Guns and Boyhood in America: A Memoir of Growing Up in the 50s

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In this honest and compelling collection of autobiographical essays, poet Jonathan Holden writes about sex, baseball, and summer camp; about parents who keep their distance; about the mistakes of adolescence; and about the national romance with guns. Most of all, however, he writes about the realities of having a twin brother who is gay and the excruciating pains he took to avoid being mistaken "for a fairy." Illustrating his points with his own poems, Holden creates a book that is not only a critique of ...
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Overview


In this honest and compelling collection of autobiographical essays, poet Jonathan Holden writes about sex, baseball, and summer camp; about parents who keep their distance; about the mistakes of adolescence; and about the national romance with guns. Most of all, however, he writes about the realities of having a twin brother who is gay and the excruciating pains he took to avoid being mistaken "for a fairy." Illustrating his points with his own poems, Holden creates a book that is not only a critique of homophobia (his gay problem and ours) but a wider questioning of American cultural values.

We live in Sparta rather than Athens, Holden says, where the terror of homosexuality compels boys to lead distorted lives. Striking a low-keyed but insistent note of social criticism against the militarized, anti-poetic place where we live--one that so often seems to be a great, crass high school with overindulged appetites for sex and aggression, instead of a place where learning or the inner life can honestly thrive--Holden questions the ethos of this place where most boys consider such arts as dance or piano too dangerous to practice. His challenge to the American machismo ethic and its aesthetic correlative uncovers fascinating questions about the gender assumptions we have regarding sports and the arts.

In Guns and Boyhood in America, Jonathan Holden succeeds in creating an eloquent rendering of the dramas and dilemmas of an American boyhood in prose and poetry, while allowing us to overhear a finely worded lover's quarrel with America.

Jonathan Holden is the author of poetry collections including Against Paradise, American Gothic, and most recently The Sublime, recipient of the 1995 Vassar Miller Prize in Poetry. Currently he is University Distinguished Professor and Poet-in-Residence, Kansas State University.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Holden's contribution to the series Poets on Poetry is an examination of the aesthetics and culture of a childhood spent in the aftermath of WWII and the uneasy peace of the Cold War. In loosely linked essays, Holden probes a boyhood informed by a fascination with explosives, military might, baseball and sex and in doing so delves into the national fascination with these things. As the son of a well-known Bell Labs scientist, Holden spent his childhood in the shadow of imposing intellect and vanity. In the essay "American Male Honor," he explores the male fascination with fighting and the honorable traditions of karate. "Boyhood Aesthetics" reveals the harsh beauty in the things that boys often find alluring, "the devious, unlikely ways that a boy, growing up in Americaa country in which military hardware is so much a part of the landscape that we no longer notice itmay have to take to satisfy the human hunger for beauty, scrounging for it in even the grimmest facts that we have come to live with, in the perfection of our weapons." "Peyton Place" looks at the sexual and political repression of the '50s and McCarthyism. As Holden summarizes, "The organic numbness of adolescence is the numbness of a lynch-mob. You don't know anything. You don't feel anything. You don't fear anything. You've been anaesthetized. But it was who we were then." Guns and Violence is an keen study of the nature of American boyhood during this era, glossed by illuminating poetry. (June)
Library Journal
In this memoir of a Fifties childhood, Holden (poet-in-residence, Kansas State Univ.) contends that society forces individuals to pretend to be what they cannot be. "It was only much later, in middle age, after my miserable twenty-seven-year marriage came apart," he states, "that with the help of psychotherapy, I began to see how desperately and extremely I had twisted myself in order to play a role that I thought was safe and acceptable." Holden writes eloquently about his homosexual twin brother, whose "emotional honesty" he claims he himself lacks. He also levels criticism against the military, crass high schools, and an aggressive, oversexed society, though he often fails to do justice to these complex issues. In tone reminiscent of J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, this work is on the whole disappointingand not merely because it is a reworking of a theme that one begins to suspect must obsess the author. For larger collections only.Susan Dearstyne, Hudson Valley Community Coll., Troy, N.Y.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780472066438
  • Publisher: University of Michigan Press
  • Publication date: 8/1/1997
  • Series: Poets on Poetry Series
  • Pages: 152
  • Product dimensions: 5.34 (w) x 7.94 (h) x 0.44 (d)

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