If you’re burned out from too many Zoom meetings and your ears are sore from listening to hours of true crime podcasts, perhaps it’s time to go old school and meet some of the new school of poets here in Philadelphia. Philadelphia has always had a thriving poetry scene, which I confess I sometimes forget until it’s brought to my attention. Wicked Gay Ways has been promoting poetry and the arts since 2016. It is the brainchild of two former Portrait interviewees, Susan DiPronio and David Acosta. An online arts journal, WGW “seeks to create connections across the many dimensions of queer sexual desire as embodied in art and the creative process.” They turned me on (pun intended) to Chad Frame, one of the poets featured in the recently published 2020 issue of the journal. Frame is the Poet Laureate Emeritus of Montgomery County and the co-founder of the Caesura Poetry Festival. He is a poet, adjunct professor and editor. In addition to Wicked Gay Ways, his work has been seen in decomP, Rust+Moth, Menacing Hedge, Mobius: The Journal of Social Change and various other publications. He has been nominated for Best of the Net 2016 and The Best Small Fictions 2017.
Where do you hail from?
I come from Montgomery County. Lansdale to be precise.
My immediate family was very small. I’m an only child and I just lost my dad this past year. I wrote a whole collection about that which should be coming out soon. It was a big undertaking, starting with his diagnosis through hospice and the whole process. He died of colon cancer.
Must have been tough.
Yeah. I feel like gay men often have strained relationships with their fathers, but as an only child it’s intensified. He was an alcoholic Vietnam veteran and a third shift worker, so I didn’t see him a lot. He was usually asleep on the couch when I was a kid, and then they divorced when I was still young. But I like to think that me being there for him at the end brought us closer. I took leave from work to be able to visit him every day. It was an interesting experience and I was able to chronicle the whole thing.
What did he do?
He was a factory worker, but he was out on disability. He had two purple hearts and a lot of shrapnel as souvenirs of the war. I come from a very blue-collar family, which often led to me feeling out of place as I was always interested in art and academics.
And your mom?
We’ve both worked in the luxury retail field, just for different stores. I just went back to working in-store and I enjoy what I do, but it can feel a little weird selling luxury products in the middle of a pandemic. I’m primarily in the fragrance department, but I work the whole store doing personal shopping.
I worked at Macy’s years ago when the King of Prussia Mall first expanded. They put me in the cosmetics department and I had no clue what I was doing! But it was fun, the person who was the department head went AWOL, so we just ran amok, we’d make each other up like harlots and had a blast.
Yup, usually it’s great though we’re not having as much fun right now. Since I work in fragrances, people will pull their masks down to be able to smell the samples and sometimes it makes them sneeze, so it’s a little harrowing at times. But I’ve been in the business off and on for about 20 years and love working with people.
Oh wow, I didn’t think about that aspect. What’s the craziest thing you’ve encountered?
You never know what you’re going to come across. Someone coming in with a dog in a Gucci stroller, or someone who looks completely disheveled who ends up being your best customer ever. I treat everybody like gold. And it can be very intimate. You’d be surprised at how much people confide in you in this job. People will tell you a certain fragrance reminds them of a family member who passed and it will make them cry or bring them a smile. I enjoy the interactions.
What’s a warm childhood memory for you?
It may sound lame, but reading myself to sleep with a tiny little light after everyone else has gone to bed. I still do it! It’s my oldest guilty pleasure.
What were you like as a kid?
I was pretty nerdy. I’ve played D&D (Dungeons and Dragons) since I was little. I loved comic books, all of that. [Laughing] Video games basically raised me. I’ve also been a fencer for most of my life. I was pretty committed to being a geek so of course I picked a sport that was nerdy too.
Cool, what did/do you like about it?
It’s a thinking man’s sport. I’ve heard it described as physical chess played at 100 miles per hour.
Really? For those of us who just think about it as [swords hitting gesture] going “tink, tink”, what makes it so challenging?
You really have to get inside the head of your opponent. You have to watch them to figure out what they’re going to do and react accordingly. There are also a lot of rules to abide by, you have to establish “right of way,” you have to salute one another and the referee at the beginning and end of the bout, and you can get deducted points for infractions. And it’s really good exercise, more than you would think. It’s like an aggressive yoga!
I seem to remember hearing that most fencers have good butts.
True! And good legs! It’s all below the waist. I also wrestled for a bit.
That always seemed such a gay sport to me!
I know! But not while you’re doing it. Later on you’re like, “Yeah, that was kind of hot,” but you don’t think about that when someone’s trying to slam your face into a mat! It’s only in retrospect that you notice the homoerotic qualities of the sport. I look back and think, wow, I probably could have made the most of that.
Where did you go after high school?
I did my undergrad at Penn State, English with a concentration in creative writing, and then I waited for about 10 years to go back for my MFA in poetry which I got from Arcadia. I didn’t want to take on any more student debt so I waited until I could pay for it and what was good is that by the time I went back, I actually had some life experience to write about.
How did you become Montgomery County Poet Laureate?
Fun fact, we’re one of the few states that does not have a state level poet laureate. So it falls on counties to create the platform. It’s a contest, so you enter a manuscript of your work and you have to propose a community service project. I love the fact that we have this. Not only is it great recognition for the artist, it’s a great vehicle for promoting poetry and effecting change in the community. After my tenure I stayed on helping with projects, and now I’ve become the director of the program so I’m able to help keep it going.
Was there a theme to the poems you submitted?
Yes, it was called, “Little Black Book” and they were poems about dealing with my identity and sexuality. Each poem was titled with the real first name of someone from my past. They haven’t been published yet, but the piece that is in the Wicked Gay Ways anthology is a poem called “John.”
