Ottawa
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Stan Persky on 1980s bar culture

In each issue of Capital Xtra, a prominent literary Canadian recommends a queer-authored book. In this installment, poet Billeh Nickerson recommends Buddy’s: Meditations on Desire by Stan Persky (New Star Books, 1989).

I first read Buddy’s by Stan Persky about 10 years after it had been published. At the time I had just moved to Vancouver from Victoria, where I completed a degree in creative writing and had just started a column for Xtra West entitled Hard Core Homo. Up until that time, my main writing influences were from Western Canadian narrative poets and their well-crafted confessions; Eastern American post-New York School poets who shared my intrigue with popular culture; and the numerous bars and raves that I frequented at the time. Yes, bars can be a literary influence.

As someone who always thought that poetry would be his main genre and who still hadn’t discovered the flexibility of sentences and the personal essay, Persky’s book was a revelation. To be honest, I’m sure I wasn’t mature enough on my first reading to pick up on many of the nuances, but just reading someone meditate on gay desire and gay culture in a well-crafted manner changed my world forever. I’d read Edmund White, Frank O’Hara, Arthur Rimbaud, and a whole slew of gay authors, but this was the first time where gayness and Vancouverness collided. Yes, gay authors could be Canadian. And, yes, those gay Canadian authors didn’t have to write about trees.

Buddy’s is a mediation on both Persky’s own desire and on collective desire as well, yet it’s also a historical account of Buddy’s, a somewhat ragtag Vancouver gay bar that opened in 1982 and closed in 1988. It’s was the kind of bar that used to be easier to find, more than now, and, on rereading the text, I wonder whether social networking sites and internet hook-ups will render this kind of book impossible in the future. In this manner, the text now seems imbued with a lamentable tone; are we less of a community today?

On rereading Buddy’s 20 years after its initial publication and 10 years since I first borrowed it from the library, I’m still taken by the well-crafted essays and honesty. And I’m still shocked by — and appreciative of — the unapologetic manner in which he writes about sex trade workers, and anal and intergenerational sex. Some may still consider his frank descriptions scandalous. Prudes will be prudes. But I believe many more will find his mediations on ’80s gay culture historically significant and timeless all at once.

When deciding on a book to write for this project, I was saddened by the difficulty I had in accessing many of my selections. Perhaps this will change in the coming years as more books get digitized. Until that time, it serves as a warning about how easily books and histories can disappear from the mainstream.

It’s time we reconsidered the works that have helped shape and document our histories. I think Buddy’s by Stan Persky is a great start. Read it and then read more.

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Billeh Nickerson’s McPoems was recently released by Arsenal Pulp Press.