


But the year had lost its meaning,

And in intellectual chains

I lost both love and loathing,

Mured up in the wall of wisdom.


Another summer took the fields again

Massive and burning, full of life,

But when I chanced upon the spot

There was only a little hair left,


And bones bleaching in the sunlight

Beautiful as architecture;

I watched them like a geometer,

And cut a walking stick from a birch.


It has been three years, now.

There is no sign of the groundhog.

I stood there in the whirling summer,

My hand capped a withered heart,


And thought of China and of Greece,

Of Alexander in his tent;

Of Montaigne in his tower,

Of Saint Theresa in her wild lament.


Groundhog websites

Yes, there’s a site called Groundhog Day Literature, that says its sponsored by the “International Rodent Society.”    There’s some middling lyrics—noted, instructionally:    “to be recited or sung with gusto!”—-and a Groundhog Day haiku.

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Turning Japanese

I came up with this post title, realized it was a masturbation reference (from the Vapors’ 80’s hit of the same name)–which I’ve been doing a lot lately, using onanism puns on my blog that is,  but I couldn’t think of a better title so there it is.

This week, I decided to write a little poetry on the train.  The Notes app on my iPhone lends itself to short form verse, so it’s all Haiku–a 17th century Japanese poetry style.

I believe the thing with Haiku is visual imagery.   Traditionally, the poems are written vertically with an ink pen and sometimes accompanied by a painting, or, they can be inscribed on monuments.   I tried to stick to imagery but took some liberties.

Train Haiku

A morning train,

Chirpy chatter, Nooks, and texts,

And I, cocooned.


When I was younger,

I thought you’d burn your eyeballs,

Staring at the sun.


Little cat pounces,

Tail licks the air, fore-paws clamp,

She’s caught a house fly.


When he’s listening,

He nods fast like he agrees,

But inside, he doesn’t.


I dreamt of Tokyo,

Where you can leave your bike out,

And no one steals it.


January snow,

The sky is clotted with gray,

A frozen footprint.


Waiting for the train,

Bundled in coat, scarf and hat,

Her ears whisper songs.

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The Power of Words

Election season.   The time of the year when politicians use words to shame and fear.

Illegal immigrant.  Homosexual agenda.  Socialized medicine.

The last one I actually don’t have any problem with, but it generally comes up in a pejorative sense, as though we’re on the brink of collapsing under a Stalinist regime.

To answer back the insidious rhetoric, I decided to feature some activist poetry this week.  First, on the immigration issue, I found this excellent verse on La Bloga by poet/artist Tom Sheldon. Then, a far inferior poem I wrote in response to Tea Party-approved New York State Governor candidate Carl Palladino.

If you don’t know the backstory on Palladino you can read it here.


by Tom Sheldon


THEY have no home,

have no family nor rights.

They have no feelings,

living on warm water and sardines.

They are from another world.

They sneek in the night,

averse to clubs and bullets.

They miss their families.

They are saddened to leave home.

They are desperate,

risking their lives.

For a dream.



by Andrew J. Peters


The dysfunction, you see,

Is not about me.


I like watching men grind up on each other,

But drop your gay hang-ups like blaming the mother,

My enjoyment of sex is completely intact,

Like all well-adjusted adult men in fact,

I’d think you’d agree this is hardly a crime,

You like women so much, you like two at a time,

I wouldn’t call you a dysfunctional straight,

Perhaps overfunctioning would be one complaint.


The thing I see that’s not functioning so well,

Is the hawks and the clery who condemn gays to hell,

The same people who seem to have nothing to say,

When ten kids rape a neighbor because he is gay,

Something’s not working when a pride celebration,

Tops of the list of issues that pique moral damnation,

And the young (and not so young) need to dole out shame,

In order to feel as strong as they proclaim.

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A Poem for Wednesday

I’ve been watching more US Open Tennis than writing lately.  My picks to win:  Caroline Wozniacki and Roger Federer.

But tossing around some thoughts while waiting for a connecting train this morning, I came up with this poem.

Eat, Pray, Love for the Small-town Boy


He wanted to see the world,

Places photographed in travel magazines,

Small town America was porridge,

The Far East curry and chili peppers,

He wanted to stand on Grecian mountains,

And dive from Mexican cliffs,

To feel his heartbeat thudding in his chest.


He wanted to see the world,

Nine dollars an hour and Walmart jeans,

If you squint real hard at night,

And smoke enough marijuana,

Main Street sparkles like an Italian piazza,

And dreams of breaking free,

Are always just a day away.


He wanted to see the world,

No one could tell him he didn’t have the right,

Truck stop trade, broken windshields, bloody noses,

If Julia Roberts could do it,

So could he,

One day he’d take that bus to the airport,

And disappear.

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