When did you come out?
I waited until college. I knew from a younger age. In fact I have a poem called, “What the hell” about a time I tried to kiss a boy on a bus, but mostly I kept it hidden, even to myself. I went to North Penn High School, which had about 3,500 kids, and I didn’t know of a single person that was gay. The year after I left they started a GSA, but I missed it. At the time, I thought that I was the only person in the tri-state area who was gay. It was the fledgling days of the internet, AOL mail was about it, so I had no idea how to find community. I did have an uncle who was gay, but he died of AIDS in 1990, so even at that time I was afraid that if I came out, I would worry my family about the same thing happening to me. It was irrational, but it was part of what took so long.
When and how did you come out to your family?
I was out at college a while before I told my mother, though I know she knew before then. My family has never been one to talk much about feelings or overly personal matters, so I’m sure that was part of it. I actually told my mother by bringing home my boyfriend at the time. “Guess Who’s Coming (Out) to Dinner?”
I read you do Poetry improv? What the heck (to paraphrase your poem) is that?
Yes, I’m in an improv poetry performance group called No River Twice. It’s pretty cool, the audience gets to direct the reading. We have a cast of established poets and they select a poem from one of our books, the audience picks a theme or a line or object from the poem and then someone from the panel responds with something from one of their works that corresponds with the theme, object, etc. Then someone else picks up the thread and so on. Then we take the connecting lines and one of us, usually me because I love doing it, will write a poem on the spot connecting all the connections that the audience helped create!
Where do you read your poetry?
All over the place. Everywhere from schools to galleries, big crowded events to little coffee houses where no-one shows up. I even got to read for the Library of Congress!
Yes, now my work is archived there forever and available on iTunes as a result. I was interviewed by Grace Cavalieri who has interviewed every Poet Laureate in the US for the last 40 years. It was amazing and a big honor. It was crazy, she was in the audience at one of my readings and afterward, she came up and said, “I do a little show in DC, you should come down and let me interview you”. After she left, I googled her name and was like, “Holy shit! Wow!” You never know what’s going to lead to something else, that’s why I try to say yes to everything I can.
A lot of the weight of poetry is in the way it is written on the page, How important is that and how does it translate when doing a reading? Also, I read that you tend to write in a specific structure, tell me about that?
Well, I feel craft is essential. Line breaks, soundplay, and subtle meter all are cues to how a printed poem should sound aloud. Just like music on the page. That’s really what it is. I have a strong foundation in the Classics, particularly Latin, so reading and translating poetry by Virgil, Ovid, and Catullus was a huge influence on my style. They embed poetic devices in their work seamlessly, so it reads naturally on the surface level, but anyone wanting to dig for more will find a trove of hidden craft. And in my case, I tend to write in syllabics, usually a ten syllable line. It’s an affectation of mine, but I enjoy the challenge, so I’ve kept up with it.
When you were a kid did you have any posters on your wall, if so of what?
Well, I did warn you I’m a huge nerd, so there may have been dungeons and/or dragons, or (in the later teen years) some lyrically driven singer/songwriter like Tori Amos or Fiona Apple. Now I have a big medieval tapestry with an antique map of the world.
What’s the most radical thing you’ve done appearance-wise?
Maybe highlights, once? It didn’t take.
I hear you have a Maine Coon cat. I lived with three of them and it was near impossible to be literate around them. They tried to sit on anything I was reading and licked the image off of any magazines I had. I’ll never forgive them for destroying my Xena special edition issue. What quirks does your cat have?
My cat Jabbers (short for Jabberwocky) is my best friend. He loves to sleep on anything I’m interested in, especially books. He loves chewing cardboard, and we usually have a long back and forth of meowing conversation with one another. He’s diabetic, which kind of rules my life, and I have to be home every twelve hours to give him his shot, which he loathes. And finally, I think he may be half Manx, since he has a bobtail and vaguely rabbit build. As if he weren’t eccentric enough!
If you ruled a country, who would you pick as poet laureate?
If it were the US, then Mark Doty. He’s more than earned it! In the UK, Simon Armitage. If Canada… hmm. Does Justin Trudeau write poetry? I hope so.
What poem would you want read at your funeral?
Catullus 101. It was an elegy-as-eulogy, written about [Catullus] traveling to his brother’s funeral and speaking over his grave. Timeless, heartbreaking, and still relevant and accessible over 2000 years later.
Why is something like Wicked Gay Ways important?
Because our voice and our identity are important — essential. Art works as both personal outlet and public mouthpiece. It’s impossible to be a member of a community and not have your work viewed through that lens. And I like that Wicked Gay Ways doesn’t offer a safe and tame version of the gay experience, like “TV gay.” The focus is on not only security, but sensuality. They aren’t afraid of, and in fact welcome erotic art.
What does community mean to you?
It means everything to me! I’m all about community building in poetry. As someone invested in social justice poetry, I helped to organize a local chapter of the global 100 Thousand Poets for Change movement, and I helped to edit and curate a chapbook of local Pennsylvania and New Jersey poets released in conjunction with the event called Lovers and Fighters: Poetry for Social Change. I always use the phrase “Don’t relocate; renovate.” If you don’t have much of a local arts community, do your best to reach out and build one! Connect different groups, say yes to everything, from little cafe readings to higher profile things. Like I said, you never know who you’ll meet or where it’ll take you, and everything is an opportunity to build upon! Community, be it artistic, LGBTQ, or the overlap between, is essential, and I’ll do everything in my power to preserve and expand upon it.